BIRDS OF A FEATHER

clam pass floridaJust as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. [Romans 12:4-5 (NLT)]

Even though we now live in the land of forever summer, I know autumn is upon us—and not just because nearly everything from lattes, tea, and donuts to English muffins, gelato, and Cheerios comes in pumpkin spice! The migratory birds (both feathered and human) have begun to arrive. Birds of a feather really do flock together as evidenced by the number of brown pelicans and terns gathering by the hundreds on the beach. Soon other birds like belted kingfishers, sandpipers, and grebes will arrive en masse.

Flocks of birds also signaled autumn when we lived in the north—only  they were leaving rather than arriving! A nearby park served as a “staging area” for Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes, which means that the normal bird population swelled as hundreds of geese and cranes congregated there to gorge themselves in preparation for their challenging flight south. Once they’d eaten their fill, it was a magnificent sight to watch as these beautiful birds took to the sky in unison to continue their journey south.

Without knowing a thing about aerodynamics, wingtip vortices, updrafts, or reducing drag, those birds know enough to conserve their energy by flying in a V-formation that reduces wind resistance and takes advantage of wind currents. The lead bird does most of the work and, when he tires, he moves back and lets others take their turns. The V-formation also allows the birds to see the rest of the flock, preventing them from crashing into one another and enabling them to spot a bird in trouble. It’s been said that when a goose gets injured or falls behind the group, at least two others from the flock will join it. These beautiful creatures instinctively know there is strength in unity and safety in numbers.

As it is for those birds, the journey we are on is not a solo one. As Christians, we also are members of a flock. Unlike the birds, we don’t look like one another or sing the same song, but we all are on a journey that is not meant to be a solo one. Church is more than the place we meet for Sunday services; it’s the Christian’s version of a “staging area.” It’s where we meet others in the flock, gain strength by feeding on God’s word, and help one another as we move forward.

As part of Jesus’ flock, we depend on one another as much as do those migratory birds. We need our flock to reduce the drag when we encounter a head wind, refresh us when we grow tired, urge us on when we lag behind, and lift us when we’ve fallen. We break bread together, share resources and responsibilities, and teach and learn from one another. Our brothers and sisters in Christ not only encourage, comfort, and pray with and for us, but they also hold us accountable for our behavior. Like those migrating birds, we need the flock as much as it needs us.

Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people. [Charles Spurgeon]

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. [Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)]

This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. [1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT)]

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BAD EXAMPLES

Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life in your neighborhood so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. [1 Peter 2:11-12 (MSG)]

laughing gullWe’d gathered for coffee when the conversation turned to tipping. Several who had been servers at one time or another mentioned what notoriously bad tippers church people seem to be. Rather than a tip, some only leave a religious tract. A barista admitted removing any she finds in the tip jar because her fellow workers find them incredibly offensive. Rather than bringing anyone to Jesus, they serve to further distance non-believers from any church!

I recalled my college days in the 60s when many restaurants and businesses had restroom attendants. Rather than money, my fellow Campus Crusaders often left religious tracts in the attendant’s tip jar. Believing that a woman who cleaned up other people’s messes in bathroom sinks and stalls for tips (and purchased gum, breath mints, hand lotion, and perfume to increase those tips) would appreciate the money more than a tract, I always left money.

Thinking that leaving a tract meant they could “chalk one up” for Jesus, my friends may have  congratulated themselves for sharing the Gospel but I thought they were taking the cheap and easy way out of witnessing for Christ. Religious tracts aren’t a substitute for sharing the Word; they are mere tools. While they may get a conversation going, explain a concept, or provide information, they don’t replace interacting with someone. Tracts are an extension of a relationship, not a replacement for one. Relationships, however, take time and effort.

Since we were discussing “bad” Christian behavior, the barista mentioned the incivility of some of the local clergy who frequent her shop. One minister is so notorious that the baristas play rock-paper-scissors to determine who has to wait on him! Doing nothing to promote the Kingdom with their short-tempers, supercilious manner, or brusque behavior, those rude clergy could take a lesson from my son.

While listening to him talk with an airline’s customer service agent, I knew why he’s such a good salesman. He sincerely cares about the people with whom he interacts. Rather than beginning with a complaint about the airline, he started out by asking the agent how she was doing, where she was located, and followed up by commenting on the location and asking about the weather. He sincerely tried to find some common ground before launching into the problem at hand. My son, however, doesn’t save his charm for people who can help him. He’s that way with baristas, butchers, bell hops, bus boys, cashiers, and supermarket baggers as well as neighbors, vendors, employees, customers, and bankers. Everyone he meets is treated with the same amount of courtesy and respect. As salesmen for Christ, we must do the same!

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Sadly, many people hold that same sentiment. Both believers and non-believers can be arrogant, nasty, and stingy but that doesn’t make it right! It’s not just the eyes of God that are upon us—the world sees us and judges Jesus by our behavior.

It simply comes back to how we treat people—not just the people we like, want to impress, or who can do something for us—but everyone from the homeless man, server, janitor, and landscaper all the way to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Remembering to reflect God’s grace and generosity in all things, let’s not further the stereotype that Christians are a rude, judgmental, and cheap lot! (And, if you want to leave a tract, be sure to leave a hefty tip, as well!)

The world takes its notions of God from the people who say that they belong to God’s family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; they only hear about Jesus Christ. [Alexander Maclaren]

Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get. [Matthew 7:12 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

INCOMPREHENSIBLE BUT REAL

moebius band - moebius stripAnd I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you will know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-17 (NLT)]

 I tell you the solemn truth, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not so difficult to accept for a working proposition as any one of the axioms of physics. [Henry Brooks Adams]

Writing about our Trinitarian God yesterday, reminded me of the Möebius strip (or band). Ever since my college roommate showed me one, I’ve been fascinated by it. To make one, take a paper strip, give it a single twist and tape the ends together to form a loop. If you draw a line from the seam down the middle of this strip, the line will meet itself back at the same seam but on the other side of the paper. If you continue drawing the line, it then meets at the starting point (and will be twice the length of the strip of paper) without ever needing to lift your pen. This single continuous line shows that the Möebius strip has only one boundary or surface. Imagine an ant crawling in a straight line along the length of that twisted and taped strip. It would return to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip without ever crossing an edge. Basically, something that looks as if it has two sides (and was made by a piece of paper that did), actually has only one surface or side.

If you cut this once-twisted piece of paper down the center line, you’ll end up with one long strip that now has two twists and two surfaces. If you cut that strip again, you end up with two intertwined strips and it just gets more confusing after that! German mathematician August Möbius’ discovery of the oddity in 1858 resulted in the development of a new field of mathematics called topology. While there are all sorts of algebraic and geometric explanations for this simple but remarkable piece of paper, I understand none of them.

Although I see how the Möebius strip could be applied to conveyor belts, continuous-loop recording tapes, and typewriter ribbons, I don’t understand its application in physics, music, engineering, chemistry, or topology. Understanding how it happens, however, isn’t necessary for me to know what happens when I take a strip of paper, give it a single twist, and tape it together!

For me, comprehending the Holy Trinity is a bit like my fuzzy understanding of the Möebius strip. I know it exists but I’m not quite sure how it works. I’ve experienced it but I can’t explain it. That the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God while, at the same time, the Father is neither Holy Spirit nor Son, the Son is neither Holy Spirit nor Father, and the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son is beyond human understanding!

Even without understanding how God is one in essence but has three united persons in that essence, I know our Triune God exists. Scripture tells us there is only one God and yet it also tells us that God exists in three persons. All three were present at Jesus’ baptism and He spoke of them. Moreover, just as I’ve witnessed the reality of a Möebius strip, I’ve witnessed the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they work in my life. That the concept of one in three and three in one is complex and puzzling doesn’t mean it isn’t real! Even though it’s beyond our understanding, like the Möebius strip, all we have to know is that it’s true!

Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God. [John Wesley]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

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TO WHOM?

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. (Matthew 6:6 NIV)

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [John 14:13-14 (NIV)]

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. [Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)]

“To whom should we pray?” is a common question. People wonder, “If we pray to God the Father, are we leaving out His Son? But if we pray to Jesus, are we leaving out God? And where does the Holy Spirit fit in?”

I’m no theologian, but it seems we certainly can’t go wrong by praying to God the Father. After all, when asked how to pray, Jesus began with “Our Father” and the Apostle Paul wrote the Romans about joining together and “giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [15:6] Nevertheless, Jesus, as the son of God, is divine and He promised that we can ask for anything in His name. So, we can pray to Him as did Stephen who prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” while being stoned. [Acts 7:59] To further confuse the matter, Paul explained that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so it appears that we also can pray to Him.

If we can pray to any of the three, how do we decide to whom we’ll pray? Some people decide who they’ll address by the topic of their prayer. When they want to offer worship and praise, ask for forgiveness, or plead for divine intervention, they call on God the Father. When they need to talk with someone who understands their earthly struggles, they call on Jesus. Since the Holy Spirit helps us pray, they pray to Him when they can’t find the words to express themselves.

When we worry about to whom we address our prayers, however, we’re forgetting that our Trinitarian God, while three persons, is one God! Calling it a “divine riddle,” Puritan minister Thomas Watson explained, “The three persons in the blessed Trinity are distinguished, but not divided; three substances, but one essence. … If there be one God subsisting in three persons, then let us give equal reverence to all the persons in the Trinity. … One person has not a majority or super eminence above another, therefore we must give equal worship to all the persons.”

When learning about Jeopardy contestant Matt Amodio for yesterday’s devotion, I discovered that his answers irk the grammar police. Jeopardy answers must be given in the form of a question and he begins every response with “what’s…” even when referring to a person. Amodio’s strategy is to keep things simple and explained that keeping his responses consistent allows him to focus on the “meat” of the clue. Just as a Jeopardy contestant’s answers don’t have to be grammatically correct to be accepted, I suspect our Trinitarian God cares far more about our hearts than our words and would prefer we give more thought to the “meat” of our prayers rather than to whom or how they’re said.

We can address our Trinitarian God in any of a number of ways—as Eternal Father, Holy Spirit, Lord, Blessed Jesus, God, Lord of My Life, Almighty and Eternal God, Holy Spirit of God, Eternal Being, Divine Love, God of Mercy, Holy One, Holy and Blessed Trinity, God, Jesus, Spirit of God, or many other reverent names. Flawed beings that we are, we seem to complicate our lives unnecessarily and worrying about how to pray (rather than simply doing it) is one of the ways we do it. Amodio’s answers are accepted by the Jeopardy judges just as our prayers, offered in faith with a humble heart, will be accepted by God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.

Christian prayer is most often Trinitarian. Practically, this means we pray by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ our mediator, to God the Father. [Mark Driscoll]

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. [Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)]

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IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY

Woe betide you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You’re like whitewashed graves, which look very fine on the outside, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and uncleanness of every kind. That’s like you: on the outside you appear to be virtuous and law-abiding, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. [Matthew 23:27-28 (NTE)]

yellow hawkweedAlong with proclaiming the Word of God, the young Church was committed to ensuring that there were no needy among them. As a result, many of the early believers voluntarily sold their property and shared their wealth with the rest of the church community. Barnabas, for example, sold a field he owned and generously brought the money to the apostles for those in need.

Immediately following the mention of Barnabas in Acts, Luke tells us about Ananias and Sapphira. Like Barnabas, they sold some land and brought the proceeds to the apostles but, unlike him, the couple retained some of the funds. But, wanting to impress everyone with their generosity without actually making a sacrifice, they claimed to have contributed the full amount. Peter, however, knew better and confronted each one about their deceit and they were struck dead in divine judgment.

This is a troubling story when we mistakenly think of it in terms of how much of our money we should give to the church. It’s important to remember that Ananias and Sapphira’s sin wasn’t in keeping some of the money; it was theirs to do with as they wished. The sharing among believers wasn’t compulsory and didn’t originate in the law. It originated in love and was completely voluntary. Rather than the sin of greed, the couple’s sin was that of hypocrisy; they wanted to impress the church into thinking they were something they clearly were not. They lied to the church but, worse, they lied to the Holy Spirit! Luke tells us that “great fear” struck the entire church when the learned what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. It should strike fear in us as well! The message, however, isn’t about money; it’s that God will not tolerate deception in spiritual and personal matters.

None of us manage to fully live up to our ideals and values; we’re flawed human beings who miss the mark in a variety of ways. That we fail to be the person we should be does not make us hypocrites; it’s failing to be the person we claim to be that is hypocrisy! Putting reputation before character, the hypocrite creates a public impression at odds with his or her true self.

The book of Acts relates how the early church was threatened by the world in which they lived: persecution, arrests, imprisonment, and even death. But it also relates how the church faced threats within its own community when the sins of a few (like Ananias and Sapphira) threatened the testimony of the church. Both threats continue today. I can’t help but wonder—if God dealt as severely with deceivers and hypocrites today as He did with Ananias and Sapphira, how many people would be left to fill our pews on Sunday morning?

The hypocrite, certainly, is a secret atheist; for if he did believe there was a God, he durst not be so bold as to deceive Him to His face. [Thomas Adams]

They declare that they know God, but they deny him by what they do. They are detestable and disobedient, and useless for any good work. [Titus 1:16 (NTE)]

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MANY WRITERS BUT ONLY ONE AUTHOR

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return here but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)]

great blue heronA popular mystery writer, frequently on the best seller list, now writes most of his books in collaboration with another author. Several years ago, after reading one of his joint efforts, I stopped reading his work entirely. While I never expected a literary masterpiece, the mystery was unrealistic, implausible, and the chapters unconnected. Although it’s said that he sets the plot line and there is an intense back-and-forth between the authors, it didn’t seem that way to me. It was as if the two authors alternated chapters and, at the end of their chapter, each deliberately threw in some farfetched character or event as a way of challenging the other to make sense of it. Having a plot outline certainly didn’t mean continuity or structure in their book.

Six years ago, I was part of a book project in which twelve women, all Christian blog writers, were to write a chapter about being hurt, then healed, and how the Holy Spirit transformed them into wounded healers. In spite of having a similar theme, herding cats would have been easier than having twelve Christian women come together in a cohesive voice. Instead of being a patchwork quilt bound together by our experience with the power of the Spirit, we were more like twelve totally different blankets with absolutely nothing in common. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it clearly was not Spirit led and, while wishing the project well, I withdrew.

If twelve Christian women couldn’t come together into a unified voice and two well-known professional writers seem unable to put together a simple plot, I find it amazing that some forty writers managed to put together the sixty-six books of the Bible over a span of about 1,500 years. It’s not always easy to read but, without a doubt, the Bible makes sense and has a unifying theme: the revelation of God’s plan and purpose for His people and His Kingdom.

Within this one book we find poetry, law, and history along with biography, wisdom, prophesy, and personal letters. Written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), the writing took place in various locations—from the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula to the king’s palace in Israel, from Babylon to a prison in Rome. The writers were a diverse group of men—ranging from a doctor, publican, tent maker/Pharisee, and adviser to a Babylonian king to fishermen, shepherds, kings, scribes, and judges. They all had their own style and, in some cases, even a specific audience. Nevertheless, in spite of their different backgrounds, languages, times, and places, there is a cohesiveness to what all of these men wrote and their words never contradict one another. Even with the writers’ different perspectives, they have a unified voice that proclaims the same one true God and Jesus as the way to salvation.

When two well-known authors working together can’t put together a solid well-written mystery and twelve women, living at the same time, speaking the same language, and claiming to be Christian writers can’t successfully put together their faith stories, how did the Bible’s forty writers manage to do it? Perhaps, it’s because people write what they want to say but the Bible’s writers wrote what God wanted said! The Bible may have forty different writers—the people who put pen to papyrus or parchment—but there was only one author: God. It was God who inspired those men and, because they wrote His word, the Bible is one uninterrupted and unified story. It is, indeed, “God-breathed.”

The Bible is God’s word in human words. [Mel Lawrenz]

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)]

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. [Matthew 24:35 (ESV)]

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