VAMPIRES

vampires and ghoulsBut the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! [Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)]

Tonight, we’ll probably see people costumed as skeletons, pirates, Disney princesses, super heroes, and Harry Potter characters. Although some people may dress as Dracula, no one ever dresses up as an emotional vampire. Unlike fiction’s vampires with their deathly white skin, blood red lips, high collared black capes and fangs, emotional vampires look just like everyone else. Instead of sucking our blood, they suck the life out of us with their self-absorption, selfishness, sense of entitlement, unending drama, defensiveness, lack of boundaries, and other toxic qualities. Once attacked, we’re drained: emotionally exhausted, anxious, depressed, and feeling used and abused.

Unfortunately, being Christians (people filled with the fruit of the Spirit) makes us excellent targets for these predators. Loving God and loving others as ourselves, however, does not mean we have to allow anyone to inject his or her poison into our lives. Turning the other cheek does not mean lying down and getting walked over or enduring unhealthy relationships.

In the old vampire movies, the victim had to invite the vampire inside and we must be wary of doing the same thing with emotional vampires. Jesus’s life was not taken from Him—it was His choice and He willingly gave it up for us. While we can choose to be martyrs for Jesus, we must never allow someone to turn us into martyrs for them. The cross we are asked to carry is ours alone; emotional vampires, however, want us to carry theirs, as well!

Although emotional vampires don’t recognize boundaries, it’s important for us to know and keep ours. Jesus did that when He refused to settle a legal dispute between a man and his brother. [Luke 12:13-14] Like Jesus, we need to know when a mess isn’t ours to fix, the responsibility isn’t ours to take, we’re not the ones at fault, or the demand on us is unreasonable. It’s not easy to deny these bloodsuckers but we must remember that carrying one another’s burdens does not mean taking the blame, getting taken advantage of or being victimized. While enabling people often seems easier in the short run, it is never kinder or wiser. As loving as Jesus was, His exchanges with the scribes and Pharisees tell us He didn’t tolerate or enable bad behavior; neither should we!

We can hand candy to the vampires that knock in our doors tonight but we must never hand our lives to emotional vampires. The only one to whom we are to surrender our lives is Jesus! The Apostle Paul told us, “For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” [Galatians 6:5] That also means we are not responsible for anyone else’s conduct. Rather than using garlic, silver bullets, or wooden stakes, we must remember that walking in love never means getting walked on like a doormat!

No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded. [John 10:18 (NLT)]

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? [Matthew 16:24-26 (NLT)]

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RATINGS

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. [Galatians 1:10 (NLT)]

passion glower - pasqueflower“Over 1 million served,” was the sign Ray Kroc posted at his first McDonald’s franchise in 1955. That number became 100 million in 1958 and was 1 billion in 1963. When the number of burgers served surpassed the 99 billion mark in 1994, operators were told to change their signs to “Billions and Billions Served!” Executives at McDonald’s claim they no longer keep track of how many are served but I don’t believe it! Someone there knows exactly how many of those hamburgers have been sold, along with the number of Egg McMuffins and chocolate shakes.

People gauge their success with numbers and I’m no different. Before quitting my work for the day, I often check the stats for my web site. How many people visited and how many views did they take? Did I get any new subscribers? Worse, did I lose any? I doubt that I’m alone in checking stats; we all seek approval and use some sort of yardstick to measure our success. The restaurant measures sales, the YouTuber his subscribers, the author his place on the best seller list, the student his class rank, and the blogger her followers. We live our lives measuring and comparing: how many likes on the posting, hits on the website, orders taken, compliments on the outfit, friends on Facebook, or Christmas cards received.

Granted, publishing a blog is a little like speaking into a radio station microphone and not knowing if anyone is listening. Nevertheless, I had to ask myself, “Whose approval do I seek?” Like most people, I tend to seek tangible approval from people when the only approval that matters is that from God. It’s not who or how many people follow me; the only thing of importance is that I follow Him!

Our pastor shared the story of a successful evangelist who literally lost his voice. No longer able to preach, he asked God, “Don’t you care about my ministry?” The answer clearly given to him was, “No! I care about you!” I think of his story whenever I struggle with my writing ministry—when the words don’t come or I feel like I’m speaking to an empty auditorium. God cares about us—not about our triumphs and certainly not about how many people hear our voices or read our words. That pastor’s voice returned when he understood that God loved him rather than his accomplishments. Consider the Old Testament prophets: with Haggai (at whose urging the temple finally was rebuilt) being the exception, most of the prophets’ messages fell on deaf ears. Misunderstood, persecuted, ridiculed and ignored, by human standards they were failures. God, however, uses an entirely different kind of measuring stick. The prophets’ lives tell us that the success of our endeavors is not what matters; what matters is our obedience to God’s word and the doing of His will. It’s not about our glory; it’s about our bringing glory to God!

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)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” [Mark 9:35 (ESV)]

chicory - bee“Dream small. Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all. Just let Jesus use you where you are, one day at a time,” sang Josh Wilson. Reminding me that a tiny rock made Goliath fall and five loaves and two fish fed them all, he sang that it is simple moments that change the world. I thought of his song when I received an email from a local charity including the sentence, “We may not be able to change the world, but we can change the world for some people.”

Tomorrow is “Make a Difference Day,” an annual national community service event that has been held every fourth Saturday in October since 1992. The single purpose of this day is to improve the lives of others. In a way, it’s a nationwide day of dreaming small and changing the world for someone!

Volunteers from across the nation will participate. Teens in Plymouth, Michigan, will rake leaves and do outdoor work for seniors and the disabled while volunteer gardeners in Budd Lake, New Jersey, will be winterizing the community garden. Trees will be planted in Vancouver, Washington, volunteers in Fort Collins, Colorado, will be going door to door, swapping out incandescent light bulbs with free LED ones and, in Cincinnati, people will assemble and bag the ingredients for 150,000 meals. These are small dreams; none of them will change the world, but they will change some people’s lives.

Dranafile Bojaxhiu was dreaming small when the widow extended an open invitation to the city’s poor to dine with her family. She told her daughter Agnes, “Never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others,” When asked who their dinner guests were, she replied, “Some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.” Dranafile wasn’t dreaming big but she was making a difference.

Dranafile’s daughter Agnes became a nun and moved to India. Better known as Mother Teresa, Agnes had no big dreams when she ventured into Calcutta’s slums; her goal was simply to aid “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” Starting small with an open-air school and a home for the dying destitute, she founded the Missionaries of Charity (a community of twelve) and then established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics. By the time of her death in 1997, there were more than 4,000 Missionaries of Charity and thousands of lay volunteers. Her small dream has grown to over 600 foundations in 123 countries. Sometimes, small dreams can become big ones. Sadly, there is still poverty in India; Mother Teresa did not change the world but, like her mother, she changed some people’s lives.

Lord, show us how to change the world, one life at a time. Through loving acts of service, may we make a difference, not just tomorrow, but every day.

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. [Mother Teresa]

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16 (ESV)]

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IT’S NOT OURS TO KEEP

When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the Lord, will answer them. I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them. I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus. I will give them fountains of water in the valleys. I will fill the desert with pools of water. Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground. [Isaiah 41:17-18 (NLT)]

giant swallowtail butterflyYesterday, I wrote of God’s provision, yet I can’t help but wonder. If God promises His divine provision, why are there still people in need?

There was to be no permanent poverty in Israel. In the Old Testament, we find complex laws and social practices that were meant to ensure that no one lived in need. To eliminate food scarcity, every third year there was to be a special tithe of crops for the Levites and those at risk like foreigners, widows and orphans. The Israelites were to leave the edges of their fields unharvested and anything dropped during the harvest ungathered; this portion could be gleaned by the poor. There were laws against exploiting the vulnerable through usury or by demanding unreasonable collateral. Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year when loans were forgiven and Hebrew slaves were released from servitude. The land would lay fallow and any produce that grew by itself was free to all. Additionally, in the Year of Jubilee, celebrated every fifty years, economic disparity was further minimized by returning all real estate (whether sold, mortgaged or leased) to its original owner.

The poor in the Bible were not much different than today’s poverty-stricken: the people without land or the economic, legal, or political resources to be self-sustaining. A diverse group of the marginalized, they were day laborers, subsistence farmers, indentured slaves, beggars, prostitutes, widows, resident aliens, the disabled and infirm. God’s vision wasn’t a welfare state but rather one that allowed families to have the opportunity to provide for themselves. The Sabbath and Jubilee years were a fresh start for those who found themselves in poverty. Unfortunately, the reproachful words of the prophets to Judah and Israel tell us that God’s laws were not obeyed.

The story is told of two businessmen. Like me, the first was troubled by the abject poverty that exists in the world today and wondered about God’s promise of provision. He said, “Someday, I hope to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice when He could do something about it.” The other man replied, “I’m afraid that God might ask me that very same question.”

Perhaps God has fulfilled His promise to provide by filling our wells with blessings. The problem is that we haven’t done our part by passing along His provision. Instead of letting His gifts flow through us to others, we’ve plugged the pipeline and are keeping His gifts for ourselves. We’ve been freed from the Old Testament laws but we haven’t been freed from the obligation to love our neighbors. Could we be holding the provision that God has promised? Could we be the answer to someone’s prayer? For those of us with water in our wells, perhaps it’s time turn on the faucet and let His blessings flow.

We are not cisterns made for hoarding, we are channels made for sharing. [Billy Graham]

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. [1 John 3:16-18 (NLT)]

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ON A SLIDING SCALE

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. [2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)]

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. [Deuteronomy 16:17 (ESV)]

mourning dovesIn the midst of all the tedious and repetitive regulations regarding sacrificial offerings in Leviticus, we find evidence of God’s love and mercy. For several sacrifices, a distinction was made between offering requirements for the wealthy and the poor. Called korban oleh v’yored, it was a sliding scale for sacrifice based on a person’s economic position. In Luke’s gospel, for example, we learn that Mary and Joseph brought two birds as their sacrifice after Jesus’ birth. Had the family been wealthier, they would have brought a one-year old lamb and a pigeon or dove and, had they been poorer, they would have brought only two quarts of choice flour.

The purpose of those sacrificial rituals in Leviticus was to strengthen man’s relationship with God, not to impoverish him. Our sacrifices are to be offered lovingly, humbly, obediently, joyfully, and willingly; that can’t be done if we can’t afford what we’re offering. When a Florida church embarked on a massive building program several years ago, the pastor asked the members to prayerfully reach deep into their pockets to pay for the new sanctuary. He then reminded them that the amount given would vary considerably among his parishioners. For one elderly woman, an extra twenty-five cents a week would constitute as great a sacrifice as a $25,000 check from a retired CEO. Each was asked to give only as he or she was able. This ancient sliding scale of sacrifice tells us that the pleasing aroma of sacrifice has nothing to do with the size of the sacrifice but rather with the heart that accompanies it.

The Magi arrived in regal robes and offered expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. There wasn’t a little drummer boy at the nativity but, had there been, the child playing his best “Pa rum pum pum pum” would have been as valuable a gift as those lavish ones. God in His grace does not discriminate against the poor or the rich. Moreover, let us never forget that, even more than our sacrifices, God wants our love and obedience.

You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving. [Amy Carmichael]

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. [1 Samuel 15:22 (ESV)]

And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. [Mark 12:33 (ESV)]

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KILLED WITH A SWORD

A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. [Matthew 4:21-22 (NLT)]

James, along with his brother John and Simon Peter, was part of Jesus’s inner circle. The three of them knew Jesus the longest; they went with Him to Gethsemane, saw Him raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead and were witnesses at His transfiguration. This James is often referred to as the son of Zebedee or James the Greater to distinguish him from the other Apostle named James who was the son of Alphaeus (James the Lesser) and the Epistle writer James who is thought to be Jesus’s brother (James the Just). Perhaps because of their impetuous tempers and fiery zeal, Jesus gave James and John the nickname “sons of Boanerges” which meant “sons of thunder.” These brash brothers were the ones who wanted to bring disaster upon the inhospitable Samaritan village and asked Jesus for places of honor beside His throne.

Sunday’s reading, from Acts 12, included these words: “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword.” [v.1-2] Although the rest of the reading was about Peter’s arrest and the power of prayer, I kept thinking about James. “Killed with a sword” isn’t much of an epitaph for one of the original twelve.

Herod Agrippa ruled Judea from 41 to 44 AD so James died some eleven to fourteen years after Jesus’s ascension. Scripture is silent as to what James did during this time and we can only speculate. According to legend, he went to Spain and evangelized there for several years before returning to Jerusalem. It took eight centuries before this legend took hold and there is no historical basis for it. In all likelihood, his preaching was limited to Judea and Samaria. Nevertheless, many Christians believe his remains were miraculously transported to Spain. Even though the authenticity of the relics is suspect, every July 24th, people make a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostela where his remains are said to rest below the altar.

“Killed with a sword” is just a polite way of saying beheaded and, according to the Talmud, people were to die of the sword when found guilty of communal apostasy. James may have been accused of convincing the Jews to forsake Yahweh and the law for the false teachings of Christianity. Herod Agrippa, a supporter of conservative Jewish policies, repressed the Jewish Christians. Given what we know of James—outspoken, zealous, impulsive, and quick to anger—the Apostle easily could have offended both Pharisees and king.

We know little about this fisherman from Galilee: one of the first to be called and the first of the Apostles to die. When Jesus called the brothers to come to him, they responded immediately and faithfully followed Him for the next three years. Without hesitating, analyzing their options, or asking questions, they left their father and livelihood to follow an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth. James and John answered God’s call and the fishermen became fishers of men. Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus asked the brothers if they could drink from the same bitter cup of suffering from which He would drink. Again, without hesitation or asking what that might entail, they said they could.

We don’t know how James spent those years after Pentecost. All we really need to know is that James was an ordinary person, like you and me, and that he always said, “Yes!” to Jesus. Can we say the same?

But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.” [Mark 10:38-39 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.