PERSONALITIES – EARTH DAY 2018

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” [Genesis 1:28 (NLT)]

Until recently, I didn’t know that scientists have identified personality (distinctive behavioral traits) in animals as diverse as elk, fish, ferrets, spotted hyenas, spiders, sea anemones, rodents, lizards and birds. Introversion and extroversion have even been identified in octopuses! Of course, the same characteristic will present differently in various species. An introverted octopus, for example, will stay in its den while feeding and try to hide by changing color but an introverted human might stand alone at a party or have difficulty getting a date. As for a shy African penguin named Tubbs who’s wintering at our local zoo—he takes his food into the back corner of his den to eat it, usually stands with his back to the other penguins and zoo visitors, and, like many timid fellows, hasn’t had success with the ladies.

We recently became acquainted with Tubbs and his friends Missy, Squirt, and Sal when we met their keepers and went behind the scenes at their exhibit to feed them. Initially, the penguins all looked alike but, when we looked more closely, we realized their black chest spots are as unique as fingerprints on a human. Like zebras, jaguars, monarch butterflies and the rest of God’s creatures, even though we may not discern their differences, no two are exactly alike. God never repeats himself.

As we fed these fascinating birds, their distinctive personalities began to emerge. Along with the socially awkward Tubbs, we met the outgoing Missy who, unfortunately for Tubbs, has a crush on her human keeper. The hen-pecked Sal follows his domineering mate Squirt wherever she goes. Although the other penguins prefer eating their fish head first, Squirt insists on getting hers sideways. It is penguin instinct that makes Tubbs gorge himself in preparation for molting but it is his timid personality that caused the curious penguin to peek around a corner at us rather than stand at the doorway with the others.

That scientists have found personalities and emotions in everything from limpets and crabs to coyotes and water striders amazes me. Before meeting the penguins, I’d thought of personalities only in domesticated animals and attributed them to training and environment. I hadn’t considered the possibility of undomesticated animals having distinctive personalities and the ability to feel and express emotions. Scientists have found that even the Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm with only 302 brain cells, can learn and remember and that honey bees can exhibit optimism and pessimism. Animals may not be able to speak in a way that we can understand or exhibit emotions in a way we recognize, but there is nothing dumb or unfeeling about any of God’s creatures. Their complexity and diversity point to our unlimited Creator and His intelligent, imaginative and loving design. God created every living thing and none of His creation happened by accident.

Sunday is Earth Day and ending plastic pollution is this year’s mission. Plastic pollution endangers African penguins like the zoo’s delightful foursome but it also threatens the survival of every other kind of sea bird along with seals, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, whales and dolphins. God commanded us to keep and care for His creation, not to exploit or abuse it. As title holder to the earth, He will hold us responsible for the way we care both for it and the creatures with whom we share it. For the sake of Tubbs and the rest of God’s creatures who are unable to speak for themselves, let us be better stewards of God’s beautiful earth.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life. [Attributed to St. Basil the Great]

You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. [Psalm 8:6-8 (NLT)]

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RESURRECTION PEOPLE

To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. [Acts 1:3 (RSV)]

rabbitBy now, the visiting family has returned home; the jelly beans, Peeps, and chocolate eggs have been eaten; the Easter lily has wilted; the baskets and bunny décor are back in their boxes; and the hardboiled eggs are long gone. While Easter has been put away for another year, the story didn’t end with the resurrection.

Rather than stop with Jesus’s resurrection on Easter morning, the miracle continued for the next forty days during which Jesus was seen, not just by the disciples, but by hundreds of people. The gospels and Acts record his appearances and Josephus is just one of many secular ancient historians who refer to Christ’s presence after death. Although the resurrected Jesus seemed to be less limited by time and space than when He was a man, Scripture tells us that He talked, walked, ate and drank and could be touched just like anyone who hadn’t endured crucifixion, death, and burial. Can you imagine what it was like for those fortunate enough to spend time with the resurrected Christ? No wonder their faith was so strong that they were willing to endure terrible persecution and horrific torture rather than deny their Lord.

While we can only imagine what it was like when people spent time with the risen Christ 2,000 years ago, we can come close to that experience when we take Communion. Hearing the words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we tend to think of the Last Supper and Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins. But, when we eat that bread and sip that wine, we are as close to touching the body of the resurrected Jesus as we will get here on earth. In this Christian ritual, Jesus actually is present; I’m not sure how that happens (and theologians have argued this for centuries).  Nevertheless, I am sure that He comes into our presence with that bread and wine. In some miraculous way, the resurrected Jesus is present in our present. About this mystery John Calvin wrote, “It is a mystery too sublime for me to be able to express, or even to comprehend; and to be still more explicit, I would rather experience it, than understand it.”  Wisely, C.S. Lewis said, “The command after all, was ‘Take and eat,’ not take and understand.”

In what we know as “The Great Commission,” Jesus told His disciples to go out into the world and spread the news of salvation. We must never forget the beautiful promise included in His words: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” We are Resurrection people, not just on Easter or until Ascension Day forty days later. We are Resurrection people every day of the year. The resurrected Christ lived on earth among men for forty days and He continues to live in us today.

We should come to the Lord’s table with the confident expectation of meeting Christ there, of receiving there a blessing. [Rev. Chas. A. Savage]

I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. [1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (RSV)]

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DAILY BREAD

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (RSV)]

daily breadYesterday, I wrote that “daily bread” refers to our necessities. What, then, are the necessities of life? The most obvious meaning is the food needed to sustain us physically. In spite of the hunger that exists in our nation, with 36% of adults and nearly 20% of children considered overweight or obese (according to the CDC), most of us have more than enough bread. So, can those of us with plenty to eat skip this petition? Martin Luther would say, “No.” When he explained the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he defined “daily bread” as the following:

Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, and upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. [Small Catechism (Martin Luther)]

For Luther, the words “daily bread” encompass far more than whatever is necessary to sustain life. He expands it to mean whatever is necessary for a good life. In a mostly agrarian society, it’s easy to see why farm, fields, livestock, and good weather were a necessity to Luther’s congregations. Nevertheless, they’re still necessary in our increasingly urban society—without those, our grocery stores would be empty. When we continue to think in broader terms, Luther’s list makes as much sense today as it did in 1529. While we probably don’t have servants as members of our household, we may have employees or co-workers in business and we all depend upon other people’s employees when we dine out, bank, shop, visit the doctor, or take medicine. We may not have (or want) a spouse or children, but today’s children are tomorrow’s employers, judges, mechanics, police and office holders and we need strong and upright family units to raise them to be good ones.

After reading Luther’s list, I began to think seriously about what I considered necessary for life and it was far more than food, clothing and shelter. We all need friends and neighbors along with good government, peace, health, decency, and honor and yet I’d never thought of these necessities as daily bread until I read Luther’s words. Let us never forget that along with both our physical requirements and the less observable needs of life like friendship, there is yet another kind of bread for which we ask. When we ask for our daily bread, we ask for the true bread of life—Jesus Christ; the bread that satisfies our spiritual hunger. He is, indeed, a necessity for life both in this world and the next.

Our Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread!

“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 6:33-35 (RSV)]

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BEGGARS CAN’T BE CHOOSERS

Give us this day our daily bread… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:11,26 (RSV)]

BIG CYPRESS FOX SQUIRRELThere’s an old proverb, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” meaning don’t find fault with something received as a gift or favor. Another adage that goes along with it is, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I thought of those sayings when a friend told of walking into a taco stand when a street person sitting near the entrance asked him for money. Instead of money, my friend offered to buy him a burrito. Once at the counter, he ordered two bean burritos only to hear his homeless dining companion complain, “I ain’t eatin’ no $%2#!* bean burrito—I want a steak one!” My friend has little money to spare but, since the man was getting vociferous, he ordered the steak burrito for his guest and a bean one for himself. Apparently, the man wasn’t familiar with the above proverbs or with the one about a half a loaf being better than none!

Recently, I came across a cartoon drawn by Lynch. It showed Jesus, with piles of loaves and fish, surrounded by a multitude of people calling out to Him: “Is it gluten-free? Is there a vegan option? Are there nuts in those loaves? Was the bread baked locally?” and “Does the fish contain mercury?” While it is just a comic, I imagine some people actually may have muttered things like, “Isn’t there any falafel? I wanted olives! Aren’t there any grapes or figs?” or even, “Is this the best He can do?”

Jesus’s miracles of feeding thousands reassure us that God cares for His people. Moreover, shortly after teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He reassured us that, since God cares for the birds, He surely cares for us. Although God is concerned about meeting our necessities, sadly, our vision of what is necessary is usually far different than His. We don’t understand what our daily bread is or isn’t. It’s not brioche, a gluten-free all-natural blueberry muffin, one of the $20 deluxe loaves found at New York farmers’ markets, or the £21 ($28) English Shepherd Loaf made from organic Somerset spelt flour, Cotswolds spring water and Cornish sea salt. Moreover, our daily bread probably doesn’t include the extras like Nutella©, honey, fruit preserves, pate or avocado spread. Daily bread is what’s necessary and nothing more.

The words, “We are beggars; this is true,” were written on a scrap of paper found in Martin Luther’s pocket when he died. We are no different than the homeless man at the taco stand or the hungry people gathered on a hillside and probably no more appreciative. Let us reach out and gladly accept God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, Holy Spirit, and daily provision on His terms, not ours. Perhaps, after asking God for our daily bread, we might want to add another prayer: “Help me recognize my needs and appreciate your provision.” Let us remember that beggars can’t be choosers.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. [Matthew 6:31-32 (RSV]

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MAKE IT SPECIAL

Lowdermilk Park - Naples FLRemember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. [Exodus 20:8-10a (NLT)]

I’ve always thought of the first four commandments as being about our relationship with God and the next six about our relationship with people. The fourth commandment, however, seems to be a bridge between the two sections. It has as much to do with us as it does with God or our neighbor. Reminding us that we have six days in the week to work, it tells us to stop work on the seventh and to keep the Sabbath holy by setting it aside and dedicating it to God. Knowing how mankind loves to bypass rules, we’re told not to miss the point by expecting others to work for us either. Rather than a “thou shalt not” law, this commandment is a gift to us from God—the gift of rest!

As happened with many of God’s commands, the Israelites took a simple law and, by adding their own restrictions and interpretations, made what was a blessing into an inconvenience. Since His hungry disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath and Jesus had no qualms about healing on that day, He often came into conflict with the Pharisees about His Sabbath observance (or lack thereof). When criticized, Jesus made it clear that the Sabbath was made for man and should not be an onerous legal requirement.

While Christians aren’t bound by the Old Testament directives, Jesus never said to ignore the Sabbath. For most Christians, other than attending church, Sundays seem much like any other day. Parking lots are full at the grocery and mall, cell phones and the internet keep us in touch with work, the kids have sports and homework, and Sundays have become the day to complete everything that didn’t get done during the week. With families scattered every which way, even the traditional Sunday dinner (complete with cousins and grandparents sitting at the table) is but a distant memory.

Being retired, my husband and I have six Saturdays and one Sunday in our week so we can rest any time we want! The Sabbath, however, is more than taking a nap in front of the TV. God said to make it holy which means to set it apart. We can do that by taking something away (as did the Israelites with work) or by adding something to it (as we are doing).

On Sundays, we’re attempting to disconnect from the world and connect with one another, family, friends, and God by consciously doing something out of the ordinary. It can be as little as playing Rummikub or doing a jigsaw puzzle together to a bags tourney with our neighbors or a barbecue for church friends. Trusting God for enough hours in the other six days, we’re deliberately setting aside time for relaxation, laughter, fun, and fellowship.

How Sunday can be set apart from the rest of the week, in a way that both honors God and nurtures us, will vary from family to family. It’s probably naïve to think children won’t do homework and working moms and dads won’t have to play catch-up with chores. Nevertheless, we must remember why God gave us this commandment. He wants us to recharge our batteries: to rest from the week’s busyness, to take a break from our daily routine, to connect one another, and to rest in Him. When we neglect the Sabbath, we neglect ourselves and turn whatever it is we do the rest of the week into tedium and drudgery. God doesn’t need a Sabbath, but we surely do.

Thank you, God, for Sundays. May we make them days of worship, renewal, rest, peace, and joy.

A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week. [Henry Ward Beecher]

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” [Mark 2:27-28 (NLT)]

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LOVE NOTES

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy [Psalm 96:11-12 (NLT)]

wireweed - sida acutaStopped at a red light, I glanced at the grassy median on my left and did a double take; the small yellow wild flowers (some would call them weeds) appeared to be dancing. Their petals seemed to be floating in a breeze—only the petals were still on the flowers and there was no wind. Another look told me that hundreds of dainty sulphur butterflies were flitting to and fro just a few inches above the grass. With both butterflies and wireweed (sida acuta) being pale yellow, it looked like the flower petals had managed to escape their stems and the field was bursting with joy! A glance at my fellow drivers told me they were oblivious to the butterfly celebration taking place on the roadside. I wanted to get out of my car and tell everyone to look at the beautiful frolic right beside them. Caution and common sense, however, kept me in my car and, when the light changed, I reluctantly made my turn while thanking God for His gift of an “Aha!” moment. Did He specially arrange that revelry in pale yellow to intersect with my drive that morning? I don’t know, but it sure felt like He did. It was just what I needed to encourage me on a discouraging day.

Although I know my husband loves me, I cherish the times he walks by and touches me affectionately, whispers something sweet, or grazes my cheek with his lips. I also know that God loves me; after all, He demonstrated that on the cross. Nevertheless, God’s “Aha!” moments are His gentle kisses, tender caresses, and love notes. They’re subtle reminders that He is there, He cares, and He loves me.

As I continued on my drive, I wondered about the other drivers. Was I the only one who saw the butterflies? Then again, how many times have I have been so self-absorbed or intent on my activity that I missed one of God’s love notes? It isn’t just butterflies; it can be a song on the radio, a child’s laughter, the aroma of jasmine, a weed growing through a crack on the sidewalk, a squirrel chattering in a tree, a finch on the windowsill, the mockingbird’s song, seeing a young couple caress or an old couple walk hand in hand, the smell of grass after a spring rain, a rose bud, or a stranger’s smile. Although God personalizes His love letters for each one of us, we need to slow down and be mindful enough to recognize them when they come our way.

There is an old Hindi poem, translated by Ravindra Kumar Karnani, in which a child asks God to reveal Himself. God responds with a meadowlark’s song, the roar of thunder, a star and the birth of a baby but, in her ignorance, the child doesn’t recognize His answers. Finally, in desperation, she cries, “Touch me God, and let me know you are here!” But, when God touches the child, she brushes away the butterfly and walks away unknowingly. It occurs to me that we are not much different. May we never thoughtlessly brush away one of God’s gentle kisses or fail to notice one of his love notes.

O Lord, your unfailing love fills the earth. [Psalm 119:64a (NLT)]

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. [Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)]

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