IF SOMEONE ASKS

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. [1 Peter 3:15b (NLT)]

Yesterday, I echoed Paul’s words that, when witnessing, we need to speak our words with love. Of course, before that can happen we need to speak and, therein lies our problem. To speak, we need words and most of us are sure we don’t have them. Granted, the way we conduct ourselves is a continuous sermon but, if we never speak, no one will know what makes us the way we are. Actions may speak louder than words but that doesn’t mean words aren’t necessary.

We don’t have to go knocking on doors, stand on street corners with a sign, accost strangers, or go on a mission trip; we just have to be open to the opportunities that arise nearly every day to share our love of God. Peter instructed us to be ready to explain the reason for our hope; I think we’re asked that question more than we realize. There’s a good chance people have commented on your joy, peace, or calmness. In all likelihood someone may have said something like, “How do you do it?” or, “You don’t seem to worry,” or even, “I wish I had your life!” In reality, that person is asking about the source of your hope. Rarely have my answers to such comments revealed the true source of that hope, strength, peace and joy. I’ve chosen the innocuous reply rather than the true one simply because I didn’t think I had the right words to explain! When Jesus told us to go out into the world and be His witnesses, He promised we wouldn’t have to do it alone. Since the Holy Spirit will empower us to be His messengers, let’s allow Him to do His work! We can’t speak with love until we speak!

God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them. [George Whitefield]

But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! [Luke 21:13-15 (NLT)]

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TITHING OUR TIME

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully. [2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)]

Pioneer CenterMany people faithfully tithe by giving ten percent of their income to God’s work. I recently read an article in which the author not only tithes her money but also her time. She dedicates 2.4 hours a day or 16.8 hours a week to God’s work. Weekends are used to catch up on any remaining balance she owes. Her tithed hours are spent in things like Bible study, prayer, mentoring, visiting the house-bound, bringing food to the needy, or sending encouraging notes.

While doling out time may work for the author, I’m not so sure it would for everyone. There would be those who’d ask if we’re talking gross or net hours. If net, once we’d taken out the eight hours for sleep, only 1.6 hours a day would belong to God. I picture people keeping a spreadsheet showing time spent in good works and wonder if Sunday evening there might a frantic effort to find a way to use the remaining time. Would we call an elderly neighbor to chat while counting minutes until we could disconnect? I can picture splitting hairs about what actually determines working for the Lord. If I’m bringing my trash can back to the house anyway, does bringing up my next door neighbor’s count? If I take canned goods to the food pantry, do I get credit for the entire time I spent at the grocery store? Does having a friend for lunch count or must it be someone I don’t know (or like)? If I’m driving someone to church, can I count the time spent filling the gas tank? Do I get extra credit for baby-sitting monster children? Once those sixteen plus hours are used, could we then turn a deaf ear to people’s needs? If we spend more than 16.8 hours serving in one week, would the extra hours carry over to the next week? With all that nitpicking, would people become more concerned with tallying time than sharing God’s love? Instead of being a privilege to serve, would doing His work become a chore? God loves a cheerful giver but this doesn’t sound very cheerful to me.

Originally, tithing time seemed like a good idea, especially when I realized that I spend more than sixteen hours a week writing these devotions. My time tithe would be complete so I’d be off the hook; nothing more would have to be done for God! The Holy Spirit then gave me a kick in the behind and said, “You’re never done serving the Lord; I want all 168 hours of your week!”

I was recently at a facility for the developmentally disabled. They’d made a colorful sign saying, “Throw kindness like confetti!” Indeed, the clients were scattering kindness to one another and to the staff—encouraging, laughing, smiling, sharing, loving and helping. Although in adult bodies, they remain children; nevertheless, there is much we can learn from them. Remember, the kingdom of God belongs to children and children don’t keep spreadsheets of kindness—they just love with their whole being all of the time. Indeed, as Christians, we’re to have an endless supply of kindness confetti and scatter it 24/7, not just 16.8 hours a week!

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. [Attributed to John Wesley]

As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good. [2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NLT)]

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. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)]

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I’M SPECIAL

Columbia Icefield - Canada - glacierAll they did was sin even more, rebel in the desert against the High God. They tried to get their own way with God, clamored for favors, for special attention. They whined like spoiled children, “Why can’t God give us a decent meal in this desert? Sure, he struck the rock and the water flowed, creeks cascaded from the rock. But how about some fresh-baked bread? How about a nice cut of meat?” [Psalm 78:17-20 (MSG)]

“You are my friend, you are special,“ sang Mr. Rogers on the children’s television show. Indeed, made in the image of God and saved by His son, I am special. None of us, however, are any more special or deserving than the other. Our recent trip to the Canadian Rockies reminded me that we often forget that simple fact.

Yesterday, I wrote of the tour director who insisted that her group was so special they should be allowed passage on a closed road. While visiting the Columbia Icefield, I witnessed another tour director much like her. His group had joined ours on an “ice explorer” vehicle that carried us across a glacial highway so we could walk on the glacier. We were allotted twenty minutes to experience the icefield firsthand. It was raining and treacherous on the ice but, even on a sunny day, twenty minutes standing on a glacier is more than ample time. This guide, however, demanded more time for his group. Our driver patiently explained that only a limited number of people are allowed on the ice at one time, other groups were waiting for their ride, and that she had a schedule to keep. The guide argued that his group was special and deserved special treatment. As departure time approached, the driver politely asked him to gather up his group but he refused and blocked the door. She had to shove her way around him to shout for them to come back.

During our tour, I had plenty of other opportunities to see people who seemed to believe they deserved special treatment. Apparently standing in line, sharing the trail, staying on the walkways, not picking wildflowers, waiting one’s turn, and prohibitions about smoking and littering did not apply to them. I heard unreasonable demands, saw a fair amount of arrogance and was shocked at how rude people can be to those serving them. My observations made me question whether I, too, tend to act more deserving than others. Like the Israelites in today’s verse, do I ever whine, complain or demand special concessions, attention or favors? Sadly, there are times I’m guilty as charged.

We should be cautious when we seek special treatment. James and John wanted special seats in Jesus’s kingdom. Aside from making the other disciples angry, they were reprimanded by Jesus who reminded them they are to be servants who serve rather than rulers who expect to be served. In Scripture, we find many references to things that are special—abilities, gifts, ministries, offerings, blessings, days, feasts, possessions and messages—but none about certain individuals being more deserving or special to God than others. Remember, it was Jesus—the only truly special man—who washed the feet of His disciples! Let His example of humility, kindness and love guide us when we deal with our brothers and sisters—all of whom are special in His sight.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. [Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG)]

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KNOWING HIM WELL

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

spiderwortMy husband and I have been married for fifty years now and there’s not much that surprises me about him anymore. Even the surprise birthday celebration he planned for me earlier this year wasn’t a surprise. Oh, the way he managed to fool me into thinking I was just going to a business dinner—that truly was a surprise; that he chose to do something special for me was not. I was sure that, true to form, he had something wonderful up his sleeve for my 70th birthday; I just had no idea what it actually was!

After fifty years of togetherness, more often than not, my husband and I think alike. When one of us makes a suggestion, the other usually admits to having the same thought and, with at least 97% accuracy, we know what the other will order at any restaurant. We recognize each other’s voice in a crowd and probably have a good idea what the other is saying! After half a century, we’ve seen one another at our best and worst; there’s nothing left to hide and any awkwardness, embarrassment or shame is long gone. I know when he needs some nudging and he knows when I need words of encouragement. Appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we rest comfortably in the knowledge that we love, trust, and honor one another completely. It’s not boring in the least; it is relaxed, pleasant and peaceful. Even though we usually know what to expect, as my birthday celebration proved, we can still surprise one another in beautiful ways.

The covenant relationship of marriage is much like our relationship with God with one major difference. Through five decades, both my husband and I have changed to complement one another. God, however, doesn’t change and any changing that must be done is done by us, not by Him. As in any relationship, the more time we spend in His presence, the easier it is to recognize His voice and to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our hearts. The more we read God’s word, the more likely it is that our prayers will be in harmony with His plan. As we draw closer to Jesus, we become attuned to His rhythm and pace and we’ll even begin to walk like Him.

At its most basic, Christianity isn’t a doctrine, philosophy, code of ethics or a way of life; it is a relationship with God and believing in Jesus is not the same as having a relationship with Him. We have to spend time in His presence, praying, listening to His voice, and reading His word for that relationship to flourish and grow. No relationship is developed overnight; it took decades for my husband and me to get to this point in our marriage. Fortunately, developing a deep relationship with our triune God doesn’t take nearly that long. Like marriage, however, it is a relationship that continues to mature and mellow through the years.

After fifty years, I can ask myself, ”What would Bob do?” and pretty much know the answer. As we develop our relationship with God, we’ll be able to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and know that answer as well!

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:6 (NLT)]

You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. [2 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

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DOUSE THE FLAMES

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. [John 13:34-35 (NLT)]

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)]

hate has no home hereAs we watched the helicopters fly through the sky, we could see the water buckets hanging under them. Once the copters were in position, hoping to extinguish the forest fire, the crews would open the dump valve and empty water on the flames below them. The helicopters flew back and forth all afternoon as they refilled their buckets from the glacial lakes. If the helicopters are too low or slow in dropping the water, the water will be too concentrated to work effectively and, rather that put out the flames, the rotors’ downwash will intensify it. Even though those buckets can carry as much as 2,600 gallons of water, to those of us on the ground, it seemed a little like a mop bucket was being used to extinguish a house fire. Nevertheless, the firefighters continued their valiant fight against the blaze.

For most of this month, we’ve been on holiday, away from the newspapers and television, and able to ignore much of the world around us. Our pastor’s sermon yesterday reminded me that I cannot close my eyes to the inferno of hate in our midst. This has nothing to do with politics, color, or nationality. It doesn’t matter whether we live in a red or blue state, lean left or right, or what statues are erected in our town square. This has to do with hatred and bigotry and, regardless of the First Amendment, there is no place in a Christian’s life for them. I’ve noticed signs posted throughout our town saying “Hate Has No Home Here” and, indeed, hate has no home in a heart that claims to be filled with the love of Jesus.

What can we do to keep this firestorm of hate from spreading? No matter how loudly I speak, I’m little more than a household mop bucket; even then, my words of love can douse a few hateful flames. If we join forces, however, perhaps we can be as effective as those 2,600 gallon fire-fighting buckets. Moreover, whenever we feel empty, we can refill from the source of our love—Christ’s living water. Can our words of love douse the hate? I don’t know, but I know we must try. We start by examining our own attitudes, words and actions so that we don’t fan the fire’s flames with them. The words we speak must be those of love, tolerance, patience, hope and peace. We may not extinguish the fire completely but, by using only words of love, we will be doing our utmost to suppress it and keep it from growing any larger.

Heavenly Father, give us the right words and the courage to speak them so that we can combat the hate in the world today. Let us remember that hate has no home in our hearts.

By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. [Martin Luther King Jr.]

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. … For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. [Ephesians 5:1-2a,8-9 (NLT)]

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THE BENEFIT OF DOUBT

 

When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you. [Ephesians 4:29 (NCV)]

crinium lily

“What did she mean by that?” we might wonder. We know better than to make insensitive, unkind, or inappropriate remarks but what about when we think we’ve heard those same kinds of comments? Unfortunately, what we perceive is not necessarily what was meant or said. Sometimes, we over analyze the things we hear: the words chosen, the way they’re said, and even the speaker’s tone of voice. We may assign unkind intentions or hidden meanings that aren’t there. When we do that, we can easily find offense where none is intended.

Let’s face it, we all have had “foot in mouth” disease and said the wrong thing or the right thing the wrong way more than once. We’ve used poor choices of words, been politically incorrect, forgotten something we were supposed to remember or mentioned something we should have forgotten. We’ve called people by the wrong names and probably even asked a heavy-set woman when the baby’s due! We didn’t mean to hurt anyone; we were just being the imperfect people we are! I suspect most people are like me, not anywhere near clever enough for veiled messages and double meanings. Nevertheless, I can analyze someone else’s remarks as if they’ve spent hours choosing their words and practicing their delivery. When I think about it, if I’ve felt hurt or offended by another person’s words, it’s usually because of my own insecurities.

I never intend to say rude or thoughtless things but, unfortunately, it sometimes happens. Lord, let your Holy Spirit keep my foot out of my mouth. When in doubt, remind me that silence is always a good option. Just as I want others to give me the benefit of the doubt when I speak carelessly, show me how to be willing to do the same thing. May your Holy Spirit help me assume innocent intentions on the part of those whose words upset or offend me. Guide me so that I not only speak with love but listen with love, as well.

This does not mean that love is gullible, but that it does not think the worst (as is the way of the world). It retains its faith. Love is not deceived … but it is always ready to give the benefit of the doubt. [Leon Morris, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 13]

Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures. [1 Corinthians 13:7 (NCV)]

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