PEACE ON EARTH

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. [Isaiah 9:6-7a (NLT)]

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” [Luke 2:13-14 (NLT)]


Isaiah prophesied a Prince of Peace, the angels proclaimed peace on earth to the shepherds, and Jesus promised us His peace but one glance at the news tells us that peace certainly doesn’t reign in our world today. We have wars, injustice, prejudice, intolerance, hate-filled speech, anger, abuse, violence, greed, and indifference.

In a world filled with conflict, it looks like God reneged on His promise of peace. It wasn’t God, however, who failed us—we are the ones who failed Him. Far too often God’s gift of peace is like a book we’re given but never take the time to read or a gift card we lose when tossing out the wrapping paper. While peace is His gift, we are the ones who have to implement it. Unfortunately, all too often, we allow fear, pride, bigotry, bias, arrogance, resentment, apathy, exasperation and wrath to shove peace right out of our hearts and lives.

Inner peace hinges on having a relationship with God. The angels brought their message of peace to the world because Jesus’ presence enables mankind to have peace if we are in relationship with Him. Inner peace, however, is not enough. For peace on earth, we must have peace with others and therein lays the problem. Our egos just can’t seem to accept the humility, selflessness, and devotion required to love the unlovable, touch the untouchable, turn the other cheek, treat our neighbors as ourselves, pray for our enemies, forgive, or have compassion on those in need (especially if they don’t look, talk, or act like us). As a result, true peace escapes us. If there ever is to be peace on earth, it must begin with us!

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the gift of peace that came wrapped as a baby in Bethlehem. Forgive us for the way we’ve ignored this precious gift. Help us resolve the differences in our homes and families, community, nation, and world by bringing a portion of your peace to everyone we encounter. As we become your peace makers, may there be peace on earth.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. [St. Francis of Assisi]

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. [John 14:27 (NLT)]

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

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WHITE LIES

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. [Leviticus 19:11 (ESV)]

A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies. … A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish. [Proverbs 14:5,19:9 (ESV)]

squirrel
In the movie Liar Liar, comedian Jim Carrey portrayed a glib lawyer who plays fast and loose with the truth. After his son wishes his father would tell the truth, the insincere and conniving man finds it impossible to lie and immediately gets himself into hot water. Many of his problems, however, don’t come from telling the truth as much as they do from his callousness and insensitivity when he does. The self-centered man doesn’t know the difference between brutal honesty and truthful tact, crudeness and candor, vulgarity and restraint, or rudeness and civility. Among other things, the comedy illustrates that lying, while wrong, is often far easier than telling the truth.

At one time or another (probably more if we sell used cars), we’ve all told what we think of as “white lies.” Deception of any kind didn’t exist until Satan, the father of all lies, brought it into the garden. The deceit continued as both Abraham and Isaac lied about their wives, Sarah lied to God about laughing, Jacob and Rebecca tricked Isaac, Laban and Leah hoodwinked Jacob, Joseph’s brothers lied to Jacob, and Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph. The lies continued as Israel’s midwives lied to Pharaoh, Pharaoh lied to Moses, Rahab lied to the king’s men, Samson lied to Delilah, Saul lied to David, both Michal and Jonathon lied to Saul, David lied to Ahimelech, Gehazi lied to Naaman, Elisha misled the Syrian army, Peter lied about following Jesus, and Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter!

Some of those liars were good people and others were not. They all lied for different reasons and some of their falsehoods were less treacherous than others. Is there such a thing as an innocent white lie and, if so, when does it become a guilty gray? Since Rahab’s lie protected Israel’s spies, is there such as thing as a righteous lie? Can we lie to protect ourselves or someone else, to prevent needless worry, or to spare feelings? If all lying is wrong, can deception be less wrong in some situations?

Scripture, however, doesn’t appear to split hairs when it comes to lies. The Israelites were commanded to be truthful in all things and lying is condemned throughout Scripture. Jesus said he was the way and the truth and truth isn’t relative. Regardless of its size or intent, any lie is a deception and the Bible seems pretty clear about deceit; God doesn’t like it! The end never justifies the means if the means involves sin.

For the most part, a white lie is just the lazy way out of a sticky situation. It’s easier to spin off a lie than to find a way to be honest, tactful, and considerate. Nevertheless, when we tell people the dress isn’t too tight when it is, the check is in the mail when it isn’t, the procedure won’t hurt when it will, or we’re busy when we aren’t, we’ve done more than lie; we’ve given false witness and stolen the truth. Moreover, when people look in the mirror, see the postmark, feel the pain, or discover the duplicity, we’ve lost our credibility both as a friend and a Christian. While it may not be easy, it is possible to be loving and honest at the same time.

On the flip side, perhaps we also should be more willing to hear the truth. When we ask if the pants make our butt look big, do we look tired, were we wrong, or did the family enjoy the tofu casserole, we better not take offense when we get an honest answer.

Hang this question up in your homes – “What would Jesus do?” and then think of another – “How would Jesus do it?” For what Jesus would do, and how He would do it, may always stand as the best guide to us. [Charles Spurgeon]

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. [Ephesians 4:15,25 (ESV)]

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TITHING OUR TIME

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully. [2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)]

white peacock butterflyWhile many people faithfully tithe by giving ten percent of their income to God’s work, I read an article in which the author not only tithes her money but also her time. With 168 hours in a week, she dedicates a total of 16.8 hours a week to serving God. These tithed hours are spent in things like Bible study, prayer, mentoring, visiting the house-bound, bringing food to the needy, or sending encouraging notes.

While measuring out time for God may work for the author, I’m not so sure it would work for everyone. Would we have to tithe 2.4 hours each day or could we pick and choose when to use our week’s hours? Would we be talking gross or net hours? If net, once we’d taken out the eight hours for sleep every night, only 112 hours would be tithable and only 11.2 hours a week would belong to God. Would people need to keep a time-card and clock in and out every time they said a prayer? I wonder if Sunday evenings there might a frantic effort to find a way to fulfill the remaining unused time. Would we call an elderly neighbor to chat while counting minutes until we could disconnect?

Some people might split hairs about what actually determines giving time to the Lord. If we’re bringing the trash bin back to the house anyway, does bringing up the neighbor’s bin count? If we take canned goods to the food pantry, do we get credit for the entire time spent at the grocery store purchasing them? If we talk about church when meeting a friend for lunch count or must it be someone we don’t especially like or to whom we witness? Does the time spent driving to and from our volunteer job at the resale shop count? If we’re taking someone to church or Bible study, can we count the entire drive time or just the extra time it took to pick them up? Do we get extra credit for watching monster children in the church nursery? Once those sixteen plus hours are used, could we then turn a deaf ear to people’s needs or skip praying? If we gave more than 16.8 hours in one week, could the extra time carry over to the following one? Once we’re done with our hours, can we turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the needs surrounding us until the following week?

The Pharisees got so caught up in the minutia and letter of the Law that they missed its purpose and, like them, with all that nitpicking, it would be easy to get more concerned with tallying time than sharing God’s love. Instead of it being a privilege to give back to God, strictly tithing time could turn worship, prayer, study, and service into a chore. God loves a cheerful giver but this doesn’t sound very cheerful to me.

Admittedly, tithing time originally seemed like a good idea, especially since I spend more than 16.8 hours a week writing these devotions. I’d easily fulfill my weekly obligation at my computer so nothing more would have to be done for or with God! The Holy Spirit then gave me a kick in the behind and said, “You’re never done serving the Lord; I want all 168 hours of your week!” May we always remember that, other than our love, there’s nothing we can give Him that isn’t already His!

Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can. [Attributed to John Wesley]

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)]

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NO GUILT

For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. [Matthew 5:45 (NLT)]

peony
50 years ago, mothers spent several days in the hospital before going home with their newborns. While sharing my hospital room with a young woman who’d given birth to her first child, I overheard the pediatrician explain that her baby had Down’s syndrome, was being examined by a pediatric cardiologist, and likely needed immediate surgery. Although my heart broke for that mother, I also felt a sense of relief his news wasn’t for me. Statistically, as the older woman with three children, I was the mother more likely to hear that diagnosis. Knowing I was no more deserving of a healthy child than was she, I felt a tinge of guilt for the healthy infant nursing at my breast.

Have you ever felt guilty for receiving blessings when others weren’t so blessed, for reaping a harvest of blessings that you didn’t sow, for catching “lucky breaks” that come from God’s hand, or for having the equivalent of manna from heaven when others go hungry? We’re no more deserving than anyone else and yet our fertility treatment worked, we beat the odds with the chemo, we survived the crash, a loved one got sober, or our prodigal child returned. While others are not so blessed, we have healthy babies, loving parents, successful children, a financially secure retirement, a booming business, or simply were in the right place at exactly the right time. Yes, we may have prepared well and worked hard, but so have others who never enjoyed those blessings! When hearing the horrific stories told by Ian’s survivors and witnessing the destruction this hurricane left in its wake, I felt guilty admitting that the worst we suffered was lack of cell service, 24-hours without TV, and a few hours of yard and lanai clean-up.

With so many others suffering or in need, I’m probably not alone in feeling some sort of guilt or shame for God’s blessings like better circumstances, answered prayers, and what seems like “dumb luck.” Job asked “Why me?” about his suffering and I can’t help but wonder “Why me, Lord?” about the incredible blessings He’s bestowed on me. But, just as Job never discovered God’s reasoning, neither will I! As the one who controls the universe, God knows exactly what He’s doing even though we don’t. Rather than understand Him, God asks us to trust in His infinite wisdom and love.

God is not sadistic, cruel, neglectful, incompetent, or capricious. He doesn’t scatter blessings and trials impulsively, haphazardly, or accidentally. Knowing the past, present, and future of the entire cosmos, His perspective is far wider than ours ever will be. Although He orchestrates events that frequently seem questionable, needless, tragic, or unjust, we must accept that God is God and we, most definitely are not. We will never know the reasons behind our blessings or tragedies.

As Christ followers, what we do know is that we are recipients of the most undeserved and greatest gift of all—Jesus! As sinful and undeserving as we are, I suspect none of us feel guilty about receiving God’s only son and the salvation and eternal life that He purchased for us! Why then should we feel any guilt for His other blessings (all of which are equally undeserved)?

Let us remember that guilt is a gift from the enemy. If he can’t make us envious of the blessings received by others, he’ll try to make us ashamed of the blessings God gives to us. Rather than questioning God’s reasoning, let us recognize His amazing grace and appreciate his lavish generosity. It’s an insult to the Giver of All Gifts to discount, disregard, squander, or fail to appreciate, enjoy, and use all that we’ve been given. While we should be humble when accepting God’s blessings, we must never be ashamed or embarrassed about them.

If God has bestowed a blessing upon us, it’s because others are in need and we are the means by which He fills those needs. The only reason for guilt or shame is when we’re not good and faithful servants who steward and share His gifts wisely and generously while giving God the glory!

All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors. [John Calvin]

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT)]

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JUDGING THE PUDDING 

sheep goatsAnd the King will say, “I tell you [the sheep] the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” … Then he will answer them [the goats] saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [Matthew 25:40,45-46 (ESV)]

“The proof is in the pudding” is the shortened version of the original proverb: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In other words, rather than what something claims to be, it must be judged by trying it yourself or seeing it in action. Regardless of its outward appearance or what the label states, the value, authenticity, and quality of something can only be determined by experiencing it or seeing the results!

Jesus probably never tasted the pudding to which the original proverb refers but we know that He frequently told parables illustrating its point. Rather than talking about a seasoned minced meat and grain dish boiled in a bag, He was telling us that the true evidence of our declaration of faith is not found in our words; it is seen in our actions. In His parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, the King separated the sheep from the goats. After doing so, he said to the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” [25:35] The goats, however, got a vastly different message: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” [25:41]

Since both species are Bovines in the subfamily Caprinae, roughly the same size, have cloven hooves, and chew the cud, the King couldn’t determine their identity with a quick look. Their difference, however, had nothing to do with their appearance: whether they had a groove in their upper lip or wool instead of hair. He wasn’t concerned with the shape of their horns or whether their tails hung down or pointed up.

The King judged the animals’ breed by their actions. While sheep graze and goats browse, their eating habits weren’t what determined their destination because Jesus really wasn’t talking about sheep or goats. He was speaking of the final judgment, specifically of those who claimed to be one of His flock. The parable’s sheep (like true followers of Jesus) fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner—the very people Jesus called “the least of these.” The goats, however, hadn’t. With His parable, the Lord made it abundantly clear that the way we love one another shows the way we love Him and that our actions have eternal significance.

Jesus wasn’t preaching salvation through works; He was telling us that our actions are evidence of the faith we proclaim! It’s not enough to hear or even to profess; we must obey! We can dress up as sheep and claim to be Christians, but, as the old proverb goes: the proof is in the pudding!

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds. You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? [James 2:14-20 (NLT)]

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SOWING

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of heaven is alike a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.” [Matthew 13:14-16 (NLT)]

p0rairie rose - rose hip
Our brief return north last June meant we again enjoyed walking among the Midwest’s summer wildflowers. I only stepped a few feet off the path for a photo and yet my pants were covered with sticky seedpods from the Tick-Trefoil. Sometimes called sticktights or beggar’s lice, their seed pods are covered with fine hooked hair that catches on anything it contacts—whether clothing or a passing squirrel. I spent the rest of the walk picking off the pods and scattering them along the trail. After carefully stepping over a pile of seed-studded raccoon poop, I was reminded that a flower’s purpose isn’t merely to look pretty; it’s to spread its seeds any way it can.

Like the Tick-Trefoil, some flowers have pods that attach to clothes and animals and ride through the forest on pants’ legs and fur until they find a good home. Flowers like the False Solomon’s Seal and Pokeweed, however, produce fruit that is eaten by animals and, like that raccoon, leave the seeds behind in their waste. Other wildflowers, like the Asters and Milkweed, have seeds attached to a feathery sort of “parachute” that is blown away by the wind to (hopefully) land on fertile soil. That the flowers are rooted into the ground doesn’t seem to keep them from spreading their seeds every which way to make more of their kind.

Looking at the colorful blossoms throughout the park, I saw that the native wildflowers have done their seed-spreading job well. Unfortunately, undesirable invasive species like Canadian Thistle and Purple Loosestrife also have been expanding their territory. The seeds of these invasive weeds are trying to defeat the native wildflowers in the same way Satan is trying to defeat us by planting his seeds of evil. So far, the flowers are ahead of the game; are we?

Jesus also told a parable about a farmer who planted seeds and the various kinds of soil on which his seeds fell. Types of soil, however, make no difference if the farmer fails to sow any seeds! Unsown seeds will never germinate! Would that we Christians were as determined to spread God’s word as the flowers are to scatter their seeds. As pretty as it is, the Prairie Rose knows that its job isn’t finished when it blooms into a beautiful flower. Its real purpose is to bear fruit (the rose hip) and spread its seeds far and wide. Unlike the rose, however, many Christians are quite content just looking good and give little thought to bearing fruit, let alone enlarging God’s garden by sowing His word.

It’s what you sow that multiplies, not what you keep in the barn! [Adrian Rogers]

He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” [Matthew 9:37-38 (NLT)]

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” [Mark 16:15 (NLT)]

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