GOD NUDGES

blanket fower - tulip - golden cannaAnd after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19: 12 (NLT)]

God’s nudges—we all get them and, all too often, we ignore them.

Last week, one of my pastors felt an uncanny impulse to call an old friend who lives across the country. As far as she knew, all was well with her friend and, as often happens with that sort of thing, she got busy and forgot about making the call. Today, she was reminded of her failure when she received a call telling her that her friend had died suddenly over the weekend. As she shared her regret, she reminded us all to respond to God’s gentle nudges. As Elijah learned, sometimes God’s voice is in a whisper!

When asked how to know whether we’re getting a nudge from God or simply have an idea, the pastor suggested we look to the source; if it comes from our heart, it’s probably from God and if it comes from our head, it’s probably us. Nevertheless, our own feelings and desires certainly can influence our perception of the idea and, for some people, “God laid it on my heart,” is just a euphemism for, “This is something I want to do.” A friend’s ex-daughter-in-law claimed that God “laid it on her heart” to leave her husband and children for another man—proof that our hearts can be as deceitful as our thoughts. We must be cautious of attributing our feelings to God. Not every good idea is a mystical message from the Lord; sometimes it’s just an idea!

Discerning the voice of God is not always an easy task. When something is weighing heavy on our heart, perhaps we ought to weigh the message against God’s word. Every one of God’s nudges will match up with His word and none will be something Scripture forbids! Of course, the better we know His word, the easier it is to recognize His voice. Checking Scripture, however, doesn’t mean randomly opening the Bible, picking the first verse we see, and saying that is God’s specific word for us; that’s little different than using a Magic 8-Ball for decisions.

Not everyone will get the same nudge and what God lays on my heart may not be what He lays on yours. His nudge is for us alone and rarely does anyone need to know the reason for our actions. Moreover, we should never say God told us to do something merely to add credibility to what we’re doing. Finally, just because someone says God laid it on his or her heart doesn’t mean He actually did! Just as we, on occasion, can mistake our own desire for one of God’s nudges, so can others. If someone tells us that God laid it on their heart that we should join choir or donate to their cause, we must be wary of getting pressured into something that isn’t God’s plan for us. If God really wants us to do something, most likely, He’ll be the one to tell us!

If God is nudging me about something of major consequence, I pray, study His word, and do research. For the most part, however, those little God-nudges are pretty easy to identify and don’t ask much of us: cross the room to speak with someone, make a call, offer to pray with them, give a hug, ask what you can do, or invite him to church. When in doubt, as long as it’s not contrary to Scripture, I’d rather risk looking foolish than miss a God-given opportunity. Most important, when we get a God-nudge, we should respond (and the sooner the better). We certainly wouldn’t want to miss our last chance to chat with a dear friend.

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. [Isaiah 30:21 (NLT)]

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27 (NLT)]

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THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD…

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? [Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)]

For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. [Mark 7:21-22 (NLT)]

Grand Canyon of YellowstoneI recently saw a play in which the only character, Lisa, presents a monologue about her life and family. The audience learns that her father, Walter, a German-born Jew, escaped to the U.S. as part of the kindertransport effort but that the rest of his family perished at Auschwitz. During her monologue, Lisa tells of taking her then 75-year old father to visit the Auschwitz Memorial. While touring the concentration camp, Walter tells his daughter about attending school with members of the Hitler Youth. Being a Jew, he couldn’t wear one of their uniforms but another boy in his school, a Gentile, refused to wear one. Her father then tells her that, in spite of the horror of Auschwitz and the loss of his family, he is glad he was born a Jew—because he didn’t have the option of becoming a Nazi! Unlike the Gentile boy who refused to join (and suffered because of it), Walter realized that, had he not been Jewish, he might have joined the Nazis. He knew that part of him could have been as merciless and evil as the men who rounded up and exterminated his family.

After the war, Walter returned to Germany as an interrogator of German personnel. In her soliloquy, Lisa tells how he admitted to callously browbeating one prisoner into confessing that he’d rounded up Jews from the Ghetto. Rather than turn the prisoner over to the allies for trial, Walter handed him over to the Russians, men he knew would summarily execute the German in the woods. Perhaps Walter was right; in other circumstances, he might have joined the Hitler Youth.

Hearing this story made me wonder what darkness lurks in my heart. In other circumstances, could I spew hate, inflict pain, ignore my conscience, turn my back on my brothers and sisters, or close my eyes to evil? Could I ever be like Haman (who plotted to exterminate the Jews) or Abimelech (who killed his 70 brothers)? Could I have worn a Hitler Youth uniform? Sadly, in another time, in another place, perhaps my heart could have deceived me to do just that.

Just because I’m capable of evil, however, doesn’t mean I have to be evil. Rather than betray Jesus as did Judas, I could be as faithful as John. Rather than the closed minds and murdering hearts of those who stoned Stephen, I could be as holy and forgiving as the martyred man. While I could be as scheming and immoral as Herodias, I also could be as obedient and fearless as her victim John the Baptist. Yes, I could have joined the Hitler Youth, but I also could have refused to be part of such evil and willingly suffered the consequences.

There is something terribly wrong with our hearts that, if allowed to grow, can become horrendous and unthinkably evil, but there also is something beautifully right with them. We are made in the image of God; deep inside us there is something of Him and He has written his law in our hearts. He gave us the gift of free will and, with every choice, we either become more or less like the person God made us to be. Because our hearts can be deceitful, corrupt, and self-serving they can lead us astray but they don’t have to! When led by the Holy Spirit, our hearts can be so filled with good that there is no room left for evil.

For I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. … Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. [Psalm 51:5,10-11 (NLT)]

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. [Galatians 5:22-24 (NLT)]

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HIS EYES AND EARS

Sandhill Crane FamilyAgain a message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, you live among rebels who have eyes but refuse to see. They have ears but refuse to hear. For they are a rebellious people. [Ezekiel 12:1-2 (NLT)]

Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? “You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?” Don’t you remember anything at all? [Mark 8:17b-18 (NLT)]

While walking at the park yesterday, my husband pointed at something in the brush. As I zoomed in with my camera, I realized he’d spotted a sandhill crane foraging in the deep grass. They mate for life and, where there’s one, there usually are two so I kept looking until I spotted Mrs. Crane just before they disappeared into a thicket. A few minutes later, we turned a corner, looked hopefully toward the open meadow, and spotted the pair again, along with junior. These elegant long-necked birds are among my favorites in the park but, with their grey-brown bodies that blend into the colors of the prairie, they’re easy to miss. This morning, when I heard their unique rattle-like call, we stopped and scanned the meadow and finally spotted the distinctive red cap that meant a crane was in the grass. As I whispered a prayer of thanks for another sighting of these beautiful birds, I realized how easy it is to miss God’s blessings because we haven’t looked for them.

sandhill craneThinking of the maxim that blessings are hidden in every trial if only we’d open our hearts to them, I initially thought I’d write about hidden blessings. I then realized that we miss more than beautiful birds and blessings when we fail to look and listen; we miss God-given opportunities to be true disciples of Christ.

The gospels tell of when Jesus and the apostles, tired and hungry, just wanted to go off to a quiet place and rest but an enormous crowd pursued them. Rather than send away the people, Jesus had compassion on them. He healed the sick, spoke about the Kingdom of God, and fed the hungry with a picnic of massive proportions. Another time, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and, like other rabbis, He was probably teaching as He walked. Anxious to hear everything the rabbi said, people crowded around as they followed Him. When a blind beggar shouted out to Jesus, they yelled at the man to be quiet. Jesus, however, heard the cry for mercy, stopped what he was doing, and compassionately restored the blind man’s sight.

Blessings and sandhill cranes often go unnoticed; I only spotted those cranes because I wanted to see them. I’m rarely that anxious to see the needs and hear the cries of my fellow man and they are far more obvious. Compassion, witness, and service can be inconvenient. We justify our failure to act by turning a deaf ear and blind eye to what’s right in front of us. Jesus never failed to see those who needed to be fed spiritually or physically and He always heard their cries for mercy. As His disciples, we are called to serve those who hunger and thirst, welcome the lonely, clothe the naked, tend the sick, and visit the prisoner. We can’t be the hands and feet of Jesus unless we also act as His eyes and ears.

Now you, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out upon this world, and yours are the lips through which His love is to speak; yours are the hands with which He is to bless men, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good—through His Church, which is His body. [Mark Guy Pearce (Evangelical Christendom, 1881)]

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. … And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” [Matthew 25:35-36,40 (NLT)

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WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. [Psalm 103:10-12 (NLT)]

The question was asked, “How different would the world look if everyone got what they deserved?” and so I started wondering.

Zebra longwing butterflyWhen I was ten, I watched on television as nine black students tried to enroll in an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas; they were blocked by the National Guard and an angry mob of 400 angry whites. Two years earlier, on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman. I grew up in Detroit and, while discrimination and segregation were more subtle than in the South, it existed. I lived in a large home with a big yard on a tree-lined street but any trip “downtown” told me that most children of color didn’t live in homes like mine and their dads didn’t get to wear a suit and tie to work or drive shiny new cars. There may not have been “colored” drinking fountains or “white only” bathrooms but there was a six foot high, foot wide, and half-mile long wall segregating one black community from a neighboring white one; many other invisible and more impenetrable walls existed within our divided city. Even as a child, I knew no one deserved prejudice, discrimination, injustice, or poverty. I saw that my color gave me advantages that I hadn’t earned and didn’t deserve. Seeing no children of color at dance class, theater school, or summer camp, I thanked God that I’d been born a white American so that I had those opportunities. I realized that I lived a better life than did most people of color in my country and the majority of people in the rest of the world. I also knew that I was no better than anyone else; I wasn’t prettier, smarter, more talented or more deserving than any other race or nationality. By an accident of birth, I simply was more fortunate.

I’m not sure what the rest of the world would look like if everyone got what they deserved but my first thought was that Detroit would probably look a whole lot better than it does right now. Then I remembered that the Christian way isn’t giving everyone exactly what they deserve. It’s not an eye for an eye or a slur for a slur. It’s not blows and counterblows, attack and reprisal, or forgiving only if we’ve been forgiven. It’s not helping only those worthy of help, squaring accounts, or turning the tables. It’s helping the undeserving, forgiving the reprehensible, loving the heartless, accepting apologies, and burying the hatchet. It’s going the second mile and giving more than we got, bearing no malice, and praying for our persecutors rather than evening the score.

When asked how they’re doing, many Christians reply, “Better than I deserve.” The answer may be a bit of a cliché but it’s true. Just as I did nothing to deserve the advantages my race gave me, mankind has done absolutely nothing to be deserving of God’s blessings. Regardless of color, as recipients of God’s unmerited grace, we all have gotten more than we deserve (our salvation) and, as recipients of God’s mercy, we haven’t gotten what we do deserve (God’s punishment)! Certainly, God didn’t give us what we deserved when Jesus paid the penalty for our sins!

Upon second thought, I realize that, if everyone got only what they deserved, Detroit would look different but not any better (and probably worse). The world won’t improve if everyone gets exactly what they deserve. It’s not until we give everyone better than what they deserve that the world will ever truly change for the good.

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor” and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. [Matthew 5:38-45 (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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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)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.