FAVORITE COLORS – MOTHER’S DAY 2020

tropical water lilies
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

“Who has been the most influential woman in your life? Who encouraged you to be the best version of you?” was the question asked in a Mother’s Day devotion I read. Typically, one would reply his or her mother. My mother, however, died when I was fifteen. She certainly got me started in the right direction but, in the nearly sixty years since her passing, many women added to what she left undone.

I remember the camp counselor who gave me some tough (and much needed) words of correction; the widowed aunt who demonstrated that a woman alone can do anything; the acquaintance who shared her story of molestation when she recognized the signs of mine; the college roommate who proved one could be both godly, virtuous and popular; my husband’s aunt who embraced her difficult circumstances without complaint and lived her life with joy; my mother-in-law who taught me what it means to be a wife; my mother-in-law’s caregiver who defined compassion and patience; and my daughter who has shown true grace under pressure. I remember the many women who generously and patiently taught me new skills, those who challenged me to reach far beyond where I thought I could, and those who encouraged me when I thought I could go no further. I’ve been made better by women who remained calm in chaos and whose faith endured in overwhelming storms. I’ve been deepened by women who stumbled and got back up, who cried and smiled again, who gave when they had little to give, who loved the unlovable, forgave the unforgiveable and laughed in the face of tragedy. Out of all the women who have touched my life in such positive ways, who would I pick?

The women who influenced me are a bit like a fabulous collection of crayons. I can’t select a favorite from among the 120 colors Crayola offers, so how could I pick just one woman among the many who have made me who I am? Each woman colored the canvas of my life in her own unique way. While my canvas may have a preponderance of colors like Mountain Meadow, Turquoise Blue and Cornflower (with a touch of my mother’s Granny Smith Apple and sister’s Bittersweet), I have been enhanced by the Razzmatazz, Shocking Pink, Unmellow Yellow, Vivid Tangerine, Cotton Candy, Wild Strawberry, Razzle Dazzle Rose and Outrageous Orange that were added by other women who blessed my life. I’m nowhere near complete and colors keep being added that will make me a better version of myself.

While all of the women who’ve helped color me are unique, like crayons that share the same box, they have something in common; they all were women of faith—women who believed in the power of Jesus Christ. They saw His light and knew the truth of His words. There is, however, a huge difference between those who just see the light and those who become His light. Those who merely see the light may know the truth but don’t leave their mark; those who become His light, live the truth, color the world with their beauty, and cause us to be better versions of ourselves.

Thank you, God, for the women (and men) who shed your light on us and color us with their love, concern, wisdom, faith, and good examples. They help make us all that You mean for us to be.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

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PUSHING THE ROCK

“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” [Luke 14:12-14 (NLT)]

utahI recently read about Derek Black, a young man who grew up immersed in white nationalism. The heir apparent to the WN movement, by the age of twenty, he’d already created a racist website for children and was co-hosting a national radio show advocating prejudice and hostility toward blacks, Jews, immigrants, and other minorities. During college, Black gradually recognized the ugliness of his beliefs but it wasn’t confrontation, heated debate, or ostracism that led to his transformation; it was the hand of friendship!

One of those who reached out to Black was Matthew Stevenson, an orthodox Jew, whose father had advised him to “reach out and extend the hand, no matter who’s waiting on the other side.” Each Friday night, Matthew welcomed friends at a Shabbat dinner. Only one other guest was Jewish; the rest were an assorted mix of faith, race, and nationality. Realizing the best way to enlighten Black was to introduce him to another way of thinking, the orthodox Jew invited this man—someone who regularly spewed anti-Semitism—to Shabbat dinner! Shunned by nearly everyone else on campus, Black accepted.

This was not an effort to ambush or “convert” Black and politics were not discussed. The group simply shared Shabbat prayers, wine, kosher food, and casual conversation. Derek Black’s thinking didn’t change overnight and, after more than a year of such dinners with no change in his views, one of the group suggested no longer inviting him. Matthew wisely responded, “The basic principle is that it’s our job to push the rock, not necessarily to move the rock.”

White nationalism was embedded in all of Black’s childhood memories, his sense of self, and nearly every relationship he’d ever had. Extricating himself from all that he’d known, but gradually recognized as wrong, was not easy. Eventually, however, the rock was ready to move and Derek Black publicly disavowed white nationalism.

This message isn’t about white nationalism. It’s about extending our hand “no matter who’s waiting on the other side” in the same way that Jesus extended His hand to tax collectors, Gentiles, sinners and those considered “unclean.” Every person we meet has been made by God in His image and can teach us something about life. The only label we should use for anyone is that of “neighbor” because everyone (regardless of race, religion, or politics) is our neighbor and someone we are to love.

If we expect anyone to listen to us, we must be as willing to listen to them as the Shabbat group was with Derek. While we may consider some people’s beliefs to be in error, we must remember that they think them to be true and, most likely, find reassurance in them. We can’t berate or condemn people into belief and, if we expect our beliefs to be respected, we must respect those held by others. In light of the increasingly polarized political climate in our nation, we must learn to extend our hands “no matter who’s waiting on the other side.”

Looking beyond his label of white nationalist, Black’s dinner companions didn’t see him as a problem needing fixing and the non-believers we meet are more than projects needing salvation. The Shabbat group was patient, not pushy and, while they never were false to their own beliefs, they never condemned Derek for his. While the end goal of Christian evangelism is conversion, our job merely is to give the rock a push. Whether or not the rock moves is between that person and God. We may be the messengers but it is Jesus who saves!

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. [Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ALLELON – ONE ANOTHER

So if our shared life in the king brings you any comfort; if love still has the power to make you cheerful; if we really do have a partnership in the spirit; if your hearts are at all moved with affection and sympathy – then make my joy complete! Bring your thinking into line with one another. Here’s how to do it. Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object. Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:1-4 (NTE)]

gulls - clam passYesterday, I wrote about koinonia or what I called the art of Christian community. Writing about Christian fellowship, however, can be easier than actually living in it. Just as a family has a vast array of different personalities, temperaments, and gifts, so does the church. In fact, with our sheltering in place, social distancing, working from home, having children home all day, and parks, playgrounds, gyms, and beaches all closed, some of us might be having more difficulty maintaining a spirit of fellowship with one another in our own homes than in our churches!

The Greek word used for “one another” was allelon, meaning reciprocally or mutually. Often translated as “one another,” “themselves,” “mutually,” “yourselves together,” or “each other,” allelon is used 101 times in the New Testament. 59 of those occurrences are found in specific commands teaching us how we are to relate (or not to relate) to one another. It is in those 59 commands that we learn how to have true koinonia in both church and home.

Sixteen of those allelon commands are to love one another which, at times, can be easier said than done. The other forty-three allelon commands show us what that Christian love looks like. Many have to do with empathy, compassion, and understanding. While rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep isn’t technically a “one another” command, it is followed by one that tells us to be like minded with one another. Often translated as “live in harmony,” Paul isn’t saying we all have to agree on everything; he’s telling us to adjust to one another. While we don’t have to sing the same note everyone else is singing, our song should harmonize with theirs! Along this same line, we’re told to care for and encourage one another, be kind and tender-hearted, and bear one another’s burdens.

Several allelon commands have to do with controlling our emotions. We’re told to be patient with one another, bind ourselves together in peace, warned not to grumble about one another, and cautioned to beware of destroying one another. Of course, to do that we need to overlook what we don’t like and focus on what we do. Cautioning us not to pass judgment, we’re told to bear with one another, which means treating one another with kindness and grace. Rather than demanding perfection, we are to endure the quirks and peculiarities of others. Along with the many commands about forgiving, we are told to be humble, serve one another, take delight in honoring each other, and clothe ourselves with humility. While most of us find it easy to pray for one another, confessing to one another is a bit harder; none of us want to admit being wrong and yet we often are!

“We are not strictly bound to ‘like’ one another,” wrote Thomas Merton, but he prefaced that statement with the words, “We are obliged to love one another.” Whether it’s getting along with our church family or our own family, we may not like everyone, but we can love them and seek the best for them. Rather than a warm fuzzy feeling, the love we have for one another is a lifestyle and a choice. It comes down to what Jesus said was the essence of the Law and the Prophets: loving God and loving one another. Try as we may, we can’t do it on our own strength—only through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is when we are secure in God’s love that we can share it with one another. In the spirit of true Christian fellowship, let us love one another!

What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they have all been loved by Jesus himself. They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. [D.A. Carson]

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the sacrifice that would atone for our sins. Beloved, if that’s how God loved us, we ought to love one another in the same way. Nobody has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is completed in us. [1 John 4:10-12 (NTE)]

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KOINONIA – FELLOWSHIP

pelicans - royal terns - clam passGod is faithful! And it is through God that you have been called into the fellowship of his son, King Jesus, our Lord. Now I must appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, through the name of King Jesus our Lord, that you should all be in agreement, and that there should be no divisions among you. Instead, you should be fully equipped with the same mind and the same opinion. [1 Corinthians 1:9-10 (NTE)]

Because there are various Christian fellowship associations, our churches have fellowship halls, and they sponsor fellowship meetings, meals, and events, we tend to associate Christian fellowship with friendship and socializing. Christian fellowship, however, is a great deal more than simply spending time with other believers. The Greek word commonly translated as “fellowship” is koinonia. While it does mean fellowship, association, community, and communion, it also denotes intimacy, participation, or a share which one has in something. No one English word fully captures all that koinonia encompasses.

Signifying more than merely associating with each other, the sharing of food and necessities, or even joining together in the celebration of the Eucharist, Paul used koinonia to include the fellowship Christ’s followers have both with one another and with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the church’s sharing of Jesus’ sufferings, and their combined effort both to serve one another and to spread the gospel with the funding of missions work. In that light, koinonia (Christian fellowship) is far more than filling a pew for an hour a week, gathering for coffee before services, or bringing a dish to a church potluck. Rather than a membership in a club, koinonia is more like the commitment a businessman makes when he forms a partnership and it was during a video Bible study with N.T. Wright that I first heard koinonia translated as “partnership.”

Perhaps, because my husband has been involved in several business ventures with partners, the word “partnership” resonated with me. His partners were more than just acquaintances, friends, or colleagues and their partnerships required an investment of some kind. In some cases that was a capital investment but, in others, it was sweat equity through a service that added value. Along with financial responsibility, his business partners shared the same vision and goals, were passionate about their venture, and motivated in pursuing it. Seeing themselves as a team, they didn’t base decisions on their individual wants but looked to what was best for the business. They knew and appreciated both their own strengths and weaknesses and those of their partners. Because his partners were committed, ethical, honest, and dependable, his ventures succeeded.

Sometimes, we mistakenly think of ourselves as customers and the church as a business we patronize; if we like the ambiance, approve of the message, and enjoy being with the other patrons, we continue to support it. That, however, is not koinonia! We may not get the minister’s or worship leader’s paychecks, but we are partners with them and with each other. If anyone is the customer in this scenario, it is God! He is the One we all serve and the one we are supposed to please. He is the One who matters and He, as the only customer, is always right!

Simply put, koinonia is the art of Christian community. In the spirit of koinonia, rather than “members,” many churches have what they call “partners.” With membership, people are inclined to ask, “What do I get from this group?” but, when we become partners, we ask “What do I bring to this group?” Partnership means a commitment (and not just to regular attendance). It’s a commitment to study, serve, and support. It means living an authentic Christian life both in and out of church, growing in God’s word, praying with and for others, focusing on commonality rather than differences, sharing spiritually and materially, and reaching out to others. In koinonia, our connection to Jesus connects us to one another and we become partners in Christ!

The winning word in the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee was koinonia. Knowing how to spell it or even knowing what it means is useless, however, unless, as Christians, we live in koinonia!

My prayer is this: that the partnership which goes with your faith may have its powerful effect, in realizing every good thing that is at work in us to lead us into the King. [Philemon 1:6 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

PAY IT FORWARD

white-lined sphinx mothYou must not steal. [Exodus 20:15 (NLT)]

The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers. [Psalm 37:21 (NLT)]

Pay it Forward is more than the title of a novel or a film and today happens to be “Pay It Forward Day:” a worldwide celebration of kindness that takes place every year on April 28th. The pay it forward movement began with Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel in which a young boy starts with the idea that, by doing a good deed for three people and then asking them to “pay it forward” to three more people, a human chain letter of kindness would be created that could go on forever. Paying it forward, however, is a long-standing philosophy. More than one hundred years ago, novelist Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, ”You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward,” and, in 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, “The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.” We can trace the idea back further to Benjamin Fanklin but the source of the concept is found in Scripture.

We’re all familiar with the prohibition against stealing in the eighth commandment. Most of us think of stealing as a criminal offense. Since we’re not likely to rob a bank, mug an old lady, break and enter, or even defraud people of their life savings, we probably feel pretty self-righteous when pondering this commandment. Reading Psalm 37, however, brought me to a wider interpretation of theft: “The wicked borrow and never repay…”

After a little thought, I think we’ll agree that if we borrow money, a lawnmower or even a book and don’t return it, we’ve stolen the item. But, what about other things that we might have taken from our family, friends and neighbors? What about the time someone spent teaching us to knit, change a tire, or use a computer? What about the guidance someone gave during a difficult time in our lives? What about the mentoring we received from teachers or fellow workers or the assistance offered by a neighbor when we were laid up and couldn’t fend for ourselves? What about the person who took a risk, trusted our ability, or gave us a valuable opportunity? Granted, the people who offered these things never expected payment in return. Moreover, in most cases, they don’t need those lessons, guidance, mentoring, assistance or opportunities returned. Regardless, don’t we still have a debt to settle? If we’ve received the gift of a good deed, don’t we have the obligation of repaying that debt to someone else in need?

Paying it forward means far more than just buying coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks. Perhaps it’s time to give that eighth commandment some serious thought. Is there a debt we haven’t yet repaid? And yet, even if no one ever did anything kind to us, we are still called to pay it forward. By God’s grace, we are saved and there is no way we can ever repay our debt to Him. Nevertheless, we can pay it forward by extending His grace and kindness to all we meet. Rather than just doing kindness, let us live it!

I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you … meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money. [Benjamin Franklin, written on April 25, 1784]

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

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DUELING PROVERBS 

Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation. [Proverbs 26:4-5 NLT)

owlSince they’re not hard and fast rules, some proverbs are contradictory. Perhaps the most glaring contradiction (and one non-believers love to mention) is found in Proverbs 26:4-5. First, we’re told not to answer the foolish argument of fools but then we’re told to do that very thing!

Proverbs 26:4 reminds us never to stoop to the fool’s level, which can mean anything from answering vindictively or hurtfully to resorting to half-truths or misinformation. Foolish arguments often come from out of the blue. Unanticipated, we rarely are prepared with specifics, facts and evidence to answer intelligently. I recently had such a situation during a casual dinner conversation with a fervent global warming denier. I thought him a “fool” and his “facts” misleading and incorrect but, at the time, I wasn’t armed with decisive evidence of my own. Replying, “I’m not so sure about that,” I moved on to another, less controversial, topic. When we imitate the style of a fool, we become fools ourselves and, had I entered into a debate at that time, I would have looked as foolish as did he!

On the other hand, Proverb 26:5 tells us there are times when foolishness and absurdity must be brought to light and rebuked: that fools should be dealt with to prevent credibility being given to their words. While we can ignore the fool in trivial situations or on negligible issues, the fool should be answered on issues that matter, especially in a more public setting. For example, there were several of us together when one person made a sweeping and offensive generalization about a minority. In that case, his incorrect and offensive statement required an answer, both to correct him and to make clear his opinion was not shared. When remaining silent supports a fool’s position, his assertion should be answered, especially if there is a possibility of enlightening him.

The New Bible Commentary describes fools as “students who have accumulated knowledge but not acquired the ability to apply it: like someone who has a dangerous weapon but does not know how to use it.” We would be fools if we thought one proverb covers every situation. Life is complex and there is no one solution to every problem. How we respond to foolish, irrational, obtuse, fatuous, thoughtless, or futile arguments depends on the circumstances. The point of Proverbs is to teach discernment and the truly wise do more than recite proverbs; they know how and when to apply them. Regarding these two contradictory proverbs, Ecclesiastes tells us, there is “a time to for every activity under heaven.” If we’re not sure which time it is, the Apostle James reminds us to ask God for wisdom.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. … A time to be quiet and a time to speak. [Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b (NLT)]

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. [James 1:5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.