WE ASK THE LORD’S BLESSINGS

Anna Maria Island beachYou will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God: Your towns and your fields will be blessed. Your children and your crops will be blessed. The offspring of your herds and flocks will be blessed. Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be blessed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be blessed. [Deuteronomy 28:2-6 (NLT)]

When praying for the Church one recent Sunday, we asked our Creator God to bless wild animals and family pets, prairies and kitchen gardens, beaches and sandboxes, mountains and hearths. While I’m used to asking God for spiritual blessings, to bless people and even activities (such as a ministry), I’m not as used to asking Him to bless physical things (and certainly not sandboxes and beaches).

While people may present their pets for a special blessing of the animals, I’ve never thought to ask for God’s blessing on creatures such as the squirrel, panther, skunk, or alligator. I frequently thank God for the beauty of His wildflowers but have never asked Him to bless the prairie displaying those flowers and, when saying grace, I ask Him to bless our food and those eating it but I haven’t thought to ask Him to bless the farmer or the garden that grew that food. I often asked God’s blessing on my children while they dug in their sandbox or played at the shore but I didn’t ask Him to bless either the sandbox or beach. When gazing at the Grand Tetons, in awe of God’s power and majesty, I thanked Him for His magnificent mountains. It didn’t occur to me that I could ask Him to bless those peaks and I’ve never asked Him to bless the slate on my fireplace hearth or the granite on my counters.

Ministers and priests often ask blessings on sacramental objects like baptismal water, bread, wine, and even wedding rings, but I’ve not heard them ask God’s blessing on the reservoir, wheat field, grape arbor or gold mine that produced those things. Yet, asking blessings on things is not so odd. When I asked God to bless my brother-in-law, I didn’t know that the wings he proudly wore on his Navy uniform had been blessed in a special ceremony when he graduated from fight school. An annual Blessing of the Fleet has been a tradition for boaters, sailors, fishermen, and the Navy for generations. The Roman Catholic Church has specific rituals for the blessing of things designated for sacred purposes, such as vestments or a chalice, and also for those designated for ordinary use, such as a cornerstone, houses, schools, and hospitals. Whenever we sing “God Bless America,” we ask God to bless our nation and I suppose we can ask for God’s blessing on anything, as long as it isn’t evil or would lead to sin. Nevertheless, I seriously doubt that God blessed any of the assault rifles brought to a ceremony last February that was sponsored by the Sanctuary Church and Rod of Iron Ministries (offshoot of the Unification Church).

God is the source of all good things and, in that Sunday’s prayer, I think we were asking Him to shower His goodness on all of His creation so that it would sing with joy. We were asking for His divine care and the restoration and protection of the world in which we live. We asked God to reveal Himself in His creation and, as we asked for His blessings on it, we offered Him our praise and grateful hearts. Most of all, the words of that prayer reflected the love that both God and His Church have for all of creation. They also served as a vivid reminder of the obligation and responsibility we have to care for all that has been given to us.

Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed! Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven. Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings. Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. Righteousness goes as a herald before him, preparing the way for his steps. [Psalm 85:10-13 (NLT)]

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YOUR MISSION

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 28:19-20 (NLT)]

dahliaIn 1978, Merck Research Laboratories was approached by a scientist who thought a drug he was developing to treat parasitic infections in animals might be useful in treating a parasitic infection in humans. Called onchocerciasis or river blindness, it is transmitted through the bite of black flies and had no known cure. The pharmaceutical company faced a dilemma. Since onchocerciasis is found only in third world areas, the people needing the medication could never afford to buy it. How could the company expend money to develop a drug they’d never be able to sell? Nevertheless, they did and, in 1987, Merck announced that, for as long as was necessary, they would give away the drug (Mectizan®) for the treatment of onchocerciasis to any country that needed it. Eleven years later, they expanded their commitment and started donating Mectizan® for the treatment of Lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-transmitted disease which can develop into elephantiasis. Since 1987, more than a billion treatments have been donated to thirty-three countries and the World Health Organization forecasts that both diseases could be eradicated by 2020.

Typically, in business, if there’s no chance for profit, there’s no chance for the project. In the case of Mectizan®, however, Merck saw the company’s primary goal as getting the drug to the people who needed it rather than getting a return on their investment. This mindset goes back to a statement by George Merck in 1933 that the company’s mission was to develop scientific breakthroughs to benefit humanity. In 1950, he elaborated by saying, “Medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits.” Merck’s CEO in 1978, Dr. Roy Vagelos, further clarified the company’s mission by directing its scientists to put medical needs before profits and to think of their work as a quest to alleviate worldwide human disease and suffering.

Jesus gave us what’s known as the Great Commission; recently, our northern church wanted to clarify how it intended to fulfill that command. At a congregational meeting to formulate a mission statement, the story of Merck putting people before profit was shared to illustrate the importance of knowing our purpose and what we will or won’t do to achieve it. It’s not just churches, businesses or charitable foundations, however, that need to articulate their mission. “What is my objective? What have I been called to do and how will I do it?” are questions each of us should ask of ourselves and our families.

In that same 1950 speech, George Merck said, “The all-important question in research, which must be asked constantly, is: what is the right thing to do? … We cannot rest till the way has been found…to bring our finest achievement to everyone.” I’m not in medical research but Merck’s words apply to us all. What is the right thing to do? How can we bring our finest achievements to others? A good place to start is to ask two more questions: “What would Jesus do and how would He do it?”

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. [John Wesley]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:2,21 (NLT)]

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THE BARBER

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. [Jeremiah 17:5-6 (NLT)]

 If God is, why is there evil? But if God is not, why is there good? [Saint Augustine]

Kuchenhof Gardens netherlandsThe story is told of a barber who vehemently denied the existence of God while cutting his customer’s hair. “Look at this troubled world,” he said. “School shootings, terrorism, wars, genocide, pain, poverty, hatred, prejudice, and deceit: they all prove your so-called God doesn’t exist!” The customer tried to reason with him but the atheist would have nothing of it.

When the customer left the shop, he saw a man sitting on a nearby bench. His hair was long, filthy and matted; his eyebrows were so shaggy they nearly covered his eyes; his face was so dirty his skin color was undistinguishable; and his mustache and beard were long, mangy, and disgusting. Returning to the shop, the customer announced to the barber, “There are no barbers; you do not exist!” The shocked man replied, ”But, I do; I’m right here in my shop. Here’s my chair and sink, towels and wash cloths, shampoo and shaving cream, scissors and razors, combs and brushes. How can you say I don’t exist?” The customer then pointed to the unkempt man sitting outside on the bench. “Well, that’s what happens when people don’t come to me,” said the exasperated barber. “My point exactly,” replied his customer. “This troubled sinful world is what happens when people don’t go to God!”

It’s been said that someone once asked Billy Graham how Christianity could be valid when there is so much evil in the world. The famous preacher replied, “With so much soap, why are there so many dirty people in the world? Christianity, like soap, must be personally applied if it is to make a difference in our lives.”

 A Christian is nothing but a sinful man who has put himself to school for Christ for the honest purpose of becoming better. [Henry Ward Beecher]

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. [Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)]

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PARTNERS

Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. [Philippians 1:4-6 (NLT)]

snowy egret - glossy ibisSeveral years ago, my husband came upon a wonderful opportunity to buy a business in another state. He also knew a talented young man capable of running it there. Rather than simply buying the business and hiring the fellow as CEO, my husband loaned him money so that he could buy a share in the business. A firm believer in having what he calls, “skin in the game,” my husband found that partners in a business care about its success far more than any employee ever will. When he and his partner retired, they sold the business to the employees through an ESOP program—now everyone working there is a partner and has “skin in the game.”

Just as there’s a difference between being an employee and a partner, there is a difference between being a member of an organization and being a partner in it. In our northern community, we have 52 members in our home owners’ association. By virtue of moving here and paying their association fees, a resident is a member yet many have little commitment to the welfare of the community and the only time they’re heard from is if they have a complaint. The partners in our community, however, are the ones who attend the meetings, respond to surveys, serve on committees, volunteer on work days, pick up loose trash or broken branches, and show concern for their neighbors. Caring about more than their property, they have invested in their community.

We find a difference between membership and partnership in our churches, as well. Members are names on a roster; partners have a place in the church community. Members are passive but partners are active. Members take and use but partners invest and share. Members complain and criticize but partners build, encourage, and work to correct problems. Members walk away in difficult times but partners stay and try to improve the situation. Members attend church but partners are the church. Reflecting this subtle difference, when people join our old mountain church, rather than becoming members, they now become partners. As partners, they have a vested interest in the success of the church and the welfare of its members.

The church being a partnership is Biblical. There may have been only twelve Apostles and seven elders in the first church but they all were partners in Christ. Luke tells us the believers dedicated themselves to learning about Jesus and their responsibilities as His followers. They worshipped and fellowshipped with one another, shared their resources, and prayed, ate, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. People were partners with one another in their common belief and mission and churches partnered with one another by welcoming Christian travelers into their homes, sending relief to those in need, planting new churches, and sharing doctrine, teachers, and resources.

We continue to share a common belief and mission in today’s church but church attendance is only the beginning of achieving that mission. By partnering with the pastor, church staff, and the rest of the congregation, we can bring our unique abilities and gifts together to work toward a common vision and goal: to be God’s hands, mouth and feet.

Member or partner—which one are you?

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)]

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CARE FOR THE LAMBS

And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. [Matthew 18:5-6 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtailEarlier this week, the news broke that church leaders in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses have protected more than 300 “predator priests.” More concerned with protecting the church and abusers than helping the more than 1,000 victims or preventing further abuse, they failed to report allegations, discouraged victims from reporting abusers, conducted their own biased and faulty inquiries, pressured law enforcement to delay or close investigations, and spun their own versions of the events. Earlier this summer, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis agreed to a $210 million settlement to 450 victims of clergy sexual abuse there. It’s not just the Roman Catholic Church that has failed in this arena. It was just revealed that Willow Creek, a non-denominational Protestant mega-church, paid $3.25 million to settle two lawsuits over sex abuse by a church volunteer. No amount of money, however, can remove the trauma of abuse.

This is neither a Catholic nor a Protestant problem; it is everyone’s problem and it certainly is not limited to churches. We’ve seen institution after institution put reputation before serving and protecting our children. A growing number of Olympic athletes have joined the U.S. women’s gymnastics team in allegations of sexual abuse in their sports. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that the Chicago Public Schools failed to protect their students from sexual abuse and assault. Among other things, ineffective background checks didn’t protect the children from offenders and abuse was not reported. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the Boy Scouts over sex abuse and they’ve paid out millions of dollars in settlements. Recently, I watched the news in horror as eleven malnourished children (and the remains of a twelfth) were discovered in a New Mexico compound. Earlier this year, a 17-year old escaped from her house of horrors to make the 911 call that rescued her twelve shackled and severely malnourished siblings from their California home. Sadly, these are but a few of the sickening tales of child abuse we find in the news.

If we ever questioned that we live in a fallen world, these horrifying examples leave us no doubt. Child abuse in any form is the work of Satan: the one who came to “steal and kill and destroy.” He is destroying our young people when he steals their innocence, their physical health, their emotional well-being or takes their lives. Made in God’s image, children are not meant to be used and abused; they are meant to be nurtured and loved.

Whether or not we know those who’ve been hurt and abused, they all are our children and this is our problem. As Christ’s body on earth, we must open our eyes to the children around us and never be silent bystanders. As His body, we can’t stand idly by when abuse of any kind is suspected and the church must never hide the ugly truth even when it occurs within our walls. Abuse can’t be swept under the rug nor can we send offenders off to another parish, school, gym, or scout troop with little more than a rap on the knuckles. Moreover, untrained in forensic interview techniques, we are not the ones to conduct internal investigations. Neither judge nor jury, it’s not our job to determine the validity of an accusation; abuse is both a sin and a crime and our job is to report suspected crimes! We have a God-ordained responsibility to protect and preserve all children (not just the ones in our homes).

We all are called to be shepherds. Father in Heaven, show us how to protect your lambs.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. [1 Peter 5:2 (NLT)]

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TELL THEM WHY

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16 (ESV)]

monarch butterfly - whorled milkweed

“Simply by being in your presence, non-Christians ought to be able to tell that you have spent time in God’s presence,” were the week’s words of wisdom in my email. In Bible study, one woman echoed the week’s wisdom when saying that she behaved so that the light of Christ could be seen in her conduct all day. Although actions speak louder than words and all of our actions should shout “Praise the Lord!” I wonder if, by depending solely on our examples, we are taking the easy way out of Jesus’ command to let our lights shine. After all, what good does our light do if no one ever learns the source of its power? Eventually, we need to open our mouths and share the gospel message with words as well as actions.

“Christian” as a noun means someone who professes specific belief in the doctrine of Christianity. When “Christian” is used as an adjective merely to describe good behavior (i.e. “he did the Christian thing”), the word loses its power. After all, we haven’t cornered the market when it comes to being good people. Being respectful, helpful, caring or kind is not limited to Christians. Some of the most compassionate, loving, moral, and generous people I know are of other faiths or of no faith at all. While I’d like to think that believers usually exhibit better behavior than non-believers, the difference between Christians and non-Christians is not behavior; the difference is Christ! Unless we open our mouths and talk about Jesus, people won’t know what makes us the way we are.

When reading the cast notes in a Playbill recently, one actress finished her brief resume with these words: “All glory to God! 1 John 4:19.” Hopefully, her demeanor among the rest of the cast and crew reflects the light of Christ. But, just in case they weren’t sure from where her light comes, she told them (as well as the audience): “We love because He first loved us.” Indeed, she said, “Praise the Lord!” and told us why.

Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words. [St. Francis of Assisi]

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

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.