THE SENDING

“There’s a great harvest out there,” he said to them, “but there aren’t many workers. So plead with the harvest-master to send out workers for the harvest.” [Luke 10:2 (NTE)]

concord grapesWhat is the most important moment in your Sunday service? If your church follows a liturgy, perhaps it is the confession, absolution, or thanksgiving. Singing praise music, hearing an inspiring sermon or sharing in the Lord’s Supper may be the highlight of your worship. Reciting the Creed, saying the Lord’s Prayer, greeting one another, communal prayer—all are important parts of the day’s worship service but are they the most important part of it? I wonder if the holiest moment of our Sunday morning occurs when the service is over and we leave the sanctuary (or turn off the computer) and go into the world. When the service has concluded, instead of our obligation to God being over for the week, could it just be starting? Could the next six days and twenty-three hours be more critical than that hour or so we spent at church?

Our God is a God of sending—Jesus was sent to us and now He sends us into the world. When we stop for brunch at First Watch, make a purchase at Home Depot, or chat with people at the dog park, we are His workers sent into the fields to harvest. When we’re cut off in traffic, vie for a parking spot at the mall, our neighbor needs a favor, or customer service fails to serve, we remain His workers and Jesus is to be heard in our voices and seen in our actions.

When Jesus chose those seventy-two disciples to spread the word, He spoke of the lack of available workers. Here in the U.S., the Pew Research Center found that the number of adults identifying themselves as Christian was 65% of the population. Even though that percentage dropped from 78% in 2007, we’re still left with about 168 million potential workers. With an estimated 2.5 billion Christians worldwide, perhaps the problem isn’t a shortage of workers but rather a shortage of commitment to do God’s work. Fields ripe for harvest are everywhere we go—the office, grocery store, golf course, beach, hiking trail, yoga class, and post office. Are we willing to go where He sends us and do what He calls us to do? Granted, in this day and age of social distancing, working the harvest might look a little different than it did a year ago but, if we ask God for opportunities to be His witness, He will provide them.

If we had the cure for cancer, would we remain silent, only tell a select few, or shout it from the rooftop? As Christians, we have knowledge of something even more precious than cancer’s cure—we have the cure for death and it’s found in Jesus! Are we going to remain silent or will we spread the good news? This Sunday, when we’re released from church (or our on-line worship service), it’s not like being released from school for spring break or summer vacation. We may be dismissed from church but we are not dismissed from serving God. As a chosen people and a royal priesthood, the most important part of our week is just beginning.

But you are a “chosen race; a royal priesthood”; a holy nation; a people for God’s possession. Your purpose is to announce the virtuous deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. [1 Peter 2:9 (NTE)]

Jesus said to them again. “As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you.” [John 20:21 (NTE)]

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THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:14 (NLT)]

nativity

Today is the Feast of Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. For me, this is the day the holiday CDs return to the back of the cabinet and the last of our holiday decorations disappear. The tree is stripped, disassembled, and crammed in its box and the ornaments, stockings, nativity scenes, and Christmas books returned to their plastic tubs. Once everything is packed up, we’ll haul the boxes back to the storage unit where they will remain until next November. Except for some left-over Christmas candy and a few spritz cookies, the only remnants of Christmas will be a few needles from the tree and bits of sparkle from the holiday flower arrangements that will elude my vacuum for weeks.

Although the outer trapping of Christmas will vanish, we must never let the message of Christmas depart from our lives. Christmas didn’t come in a box from Amazon; it came with a baby in a manger. Yet, Christmas really isn’t about a baby; it’s about a God whose greatness was reduced to a microscopic fertilized egg and born of a virgin. Christmas isn’t about a wreath hanging on the door or Christmas cards and carols; it’s about the love and sacrifice that led to Jesus hanging on a cross. It’s more than the Grinch, Santa, Rudolph, or Scrooge because it says that God’s love for us was so great that he laid aside His divine privileges to live and die as a man. Christmas isn’t about brightly colored lights or holiday candles; it’s about the light of the world. Christmas lasts more than twelve days because that baby’s name was Immanuel (meaning God with us). Jesus was with us then, as a man, and He continues to be with us today, as the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago, after everything Christmassy had been crated and stowed, I discovered one small figure of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that I’d forgotten to put away. Rather than pack it up, I moved it to my desk where it remains regardless of the season. The outer trappings of Christmas won’t return for another eleven months but that carving of the holy family reminds me that Christmas doesn’t end on January 6. The message of Christmas must remain in our hearts all year long.

May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope; The spirit of Christmas which is peace; The heart of Christmas which is love. (Ada V. Hendricks)

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:6-11 (NLT)]

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FEEDING HIS SHEEP

“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” [John 21:17b (NLT)]

skateboarding steamboat SK8When we spent our winters in the mountains, we often provided dinners for a local skateboard ministry. Offering a safe and sober refuge (along with the love of Jesus) to the area’s teens and young adults, this SK8 church defies definition. It’s an amazing combination of indoor skatepark/teen rec center and non-denomination Christian ministry where unconditional love mixes with rad skate ramps, both grip tape and Bibles are plentiful, conversations range from ollies and railslides to John 3:16, 360s and service projects are regular events, and, while you may hear some Christian rap or metal you’ll not hear bad language.

If the Christian church is a hospital for wretched souls, then SK8 church, with its goal of reaching “the lost, broken, and addicted with the love of Jesus,” is a MASH unit for them! Most of the youth have troubled pasts and few come from faith-based homes or with any knowledge of the Bible. Many, however, have transformed their lives as they have come to know Jesus through this ministry.

Last week, after receiving their year-end update, I thought back to our experiences with these youngsters as we dished up pulled pork or sliced ham on Thursday nights. The ministry began almost sixteen years ago when a young couple brought burgers and hot dogs to the local skatepark and shared both bread and the Bread of Life with kids who were desperately hungry for both. When winter’s snow made skating impossible, they opened their home for those dinners and the Word. Within five years, they had a building and built an indoor skate park. SK8 church now offers after school open skating, tutoring programs, counseling, recovery meetings, weekly Bible study, and five mission trips a year, along with middle school and high school/college/adult ministries that include weekly dinners (and God’s word). They recently expanded their ministry with a satellite skatepark/rec center/skate shop in a nearby town.

Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and three times Peter said he did. After each affirmation, Jesus either told Peter to feed or to care for his sheep. Feeding the sheep literally meant to take them to pasture and caring for the sheep meant to act as would a shepherd. That charge, however, wasn’t literal nor was it meant just for Peter. It applies to every one of us who claim to love the Lord. Rather than pasturing and shepherding sheep, we are called to feed God’s children His word and to care for them by guarding, guiding, nurturing, and restoring them along with seeking the lost and bringing back those who’ve strayed.

When they started SK8 church, that young couple’s only qualification was their love for Jesus. Nevertheless, they took Jesus’ words to heart and literally fed those youngsters dinner along with God’s word. Granted, feeding and caring for His sheep won’t always lead to a major ministry and 501c3 standing as it did for them but it should lead to some action on our part.

Sometimes, feeding His sheep is as simple as a platter of sliced ham or a tray of brownies! Our pastor tells of a woman at a previous church where he was the youth pastor. Well into her eighties, she faithfully appeared at the weekly youth meetings wearing noise reduction ear muffs (because of the loud Christian rock) and bearing a huge tray of home-made brownies. She may not have liked the music, but she loved Jesus and His lambs. The teens knew the special ingredient in her brownies wasn’t chocolate; it was love!

As we begin this new year, let us think of ways that we, too, can feed and care for His sheep.

Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)]

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PASS IT ON

Christmas lightsThe Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (NLT)

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s Love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on. [Kurt Kaiser]

Last year, our entire family celebrated Christmas in the Keys and we were able to worship together Christmas Eve. Typical of most Christmas Eve services, everyone received a small candle when entering the church. At the end of the service, the lights were dimmed and the first person’s candle was lit from an altar candle. As we sang Silent Night, the flame from that first candle was passed to the next person and continued to be passed from person to person until everyone’s candles were burning brightly. It was a tiny church with about one hundred worshippers. Nevertheless, even though each individual candle gave off only a little light, by the time the song was finished, the sanctuary was 100 times brighter than when we’d started.

While listening to praise music today, I heard an old favorite from my Girl Scout days: Pass It On by Kurt Kaiser. The words, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going,” got me thinking about those candles. When we light a candle, we can pass along the flame without our own light diminishing. In fact, as the light gets passed along, it only gets brighter! Just as the flame of a candle doesn’t weaken as it is spread around, neither does love—it simply grows larger and stronger. While having more children may lessen the amount of money we can spend on each child, it certainly doesn’t lessen the love we have each one of them. In fact, our love increases so that we still can love each child as if he or she were our only one. That’s how it is with our Heavenly Father’s love; His love is limitless and He loves each and every one of us as if we were his only child.

This year, my family was separated by thousands of miles and we only saw one another on Zoom. Instead of going to a church Christmas Eve, we attended church on our computers. No flames were passed from person to person and no candles illuminated a darkened church as we sang Silent Night. Nevertheless, it only takes a spark to get the fire going and we don’t need a candle’s flame to spread the blessings of God’s grace and love. Let us remember these words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” It can’t extinguish God’s love, either!

The candlelight from last year’s Christmas Eve service was limited by the number of people in the church but there is no limit to the brightness that can be brought into this dark world by Christ’s church. What if every one of us took the light of God’s love with us and passed it on to all who cross our path? Remember, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going!”

I wish for you my friend This happiness that I’ve found;
You can depend on God It matters not where you’re bound.
I’ll shout it from the mountain top;
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on. [Kurt Kaiser]

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)]

And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. [1 John 3:23 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THAT CHILD WAS GOD!

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. … So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:1-2,14 (NLT)]

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. [Colossians 2:9 (NLT)]

nativityHe came as a baby! God Himself humbly came into the world as a helpless infant. Our nativity scenes and Christmas cards portray a serene Mary holding her peacefully sleeping child but babies are anything but calm and peaceful. They are messy and incredibly noisy little creatures who, when not sleeping, are crying, eating, drooling, peeing, or pooping (often all at the same time). That was God sleeping in the feed trough and nursing at Mary’s breast but He didn’t have a gold halo around his head. Looking the same as every other newborn, he was doing and feeling the same things every human baby feels. On the eighth day of His life, He was circumcised just like every other little Jewish boy and I’m sure He cried in pain! That crying baby was God!

Jesus came into the world without benefit of a sterile hospital birthing room and Mary didn’t rock Him to sleep in a soothing-motion bassinet or rocking cradle. She didn’t sit in a cushioned glider chair or have a nursing pillow when she fed him. He didn’t have super-absorbent, ultra soft, hypoallergenic disposable diapers covering his bottom nor did Mary use warmed sensitive-skin baby wipes to clean that bottom. In all likelihood God had diaper rash and, with no special baby shampoo, He cried when the soap got in His eyes. Mary carried Him in a simple sling rather than an ergonomically designed carrier. It was God incarnate who had the runny noses, sore throats, tummy aches, stubbed toes, and bruises that came with childhood.

Jesus had to be fed and then learn to feed himself; he probably spilled more than once. He had to learn how to crawl, walk, and run and must have bumped his chin and skinned his knees frequently. He had to be potty trained and, in all likelihood, had more than one accident. The One who was the Word had to learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read. Picture God singing the Hebrew equivalent of the ABC song: “Aleph, Bet, Vet, Gimel, Dalet, Hey…” At Joseph’s side, Jesus must have gotten a few splinters and sore thumbs as He learned the carpenter’s trade. Fully God and fully human, Jesus got tired, dirty, and hungry just like every other child!

God, being God, could easily have come into the world full grown. Jesus could have skipped the indignities of babyhood and challenges of childhood but He didn’t. When God came into our world, He experienced every human emotion and physical sensation. He knew cold, pain, sorrow, loss, toil, discomfort, fatigue, and temptation as well as love, joy, comfort, and encouragement. Jesus was there when time began and yet the One who created mankind humbled Himself and experienced humanity. That baby—that little baby boy was God Himself!

How can God stoop lower than to come and dwell with a poor humble soul? Which is more than if he had said such a one should dwell with him; for a beggar to live at court is not so much as the king to dwell with him in his cottage. [William Gurnall]

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

CHRISTMAS EVE – THE CHRIST CANDLE

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [Isaiah 9:2,6 (KJV)]

angel

No Christmas Eve seems complete without reading Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth. Although my husband and I usually read from the NLT, it will be from the King James tonight, which is the Bible translation we both knew as youngsters. Seventy plus years ago, the Sunday schoolers at my husband’s church recited Luke’s words every Christmas Eve and he always seemed to have the same verse: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Although many of the words and phrases of the KJV (like “espoused wife,” days that were “accomplished,” and being “of the house and lineage of David” or “sore afraid”) seem dated, it will be comforting to read the familiar and beautiful words found in this old translation.

We’ll also read the powerful words found in Isaiah 9—a promise that those walking in the darkness of God’s judgment will see the light of deliverance with the birth of a child who will fulfill God’s promise of a messianic King. It will be difficult to read the titles given to this child without wanting to sing the words so familiar from Handel’s Messiah: “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Whether the child would be called both “Wonderful” and “Counsellor” or “Wonderful Counsellor” is a point of contention among translators. While the King James places a comma between the two words, many other translations don’t. Since the original Hebrew had no punctuation, we’ll never really know. Regardless of the punctuation, when we look at His names, it’s clear that the promised child would do more than bring light into the world.

The Hebrew word translated as wonderful is pele’ and it meant far more than just extraordinary. Astonishing to the point of being miraculous, pele’ was so marvelous that it required an act of God! The rest the child’s names are pretty self-explanatory. As a counsellor, he would guide the people from God’s perspective and with divine wisdom. He would have God’s might and power but care for His people as does a father for his children. A father, however, can’t do that forever but this promised child would guard and sustain his people eternally. The child’s final title is that of Prince of Peace. From the Hebrew word shalom, the peace of which Isaiah speaks is far more than absence of conflict or anxiety. It is a sense of wholeness, fullness, security, safety, balance, harmony, tranquility and calm—all of which the world so desperately needed then and still needs now.

The past four Sundays, we’ve lit the colored candles of hope, peace, joy, and love on our Advent wreath. Tonight, after lighting them, we will light the white candle that sits in the wreath’s center: the Christ candle. As we look at those five candles brightly burning, we’ll remember that Jesus truly is the “light of the world” and so very much more!

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. [Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)]

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. [John 12:46 (KJV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.