ONLY JESUS SAVES

God saved you by his grace when you first believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. [Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)]

viceroy butterflyUnlike the bruised and broken butterflies in yesterday’s devotion, this one looked perfect as it lay on the trail. When we approached, the Viceroy fluttered its wings but only managed to skim a few inches across the gravel. As intact as it looked, one wing was entirely useless. To protect it from walkers’ feet and speeding bicycles, we managed to get the creature off the trail into the grass. Unfortunately, without some sort of butterfly super-glue to reattach the loose wing, while we could help, we couldn’t save it.

Although it was easy to see that saving the butterfly was not within our purview, I’m not sure we understand that about our friends and loved ones. As much as we might want to, we can’t save the people around us. We can’t keep Terry from gambling, stop Mary from dating abusive men, make John quit drinking, or salvage Joan’s failing marriage. Seeing their potential and possibility, we want their lives to be better; they, however, are not our repair projects and their transformation is not our job. We can’t fix our loved ones, change their lives or save them from their own bad decisions. What we want for others is meaningless unless they want it for themselves. We can love them, share God’s word, help to bear their burdens, refuse to enable their destructive choices, and counsel, encourage and pray for them. What we can’t do is save them.

Just as we can’t save the addict from his addiction or the fool from his decisions, we can’t save non-believers from their non-belief. When we share the gospel message, we can impart knowledge but we can’t make people think; we can show people the truth, but we can’t make them believe. Just as we can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink, we can lead people to Jesus but can’t make them drink of His living water. We can give our testimony, but it is God who opens their hearts. We can sow the seed (and even water and fertilize it) but it is up to that seed and God as to whether or not it will sprout. Let us remember that Jesus will save anyone but not everyone will choose to be saved. Unfortunately, many will reject His offer of salvation. We can witness and pray for their salvation but we can’t save them. We aren’t their savior—Jesus Christ is! In actuality, He’s already done the saving; it’s just up to people to receive His gift of grace.

You will find all true theology summed up in these two short sentences: Salvation is all of the grace of God. Damnation is all of the will of man. [Charles Spurgeon]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. … And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment. [John 3:16-17, 36 (NLT)]

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NOT REMEMBERING

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. [Matthew 18:21-22 (RSV)]

Several authors tell the story of a friend of Clara Barton who reminded the nursing pioneer and Red Cross founder of a spiteful act someone had done to her years earlier. When Barton acted as if it had never happened, her friend asked, “Don’t you remember it?” She vehemently replied, “No! I distinctly remember forgetting it.” Forgiveness isn’t easy and it requires real (and continued) determination on our part. Sadly, without our deliberate effort to put the offense aside, it’s easy for past hurts to weasel their way right back into our hearts and minds.

When Moravian missionaries first came to the Arctic, they found no word in the Inuit language that properly captured the Christian concept of forgiveness. Using Inuit words, they came up with issumagijoujunnainermik meaning “not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.” That’s what forgiveness is; it’s choosing not to let the thoughts of that harmful person or their harmful deeds consume our thinking. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting; it’s deciding not to remember.

In writing about forgiveness today, I came across another interesting word: ilunga.  Found in the Tshiluba language spoken by the Bantu of the Congo, it is considered by linguists to be the most difficult word to translate. Ilunga describes a person who is ready to forgive and forget any first offense, will tolerate it a second time, but will neither forgive nor tolerate it a third time. It’s a three-strikes-and-you’re-out kind of person whose attitude changes with each offense. Jesus, however, didn’t tell us to forgive only once; He said to forgive seventy times seven times (or endlessly)!

When asked if she was ever troubled by past offenses, either hers of those of others, an elderly Christian lady is said to have replied, “Never!” She explained that if Satan troubled her about her sins or other people’s offenses, she simply sent him east. If he returned, she sent him to the west. Recalling the psalmist’s words that God “has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west,” [103:12] she explained that by sending Satan back and forth, from east to west and back again, she never allowed him to stop at her house.

The choice is ours. Will we choose to be like an ilunga or like that Christian lady and Clara Barton, people who practice issumagijoujunnainermik?

Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. [Lewis B. Smedes]

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (RSV)]

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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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COULD IT BE TODAY?

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

black vultureA few years ago, unaware of what the day would bring, a family friend kissed her new husband good-bye as he left for work. While riding the train that morning, the young man collapsed; he died of sudden cardiac arrest less than an hour after that tender kiss. That same year, another friend, whose wife’s body was ravaged by cancer, knew how short the time was he had with her. “While watching TV,” he confided downheartedly, “I looked over at Maureen and realized that next year her chair will be empty and I’ll be alone!” Today is Patriot Day, an annual remembrance of those who died or were injured during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Thinking about that tragic morning seventeen years ago when so many lost their loved ones unexpectedly, I remembered these two widowed friends. Which is worse: watching the one you love deteriorate and knowing that you’re running out of time for kisses or kissing a loved one in the morning and not knowing that will be the last kiss you’ll ever share?

I can’t imagine the anguish of either scenario and am thankful that God doesn’t give us a choice in this matter. But, I do know what would be more heartbreaking than either scenario. Instead of kissing one another when parting, it would be worse if our last words were angry or harsh ones. How tragic if, instead of sharing a few loving words, we spent our last moments together in heated discussion or spiteful silence. What if we squandered our last opportunity to say “I love you,” to apologize or forgive, to pray together, to laugh with one another, or to share a kiss?

Whenever we say good-bye to my mother-in-law, we always give her a kiss and express our love. Since she’s nearing her 102nd birthday, we understand that each time we see her might be the last. This day of remembrance, however, is a powerful reminder that we can’t see what the next day will bring. There is no guarantee of tomorrow or even the next hour. We don’t know when our last moments with someone may be, whether they are 102 or only 12, dying of cancer or in the prime of life. We mustn’t waste the time with which we’re blessed. Let’s fill our lives, and the lives of others, with love, peace, and joy.

Father in Heaven, may we all learn to live each day as if it is our last. Remind us, O Lord, that this could be the final day, not just for us, but for those we love. May your Spirit guide us so that we truly appreciate the time and people you’ve given us. Let us leave no forgiveness denied, no love unexpressed, no apologies unoffered, no conflicts unresolved, and no thanks unspoken.

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Stephen Grellet]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (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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SACRIFICED TO THE GODS

hindu pujaSo then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things through whom we live. [1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (NIV)]

If the multiple gods of Hinduism could be explained in one sentence it is the belief in one supreme being, Krishna, who has appointed many demi-gods with various powers and abilities. I mention this because one of my sons is married to a lovely woman whose heritage is Indian/Hindu. While he and his wife practice neither Christianity nor Hinduism, they try to honor the traditions of both sets of their more religious parents. Saturday, we attended a puja (ritual) to bless their new home. An altar had been placed in front of the fireplace and on it were several statues of Hindu gods and a tray with items like mango leaves, ghee, coconuts, and money. Red threads were tied around wrists and red tilaks applied to the participants’ foreheads, prayers and mantras were chanted in Sanskrit, and Ganesh, Vishnu, and Lakshmi were among the several deities honored. During the puja, things like water, rose petals, milk, uncooked rice, nuts, wheat, fruits, and assorted sweets were offered to all the idols.

My husband and I (as the only two practicing Christians out of thirty in attendance) did not participate in the puja and quietly sat in the back as observers. The ceremony ended with the distribution of prasadam: the remains of the food offerings. When we were handed plates with an assortment of nuts and dried fruits, a beautiful mixture of mango and other fresh fruit, a scoop of cooked wheat, and sweet kaju pista rolls made of cashew and pistachio flour, I began to understand the controversy faced by the early church over food offered to pagan gods. Knowing this was food had been offered to several idols, “What,” I wondered, “would the Apostle Paul say?”

Idols are inanimate and powerless to change food in any way; while they can corrupt hearts, they can’t corrupt food. We weren’t in danger of corrupted hearts and the puja hadn’t tainted the food. Moreover, as ignorant of our faith as we are of theirs, my daughter-in-law’s family wouldn’t judge us as hypocrites for eating the food but they would judge Christianity harshly if we were judgmental or inconsiderate and failed to be respectful of their traditions. This was not the time to evangelize, discuss the first and second commandments, or refuse food offered to us in love. The Apostle Paul wrote of sacrificial meat, eating in pagan temples, not endangering the faith of new Christians, and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles but this seemed to be one of those situations neither clearly addressed nor expressly prohibited in Scripture. It was time to let our consciences guide us.

Christians must accept that people will have different beliefs. We don’t have to accept those beliefs but we must respect their right to have them. Don’t misunderstand; while I joined my extended Hindu family in wishing peace, prosperity, and serenity for my son’s family in their new home, as fascinating as the puja was, I found it distasteful and disturbing. Nevertheless, knowing that we were not endorsing Hinduism or idolatry, we graciously accepted our plates of food.

Were we right? I don’t know. I do know that we let love guide us as we, like many others in today’s multi-cultural world, tried to navigate through a gray area to find a way to honor both God and family.

Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you. [Tim Keller]

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. [Romans 14:17-18 (NLT)]

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