FEED THEM

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. [John 15:8 (NLT)]

He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. [John 21:17 (NLT)]

squirrelJohn 21 records Jesus telling Peter to feed His flock three times. The word translated as “feed” in verse 16 is poimaino which refers to the entire process of tending the sheep: feeding, leading, guarding, doctoring, and bringing them into the sheep fold. Although the food of which Jesus is speaking appears to be the word of God, in verses 15 and 17 the word translated as “feed” is bosko, which exclusively meant to feed. Jesus gave Peter these instructions immediately after He’d fed the disciples a breakfast of grilled fish and bread. Could He also have been speaking of providing actual food?

The people of Palestine were spiritually hungry for the message of the gospel but, on at least two occasions, they listened to Jesus so long that they were physically hungry, as well. In those instances, when Jesus told His disciples to feed the people, He meant to give them something to eat! Sometimes, feeding His flock is as simple as that.

Stately oaks line the streets in our community. Since autumn is acorn season, I’ve been thinking of Jesus’s command to bear fruit. Acorns are the fruit of the oak and come from the tiny flowers the trees produce in the spring. Within each acorn is a seed with the potential of becoming another oak tree. It’s been a good year for acorns and, if those oaks were followers of Jesus, our Lord would be pleased at the abundance of fruit they produced.

Next spring, any acorns cached away by an absent-minded squirrel or chipmunk could send up shoots, become seedlings, and eventually grow into trees capable of producing more fruit. Oak seedlings in our community, however, don’t stand a chance since the landscapers will pull them up or mow them down. Even though our acorns won’t grow into trees, they’re much appreciated by the squirrels, rabbits, ducks, crows, jays and woodpeckers who feast on them. The animals often congregate in the middle of the streets to take advantage of the nut-cracking capabilities of car, truck, and bike tires. If those oaks were believers, even without producing more of their kind, I still think our Lord would be pleased by them because they are feeding the hungry!

I apologize for mixing metaphors in my examples. If we bear fruit, as do the oaks, sometimes the seeds in our fruit will take root and grow and, if we tend the flock as a good shepherd, sometimes, the flock will increase. But, other times, like the oaks in our community or the disciples as they passed out loaves and fish, we simply provide physical nourishment for His flock.

This pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities and vulnerabilities suffered by many throughout the world. As the economy spirals downward, the number of hungry rises. The United Nations has warned of “multiple famines of biblical proportions” resulting from COVID-19. They anticipate the number of people in crisis level hunger rising to 270 million by the end of the year (an 82% increase since 2019) and warn that more people may die of coronavirus-driven hunger than those who will die from the virus itself!

Like the oaks, let us be generous with our fruit and, as the shepherds of His sheep, let us feed His flock.

But Jesus said, “You feed them.” [Mark 6:37 (NLT)]

Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:20 (NLT)]

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IT’S YOUR MOVE

If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. [Matthew 5:41 (NLT)]

To feel sorry for the needy is not a mark of a Christian—to help them is. [Frank A. Clark]

white powderpuff

In His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus gave four illustrations from everyday life about the Christian heart and non-retaliation in the areas of personal attack, legal disputes, forced labor, and financial requests. Although His examples were hyperbolic, His point was abundantly clear—rather than get even, we are to have a generous and compassionate heart toward others.

While personal attack, legal disputes, and people asking for money remain common occurrences today, most of us haven’t encountered an issue of forced labor (although my children might have disputed that back when I made them do chores around the house.) In the 1st century, however, a Roman soldier could commandeer a Jew to carry his armor or other burden for a Roman “mile” consisting of one thousand paces (about 4,854 feet—just a little less than our modern mile). This sort of impressment is what happened to Simon of Cyrene when he was forced to carry Jesus’ cross.

Since we’re not likely to be forcibly impressed into duty, what does Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 5:41 mean to us today? The idiom “go the extra mile” is rooted in His words and has come to mean making an extra effort or going above and beyond what is necessary or expected. What’s missing in the idiom is the completely voluntary, almost sacrificial nature, of Jesus’s directive. Although a Jew could not refuse to carry a Roman’s load those first thousand steps, he could not legally be made to take one step more. Yet, Jesus instructed him to freely offer that second mile without being asked.

I found the perfect example of Jesus’ directive in two letters recently written to our local newspaper. The first was written by a woman well into her eighties who’d gone to the community center to vote. Turnout for early voting has been enormous and more than 75% of the eligible voters in our county had cast their votes by last Friday. All of that early voting (along with social distancing and sanitizing between voters) meant for some very long lines at the polling places. Having arrived fifteen minutes before the polls opened, this woman hadn’t anticipated a long line and, at first glance, it didn’t look too bad. After parking, she walked toward the line’s end but was stopped by a man near the front of the line. Seeing her cane, he inquired if she was in pain and able to make the walk and endure the wait. Assuring him she was fine, she continued toward what she believed was the end of the line only to see that it extended further than she’d originally thought. Realizing she couldn’t stand that long, the woman turned around and started back toward her car. The same gentleman stepped out of the line, approached, and asked if she was leaving because of the line. Acknowledging it was too long a wait, she said she’d try again the next day but the man insisted she take his place. After walking her to his spot near the front of the line, he went “the extra mile” and took his place at the end of it. The second letter was from another elderly woman who uses a walker. She told how a young man walked across the parking lot just to help her fold and stow her walker in the car after she’d voted. I don’t know whether these men were followers of Christ, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were. They certainly understood the real meaning of going the extra mile.

Jesus summed up all of his exhortations about a Christian’s heart with what we know as “The Golden Rule.” Dr. Frank Crane, an early 20th century Presbyterian minister, had this to say about that golden rule: “The golden rule is of no use whatsoever unless you realize that it is your move.” Like those men at the polling places, let us remember—it’s always our move to take that extra mile!

He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it. [Dante Alighieri]

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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DO NOT DISTURB

clam pass birds naples flBut to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. … Do to others as you would like them to do to you. [Luke 6:27-29,31 (NLT)]

The snowbirds are back; not the retirees who arrive in cars or on planes but the migratory birds, some of whom flew more than 3,000 miles to get here. Their long flight takes a tremendous toll on their bodies. By the time they reach our beaches, they’re exhausted and hungry and many have lost half their body weight. Before I understood the trials they endure in migrating, I never gave it a thought if I happened to disturb them while walking the beach. Granted, it’s a beautiful sight to see hundreds of birds take wing at once but, every time they’re flushed by someone on the beach or a passing boat, precious reserves of energy are used and their nests are left unattended. Now that I understand the birds’ challenges, I am more considerate of their needs. When walking the beach, I keep my distance to avoid unsettling them.

Although they may not be as endangered, hungry, and exhausted as migratory birds, many people have taken a long and arduous journey to get where they are today. While some end up better for the journey, others end up bitter, rude, angry, or demanding. Just as I hadn’t thought about the challenges facing the birds, I rarely pause to consider the circumstances these difficult or toxic people must have encountered to leave them so embittered, short-tempered, or uncivil. While trials, loss, and pain never excuse bad behavior, they often cause it. Not everyone believes in God, has experienced the joy that comes from following Jesus, possesses His peace, or knows they are loved and forgiven.

In these stressful and divisive times, hostility and boorishness seem to be on the rise. Admittedly, upon encountering a toxic person, self-control, patience, kindness, love, and courtesy often fly right out the window. Rather than turn the other cheek, we want to give as good as we got. Retaliation, however, only begets more of the same. Studies have shown that incivility and rudeness are as contagious as yawns, smiles, laughter, and viruses! As followers of Jesus, our job is to make sure we don’t contribute to the problem. We’re expected to treat people with kindness and consideration, not because they’re nice people who deserve it, but simply because it’s what Jesus would do! Hopefully, our even-tempered behavior will make the rest of their journey easier.

We must choose to break the chain of incivility with love, gentleness, a forgiving heart, and by praying for the offender. It helps to remember that difficult people carry a lot of baggage with them and their quarrel, hostility, or complaint may have nothing to do with us. Remembering that we know nothing of their hardships, pain, or fear, let’s cut them a little slack and give them as much space as possible. Like the migratory birds, they’ve had a difficult journey and are struggling to survive the only way they know. “Do not disturb” is wise advice in both instances!

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. [attributed to Plato]

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. [Colossians 3:13-15a (NLT)]

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HAPPINESS STARTS WITH A SMILE

We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy! [Psalm 126:2-3 (NLT)]

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. [Thich Nhat Hanh]

clownIn the Pearls Before Swine comic drawn by Stephen Pastis, Pig may be a little naïve but, sometimes, the sweet fellow has the right idea. In a recent strip, when asked why he was wearing an enormous hat decorated with a smiley face, he explained it was “the hat o’ great happiness” and he wore it as a way of sending happiness to others. I thought of Pig’s silly hat of happiness while viewing an ad made by Coca-Cola as part of their 2015 Belgian “Choose happiness” campaign.

It began with people walking into a subway tram. Among the commuters was a man who stood in the middle of a crowded car. Wearing ear buds and looking at his tablet, he suddenly erupted in laughter. Ignoring the stares of the people around him, he continued to laugh—not polite little giggles but loud and unembarrassed guffaws. Hidden cameras filmed the reactions of his fellow commuters. As his laughter increased, they began to smile and then their smiles turned into laughter. A promotional team from Coke revealed themselves and handed out cans of Coke with a leaflet linking laughter and happiness. The ad closed with the words, “Happiness starts with a smile, what are you waiting for?” followed by the hashtag “choosehappiness.” Filmed over two days on 17 trains and six different metro lines, the commercial brought laughter to over 4,000 commuters! Millions more have caught themselves laughing as they’ve viewed the video since it first aired. (You can find it on YouTube.)

Scientific studies actually have found that actions like yawning, smiles, and laughter are contagious. Because of a primitive reflex in the cortex of our brains, the urge to mirror another person is triggered by something called echophenomena: the automatic imitation of another’s words (echolalia) or actions (echopraxia). Moreover, other studies have found that a smile brings hidden blessings by releasing a cocktail of body chemicals that relax the body, lower the heart rate and blood pressure, decrease stress levels, and serve as antidepressants and mood lifters!

The joy we have in Jesus should be obvious and as contagious as any yawn, smile, laugh, or virus. Like Pig, we need to find ways to send happiness to others and we don’t need a silly hat or a fit of laughter on a train to do that. Just as the Lord smiles upon us, we must smile upon all who cross our path (even if that smile is hidden by a mask). We have to make that smile pass into the rest of our body: our face, eyes, voice, hands, and heart. Like Pig, let us find ways to send happiness and joy to those around us; we just might find our spirits lifting as we do!

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. [Leo Buscaglia]

They longed for me to speak as people long for rain. They drank my words like a refreshing spring rain. When they were discouraged, I smiled at them. My look of approval was precious to them. [Job 29:23-24 (NLT)]

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart; good news makes for good health. [Proverbs 15:30 (NLT)]

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ABIDE

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (RSV)]

cardinal - maleThe Apostle John used the word menó 53 times in his gospel and epistles. Frequently translated as abide, menó originally referred to the staying power of an army that is not driven from the battlefield. Meaning “to stay, remain, reside or stand fast,” menó came to imply an unbroken friendship or a continuous fellowship.

When guests come to visit, I often welcome them by saying, “My home is your home!” but I really don’t mean it. Even with the best guests, there are boundaries. While I want them to be comfortable, I don’t want them rearranging my kitchen cabinets, going through my closets, looking in my junk drawer, reading my files, or borrowing my shoes. Although my guests stay with me for a while, they don’t abide with me the way John or Jesus used the word. Abiding isn’t coming for a long weekend or spring break; it is moving right in and becoming part of the household permanently. Recalling the battlefield origins of menó, abiding is staying together even in difficult conditions: standing fast in the face of an assault.

When Jesus abides in us, He permanently moves right into our hearts and lives. No room is off limits, no drawer or cupboard is locked, no habits concealed, and no secrets remain buried. Unlike a guest who might stay too long or leave at the first sign of trouble, Jesus never wears out His welcome. Moreover, He remains in times of distress, danger, temptation, and discord as well as times of joy, triumph, and cheer.

In Scripture we find a reciprocal nature to this kind of abiding. If Jesus and His word abide in us, we also abide in Him and, if we abide in Him, He abides in us. Early in His ministry, Jesus told the disciples to follow Him but, as he approached the end of His life here on earth, He told them to abide in Him. Instead of trailing behind or imitating Him, He invited his followers to have an intimate relationship with Him. In turn, Jesus promised to abide in them: to make His home in their hearts. Abiding in Jesus means having a continuous fellowship with Him.

Recently, a pastor asked if Jesus was my hotel or home. Do I abide in him or do I come and go? Abiding is a 24/7 relationship as Christ lives out His life through us and we live out our lives through Him! Paul said it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]

Is Jesus welcome only in your guest room or does He run your house? Do you live in Him or is He just where you go when you need a break? Who abides in you and where do you abide?

Abide in Me says Jesus. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer to Me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be, as it were, rooted and planted in Me. Do this and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you. [J.C. Ryle]

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. [1 John 4:15 (RSV)]

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life. [1 John 2:24-25 (RSV)]

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BEING A CHRISTIAN

If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” [Romans 10:9-11 (GW)]

Then Jesus called the crowd to himself along with his disciples. He said to them, “Those who want to follow me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses, and follow me. Those who want to save their lives will lose them. But those who lose their lives for me and for the Good News will save them. [Mark 8:34-35(GW)]

Becoming a Christian is the most important step we will ever take in our lives and has longer reaching consequences that our choice of career or spouse. Fortunately, it is relatively easy: admit our sinfulness and turn away from sin, believe that Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin and to give us eternal life, and declare our faith in Jesus Christ. Repenting, accepting and confessing one’s faith—that’s the easy part.

Being a Christian—now, that’s where it gets difficult. Being a Christian is so much more than going to church, knowing Bible verses or saying prayers. It certainly is more than tithing, being baptized, confirmed, or even partaking in Holy Communion. Being a Christian isn’t a one-time event or an occasional action; it is a day-to-day process. By accepting Christ, we’ve become a new person. Unfortunately, that old sinful self is still there, relentlessly trying to assert itself. Being a Christian is a continual process of repentance and forgiveness and poses the daily challenge of giving our heart, minds and bodies to Him. It is allowing the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—to become evident and grow in our lives. Being a Christian isn’t knowing about Jesus; it’s actually knowing Him and having a relationship with Him. It is hearing and heeding His voice; it is loving Him and being loved by Him; it is devoting ourselves to Him, doing for Him, being His disciple, and spreading the gospel message.

I became a Christian years ago; being a Christian—well, I’m still working on that! Right now, I’m just a work in progress.

I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian. [Saint Ignatius]

Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ. [Billy Graham]

Examine yourselves to see whether you are still in the Christian faith. Test yourselves! Don’t you recognize that you are people in whom Jesus Christ lives? Could it be that you’re failing the test? [2 Corinthians 13:5 (GW)]

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