IF SOMEONE ASKS

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. [1 Peter 3:15b (NLT)]

Yesterday, I echoed Paul’s words that, when witnessing, we need to speak our words with love. Of course, before that can happen we need to speak and, therein lies our problem. To speak, we need words and most of us are sure we don’t have them. Granted, the way we conduct ourselves is a continuous sermon but, if we never speak, no one will know what makes us the way we are. Actions may speak louder than words but that doesn’t mean words aren’t necessary.

We don’t have to go knocking on doors, stand on street corners with a sign, accost strangers, or go on a mission trip; we just have to be open to the opportunities that arise nearly every day to share our love of God. Peter instructed us to be ready to explain the reason for our hope; I think we’re asked that question more than we realize. There’s a good chance people have commented on your joy, peace, or calmness. In all likelihood someone may have said something like, “How do you do it?” or, “You don’t seem to worry,” or even, “I wish I had your life!” In reality, that person is asking about the source of your hope. Rarely have my answers to such comments revealed the true source of that hope, strength, peace and joy. I’ve chosen the innocuous reply rather than the true one simply because I didn’t think I had the right words to explain! When Jesus told us to go out into the world and be His witnesses, He promised we wouldn’t have to do it alone. Since the Holy Spirit will empower us to be His messengers, let’s allow Him to do His work! We can’t speak with love until we speak!

God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them. [George Whitefield]

But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! [Luke 21:13-15 (NLT)]

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SOUNDING BRASS

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. [1 Corinthians 13:1 (KJV)]

maccaw

1 Corinthians is actually Paul’s second letter to the young church at Corinth;  the first letter does not remain. What we consider the first letter is actually Paul’s reply to the Corinthians’ response to his first one. While much of his letter is spent confronting the Corinthians about their sins and correcting their behavior, this rebuke to a troubled church has one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. Paul, however, is actually writing about the Corinthians’ abuse of their spiritual gifts. By only associating this chapter with weddings and anniversaries, we may miss some of its original meaning.

The “tongues of men” probably refers to the Sanhedrin, the supreme judicial and administrative council of the Jews. Having jurisdiction over religious matters, the high priest acted as its president and its members consisted of the chief priests, scribes and elders. They were to be men of distinction and wisdom conversant in all seventy languages of mankind so interpreters weren’t needed in court. It’s likely that the tongues of men to which Paul referred were the supposedly wise and multilingual tongues of the Sanhedrin. Being ministering spirits, angels have no need for tongues. Nevertheless, there were times they took on flesh and appeared to man and, when acting as God’s messengers, they were inspiring and eloquent in their speech.

Personally, I like brass quartets and the sound of those tinkling cymbals worn on the fingers of Middle Eastern dancers, but those are not what Paul meant. Paul actually was referring to sounding (or echoing) brass which were large cast urns placed around the back of a theater. This primitive sound system served to amplify the actors’ voices and Corinth had a famed set of them. The “sounding brass” could no more create their own sound than could a Bose speaker; having no voice of their own, they only could reproduce sound. As for tinkling cymbals, the two kinds of cymbals used during Jewish worship were percussion instruments. Only played during interludes in the vocal music, they didn’t produce a light tinkle. One was more of a shaker with small cymbals attached to a handle that was shaken. The other cymbals were smaller and heavier than today’s orchestral ones. Rather than the pleasant ringing of wind chimes, they were said to penetrate “as far as Jericho.”

In their cultural context, Paul’s words make far more sense. Even if he could speak with great wisdom, in every language known to man and as magnificently and eloquently as an angel, if his words didn’t come from his heart, they would have no meaning. If he just thoughtlessly  echoed words, his voice simply would be an irritating  loud sound.

We worry so much about what to say and how to say it when an opportunity to share our faith arises that we usually fail to share God’s message at all. Paul’s words should reassure us that it’s not the words or eloquence that matter; it’s the love behind those words. If we love God and love people, then the words we speak will be filled with love. Without love, however, no matter how articulate, self-assured and knowledgeable we are, our message will be meaningless noise.

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. [1 Timothy 1:5 (NLT)]

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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)]

Pioneer CenterMany people faithfully tithe by giving ten percent of their income to God’s work. I recently read an article in which the author not only tithes her money but also her time. She dedicates 2.4 hours a day or 16.8 hours a week to God’s work. Weekends are used to catch up on any remaining balance she owes. Her 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 doling out time may work for the author, I’m not so sure it would for everyone. There would be those who’d ask if we’re talking gross or net hours. If net, once we’d taken out the eight hours for sleep, only 1.6 hours a day would belong to God. I picture people keeping a spreadsheet showing time spent in good works and wonder if Sunday evening there might a frantic effort to find a way to use the remaining time. Would we call an elderly neighbor to chat while counting minutes until we could disconnect? I can picture splitting hairs about what actually determines working for the Lord. If I’m bringing my trash can back to the house anyway, does bringing up my next door neighbor’s count? If I take canned goods to the food pantry, do I get credit for the entire time I spent at the grocery store? Does having a friend for lunch count or must it be someone I don’t know (or like)? If I’m driving someone to church, can I count the time spent filling the gas tank? Do I get extra credit for baby-sitting monster children? Once those sixteen plus hours are used, could we then turn a deaf ear to people’s needs? If we spend more than 16.8 hours serving in one week, would the extra hours carry over to the next week? With all that nitpicking, would people become more concerned with tallying time than sharing God’s love? Instead of being a privilege to serve, would doing His work become a chore? God loves a cheerful giver but this doesn’t sound very cheerful to me.

Originally, tithing time seemed like a good idea, especially when I realized that I spend more than sixteen hours a week writing these devotions. My time tithe would be complete so I’d be off the hook; nothing more would have to be done for 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!”

I was recently at a facility for the developmentally disabled. They’d made a colorful sign saying, “Throw kindness like confetti!” Indeed, the clients were scattering kindness to one another and to the staff—encouraging, laughing, smiling, sharing, loving and helping. Although in adult bodies, they remain children; nevertheless, there is much we can learn from them. Remember, the kingdom of God belongs to children and children don’t keep spreadsheets of kindness—they just love with their whole being all of the time. Indeed, as Christians, we’re to have an endless supply of kindness confetti and scatter it 24/7, not just 16.8 hours a week!

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]

As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good. [2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NLT)]

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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WHAT DO WE BRING TO THE TABLE?

 

Galena farmhouseI encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect. … God in his kindness gave each of us different gifts. [Romans 12:1b-2,6a (GW)]

 When told that the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us are unique for our specific ministries, we get nervous. We already have a career, didn’t sign up for seminary, and aren’t interested in being ministers. Thanks for the offer, but we don’t see the need for a gift! Being a minister is a vocation; the ministry, however, is the work of every Christian. No matter what our professions, we are all called to minister and that doesn’t necessarily mean pastoring a church. It means serving God and His people in Jesus’ name, which is where those spiritual gifts come in. God is not about to send us off empty-handed.

In job interviews, applicants often are asked, “What do you bring to the table?” With God, however, it’s a little different. When we come to him, He doesn’t care about our resume, how much or little we know, or how many assets we bring to Him. When we come to His table, we receive our own personal coach in the way of the Holy Spirit who provides us with at least one spiritual asset personally designed for us.

In Matthew 9, Jesus spoke of the harvest being plentiful but the laborers being few. I wonder—is it the labor pool that is lacking or is it the willingness of the laborers to do His work that is missing? As Christians, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit and yet we seem to be empty of His gifts. Do we not recognize our gifts or are we simply unwilling to use them? Last Sunday, while kneeling at the Communion rail with others in our congregation, I wondered what gifts we each brought to God’s holy table and how many of those unused gifts we were taking back home with us.

It would seem that there are enough laborers, but they’re just waiting for the ideal job, the perfect opportunity, or the ideal situation to arise. I know plenty of people who have remained unemployed for years because of that attitude and there should be no unemployment line in God’s kingdom. We forget that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness; He not only equips us but He also offers on-the-job training!

I’ve taken assorted Spiritual Gift inventories and, while they can be helpful, I doubt their necessity. In actuality, all we have to do is look at the harvesting needs around us and show up for work. We’ll soon figure out if driving the combine, baling the hay, swinging the scythe, hand-picking the berries, cleaning the tools, transferring the grain to the silo, managing the logistics, marketing the wheat, bringing water to the thirsty or feeding the workers is the job for which we’ve been designed. The important thing is to show up for the harvest; in God’s Kingdom, there should be no shortage of workers!

When he saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them. They qwere troubled and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord who gives this harvest to send workers to harvest his crops.” [Matthew 9:36-38 (GW)]

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I’M SPECIAL

Columbia Icefield - Canada - glacierAll they did was sin even more, rebel in the desert against the High God. They tried to get their own way with God, clamored for favors, for special attention. They whined like spoiled children, “Why can’t God give us a decent meal in this desert? Sure, he struck the rock and the water flowed, creeks cascaded from the rock. But how about some fresh-baked bread? How about a nice cut of meat?” [Psalm 78:17-20 (MSG)]

“You are my friend, you are special,“ sang Mr. Rogers on the children’s television show. Indeed, made in the image of God and saved by His son, I am special. None of us, however, are any more special or deserving than the other. Our recent trip to the Canadian Rockies reminded me that we often forget that simple fact.

Yesterday, I wrote of the tour director who insisted that her group was so special they should be allowed passage on a closed road. While visiting the Columbia Icefield, I witnessed another tour director much like her. His group had joined ours on an “ice explorer” vehicle that carried us across a glacial highway so we could walk on the glacier. We were allotted twenty minutes to experience the icefield firsthand. It was raining and treacherous on the ice but, even on a sunny day, twenty minutes standing on a glacier is more than ample time. This guide, however, demanded more time for his group. Our driver patiently explained that only a limited number of people are allowed on the ice at one time, other groups were waiting for their ride, and that she had a schedule to keep. The guide argued that his group was special and deserved special treatment. As departure time approached, the driver politely asked him to gather up his group but he refused and blocked the door. She had to shove her way around him to shout for them to come back.

During our tour, I had plenty of other opportunities to see people who seemed to believe they deserved special treatment. Apparently standing in line, sharing the trail, staying on the walkways, not picking wildflowers, waiting one’s turn, and prohibitions about smoking and littering did not apply to them. I heard unreasonable demands, saw a fair amount of arrogance and was shocked at how rude people can be to those serving them. My observations made me question whether I, too, tend to act more deserving than others. Like the Israelites in today’s verse, do I ever whine, complain or demand special concessions, attention or favors? Sadly, there are times I’m guilty as charged.

We should be cautious when we seek special treatment. James and John wanted special seats in Jesus’s kingdom. Aside from making the other disciples angry, they were reprimanded by Jesus who reminded them they are to be servants who serve rather than rulers who expect to be served. In Scripture, we find many references to things that are special—abilities, gifts, ministries, offerings, blessings, days, feasts, possessions and messages—but none about certain individuals being more deserving or special to God than others. Remember, it was Jesus—the only truly special man—who washed the feet of His disciples! Let His example of humility, kindness and love guide us when we deal with our brothers and sisters—all of whom are special in His sight.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. [Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG)]

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NO EXPERIENCE WASTED

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. [Romans 5:3-4 (NLT)]

rocking chairs

God has a plan for each and every one of us and no experience is ever wasted. All that happened in the past has prepared us for what’s happening today and what will happen tomorrow. Consider Moses—the first two-thirds of his life were merely preparation for what he did during the last third. As a member of Pharaoh’s household for the first forty years, he acquired a unique skill set. The adopted son of an Egyptian princess, he understood the workings of Pharaoh’s court. He’d been given a royal upbringing and an excellent education. Since he was cared for by his birth mother, he also understood his Hebrew heritage. With that background, he was well prepared to confront Pharaoh about the plight of the Israelites. In fact, he probably was the only Israelite who could gain access to Pharaoh’s court and that royal education served him well when he wrote much of the first five books of the Bible.

Moses’ second forty years were spent as a shepherd in Midian. A stranger in a strange land, the pampered prince had four decades to learn how to live as a nomad and shepherd. He also had forty years to learn about controlling his temper (the reason he landed in Midian in the first place). The skills he developed while herding dumb animals in the wilderness prepared him for forty years of guiding over two million “stiff-necked” people and their livestock through the desert.

At eighty, Moses might have been thinking about taking it easy—maybe selling the sheep and relaxing in his hammock under a palm tree. God, however, wasn’t going to let those eighty years of experience go to waste. Our life experiences do more than develop character and spiritual maturity; they give us a unique skill set. Everything we undergo provides us with distinctive strengths and abilities. Our successes, failures, sorrows, joys, pain, gains and losses prepare us to do God’s work. Yesterday’s experiences become today’s assets.

We know how the story of Moses ends—over the last forty years of his life, he fulfilled his purpose and led the Israelites to the Promised Land. How will our story end? Like Moses, will we use our assets to further God’s Kingdom or will we waste them while relaxing in the hammock under a palm tree or sitting on the porch in a rocking chair?

No experience is wasted. Everything in life is happening to grow you up, to fill you up, to help you to become more of who you were created to be. [Oprah Winfrey]

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. [1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)]

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