TELL THEM WHY

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16 (ESV)]

monarch butterfly - whorled milkweed

“Simply by being in your presence, non-Christians ought to be able to tell that you have spent time in God’s presence,” were the week’s words of wisdom in my email. In Bible study, one woman echoed the week’s wisdom when saying that she behaved so that the light of Christ could be seen in her conduct all day. Although actions speak louder than words and all of our actions should shout “Praise the Lord!” I wonder if, by depending solely on our examples, we are taking the easy way out of Jesus’ command to let our lights shine. After all, what good does our light do if no one ever learns the source of its power? Eventually, we need to open our mouths and share the gospel message with words as well as actions.

“Christian” as a noun means someone who professes specific belief in the doctrine of Christianity. When “Christian” is used as an adjective merely to describe good behavior (i.e. “he did the Christian thing”), the word loses its power. After all, we haven’t cornered the market when it comes to being good people. Being respectful, helpful, caring or kind is not limited to Christians. Some of the most compassionate, loving, moral, and generous people I know are of other faiths or of no faith at all. While I’d like to think that believers usually exhibit better behavior than non-believers, the difference between Christians and non-Christians is not behavior; the difference is Christ! Unless we open our mouths and talk about Jesus, people won’t know what makes us the way we are.

When reading the cast notes in a Playbill recently, one actress finished her brief resume with these words: “All glory to God! 1 John 4:19.” Hopefully, her demeanor among the rest of the cast and crew reflects the light of Christ. But, just in case they weren’t sure from where her light comes, she told them (as well as the audience): “We love because He first loved us.” Indeed, she said, “Praise the Lord!” and told us why.

Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words. [St. Francis of Assisi]

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” [Mark 16:15 (ESV)]

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)]

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ONE OF THE BEST DAYS

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)]

clam pass - naplesThe weatherman declared it to be “one of the ten best days of summer” and I thought of his words throughout the day. How many of those ten days have we already had this summer? What if, not knowing it was one of the ten best days, I missed it? Could I have been blinded to its beauty by the routine obligations, boring chores, petty annoyances, and minor frustrations of everyday life?

When reading the list of his ordeals in 2 Corinthians, is would seem that the Apostle Paul probably missed enjoying most of the best days of every season. He faced death many times and endured several imprisonments, countless beatings (three times with rods), and numerous whippings (five times with 39 lashes which was the maximum punishment allowed). The victim of stoning once, Paul also was adrift at sea for a day and night and shipwrecked three times. Not only was Paul weighted down with his concern for the early church but he also had a “thorn” in his flesh, quite likely a chronic ailment, that had tormented him for fourteen years. Since he lived another nine to twelve years after writing the Corinthians, that thorn probably continued to plague him and more trials and troubles certainly followed. All in all, Paul travelled about 15,000 miles on land and sea and endured sleepless nights, hunger, thirst and cold, faced hazards from bandits and even his own people, and spent between five and six years of his life imprisoned before being beheaded by the Romans between 64 and 67 AD. He endured all of this to proclaim the gospel and yet Paul never complained about missing out on any of the “best” days because he knew the secret of living in every situation—of making every day his best day.

We shouldn’t need a weatherman to tell us it’s one of the ten best days and we certainly don’t need good weather for the day to qualify. In fact, every day should qualify as one of the ten best days of whatever season it happens to be. Paul, a man who endured horrible ordeals both physically and emotionally for the church, knew that best days had nothing to do with circumstances but everything to do with attitude. He tells us to be joyful, to pray, and to give thanks to God in all circumstances (and not just on the good days). With an attitude like his, in spite of his sufferings, every day Paul experienced must have been one of his best. I’d venture to say that most of us suffer far less than did the Apostle and yet, instead of starting the day cheerfully saying, “Good morning, Lord!” many of us grumble, “Good Lord, it’s morning!” Let this day be one of your ten best; after all, you don’t know how many more remain!

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! [Philippians 4:4 (NLT)]

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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A MESSAGE IN THE SKY

skywriting - love godJesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-38 (NLT)]

After a lovely walk in the park, I looked up in the sky and saw a skywriter busy at work. The word “love” was starting to fade in the sky and, thinking a marriage proposal was in the works, I thought the pilot needed to work faster to get his message written. Curious, I waited to see what came next and was surprised to see the word “God” written in pale white smoke before the pilot flew off.

“Love God” – that’s the first and greatest commandment and we are to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind. In other words, love Him with our entire being: our passions, prayers, thoughts, words, voices, skills, desires, reactions, appearance, finances, strength, desires, relationships, and possessions. With no punctuation, however, that wasn’t necessarily what was meant. Rather than the command “Love God!” those little two words in the sky could have been more like the closing and signature line to a letter, card, or love note: “Love, God.” Indeed, the sunny day had been a beautiful gift sent from Him.

Although God sends us love notes all of the time, they’re usually not done in skywriting on a blue sky day. A rainbow, the symbol of God’s covenant with His creatures to never again send an all-destructive flood, is one of His reassuring love notes reminding us that His love shines through all the storms of life. Rainbows, beautiful days, magnificent sunsets, butterflies, even the aroma of spring lilacs—all can say “Love, God” to us. Today, when I opened my email, I realized God sends His love another way—in the encouraging words and prayers of a Christian friend. Having mentioned my heavy heart for a loved one, she immediately responded with encouraging words and by lifting us both in prayer. The email may have come from her address, but it bore His signature: “Love, God.”

In church Sunday, I turned to a stranger and told her how beautifully her daughter had sung during the teen led worship service. She welcomed those words with such enthusiasm that you would have thought I’d offered her girl a recording contract. Telling me how thrilled her daughter would be to hear the compliment, she added that the teen had just been cut from a choral group and badly needed reassurance. I spoke the words but they came from one of His nudges and were signed “Love, God.” In the many ways we share God’s love, we fulfill the second, equally important commandment given to us: to love our neighbors as ourselves.

“Love God!” or “Love, God” – in this case, the punctuation makes no difference. Each day brings opportunities to love and honor God by being one of His love notes with our prayers, an encouraging word, a quick text or email, a warm touch, a hand-written note, extra patience, a friendly smile or a helping hand. It is in the love we show to one another that we can fulfill both of His commands at once.

All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [1 John 4:15-16 (NLT)]

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WHAT DON’T YOU DO?

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. [1 Corinthians 9:22b (ESV)]

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13 (ESV)]

“I don’t do desserts!” my neighbor said. My initial thought was, “Anyone can bake brownies!” As it turns out, my neighbor was absolutely right; a horrible cook, she is proof that not everyone can bake a tray of brownies! Unlike me, however, she has a gift with animals and volunteers at the Conservancy caring for injured wildlife.

God gave each of us the gift of doing some things well. As important as it is to know what those gifts are and to use them wisely, it’s just as important to know what our gifts aren’t! We’re not divine and there will always be some things we don’t do well, no matter how hard we try. When Paul said he’d become all things to all people, he meant he could find common ground with them and was sensitive to their needs, not that he could do all things for them. Moreover, when he said he could do all things through Christ, He wasn’t claiming to be a superman. He was speaking of the strength God gives us to faithfully endure the challenges of life. We can’t be all things to all people nor can we do all things for them. Trying to be Superman or Wonder Woman brings unnecessary stress to us and poor results to everyone else. Only God can do it all!

God has given each of us different ways to best serve Him and others. There are certain things, such as painting, public speaking, guitar playing, computer programming, teaching, and even baking, that some of us can do. There are a number of things, like gossiping, enabling, hating or belittling, that none of us should do. There also are specific things, like worshipping, praying and serving, that all of us can and should do.

Father, help us recognize both our gifts and limitations. Show us how to manage our talents in the best possible way to bring honor and glory to you.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function… Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. [Romans 12:4,6a (ESV)]

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: [1 Peter 4:10 (ESV)]

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DO THE RIGHT THING

The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe. [Proverbs 16:17 (NLT)]

Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. … They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly. [Psalm 112:4,7-8 (NLT)]

great blue heronIs virtue its own reward? An article in Psychology Today reporting the conclusions of seven studies found that virtue actually does bring rewards. The benefits of doing the right thing include less depression, better self-esteem, increased happiness, a “helper’s high,” and a good night’s sleep! That good night’s sleep might well be the result of the clean conscience that accompanies virtue. Given the momentum of the #MeToo movement, I suspect many prominent people are losing sleep nowadays. Unfortunately, it’s not just well-known producers, actors, newsmen, ministers and politicians who abandoned virtue for self-interest. Many everyday folk are losing sleep as people continue to step forward and break their silence about wrongs that have been committed.

Unless we are adulterers, cheats, molesters, abusers, or thieves, we have no fear of exposure and no need for non-disclosure statements or payoffs. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t confuse good behavior with being virtuous. In writing of virtue, C.S. Lewis points out that even a bad tennis player can make a good shot and an evil person can do good things some of the time. Doing good things, however, is not the same as being a good person. Let’s not make the mistake the Pharisees did of thinking that virtue comes from a set of rules and standards. Virtue and morality are not something we possess; they are something we are and they come from the very heart of our being. We all can manage to be virtuous at times but it is only through God’s divine power that we can live virtuous lives of godliness and holiness.

What the world calls virtue is a name and a dream without Christ. The foundation of all human excellence must be laid deep in the blood of the Redeemer’s cross and in the power of his resurrection. [Frederick W. Robertson]

Men are not made religious by performing certain actions which are externally good, but they must first have righteous principles, and then they will not fail to perform virtuous actions. [Martin Luther]

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. [2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)]

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KNOW WHEN TO RUN

A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them. [Proverbs 15:18 (NLT)]

Scoundrels create trouble; their words are a destructive blaze. … Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city. [Proverbs 16:27,32 (NLT)]

red vlover - beeBattlefields aren’t found just in war-torn nations. They can be found in some of the nicest homes, work places, neighborhoods (and even churches). Unfortunately, some people delight in controversy and discord. They may be passive-aggressive or simply aggressive. Frequently, they deliberately say something provocative just to get a reaction and start conflict. Rather than discuss, they argue and debate. Their goal has nothing to do with conflict resolution or agreement; it is to be victorious in their battle, no matter what the cost.

These word soldiers seek out their targets and battlegrounds and it’s easy to be drawn into their drama. Naturally, we want to defend others, ourselves, or our beliefs when attacked, especially when done unjustly, irrationally or unreasonably. Nevertheless, we don’t have to engage in a tug-of-war—nothing says we have to pick up the rope and start pulling just because the other guy has the rope in his hand. It’s not a question of winning or losing; it’s a question of staying out of the battle in the first place. We don’t have to attend every argument to which we’re invited! Moreover, if we do pick up the rope, there’s nothing shameful about dropping it and simply walking away. We’re not defeated when we choose a higher road; we’re just wiser! I’ve found that when reason has left the room, it’s time for me to go, as well!

Lord, guide us through the minefields of life. Grant us the wisdom to know when it is best to keep our mouths shut, the insight to know when it is best to walk away, and the courage to do so. May we have obedient and loving hearts so that, instead of responding in anger, we pray for those who attack us. Keep our hearts free from rancor and the need to get even; let there be peace in our lives.

Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance. [Robert Quillen]

The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. [Dale Carnegie]

Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling. [Proverbs 20:3 (NLT)]

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. [2 Timothy 2:22-25 (NLT)]

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