JESUS SAVES

This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age. [John 3:16 (NTE)]

Another one of my Abundance assignments gave an interesting twist to paying it forward. We were to give an extra $3.16 to the drive-thru cashier who was supposed to credit it to the next customer and tell them the 3.16 was from John. We rarely utilize drive-thrus and now, with social distancing, aren’t going out, so this was one assignment I set aside. Nevertheless, I thought about the ways we do or don’t evangelize.

Christians tend to get upset when the presence of a religious symbol on public property is threatened. Yet, other than an occasional Christmas decoration, we rarely display anything religious on our own private property. We claim our children should be allowed to pray at school yet how many of us use our freedom to openly say grace before meals in a public restaurant or pray with others in public spaces? We’ll wear tee-shirts with logos advertising our favorite designers, restaurants, and teams; how many do we have with Bible verses on them?

For nearly forty years, we drove by the “Jesus Saves” rock. Prior to 1955, however, that big rock displayed a Potosi Beer advertisement. A prayer group from the local Presbyterian church obtained permission to repaint the rock and the “Jesus Saves” rock now is known throughout a tri-state area. To my knowledge, in all of these years, the rock has never been defaced. Granted, it is in rural Illinois, but it’s hard to believe that no youngsters have tried adding something to the sign. While that speaks to the virtue of small town values, it probably helps that the farmer who owns the land keeps a watchful eye on the famous rock (and a bull has been known to roam in the pasture below). A local family installed a light so that it can even been seen in the dark of night and various community organizations continue to keep the sign freshly painted. The “Jesus Saves” sign is both a community effort and a community witness.

While I disagree with their theology, I admire Jehovah’s Witnesses for their persistent evangelizing. Most of us hesitate to discuss Jesus with our neighbor, but Witnesses are willing to speak with strangers, often going door-to-door. They and their display are an almost daily fixture at our area parks and beaches. Few of us are that dedicated to spreading the Word of God, although I did read of one man who named his Wi-Fi router “Jesus Saves” so that anyone searching for a signal would see the message! Since his router probably is password protected and Jesus welcomes all, his would seem to be a slightly mixed message. Nevertheless, he’s witnessing in a small way.

Failure to share the message of John 3:16 isn’t like not telling someone about the latest NetFlix offering, our favorite YouTube video, or even the news that Walmart finally has toilet paper and hand sanitizer! Let us remember that people’s eternal destiny rests in our witness. As Charles Stanley said, “The joy you’ll have when you meet that person in heaven will far exceed any discomfort you felt in sharing the gospel.”

“All who call upon the name of the Lord,” you see, “will be saved.” So how are they to call on someone when they haven’t believed in him? And how are they to believe if they don’t hear? And how will they hear without someone announcing it to them? [Romans 10:13-14 (NTE)]

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COFFEE WITH GOD

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. [Mark 1:35-36 (NLT)]

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.”… But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. [Mark 6:31,33 (NLT)]

brown pelicanWhen my “Weekly Wisdom” email reminded me that time is the price we must pay for intimacy with God, I thought of Cindy. A recent widow struggling to make sense of her new normal, Cindy wanted a closer relationship with God, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Rather than reciting the same prayers over and over again, she wanted to sit down and talk to Him, as she would with a good friend.

When a friend mentioned that she’d stocked a cozy corner with devotionals, Bible, encouraging books, and inspirational verses and dedicated it as a special place to read Scripture, reflect and pray, Cindy decided to do the same. In spite of preparing a peaceful spot in her house, however, her life was so chaotic and disorganized that she never found the time to use it!

No matter how well stocked it is with Bibles, devotionals, candles, or framed Bible verses, a dedicated space is pointless if it’s never used! For this to work, Cindy found she had to link her God time with something she did every day; for her, that was her morning cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. Thus began Cindy’s “Coffee with God!”

While continuing the requisite coffee, Cindy replaced the newspaper with devotions, Scripture, and prayers. Within a few days’ time, she and God were on regular speaking terms. She admits those conversations over coffee seemed rather one-sided but added that God’s responses came throughout the day. By approaching Him regularly and humbly, Cindy has become more attuned to His voice and presence in all things all day long. As for the newspaper, she knows that there’s time enough for that after she’s enjoyed her morning coffee with God and His Word.

If I neglected doing something I’d promised to do, my mother would remind me that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Expanding on that, Aldous Huxley said, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. …and furnished too.” As Christians, we are filled with good intentions, but being flawed people, we often fail to act on them. Like Cindy, until I set aside both place and time for Scripture, meditation and prayer, my relationship with God was pretty hit or miss.

Jesus wanted the disciples to understand the importance of a close relationship with the Lord: God first, everything else second. Even so, He had trouble finding quiet time with His Father. Sometimes, Jesus was interrupted and, other times, the crowds followed him. If God’s Son had difficulty finding time to pray, it’s understandable that we do, too. On the other hand, Jesus was busy doing His Father’s business while the busyness that keeps us from God is ours alone!

While yesterday’s message linked praying for peace with brushing our teeth, it’s pretty hard to build a relationship with God like that. As Christians, we won’t mature without deliberately spending time in God’s presence—reading Scripture, meditating on His word and talking with Him in prayer. Our quiet time with God needs to be a non-negotiable item on our calendars rather than an afterthought. As with any relationship, you’ve got to put in the time if you want it to grow! Tomorrow morning, why not enjoy your morning coffee with God!

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” [Psalm 27:7-8 (NLT)]

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FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14b (NLT)]

balloon over serengettiAlthough the book of Esther never mentions God by name, His fingerprints are found throughout the story as it illustrates God’s providence in human affairs. The Jews were in captivity in Persia and the Persian King had banished the queen. Along with all the other beautiful virgins in the land, the young Jewess Esther is taken to the King’s harem. She finds favor with the king and is declared queen while the evil Haman plots the massacre of every Jew. When Esther’s cousin Mordecai requests her help in begging for the king’s mercy, she hesitates out of fear. Reminding Esther that she isn’t exempt from Haman’s evil plot, Mordecai asks, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

I thought of Haman’s question as churches around the world struggle to provide worship and study opportunities during this crisis. By the time our church, Coastal Fellowship Church, was a year old, we’d developed a free App providing more than calendar, prayer requests, devotions and online giving. Through strategic partnerships, it provided preschool video Bible adventures and material from the Bible Project that now includes videos on reading Scripture, the Bible’s books from Genesis through Revelation, wisdom topics, and a word study. More recent offerings include a number of short videos showing where sports and faith connect and two series from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

At the time, I’m sure people wondered why a church like ours – brand new, without a building, with minimal financial support, and a small congregation of mostly senior citizens (some of whom still use flip phones) – became so committed to 21st century technology and developing an App. Our pastor felt God’s call to do an App and, as he led, the congregation, without clearly understanding its importance, followed in obedience to God’s urging. If anyone wondered why we did it, the last few weeks gave us the answer. Rephrasing Mordecai’s words, “Who knows if the App was developed for just such a time as this!”

We didn’t know over a year ago that online resources and platforms would be essential to serving the Church during this global pandemic. Distanced geographically, we remain connected by faith. We are a global church serving a global God and the App allows us to do just that!

The technical expertise acquired while creating the App enabled us to stream services within a few days’ time and develop a permanent platform for services and Bible study by the second week. Because the App received 30 awards for everything from logo to video and animation, it’s had international exposure; available on several platforms, there have been 40,000 downloads from all over the world. The strategic partnerships that started with the App led to more partnerships, including one with N. T. Wright, and expanded our offerings to better serve the global community. Our first Sunday service was viewed by people throughout the world with 2,182 viewings in the first week! What’s really important is that 88% of those viewers watched the entire service! (I’m not sure 88% of a congregation stays awake during a live sermon!)

As mortals, we don’t know God’s long range plans; even if we did, we wouldn’t understand them. Joseph didn’t understand why he ended up a slave in Egypt until he saved his entire family from famine. Moses didn’t know why he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter until God spoke to him from a burning bush. David didn’t know why he kept doing target practice with his sling until he came face to face with Goliath. Esther didn’t understand why she became queen until she saved an entire nation and I never knew that sending a daily Bible verse to a few women would morph into a daily devotional. Even though we don’t see God’s vision, like Abraham, we follow His lead. Once we get wherever God has taken us, we’ll know why we’re there. God will tell us, “For just such a time as this!”

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. [Hebrews 11:18 (NLT)]

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

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BE THE CHURCH!

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

Shepherd of the Hills - Schapville IL

Shutting their doors last Sunday was not an easy choice for church boards or parishioners. We are designed for community; gathering together for prayer, praise, instruction, fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper is part and parcel of being a Christian. Suddenly, our worship experience, traditions, rituals, and church family were taken from us with this new concept of “social distancing.” What it comes down to is simple: Jesus’ command to love one another. Right now, the best way to love one another is to avoid putting anyone, most especially those at high risk, in danger. Unfortunately, that means no longer meeting together in houses of worship.

I imagine Satan was chuckling in devilish glee last week as church after church cancelled services and closed their doors. What Satan doesn’t understand is that, while a church is a building, the Church isn’t! Scripture likens the Church to being a family, a flock of sheep, a body, and the “bride” of Christ. Whether a cathedral or a gazebo at the beach, the Church isn’t where we go, it’s who we are! Simply put, the church is a body of believers who live out the Gospel in their words and actions. We don’t need walls, pews, sound systems, kneelers, hymnals, programs, and video screens or an altar, stage, organ, choir, sanctuary, sacristy or narthex to do that!

Not attending church services or Bible study doesn’t mean we stop worshiping, praying, learning, or serving. We just have to do it another way by taking advantage of 21st century technology with things like streaming, pod casts, conference calls, FaceTime, App offerings, and on-line studies. Granted, it’s difficult to be the church when we can’t meet together, even in small groups. Nevertheless, we can still check on and encourage one another, paying special attention to those who live alone or may be without any support system. When necessary to leave our homes for supplies, we can continue to be Christ’s hands and feet by picking up necessities for house-bound neighbors. We even can evangelize by sharing our church’s online services with others. Although we all have suffered economically, some are better off than others. For those who are still able, continued (or even increased) support of our churches, missions, and relief organizations is a must. The need doesn’t go away when church doors shut! We’ll have to be creative, but we can continue to love and serve our sisters and brothers—even from a distance.

We can seek the hidden blessings in our isolation. Between closures and cancellations, I deleted forty events from my calendar for the next thirty days. My habitual complaint has been lack of time but, now that my calendar is free and I have nowhere to go, I have plenty of it! Let us endeavor to look at this forced isolation as a blessing rather than a curse!

Even though we can’t meet together, we must continue to encourage one another by finding joy in our trials and inspiring others to do the same. Using WhatsApp to spread the news, a Spanish trainer held a workout class on a low rooftop. Looking down through their windows, his class did jumping jacks and squats while sequestered in their apartments! Locked-down Italians have been having impromptu concerts from their balconies: a guitar and flute duet was presented in Turin, a man performed a trumpet solo in Trapani, and the streets of Siena and Salerno were filled with song as housebound people sang to one another. Last Friday, the term “flash mob” took on a new meaning when thousands of confined Italians stood on their balconies or hung out windows and made music with whatever they could find. A quarantined magician aboard the Diamond Princess is offering a daily televised magic show to his fellow room-bound passengers!

Most of us can’t lead an exercise class, sing from our balconies or make quarters disappear (except into vending machines), but we all can find a way to be the church. For example, the young people from a Colorado SK8 church are making grocery and pharmacy runs for the community’s elderly and housebound. As Christ followers, we continue to praise God, find joy in our circumstances, and bring light into darkness! While church doors are closed, our hearts and minds remain open to receive the joy of the Lord. We will pass that joy and His good news on to others because we are the church!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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SPEAK

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. [Mark 16:15 (ESV)]

zebra longwing butterflyMy latest exercise in learning how to live the abundant life promised by Jesus was both easy and difficult: I was to speak to one person about God, even if all I said was, “God is good” or “God loves you.” Since I write about God five days a week, said “God bless you!” to a friend, and talked about God with my pastor, I figured I was done, except I knew I wasn’t.

As with every abundance exercise I’ve been given, I wondered how this task led to an abundant life. When I took notice of God’s incredible creation in the first exercise, I joined the Psalmist in praise, thanksgiving, and worship. The second exercise entailed both acknowledgement of my sin and forgiveness, the third and fourth required me to encourage others and to be kind while expecting nothing in return. With last week’s assignment of sacrifice and this one of speaking about God, a common thread began to emerge: abiding in the Lord. Since we can’t abide in Him without being obedient to Him, each exercise involved obedience to His word. Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that obedience brings blessings—both to us and to others. The abundant life Jesus gives us is only realized when we truly are obedient to Him: when we abide in Him and He is us.

Obedience often means stepping out of our comfort zone and this exercise took me out of mine. Although talking about God with other believers and writing about Him in my blog fulfilled the letter of the assignment, it didn’t fulfill its spirit. Blessing someone when they sneeze or adding, ”God’s peace and joy,” to an email may be a start but they’re not the end of our Christian witness. Even though we’re called to proclaim the gospel to the world, many of us are hesitant to do that and our reticence is what prevents us from enjoying the richness of our faith. “To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in this world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth,” are the words of evangelist Charles Spurgeon. His words tell us that he knew what it was to experience the abundant life in Christ; it’s “heaven here upon earth!”

It is our commitment to Jesus that brings His blessings and true commitment requires obedience, even when that means stepping forward in witness. We are blessed by God when we bless the lives of others and I can’t think of a better way to bless someone than to share the gospel message of God’s love and forgiveness. Obedience—abiding in Jesus and He in us—is the key to an abundant life of blessings.

It is the greatest pleasure of living to win souls to Christ. [Dwight L. Moody]

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. [Deuteronomy 28:1-2 (ESV)]

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” [Luke 11:28 (ESV)]

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WHOSE TIME?

For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1 (VOICE)]

clockEcclesiastes tells us there is a right time for everything, Colossians and Ephesians tell us to use our time wisely, Proverbs warns about wasting time, James cautions that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, Corinthians warns us time is short and, readily admitting that his time and future are in God’s hands, David tells us to number our days. Nowhere does Scripture tell us how to have more time!

Time is precious and, like money, it can be given away. Unlike money, however, it can’t be saved for a rainy day, earned, found if lost, earn interest, grow when invested, or be replenished from a trust fund! Whether we use it wisely or not, once time has passed, it’s vanished forever!

I thought about time when my husband reminded me that I was to meet the church women for breakfast the following day. Having forgotten about the appointment, my initial reaction was a groan. I enjoy being with my church sisters: sharing, learning, laughing, encouraging, and loving one another. Nevertheless, I resented taking my time from a busy Monday to do it!

As God would have it, that morning’s reading took me to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and the words of the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Regarding the young man whose soul they hoped to capture, Screwtape writes: “Nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.” Those words described my reaction perfectly! Rather than seeing the blessing in fellowship, I’d seen only an intrusion on my time.

The devilish Screwtape instructs Wormwood to encourage the man’s false assumption that his time is a birthright and that every hour of every day belongs to him alone. Wormwood is to guide the man to consider interruptions of any kind as time that is stolen from him, work as time that is unduly taxed, and religious duties as a “generous donation” of his time.

Whether it was coincidence or the Holy Spirit’s intervention but Lewis’ words quickly caused an attitude adjustment regarding what I thought of as “my” time. Even the demonic Screwtape recognized that time is a gift that can’t be owned. He points out to Wormwood that, just as a man can’t hold title to the sun or moon, he can’t be the owner of time. We don’t own the heavens, church, friends, family, God, or our very lives and our time (whether an hour, a day, or a lifetime) does not belong to us. Any time with which we’re blessed belongs to God; He’s just allowing us to use a little bit of it. Rather than owners of our time, we are but stewards of His! Remembering that every day is the Lord’s day, let us always use His time to His honor and glory.

I give the moments of my life over to You, Eternal One. [Psalm 31:15 (VOICE)]

Everything and everyone under heaven is Mine! [Job 41:11b (VOICE)]

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