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)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FARMA – Part 1

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 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. [Galatians 6:7-9 (NLT)]

zinniaFound in Buddhism and Hinduism, the concept of karma is the idea that how you live your life now determines the quality of life you’ll have after reincarnation. Christians, however, believe that “each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,” [Hebrews 9:27] which means that karma, with its continual opportunities to get it right, is not compatible with Christianity. Nevertheless, the karmic idea of good and bad actions yielding similar consequences—that “what goes around comes around”—is present throughout the Bible. Because many of the Bible’s metaphors about cause and effect have to do with agriculture and farming, a pastor friend likes to call this concept “farma.”

When a seed is planted, it will produce a harvest only of that particular plant. Apple seeds only produce apples just as just as corn seeds only yield a harvest of corn. It’s much the same with people—we usually get whatever we plant in our relationships. More often than not, the seeds of kindness produce more kindness and thoughtfulness, the seeds of patience yield a harvest of patience and perseverance and, when truth is planted, the planter typically reaps truth and trust.

If, however, we plant weeds, that’s exactly what we’ll get. Just as thistle seeds won’t yield roses, seeds of rage won’t produce peace, those of confrontation won’t yield harmony, and seeds of selfishness won’t produce generosity. The harvest from seeds of deceit will probably be more lies while disloyalty reaps betrayal. We can’t sow hate and expect affection and compassion won’t bloom where callousness has been planted. When we sow discord, we should expect a harvest of conflict in return.

Good farmers and gardeners think seriously about the kind of seeds they’ll plant. They not only look for seeds that will yield a bountiful crop but also for ones that are resistant to weeds, disease and pests. Perhaps we need to spend some time every morning determining the sort of seeds we will plant in our lives and the lives of those we encounter during the day. What kind of crop do we want? What can we plant in the garden of our lives that will blossom into a bountiful harvest of good?

We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all. [Dorothy Day]

My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same. [Job 4:8 (NLT)]

Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. [Hosea 10:12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

PRAY FOR THEM – (Matthew 5:38-48 – Part 3)

You know that you have been taught, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you. When someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let that person slap your other cheek. If someone sues you for your shirt, give up your coat as well. If a soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When people ask you for something, give it to them. When they want to borrow money, lend it to them. [Matthew 5:38-42 (CEV)]

turk's cap lilyIn a sermon, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) called Matthew 5:38-48 “our Lord Jesus Christ’s rules for our conduct towards one another.” The Anglican bishop added, “They deserve to be written in letters of gold: they have extorted praise even from the enemies of Christianity. Let us mark well what they contain. The Lord Jesus forbids everything like an unforgiving and revengeful spirit.” Indeed, these ten verses describe a Christian as he or she is meant to be (which explains why I’ve spent the last three days writing about them).

When Jesus spoke of nonretaliation, He wasn’t speaking of criminal offense or military aggression but of personal nonretaliation—our relationship with our fellow travelers on this planet. He applied this principle of nonretaliation to personal insults and slights, lawsuits to gain your personal assets, interference with your personal rights, and intrusions on your personal property. His call to willingly surrender what we call ours and not to take revenge is radical but isn’t that what Christian love is all about?

Non-retaliation, however, is just part of Jesus’ radical call. It’s not enough to not hit back; Jesus calls us to love our enemies and even to pray for them. Now, praying for them is easy if it means to pray for their comeuppance—their just deserts or punishment—but vengeful prayers that ask God to give them some of their own are not what Jesus meant. When we love our enemies, we pray the same kind of prayers we do for our friends—unselfish prayers for their welfare and good. It’s not easy; nevertheless, blessings on those that curse, afflict, aggravate, take advantage, or just plain annoy us is what we are called to do.

The story is told of a monk in the desert who, upon returning to his hut, found it being ransacked by bandits. The monk simply knelt and prayed for them as the thieves looted the hut of his few possessions. Once they’d departed, the monk realized they’d not taken his walking stick so he pursued them for several days until he could give them the stick, as well. Seeing the monk’s humility and forgiving nature, the bandits returned the monk’s possessions and became followers of Jesus. Although I found this story in a Bible commentary on Matthew 5, I can’t vouch for its truth. Nevertheless, it could be and I’d like to think it is!

That story illustrates Bishop Ryle’s points that, “if the spirit of these ten verses were more continually remembered by true believers, they would recommend Christianity to the world far more than they do,” and, “if the spirit of these ten verses had more dominion and power in the world, how much happier the world would be than it is.” Indeed, it would.

You have heard people say, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.” But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:43-48 (CEV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BURNING COALS (Matthew 5:38-48 – Part 2)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)]

When Paul addressed a Christian’s relationship with his enemies, he said never to return evil for evil and to act honorably so we don’t reflect badly on the Gospel. Paul qualified his direction to live in peace with all by adding, “if possible, so far as it depends on you.” While some people don’t want to live in peace, as Christians, we must refuse to instigate, escalate, or participate in conflict. Since peace-loving people who won’t return evil with more of the same tend to be the sort of people who are taken advantage of, Paul then addresses the issue of revenge. Quoting Deuteronomy 32:25, he makes it clear that we are not to retaliate; vengeance is solely God’s department, not ours.

Telling us not to allow evil to overcome us but to overcome evil by doing good, Paul says our sincere kindness to an enemy is the way to do that. Moreover, by doing so, we’ll “heap burning coals on his head.” While this quote from Proverbs 25:21-22 actually sounds a little vengeful, those burning coals probably refer to an ancient Egyptian practice in which a person’s regret or repentance was demonstrated by carrying a pan filled with burning coals on his head.

In theory, our unexpected and sincere kindness will cause hot coals of shame and guilt in the wrong-doers’ conscience far more effectively than would hostility or spite. What those burning coals aren’t is a back-handed form of revenge—counterfeit kindness used to irritate, manipulate, or publicly humiliate them or a way to get in the last word. They’re certainly not a reason to gloat in self-righteousness. Our genuine kindness is the way to facilitate regret and repentance in the evil doers—whether or not they repent, however, is their choice. Nevertheless, as Christians, we must do our part.

As an illustration of this concept, Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee told a story about two Christian brothers who had a rice paddy located on top of a hill. Each morning, they drew water, climbed up the hill, and irrigated their rice paddy. One morning, they found their paddy dry but the neighbor’s paddy, just downhill from theirs, quite wet. While they were sleeping, he’d dug a hole in their irrigation channel and stolen their water. Rather than retaliate, they filled their paddy again but the same thing happened for several days. When they confided to a church elder that they didn’t have the sense of peace they expected from walking in obedience to God, the brothers were told they hadn’t done enough. The elder told them to fill their neighbor’s paddy with water before filling theirs. Strangely, as they did so, the brothers began to sense the peace they desired and, while continuing to water both paddies, they grew more joyful as they worked. The neighbor who’d stolen their water finally came to them, apologized, and said, “If this is Christianity, I want to hear about it.” Their kindness heaped burning coals on their neighbor’s head and he repented!

Simply not retaliating wasn’t enough for the brothers and it’s not enough for us. When someone slaps us, Jesus expects more from us than just silently walking away; He calls us to love and pray for our enemy. We are to go the extra mile by feeding him when he is hungry, giving him water when he thirsts, and even watering his rice paddy when he’s stolen our water! Admittedly, that’s not always easy; it certainly isn’t our natural response. Can we do it perfectly? Probably not, but we can try!

The world’s philosophy leads people to expect retaliation when they have wronged another. To receive kindness, to see love when it seems uncalled for, can melt the hardest heart. [Expositor’s Bible Commentary]

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [Matthew 5:43-46 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

PRIORITIES

And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. [Luke 12:29-31 (NLT)]

bee on cloverIn writing about keeping the main thing the main thing, I mentioned the sisters Martha and Mary. Hospitality was highly valued in Jewish life and, as the host, Martha’s character and reputation depended on how well she managed her household and served her guests. Offering hospitality to a famous teacher was a great honor and, to show her devotion to Jesus, Martha seemed determined to make the most of it by preparing a lavish feast for Him. Unlike her sister, the contemplative Mary defied the customs of her day; rather than helping in the kitchen, she took the place of a disciple and sat at Jesus’ feet

Instead of keeping her eye on the main thing—which was Jesus—Martha was distracted by all that she was doing. The word usually translated as distracted is periespato. Meaning to be drawn away, troubled, or over-burdened, this is the only time it was used in the New Testament. The King James translation of this word as “cumbered” probably is a better picture of her state of mind. It wasn’t that a distracted Martha forgot to put out cups for the wine. She was weighed down and encumbered because she’d saddled herself with things of secondary importance and lost sight of the main thing.

Not needing an elaborate banquet or a perfectly set table, Jesus told Martha not to be concerned over the details. Explaining that there only was one thing about which to be concerned, He said Mary had found it. The exact identity of that one thing, however, is unstated. We understand Jesus’ words to mean that the Kingdom of God takes precedence over anything in the house, that sitting at the master’s feet and listening to Him is more important than chores, and that the Lord has first claim on our time.

Martha often is criticized for her concern with earthly matters while Mary is praised for her concern with spiritual ones. Let’s remember, however, that Jesus never said Martha had chosen something bad—just that Mary had chosen something better. In a way, these two sisters illustrate the two approaches to the Christian life mentioned by the Apostle James: faith and works. Rather than being mutually exclusive, they are complementary. Worship should lead to service, not replace it, just as service should lead to worship. Just as Martha lost sight of being with Jesus while serving Him, we must never allow our work for Him to eclipse our relationship with Him.

Our love for and service to the Lord must be intertwined and we shouldn’t neglect the one for the other. Nevertheless, when our work for Him takes away from spending time with Him, we must choose the better thing—being with Him is more important than serving Him. Let’s keep the main thing—our relationship with Jesus—the main thing.

Everything begins with the right priorities, and right priorities begin with God. [Woodrow Kroll]

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR

dragonflyWhen all the people in the synagogue heard these things, they became very angry. They got up, forced Jesus out of town, and took him to the edge of the cliff on which the town was built. They planned to throw him off the edge, but Jesus walked through the crowd and went on his way. [Luke 4:28-30 (NCV)]

For love to be real, for it to grow deep inside, it must not give in to fear. It is not afraid to give, to risk, to chance, even if it hurts. Love believes. It is faith moving forward. Fear holds us back. It makes us stop or turn and run. [Chris Fabry]

While writing yesterday’s devotion about selfishness being the opposite of love, I found several authors who suggested that fear is the opposite of love. This gave me pause; can something be the opposite of more than one thing?

From day one, when Mary and Joseph fled with Him to Egypt, Jesus had plenty of reasons to be fearful and yet fear never prevented Him from speaking, healing, pointing out hypocrisy and evil, or going to the cross. He didn’t give in to fear when, after speaking of God’s grace to Gentiles, the people of His own hometown tried to force him off a cliff. Angry mobs, religious leaders, and Rome never intimidated Jesus or kept Him from challenging the corrupt political and religious system of His day. He knew a warrant was issued for His arrest and that the cross awaited Him in Jerusalem but fear didn’t stop Jesus from boldly riding into the city while being hailed as a king. He knew Judas would betray Him and yet the Lord shared His last meal with him. Jesus didn’t plead for mercy or justice at his trial and His last words weren’t ones of fear or selfishness; they were words of loving forgiveness. Nothing Jesus said or did speaks of fear but everything He said and did speaks of love.

Afraid of commitment, rejection, manipulation, the opinions of others, insufficiency, injury, ineptitude, failure, or that there won’t be enough left over for us, we don’t love. Afraid of being vulnerable, we protect ourselves by not getting involved, not going all-out, not sharing, and not caring. So, like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable, we walk away, keep to ourselves and our interests, pretend we don’t notice, or make excuses.

Fear happens when we look at ourselves rather than trust in God. Perhaps fear and selfishness are two sides of the same coin. When we’re fearful, we become selfish and, when we’re selfish, it’s likely we’re afraid of something or someone. Love, however, is the antidote to both afflictions. God is love and where God’s love is, there is neither selfishness nor fear.

The call of Jesus is a call to take heart, to have courage, to stand tall in the name of love. The daily invitation that the risen Christ extends to us is to be a people who refuse, in love, to step to the tune of fear. [Bishop Robert O’Neill]

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears. [1 John 4:18 (NCV)]

God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power and love and self-control. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NCV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.