TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE (The Great Divorce – 1)

“I am the resurrection and the life,” replied Jesus. “Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never, ever die.” [John 11:25-26 (NTE)]

sandhill crane - canadian gooseI thought of that great fixed chasm between heaven and hell again after reading C.S. Lewis’ fantasy, The Great Divorce. Lewis clearly warns his readers that the book is a fantasy, what he calls “imaginative supposal,” and should be read that way. He does, however, add that it does have a moral. The book’s unnamed narrator (presumed to be Lewis) describes what seems to be hell as a grey, dingy, and utterly joyless place where quarrelsome souls continually argue with one another and move further and further apart. Finding himself there, the narrator joins others as they take a bus ride from this grey world to a vibrant, beautiful, and substantial place that appears to be heaven.

Although they aren’t ghosts, his fellow travelers appear insubstantial, almost wraithlike, in comparison to this new world—a place more real than anything he’d ever known—and the solid radiant people they see there. Full of life, love, and joy, each vivid being tries to convince one of the ghostlike travelers to stay. Those who choose to remain may do so and are reassured that they will gradually become more substantial as they drink from the fountain and journey up the mountain. Those who choose to reject the offer are free to return to the bus and their joyless lives.

The narrator’s travelling companions are people like us. Some are self-absorbed or greedy while others are embittered or selfish. One traveler is sure he’s better than the “riff-raff” around him and another, sure that he’s earned his way there, demands his rights. One wants to be assured of his position before staying, another remains skeptical of its promise, and still another person refuses to stay because of shame. One refuses to forgive, one wishes to live in the past, and one prefers wallowing in misery and self-pity. When none of these choose to stay, the narrator’s guide explains that the choice of those “lost souls” is best expressed in the phrase, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” He adds, “there is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery…always something they prefer to joy.” Only one traveler chooses to give up the lust that controlled his life and stay. When he does so, the narrator watches as he solidifies into a new-made man.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: “The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. … It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” The contrast between the ghostlike non-believing souls with the vibrant solid people they meet is a perfect illustration of Lewis’ point. Indeed, it is only when we die to ourselves that we truly become alive and complete. Giving up oneself to follow Jesus is a real choice each person must make!

Even though the narrator takes a bus ride from hell to heaven, this fantasy really isn’t about heaven or hell. It merely answers the question so many people ask: how can a loving God send someone to Hell? The simple answer is that He doesn’t! Rather than being condemned to hell as punishment, each person freely chooses how they will spend both life in the here-and now and in eternity. The narrator is told by his guide, “All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.”

When the narrator wonders if he’d actually witnessed choices made long before death, his guide doesn’t answer. Instead, he explains it was just a dream and cautions the man to make that clear should he ever write of it. As Lewis said in the book’s preface, the story is just a fantasy but, as he promised in the preface, it does have a moral: our loving God never sends people to hell—they do that of their own free will!

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened. [C.S. Lewis]

He then spoke to them all. “If any of you want to come after me,” he said, “you must say No to yourselves, and pick up your cross every day, and follow me. If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me, you’ll save it. What good will it do you if you win the entire world, but lose or forfeit your own self?” [Luke 9:23-25 (NTE)]

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ADMITTING WEAKNESS, ACCEPTING GRACE

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud. [Psalm 138:6 (NLT)]

No one enjoys feeling weak, whether it is emotionally, spiritually or physically. There is something within the human spirit that wants to resist the thought of weakness. Many times this is nothing more than our human pride at work. Just as weakness carries a great potential for strength, pride carries an equally great potential for defeat. [Charles Stanley]

corkscrew swamp sanctuaryHere I am again, with a broken ankle and wearing a knee-high air-boot for the next eight to ten weeks! We have guests visiting next Friday and, since they’re avid gardeners, we’d initially planned on taking them to the Botanic Gardens. Yesterday, I suggested a change in plans since a stroll through the gardens is beyond my walking ability. When my husband suggested pushing me in one of the garden’s wheelchairs, I began protesting until I recalled a similar situation over six years ago when my foolish pride almost prevented me from accepting the help I needed.

That time, another fractured ankle kept us from taking our regular walk through the swamp/bird sanctuary and we were going a bit stir-crazy. When my husband suggested pushing me along the boardwalk in one of their wheelchairs, I recoiled. Unwilling to acknowledge my weakness and need, I protested that only old people and invalids needed wheelchairs (even though I qualified on both counts). My vanity and foolish pride were keeping me from accepting my husband’s offer. After hearing an inner voice whisper, “Silly woman, think again!” I realized how foolish and self-centered I’d been. Eating my pride, I allowed my husband to do for me that which I couldn’t do for myself.

After joking with a little boy in a stroller that my stroller was bigger than his, we stopped to chat with Jack and Mary, an elderly couple we frequently saw there. Every morning (and some afternoons), Jack pushed his frail and ailing wife along the boardwalk. Unlike me, Mary accepted her diagnosis and dependence without complaint. In fact, she radiated peace and joy and her beautiful smile reminded me that I needed an attitude adjustment. I realized how incredibly fortunate we both were to have husbands who loved us enough to push us around the swamp. Both Mary and I were experiencing our husbands’ grace—which simply is love in action! And to think I almost missed that wonderful day (and many more like it) simply because of pride!

Just as I’d resisted my husband’s offer because I pridefully didn’t want to admit my need, we often find ourselves missing out on God’s grace – what Matthew Henry calls “the free, undeserved goodness and favor of God” – for the same reason. With His endless supply of mercy, love, healing, goodness, joy, peace, and forgiveness, there is no limit to God’s grace; it is sufficient for our every need. The only catch is that we must come to Him with a humble and contrite heart willing to admit our need and powerlessness. Pride, however, can keep us from acknowledging our vulnerability or deficiency. Just as I couldn’t make that swamp walk until I admitted I couldn’t do it on my own, none of us can successfully walk through life without accepting and depending on God’s beautiful grace and amazing power. It is only when we admit our weakness that we become strong!

A man does not get grace till he comes down to the ground, till he sees he needs grace. When a man stoops to the dust and acknowledges that he needs mercy, then it is that the Lord will give him grace. [D.L. Moody]

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NLT)]

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THE WOODPECKER

You heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: love your enemies! Pray for people who persecute you! [Matthew 5:43-44 (NTE)]

red-bellied woodpeckerNo respecter of early mornings, an annoying woodpecker was busy drumming on the gutters of a nearby house. A few streets later, I spotted a woodpecker determinedly drilling into the stucco of another house. As it excavated a roost hole in the decorative trim, the determined little bird was doing as much damage with his beak as a heavy sledge hammer. A plaster patch nearby told me this wasn’t the first time the wall has been under attack! Throughout our community I see reflective streamers, children’s pinwheels, life-sized plastic owls, and strips of aluminum foil hanging from the eaves of houses. Nothing, however, seems to deter these birds from their drumming and drilling.

I thought of relentless woodpeckers after talking with a friend who recently experienced a stressful (but unavoidable) time with extended family. I could hear the exasperation in her voice as she spoke of the visit. As followers of Jesus, we’re supposed to reflect God’s love to everyone but she wondered if there’s an expiration date for that command when we get nothing but rudeness, deceit, or put-downs in return? How do we continue to love others when they are unlovable? We should be channels of God’s grace but what if we’re channeling that grace into what seems to be a bottomless pit of nasty? We’re supposed to be giving but when do we get a chance to receive? If other people can be selfish, under-handed, and bad-mannered, why can’t we?

Perhaps we need to remember that other people, no matter how unpleasant, demanding, or quarrelsome, are not the real foe—it is Satan. Like the woodpecker, he doggedly pokes, prods, and pesters us and our frustration, impatience, and annoyance with troublesome people is Satan chipping away at us a little bit at a time. Given enough time, instead of a stucco wall, he hopes to break through the wall of self-control. Instead of turning the other cheek, he wants us to lash back with some of the same!

In Jesus’ call to love our enemies, the word used was agapate which is the very kind of love God has for His sinful, disappointing, deceitful, troublesome, stiff-necked, difficult, selfish, and argumentative children! His love for us is active, unconditional, consistent, and permanent—a love that builds up rather than tears down. When Satan pecks at us with unpleasant people and difficult situations, let us remember that grace—unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it—is exactly what we got from God and what He expects us to pass on to others! Admittedly, there are times we’re sorely tempted to retaliate rather than love but, just as God never takes a break from loving us, we don’t get to take a break from loving our enemies!

Fortunately, instead of plastic owls, we have God’s armor and the shield of faith to fortify us against Satan’s attacks. While loving our enemies is impossible on our own, God’s power enables us to resist Satan’s attacks and continue to pass on God’s grace to everyone (not just the nice deserving ones).

Agape is disinterested love. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friend and enemy; it is directed toward both. [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

These are the clothes you must put on, then, since God has chosen you, made you holy, and lavished his love upon you. You must be tender-hearted, kind, humble, meek, and ready to put up with anything. You must bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against someone else, you must forgive each other. Just as the master forgave you, you must do the same. On top of all this you must put on love, which ties everything together and makes it complete. [Colossians 3:12-14 (NTE)]

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TO WHOM?

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. (Matthew 6:6 NIV)

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [John 14:13-14 (NIV)]

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. [Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)]

“To whom should we pray?” is a common question. People wonder, “If we pray to God the Father, are we leaving out His Son? But if we pray to Jesus, are we leaving out God? And where does the Holy Spirit fit in?”

I’m no theologian, but it seems we certainly can’t go wrong by praying to God the Father. After all, when asked how to pray, Jesus began with “Our Father” and the Apostle Paul wrote the Romans about joining together and “giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [15:6] Nevertheless, Jesus, as the son of God, is divine and He promised that we can ask for anything in His name. So, we can pray to Him as did Stephen who prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” while being stoned. [Acts 7:59] To further confuse the matter, Paul explained that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so it appears that we also can pray to Him.

If we can pray to any of the three, how do we decide to whom we’ll pray? Some people decide who they’ll address by the topic of their prayer. When they want to offer worship and praise, ask for forgiveness, or plead for divine intervention, they call on God the Father. When they need to talk with someone who understands their earthly struggles, they call on Jesus. Since the Holy Spirit helps us pray, they pray to Him when they can’t find the words to express themselves.

When we worry about to whom we address our prayers, however, we’re forgetting that our Trinitarian God, while three persons, is one God! Calling it a “divine riddle,” Puritan minister Thomas Watson explained, “The three persons in the blessed Trinity are distinguished, but not divided; three substances, but one essence. … If there be one God subsisting in three persons, then let us give equal reverence to all the persons in the Trinity. … One person has not a majority or super eminence above another, therefore we must give equal worship to all the persons.”

When learning about Jeopardy contestant Matt Amodio for yesterday’s devotion, I discovered that his answers irk the grammar police. Jeopardy answers must be given in the form of a question and he begins every response with “what’s…” even when referring to a person. Amodio’s strategy is to keep things simple and explained that keeping his responses consistent allows him to focus on the “meat” of the clue. Just as a Jeopardy contestant’s answers don’t have to be grammatically correct to be accepted, I suspect our Trinitarian God cares far more about our hearts than our words and would prefer we give more thought to the “meat” of our prayers rather than to whom or how they’re said.

We can address our Trinitarian God in any of a number of ways—as Eternal Father, Holy Spirit, Lord, Blessed Jesus, God, Lord of My Life, Almighty and Eternal God, Holy Spirit of God, Eternal Being, Divine Love, God of Mercy, Holy One, Holy and Blessed Trinity, God, Jesus, Spirit of God, or many other reverent names. Flawed beings that we are, we seem to complicate our lives unnecessarily and worrying about how to pray (rather than simply doing it) is one of the ways we do it. Amodio’s answers are accepted by the Jeopardy judges just as our prayers, offered in faith with a humble heart, will be accepted by God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.

Christian prayer is most often Trinitarian. Practically, this means we pray by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ our mediator, to God the Father. [Mark Driscoll]

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. [Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE PEACE POLE – WORLD PEACE DAY

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:18,21 (NLT)]

peace poleCOVID kept us from the Botanic Gardens for well over a year. When we finally returned to one of our favorite places, we came upon a peace pole planted among the palms, bamboo and bromeliads. Although a similar pole is in the city park downtown, I don’t remember seeing one here when last we visited. These poles are just two of the more than 250,000 that have been erected in over 180 nations.  Symbolizing the oneness of humanity, the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” are written in eight different languages. The languages chosen for this pole were English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hawaiian, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish—the languages of people who, like us, live at the 26th parallel north. Peace poles stand as a visual reminder to pray for peace on earth and to think, speak and act in the spirit of harmony and peace.

Forty years ago, the United Nations designated today as the annual International Day of Peace (commonly called World Peace Day). In 2011, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate it as a day of cease-fire and non-violence. They ask every person and nation to halt hostilities and fighting for this one twenty-four-hour period. Unfortunately, I doubt the world can make one hour, let alone twenty-four, without aggression, hostility and bloodshed. Hopefully, you and I can go longer than twenty-four hours without conflict or violent behavior!

The causes of world conflict are many and, according to the UN, include poverty, social inequality, hunger, dwindling natural resources, water scarcity, environmental decline, disease, corruption, racism, and xenophobia (an intense fear of foreigners). This year’s theme, “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World,” continues the UN’s focus on finding ways to overcome those causes. Indeed, as our world struggles to recover from what seems to be a never-ending pandemic, we can see how the underprivileged and marginalized have been hit the hardest. In the last eighteen months, we have seen both the best and the worst of our fellow travelers on this planet. This day is a reminder that instead of fighting with one another, we should join in fighting mankind’s common enemies!

As Christians, we have the peace of God—the peace that passes understanding—but we must be more than possessors of peace. Jesus calls us to be makers of peace but erecting a peace pole is not enough! We can start by bringing peace to our little corner of the world, beginning at home and then moving on to work, school, church and community. Our peacemaking efforts, however, can’t stop at the borders of our neighborhood or even our nation. We must take Christ’s message of peace out into the world by thinking, speaking, and acting in the cause of peace. While we each have an obligation to improve the various conditions that promote conflict, changing people’s circumstances is just a beginning. For true peace, the peace that is found in a relationship with God, we must change people’s hearts.

World peace, while a lofty goal, is not something I expect to see in my lifetime. Nevertheless, we each must do our part.

We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ spoke much of peace on earth. [Henry Drummond]

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. [James 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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SOIL AND WATER

For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too. [Psalm 95:3-6 (NLT)]

Burgess Creek - Steamboat CO“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship,” said the Psalmist. [19:1] It’s not just the heavens, however, that declare God’s glorious existence. Something as lowly as soil or as ordinary as water testify to His magnitude, creativity, skill, wisdom, and attention to detail, as well!

Unless we encounter an earthworm or beetle while digging in the garden, we probably think of soil as lifeless when, in actuality, it’s a dynamic living ecosystem. One handful of productive soil contains about 100 billion microorganisms of bacteria made up of about 10,000 different species. In that same handful of dirt are 100 meters of fungal cells of some 500 species of fungi, along with 20 million protozoa, 100,000 nematodes (unsegmented round worms) and 50,000 arthropods (like centipedes and microscopic mites), along with any earthworms and algae that may have tagged along. There are more living organisms in a handful of soil than there are human beings on our planet!

As small as all those microorganisms are, consider that one drop of water (.05mL) contains 1.67 sextillion molecules of H2O (that’s 21 zeroes). Smaller than those molecules are the more than 5 sextillion atoms of hydrogen and oxygen in those molecules! If we were counting the molecules of H2O in just ten drops of water (.17 oz.), we’d need 210 zeros (a quantity outnumbering the stars in the universe and all the organisms in the soil combined)! We really shouldn’t be surprised; after all, this is the same God who glued those beautiful microscopic scales on a butterfly’s wings (600 per square millimeter), dropped miniscule pollen grains (.006 mm) in the forget-me-not, and packed 100 billion neurons in the human brain.

We stand in awe at the enormity of the Grand Canyon, the striking colors of Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, the red and orange hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, or the flood of water surging over Niagara Falls (757,500 gallons per second) without giving a thought to the atoms that make up every drop of that water or the microscopic life existing in the world beneath our feet. The heavens may declare His glory and existence but so does the rest of His magnificent creation!

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.
He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well.
[Cecil F. Alexander]

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:19-20 (NLT)]

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