THE PEACE POLE – WORLD PEACE DAY

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:18,21 (NLT)]

peace poleCOVID kept us from the Botanic Gardens for well over a year. When we finally returned to one of our favorite places, we came upon a peace pole planted among the palms, bamboo and bromeliads. Although a similar pole is in the city park downtown, I don’t remember seeing one here when last we visited. These poles are just two of the more than 250,000 that have been erected in over 180 nations.  Symbolizing the oneness of humanity, the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” are written in eight different languages. The languages chosen for this pole were English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hawaiian, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish—the languages of people who, like us, live at the 26th parallel north. Peace poles stand as a visual reminder to pray for peace on earth and to think, speak and act in the spirit of harmony and peace.

Forty years ago, the United Nations designated today as the annual International Day of Peace (commonly called World Peace Day). In 2011, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate it as a day of cease-fire and non-violence. They ask every person and nation to halt hostilities and fighting for this one twenty-four-hour period. Unfortunately, I doubt the world can make one hour, let alone twenty-four, without aggression, hostility and bloodshed. Hopefully, you and I can go longer than twenty-four hours without conflict or violent behavior!

The causes of world conflict are many and, according to the UN, include poverty, social inequality, hunger, dwindling natural resources, water scarcity, environmental decline, disease, corruption, racism, and xenophobia (an intense fear of foreigners). This year’s theme, “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World,” continues the UN’s focus on finding ways to overcome those causes. Indeed, as our world struggles to recover from what seems to be a never-ending pandemic, we can see how the underprivileged and marginalized have been hit the hardest. In the last eighteen months, we have seen both the best and the worst of our fellow travelers on this planet. This day is a reminder that instead of fighting with one another, we should join in fighting mankind’s common enemies!

As Christians, we have the peace of God—the peace that passes understanding—but we must be more than possessors of peace. Jesus calls us to be makers of peace but erecting a peace pole is not enough! We can start by bringing peace to our little corner of the world, beginning at home and then moving on to work, school, church and community. Our peacemaking efforts, however, can’t stop at the borders of our neighborhood or even our nation. We must take Christ’s message of peace out into the world by thinking, speaking, and acting in the cause of peace. While we each have an obligation to improve the various conditions that promote conflict, changing people’s circumstances is just a beginning. For true peace, the peace that is found in a relationship with God, we must change people’s hearts.

World peace, while a lofty goal, is not something I expect to see in my lifetime. Nevertheless, we each must do our part.

We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ spoke much of peace on earth. [Henry Drummond]

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. [James 3:17-18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FARMA – Part 1

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. [Galatians 6:7-9 (NLT)]

zinniaFound in Buddhism and Hinduism, the concept of karma is the idea that how you live your life now determines the quality of life you’ll have after reincarnation. Christians, however, believe that “each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,” [Hebrews 9:27] which means that karma, with its continual opportunities to get it right, is not compatible with Christianity. Nevertheless, the karmic idea of good and bad actions yielding similar consequences—that “what goes around comes around”—is present throughout the Bible. Because many of the Bible’s metaphors about cause and effect have to do with agriculture and farming, a pastor friend likes to call this concept “farma.”

When a seed is planted, it will produce a harvest only of that particular plant. Apple seeds only produce apples just as just as corn seeds only yield a harvest of corn. It’s much the same with people—we usually get whatever we plant in our relationships. More often than not, the seeds of kindness produce more kindness and thoughtfulness, the seeds of patience yield a harvest of patience and perseverance and, when truth is planted, the planter typically reaps truth and trust.

If, however, we plant weeds, that’s exactly what we’ll get. Just as thistle seeds won’t yield roses, seeds of rage won’t produce peace, those of confrontation won’t yield harmony, and seeds of selfishness won’t produce generosity. The harvest from seeds of deceit will probably be more lies while disloyalty reaps betrayal. We can’t sow hate and expect affection and compassion won’t bloom where callousness has been planted. When we sow discord, we should expect a harvest of conflict in return.

Good farmers and gardeners think seriously about the kind of seeds they’ll plant. They not only look for seeds that will yield a bountiful crop but also for ones that are resistant to weeds, disease and pests. Perhaps we need to spend some time every morning determining the sort of seeds we will plant in our lives and the lives of those we encounter during the day. What kind of crop do we want? What can we plant in the garden of our lives that will blossom into a bountiful harvest of good?

We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all. [Dorothy Day]

My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same. [Job 4:8 (NLT)]

Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. [Hosea 10:12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

NOTHING PERSONAL

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. [Luke 6:35-36 (MSG)]

great egret - breeding lores“There is nothing personal going on here,” were the words that helped author Jane Smiley get through her acrimonious divorce. Although no divorce is pretty, the circumstances surrounding hers were especially ugly. Realizing that her husband was acting out his own drama helped her to better understand and deal with his dreadful behavior and hurtful actions. Smiley explained, “This is a wiser way of understanding the people around you … how they have their own passions, motivations, and histories, that sometimes (always) grip them in ways, that even they do not grasp—ways you don’t have to respond to automatically.” Her words impressed me so much that I wrote them down after reading them several years ago. The author wrote that remembering the phrase, “There’s nothing personal going on here,” has helped her deal with other difficult people and situations in her life. I find them useful, as well.

When Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley writes fiction, she is the creator of each character. As such, she knows their back story, needs, fears, and issues. She invents the baggage they’re carrying and understands the reasons for their behavior. In real life, however, people have their own private history. Although people’s past hurts or present problems are never an excuse for thoughtless words or bad conduct, they do affect them. Carrying hidden scars, people have passions, fears, insecurities, prejudices, and forces that control them in ways that even they may not understand. We don’t know much about other people’s pasts (or their present circumstances) nor do they know ours. Realizing this makes it easier to step back and not take their hurtful words and actions so personally.

In this day and age of insults, boorishness, and unpleasantry, we have plenty of opportunities to take offense. More often than not, we’ve done nothing deliberately to deserve whatever nastiness has been dished out to us; nevertheless, let us remember than taking offense is a choice. We are accountable to God only for what we do, not for what is said and done to us.

It is hurting people who hurt people; remembering that hurtful behavior is more the result of other people’s issues than our behavior keeps us from retaliating. It certainly makes forgiveness much easier. Rather than taking it personally, let us pray for those who upset, offend, fail, or hurt us. Bearing in mind that everyone has a history and their own unique story known only by God, we can say, “There is nothing personal going on here,” and get on with our lives.

What can you ever really know of other people’s souls – of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. [C.S. Lewis]

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. [Luke 6:37-38 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR

dragonflyWhen all the people in the synagogue heard these things, they became very angry. They got up, forced Jesus out of town, and took him to the edge of the cliff on which the town was built. They planned to throw him off the edge, but Jesus walked through the crowd and went on his way. [Luke 4:28-30 (NCV)]

For love to be real, for it to grow deep inside, it must not give in to fear. It is not afraid to give, to risk, to chance, even if it hurts. Love believes. It is faith moving forward. Fear holds us back. It makes us stop or turn and run. [Chris Fabry]

While writing yesterday’s devotion about selfishness being the opposite of love, I found several authors who suggested that fear is the opposite of love. This gave me pause; can something be the opposite of more than one thing?

From day one, when Mary and Joseph fled with Him to Egypt, Jesus had plenty of reasons to be fearful and yet fear never prevented Him from speaking, healing, pointing out hypocrisy and evil, or going to the cross. He didn’t give in to fear when, after speaking of God’s grace to Gentiles, the people of His own hometown tried to force him off a cliff. Angry mobs, religious leaders, and Rome never intimidated Jesus or kept Him from challenging the corrupt political and religious system of His day. He knew a warrant was issued for His arrest and that the cross awaited Him in Jerusalem but fear didn’t stop Jesus from boldly riding into the city while being hailed as a king. He knew Judas would betray Him and yet the Lord shared His last meal with him. Jesus didn’t plead for mercy or justice at his trial and His last words weren’t ones of fear or selfishness; they were words of loving forgiveness. Nothing Jesus said or did speaks of fear but everything He said and did speaks of love.

Afraid of commitment, rejection, manipulation, the opinions of others, insufficiency, injury, ineptitude, failure, or that there won’t be enough left over for us, we don’t love. Afraid of being vulnerable, we protect ourselves by not getting involved, not going all-out, not sharing, and not caring. So, like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable, we walk away, keep to ourselves and our interests, pretend we don’t notice, or make excuses.

Fear happens when we look at ourselves rather than trust in God. Perhaps fear and selfishness are two sides of the same coin. When we’re fearful, we become selfish and, when we’re selfish, it’s likely we’re afraid of something or someone. Love, however, is the antidote to both afflictions. God is love and where God’s love is, there is neither selfishness nor fear.

The call of Jesus is a call to take heart, to have courage, to stand tall in the name of love. The daily invitation that the risen Christ extends to us is to be a people who refuse, in love, to step to the tune of fear. [Bishop Robert O’Neill]

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears. [1 John 4:18 (NCV)]

God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power and love and self-control. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NCV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL (THE GOOD SAMARITAN – Part 3)

If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. [Proverbs 25:21 (NLT)]

rabbit foot cloverWhen the ten northern tribes refused to submit to Rehoboam, they revolted and, by 930 BC, there were two political states: Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern one. Both kingdoms suffered from inept, disobedient, and often corrupt leadership but Judah’s king Ahaz (743-728 BC) was one of weakest and most corrupt of all the southern kingdom’s leaders. Because of his apostasy (which included sacrificing some of his sons to Baal), the Lord allowed Judah’s defeat at the hands of Rezin (king of Aram) and Pekah (king of Israel). By the end of the battle, Ahaz lost a son and two of his close advisors and Judah lost 120,000 seasoned warriors. The Arameans took captives to Damascus and Israel’s warriors returned to Samaria with a huge amount of plunder and 200,000 captured women and children they intended to enslave (in spite of its prohibition in Leviticus 25:39-43).

As Israel’s victorious army returned to Samaria with their captives and plunder, they were met by a prophet named Oded. Protesting Israel’s brutal treatment of Judah, Oded told them that it was God who permitted them to wage war and defeat Judah but that Israel went too far in their merciless massacre and their plan to enslave their Judean brethren. After asking, “What about your own sins against the Lord?” the prophet warned that that God’s anger had been turned toward Israel and urged the soldiers to return their prisoners to Judah.

God had allowed Judah’s defeat but, in their rage and frenzy, Israel’s army went too far. Merciless in their slaughter, they’d stepped out of God’s will and Oded told them their rage had disturbed heaven. Perhaps they’d slain men who had surrendered, raped women, burned the crops, or massacred innocent children. We don’t know for sure but we do know that, by the time they reached Samaria, some of their captives were naked and without footwear. Whatever they’d done was beyond what was necessary for a battle victory. This story is often cited by those advocating the Just War Theory—a philosophy that sets forth the conditions required for justly going to war and for the right conduct in a war, one of which is the prohibition of using unnecessary force to attain the objective.

We know nothing about Oded and this is the only mention of him in Scripture and yet, in a rare Old Testament occurrence, people actually listened and took a prophet’s message to heart. Agreeing with Oded, four of Israel’s leaders confronted the returning warriors. Warning them that they couldn’t afford to add to their guilt, they told the soldiers to release their captives. That they willingly gave up the spoils of war tells us they knew their vicious behavior had been reprehensible. Their plunder and prisoners were handed over to the four leaders who then provided them with clothing, sandals, food and drink and applied balm and oil to their wounds. After putting the weak and injured on donkeys, they returned their Judean captives safely to Jericho.

Through the years, both Israel and Judah were guilty of wronging one another but, in this amazing act of mercy, Israel tried to right one terrible wrong. Perhaps it was Oded’s reminder that the captives were their brethren. All descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at one time, they’d been twelve brothers! How had they fallen so low as to think of enslaving members of their own family?

While this story is not well known to 21st century Christians, it probably was familiar to Jesus’ listeners when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan—the Judean who was mercilessly attacked and the Samaritan who dressed his wounds with oil and wine, provided him with clothing, put him on a donkey, took him to an inn, and provided for his food, drink, and care. Was Jesus’ story a not-so-subtle reminder that, in spite of all that had transpired between the two territories, the Samaritans weren’t just their neighbors—they were their brethren? Was this a reminder that it’s never too late to right a wrong?

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. … God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:7,9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IN 21 WORDS

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]

Grand TetonLast month, I received an email from my college alumni association asking alums to share 21 words of encouragement or advice with the class of 2021. The request gave me pause as I pondered what wise and pithy advice for this year’s grads I would put into a mere 21 words. Since my eldest grand is starting her senior year at NYU, I wondered what words of wisdom I would share with her next year.

Turning first to Scripture, I thought of the to-the-point advice in Proverbs but discovered that one verse was too short and two were too long. Thinking of my favorite Bible verses, I turned to 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Finding it one word too short, I checked other translations and eventually found the perfect length in the ESV. But, instead of “be courageous,” it said “act like men,” a somewhat imperfect translation of the Greek word Paul used meaning to act in a courageous and virtuous manner. Since today’s youth probably would be offended by what seems sexist language, I eliminated that from my possibilities.

I then turned to Matthew 22 and Jesus’ answer when the Pharisee asked Him the most important commandment. With some editing and the use of an ellipsis, I met the 21-word requirement with the Message translation of His answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. … Love others as well as you love yourself.” [22:37,39]

As all-encompassing and wise as those words are, they aren’t mine and they didn’t cover everything I’d want to say to my own grands in just 21 words. If required to summarize my philosophy that succinctly, what would I say? The limit of 21 words made this exercise as challenging as writing a three-line 17-syllable haiku.

Eventually, I came up with the following: “Love God. Love others. Follow Jesus. Pray. Read Scripture. Work hard. Forgive. Be kind, generous, honest, and patient. Laugh. Be yourself.” If allowed more words, I probably would add, “Listen more, speak less,” along with “Believe in yourself.” These are some of the things I wish it hadn’t taken me several decades to learn! I do suspect that most of that advice actually was given to me as a youth; it’s just that I had to learn those lessons for myself.

Several years ago, I was given the assignment of writing my salvation story in 100 words or less. Selecting 21 words of inspiring advice turned out to be much harder than that! Nevertheless, just as we should be prepared to give a clear and concise answer when someone asks how we came to be followers of Jesus, we should be able to summarize our values and way of life in a few words.

What is important to you? What few words do you wish you’d heard when you were stepping into adulthood? What 21 words would you choose for today’s graduates?

But the wisdom that comes from above is first holy, then peaceful, gentle, compliant, filled with mercy and good fruits, unbiased, sincere. [James 3:17 (NTE)]

What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. [Romans 12:2 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.