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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OBITUARY OR LEGACY?

Those who are righteous will be long remembered. … They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. [Psalm 112: 6,9 (NLT)]

Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper. [Billy Sunday]

giant swallowtailMore than thirty years ago, a friend confided that she wanted her obituary to be a good one. A few years ago, explaining that she wanted an updated photo in case it was needed for her obituary, she asked me to take her picture. Although she was in excellent health at the time, this woman clearly understood the fragility of life. Sadly, she died unexpectedly just a few days ago.

When considering a “legacy,” we usually think in monetary terms, but a legacy can be anything given by or received from an ancestor, predecessor, or the past. It’s the body of work we leave behind when we’re gone and, in actuality, my friend was far more concerned with leaving a legacy of service and love than with the words of her obituary! She wasn’t trying to impress others, pad her resume with good works, or serve her way into heaven. A woman of deep faith, she knew she was saved by grace not works. Nevertheless, she served the Lord she loved by loving and serving His people. Although she’d expressed concern about some of her denomination’s doctrine, she had no doubts about Jesus. The Holy Spirit was present in her life and she never missed an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

My friend was no saint—she was just another imperfect Christ follower struggling to make it through each day the best she could. Her life wasn’t easy and she had more than her share of heartbreak and disappointment. Nevertheless, as her obituary read, “She began and ended each day with the intent of making people smile and laugh. She accomplished that every day of her life. … In her wake, she left a trail of smiles, heartfelt laughter and love.”  Indeed, the world was a better place because of her and, as she had hoped, her obituary was filled with glowing words and the picture was a recent one. Her obituary’s words, however, will soon be forgotten. It is the humble way she served her neighbor and the seeds of faith, love, and joy she scattered wherever she went that will live on in the many lives she touched.

Our true legacy has nothing to do with wills, trusts, bank accounts or property titles; it begins with our relationship with God and ends with our relationship to His children. What we leave behind when we’re gone is determined by how we choose to live today! Do you want to be remembered with a long obituary or a legacy of love?

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. [Augustine]

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!” [Revelation 14:13 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.