GIVE A WAVE

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. [Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronA man down the street has surrounded his home with security cameras pointed in every direction. I’m told that he’s an unpleasant old coot but I wouldn’t know; in all the years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen him. He has, however, managed to irk one neighbor enough that she salutes his cameras with her middle finger every time she passes by his house.

Anthropologist Desmond Morris claims the middle finger sign of rudeness is one of the oldest known insult gestures. Aristophanes wrote of the gesture in his play Clouds and the Romans called the middle finger the digitus impudicus or indecent finger. Sadly, in this day and age of rudeness, road rage, and irate neighbors, we frequently see it.

Several years ago, one of our pastors suggested that we give the “thumb’s up” gesture rather than the middle finger salute. He frequently repeated that thought until one day he misspoke and suggested the finger rather than the thumb! Popularized during World War II when pilots used it to signal ground crews their readiness for take-off, the “thumb’s up” gesture generally has a good connotation in English speaking countries. Unfortunately, it has a negative meaning in Greece, Russia, Sardinia, parts of West Africa and much of the Middle East. A full-fingered wave probably is a safer suggestion than thumb, especially when accompanied by a smile!

We all have moments when we’re angered or upset but, hopefully, we’re mature enough to refrain from giving that middle finger or yelling nasty words and escalating the situation. Nevertheless, it’s easy to mutter bad words to oneself, have hostile thoughts, and mentally give that rude gesture. After a reckless driver cut us off and nearly caused an accident, my husband growled angrily, “Here’s the thumb for you!” Although he refrained from a rude gesture, I gently reminded him that we’re not supposed to be thinking the finger when giving someone the thumb! Not doing the wrong thing is only half right; we also need to think and do the right one.

While Scripture never specifically refers to vulgar gestures, it does say a great deal about how we are to treat our neighbor and everyone is our neighbor—including the driver who cuts us off, the man who doesn’t clean up after his dog, the woman who pushes ahead of us in line, and the recluse down the street with his dozens of security cameras.

Not everyone who crosses our path is going to cross it nicely; nevertheless, there is no excuse for returning incivility with more of the same. Let us respond with grace and humility. Since we’re told to pray for our enemies, instead of merely refraining from nasty words and gestures, we could say a quick prayer for the person who’s offended us. While asking God to encourage our offender to improve both skills and attitude, we might want to ask Him to do some work on us, as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s give a friendly wave in actions, thoughts, and prayers!

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. [Colossians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

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ENCOURAGEMENT

When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. [Acts 11:23 (NLT)]

One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own. [John O’Donohue]

irisNicknames were as common in Biblical days as they are now. Simon’s politics gave him the nickname of Zelotes (the Zealot) and the impetuous behavior of James and John probably earned them the nickname of “Boanerges,” meaning “Sons of Thunder.” While it was Simeon’s dark complexion that gave him the name of “Niger” or “the Black Man,” it was the heartening behavior of Joseph that earned him the nickname of “Barnabas” meaning “Son of Encouragement.”Although our knowledge of Barnabas is limited, we know he was an apostle in the early church who encouraged the Jerusalem church by selling a field and giving it the money. His encouragement, however, wasn’t limited to finances and, without his encouragement, we might not have much of what we call the New Testament.

In spite of Paul’s conversion, his reputation as a persecutor of Christians frightened the apostles and they refused to meet with him. Barnabas became the bridge between the two and he urged the apostles to accept the new convert. It was Barnabas who encouraged Paul to come to the Antioch church where the two spent a year teaching (and encouraging) before departing on Paul’s first missionary journey. Barnabas then encouraged his cousin John Mark to join them on this expedition. When John Mark lost heart and departed, Paul refused to give the deserter another chance. It was Barnabas who encouraged the young man to go with him on another mission while Silas joined Paul. Although both Barnabas and John Mark had differences with Paul, eventually they reconciled and Paul again asked John Mark to join in his ministry.

I thought of Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement” because my third “Abundance” exercise was to leave a surprise note of encouragement for someone. Coming from the Old French word encoragier, “encourage” means to make strong or hearten: to spur someone on and promote their progress or growth. Without encouragement, a person is like a flower trying to bloom without enough water or fertilizer; neither will reach their full potential. It was with Barnabas’ encouragement that the early church got planted and Paul and John Mark were able to blossom. Without Barnabas’ encouragement, Paul might never have been accepted by the church, taught in Antioch, traveled throughout the Roman Empire to reach Gentiles, or written the thirteen Pauline epistles. Not one to hold a grudge, Barnabas forgave John Mark and encouraged his cousin’s faith by including him on another mission trip. As a result, John Mark, the man who once deserted the Apostle Paul, became known as the Apostle Mark and the author of the gospel that bears his name.

At some point in our lives, we all need words that inspire courage, enthusiasm or confidence; validate, comfort, or console; bring strength, perspective, or hope. Paul told us to “encourage one another and build one another up,” but I wondered how doing that encouraging helps us live richer more abundant lives. To encourage someone, however, we first must appreciate them and it is by appreciating and valuing the people in our lives that we realize how truly rich we are. Barnabas appreciated the potential of both Paul and John Mark even when others didn’t see it. May we all be worthy of being called a Son or Daughter of Encouragement!

Your greatest pleasure is that which rebounds from hearts that you have made glad. [Henry Ward Beecher]

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are already doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)]

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. [Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)]

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ENDLESS TREASURES

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. [John 10:10 (RSV)]

black swallowtail butterflyJesus said he came so that we’d have life abundantly and the Greek word translated as abundantly was perisson, meaning exceedingly abundant, beyond measure, or more than one would anticipate or expect. Jesus isn’t talking just ample or even plentiful; he’s speaking of something so fulfilling, so magnificent, that it’s beyond our wildest dreams! This abundance, however, has nothing to do with wealth, power, position, or possessions because none of those things will pass into eternity with us. Our new life in Christ is abundant by heaven’s standards, not ours and includes eternal life, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, salvation, purpose, wisdom, hope, mercy, spiritual gifts, the church, and the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In Ephesians 3:8, this abundance is translated as the “endless treasures” (NLT) or “unsearchable riches of Christ.” (RSV) Indeed, there is no bottom to our Lord’s treasure chest of blessings! Although this abundance will not be fully realized in our earthly lives, it begins at the moment of conversion but we can miss some of God’s treasures in the here and now when we don’t intentionally seek them. Jesus gives a whole new richness to our lives but, if we want to truly experience that abundance, we must give Him more than our Sundays—we must give Him our all. He must be present in every moment and all aspects of life—in the way we appreciate our surroundings, interact with people, treat the environment, deal with our emotions, take care of our bodies, apply our minds, select our entertainment, manage our money, utilize our talents, share our faith, spend our leisure time, and perform our work. It is only when there is more of Him and less of us that we will know how rich our lives really can be.

The abundant life given us by Christ isn’t found in what we already have or might get. It is found in the way we live: one day at a time, intentionally abiding in Him, choosing to be aware of His presence in all things, and by being good stewards of His many blessings.

Jesus set us free to live the abundant life by being all that He has created us to be and accomplishing all that He has planned for us to do. [Sharon Jaynes]

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:8 (RSV)]

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GOTCHA!

Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. [1 Corinthians 10:12 (MSG)]

peacock

Several years ago, my son’s family made plans to move out of state and sold their house faster than expected. Since their children had several weeks of school left in the semester, the four of them lived with us until the end of the school year. Don’t get me wrong; I loved having them and have no complaints. Nevertheless, the relationship between a mother and the woman her son marries can be a shaky one at best, regardless of how much they love each other. Going from two to six in our home was a major change for us empty-nesters and I’m sure it wasn’t any easier for them as they lived out of their suitcases. Needless to say, I prayed a lot during those weeks and, most of the time, I kept an imaginary roll of duct tape over my mouth.

One day, after mentally congratulating myself for being so tolerant, agreeable, and accommodating, I blew it! Without thinking, I made what I thought was a humorous comment about my daughter-in-law’s habitual lateness. Right after speaking, I realized that just because the words came into my head didn’t mean they should have spilled out of my mouth. But, by then, it was too late to retrieve a comment my daughter-in-law took as disparaging and judgmental. I’m sure I heard Satan’s voice in my ear chuckling, “Gotcha!”

Although my apology pacified hurt feelings, this episode points out the danger both of speaking without thinking and of pride. I’d been congratulating myself for my commendable behavior and patting myself on the back for keeping silent about scattered toys, messy bathrooms, dirty dishes in the sink, and the general chaos that comes with family. Focusing on what I considered to be my virtuous and exemplary conduct, I’d become proud of my restraint, tact, and patience. It’s said that “Pride goes before the fall,” and it sure did in that case.

Pleasure at being praised by others isn’t pride but pleasure at praising ourselves is and it leads to self-confidence rather than God-confidence. As far as the enemy is concerned, pride taken when congratulating ourselves for our self-righteousness is as good as any other sin! “Gotcha!” says Satan!

First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. [Proverbs 16:18 (MSG)]

Pride lands you flat on your face; humility prepares you for honors. [Proverbs 29:23 (MSG)]

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EVERYONE IS SPECIAL

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! [Psalm 139:17-18 (NLT)]

white ibisWhen speaking of the late director Mike Nichols, actress Anjelica Huston said, “He had that incredible capacity for friendship that makes you think you’re absolutely unique, that nobody matters to him the same way that you do.” Huston’s words were extraordinarily high praise for a friend and probably something we’d all like to have said about us. I wondered if I make every person who passes through my life feel extraordinary and valued. After coming up short on that one, I wondered if I have friends about whom I could say that same thing. While some come very near, there is only one who has the capacity to make each and every person feel unique and that he or she is most important person to Him; that, of course, is our good friend Jesus!

Psalm 139 is one of my favorites and the majority of it is an intensely personal song of praise in which David affirms God’s active involvement in every moment of his life. From the instant of his conception, God was there, forming him or, as The Message  translates, sculpting him, “from nothing into something.” God’s eyes remained on David and He knew his every idea and action. God’s thoughts about David were so numerous they were impossible to count. If God knew David that well, it would seem that He knows all of us that well. Indeed, God cherishes and loves each one of us as if we were His only child! He would join Fred Rogers in singing: “You’re special to me. You are the only one like you…You are special.”

While we never have come face-to-face with God, the Psalmist’s words tell us that He sees the unique beauty in each one of us. Moreover, when we look at Jesus in the gospels, we see how God behaved while walking on earth. Even without knowing Jesus’s true identity, everyone who came in contact with Him would have experienced His incredible capacity for friendship. Each person would have felt unique, special, and precious in His presence. Jesus didn’t see the sores on the lepers, the mental illness of Mary Magdalene, the uncleanness of the bleeding woman or the shame of the adulterous one. He didn’t see the filth of the beggar, the dishonesty of Zacchaeus, or the immorality of the woman at the well; he saw their pain—their innermost being. Instead of seeing a skeptic, He saw Nathanael’s integrity; instead of seeing a fisherman, He saw Peter’s ability to lead; instead of seeing a Pharisee, He saw Saul’s love of God. Jesus saw beautiful extraordinary individuals, each of whom was precious in His sight.

When writing his gospel, the Apostle John referred to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” I think each disciple would have described himself that same way. Without a doubt, Jesus had an even greater capacity for friendship than did Mike Nichols. Everyone whose life He touched felt absolutely special. Each knew that no one else mattered to Jesus in quite the same way than did they. This is the God who formed us, knows the number of hairs on our heads, and has etched our names into the palms of His hands and He is our friend!

As disciples of Jesus, we are to be His hands and feet. To truly do that, we must look at people through eyes like His: eyes that see beyond what is right in front of us—eyes that see the essence and uniqueness of our neighbor. And we must love him or her as we love ourselves: with a heart that sings, “You are my friend. You’re special to me.”

I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. [John 15:15-16 (NLT)]

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THE RECORDS COMMITTEE

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” [Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)]

blue flag irisDozens of birders have been gathering at the local bird sanctuary to catch a glimpse of a Hammond’s flycatcher. Since these birds look similar to other flycatchers, prefer the mountains to lowlands, and are rarely found within 1,000 miles of Florida, the bird in question could be an imposter. It’s just another little grey bird to me but, to birders, its identification is important. Although they’ll report their sightings to the Florida Ornithological Society, just looking like a Hammond’s isn’t enough. When the Society’s Records Committee meets in August, they will evaluate the submitted sketches, photographs, videos, recordings and detailed accounts of the bird’s behavior along with reports of the surroundings, sky conditions, temperature, and times when the bird was spotted to determine whether it truly is a Hammond’s.

While the FOS Records Committee will be looking for evidence to authenticate whether the bird in question is a true Hammond’s, there is no official committee to authenticate Christians. If a Records Committee were to determine whether or not we’re true followers of Christ, calling ourselves Christian, sitting in a pew on Sundays, and occasionally reading the Bible wouldn’t be enough evidence. After all, I could put on a lab coat, sit in the hospital, regularly consult WebMD, and call myself “Doctor” but I wouldn’t be a physician! The Records Committee for Christ would look for the traits of a Christian described throughout the Gospel and Epistles. They’d start with love and then look for evidence of things like obedience, service, forgiveness, selflessness, humility, faithfulness, truth, compassion, joy, peace, restraint, gentleness, patience, kindness, devotion, and virtue. These, like nesting in high conifers and catching insects on the fly, are the behaviors that would be used to identify a true Christian from an imposter. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them,” [Matthew 7:20] and it would be by our fruit that a Records Committee would know us.

The Hammond’s flycatcher is named in honor of William Alexander Hammond, an enthusiastic birder who was the Surgeon General of the US Army (1862-1864). Of course, that grey bird doesn’t care if it’s called a Hammond’s or even a flycatcher; it knows who and what he is. I’m not so sure we’re that honest with ourselves! Do we truly know who and what we are? Would anybody else? Our name is in honor of Jesus; “Christian” means “follower of Christ” or “miniature replication of Christ.” Do our thoughts, actions and speech look anything like His? It will be Jesus rather than a Records Committee who makes that final determination. Will He recognize us?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. [Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)]

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