SEEING HIS FACE IN AN UNLIKELY PLACE

And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” [Matthew 25:40 (NLT)]

painted bunting - corkscrew swamp sanctuaryAfter my walk through the bird sanctuary, I visited the ladies’ room. While washing my hands, I heard someone struggling to open the door. As I opened it, a heavy set woman shuffled unsteadily into the room. I gave her my arm as she explained that she suffers from MS. After assisting her into the stall, I offered to stay in the rest room until she was done. As I lent a hand while she washed up, she thanked me profusely for my help and explained that her husband didn’t feel comfortable coming into the ladies’ room to assist her. I said that she’d do the same for someone else if she could. “Of course, I would,” she replied, pulling out a cross from around her neck, ”I’m a Christian.” My reply was a simple, “As am I!” I helped her out to the lobby and got her settled back into her wheelchair. “You see,” she explained, “I just had to come. I want to see the painted-buntings again before I leave for home.” I hope she wasn’t disappointed; I, too, had wanted to see the buntings but they’d remained hidden in the trees that morning.

I don’t know if she saw the birds that day but I do know what we both did see: the face of Christ. She saw it in a woman wearing glasses, a baseball cap, and a jean jacket who offered assistance, a few kind words, and a steady arm. I saw it in the smile of a gray-haired woman, visiting from England, who just needed a little help and a few minutes of my time. Thank you, Lord, for showing me your face when I took the time to help one of your children.

To love another person is to see the face of God. [Victor Hugo]

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. … No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. [1 John 4:7,12-13 (NLT)]

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YOU ARE LOVED – VALENTINE’S DAY 2020

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, and always stand your ground in defending him. … There are three things that remain—faith, hope and love—and the greatest of these is love. [I Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (TLB)]

clouded sulphur butterfly on asterToday is Valentine’s Day and, contrary to popular belief, this holiday was not invented by Hallmark cards. Named for one of three Christian martyrs called Valentine, its real origins are in a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia. For an unofficial holiday of pagan origin, it packs an enormous economic impact with Americans spending about $20 billion on candy, cards, flowers, dining out, romantic get-aways, jewelry and clothing. $933 million of that money will be spent on cards and $886 million on pets! With the neighbor’s cat getting a gift, you might want to think about doing something special for the one you love! After all, over 50% of American women said they’d dump their boyfriends if they didn’t get something for Valentine’s Day. Besides, you married fellows don’t want to come home empty-handed and be met by a cold shoulder and hot tongue.

Although nine million marriage proposals are expected today, love has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or cards, candy, and candle-lit dinners. Giving or receiving a dozen roses, theater tickets, a back rub, perfume or even a diamond necklace doesn’t mean we love or are loved. While it is nice to have an excuse for a romantic evening or a day at the spa, let’s not allow this holiday to define our concept of love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul does a far better job of that than any gift ever could. A good man or woman is hard to find so let’s not get our undies in a bunch over whether or not we received a $5 card or a $50 bouquet of red roses. Jesus called on us to love, not just on one day of the year, but every moment of every day and that kind of love has nothing to do with chocolate-covered strawberries or sexy lingerie.

Back in elementary school, valentines were sent to everyone in the class so that nobody’s feelings got hurt. Real life, however, doesn’t work that way. Even with 15 million e-cards being sent today, there still will be many who won’t receive Valentine’s Day greetings or gifts. Even if we have no one special in our lives, let’s not allow this holiday to make us feel unloved or unlovable. We don’t need a card or flowers to know we are cherished. Reading our Bibles, thinking of Jesus on the cross, or even opening our eyes to the beautiful world God gave us tells us that we are loved and special in His eyes! The Bible is God’s love letter to us and Jesus is His gift. God sent His only son instead of flowers, candy or a Hallmark card and His valentine to mankind was sacrificed for our salvation. God truly “cared enough to send the very best!”

And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself. [Ephesians 3:17-19 (TLB)]

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COMPOUND INTEREST

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

sawtooth sunflowerIn a nutshell, compound interest is getting interest on interest; when it’s on money you have, your investment keeps growing. When it’s on money you owe, however, you pay interest on your interest and end up deeper in debt. The economics lesson is because of C.S. Lewis’s words that “Good and evil both increase at compound interest.” While Lewis then switches metaphors from the bank to the battlefield, Scripture often uses the metaphor of sowing and reaping for the same concept of the exponential growth of both good and evil.

After planting just one sunflower, for example, we’d get between 1,000 and 1,400 seeds per head. If each of those seeds were planted, we’d have between one and 1.96 million sunflower seeds the next year and, if we planted those, we’d have between one and 2.7 billion sunflower seeds the third year. If those were perennial sunflowers, we’d also get seeds from the previous years’ plants! Like compound interest, that’s exponential growth (which is what happens with good thoughts and actions).

Of course, if just one Canada thistle seed got planted in that field of sunflowers, it could produce as many as 5,300 seeds that first season! Those thistle seeds would get dispersed by the wind and sow themselves far and wide. Should those seeds take root, more than 28 million new thistle seeds could be blowing through our fields the second year, with the potential of more than 148 billion seeds the following one. With that kind of exponential growth, our beautiful field of sunflowers soon would be overrun by thistles. Worse, those thistles would have spread into our neighbors’ fields. Noxious weeds and evil have a way of doing that!

Since thistles also sprout from their roots, that one thistle could grow into a six-foot thistle patch in a year. Turning to Lewis’ battle metaphor, that loss of acreage is similar to a general losing an asset like a seaport. Worse, because thistle seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to twenty years, like an enemy who’s patiently waited for our troops to get careless, those weeds can spring up years later when least expected. Just as the farmer has to be vigilant in his fight to keep thistles from overtaking his fields, the general must keep his troops battle-ready.

The subject, however, is neither military science nor agriculture; it’s spiritual warfare. Generals and farmers don’t want to cede territory to their enemies, nor do we. Our battle isn’t against armed troops or thistles; it’s against evil. Rather than tanks or herbicides, we need obedience to God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit! When we act as would Jesus, by sowing seeds of goodness, it’s like planting another sunflower in the garden of life. But, every time we follow our own sinful desires, instead of losing a field to thistles, we lose ground to Satan. In our every act, either a seed of good or evil is planted and, like a thistle seed, any seed of evil is one seed too many!

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. [From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis]

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)]

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ONLY ONE MASTER (Part 2 – Luke 16:19-31)

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. [Luke 16:13 (NLT)]

primrose willowBecause the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is the only parable in which names are used, some people in the early church believed that it was a real-life incident. Whether a true story or a parable is of no consequence because its lessons remain the same.

What the parable doesn’t tell us is that the poor automatically go to heaven and the rich to hell. After all, Abraham was wealthy and yet he’s there in Paradise dining with Lazarus! The angels didn’t carry Lazarus to Abraham simply because he was poor. The name Jesus chose to give him tells us Lazarus is there because he was godly. His name means “whom God helps” and Lazarus knew his help was in God. He’s named in this story because, like Abraham, he was known to God.

Just as Lazarus wasn’t carried to Abraham simply because he was poor, the rich man wasn’t condemned to his fiery torment simply because of his wealth. Although the man dressed in expensive purple cloth and fine linen, lived in luxury, and ate sumptuously every day, there was no sin in that. There’s no reason to suspect that he was a dishonest tax-collector, a double-dealing business man, a corrupt judge, or a thief and we’re not told that he beat his wife or abused his servants.

That the rich man knew Lazarus by name is what convicted him of sin. He knew Lazarus and his plight and yet ignored the poor man every time he walked in and out of his house. It was not the man’s wealth that condemned him; it was his hardness of heart. Although the Torah was filled with admonitions to care for the poor and oppressed, the rich man deliberately turned a blind eye to the suffering man at his doorway. We never know the rich man’s name because God didn’t know him and he didn’t know God!

To the first century Jew, riches were considered a sign of God’s blessings and poverty a sign of His judgment. Rather than a sign of blessing, however, Jesus taught that riches test man’s faithfulness in stewardship. Just a few verses before telling this story, Jesus gave a clear warning that we cannot serve both God and money. What isn’t said but is implied is that we can serve God with our money! Neither wealth nor poverty determine salvation; we are saved by grace through faith. Nevertheless, our faith is demonstrated by how we live and use whatever wealth with which we’ve been blessed.

Christ did not object to the riches of the rich man but to his impiety, infidelity, pride and cruelty. … [People] to not need to fear riches but vices. They should not fear wealth, but avarice. They should not be afraid of creaturely goods, but of greed. Let them possess wealth…with faith. Let them have it, and possess it, and not be possessed by it. [Augustine, Sermon 2999e.5]

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. [Luke 12:48 (NLT)]

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POINTING

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” [John 1:29-30 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkA red-shouldered hawk soared through the sky, swooped down, and settled in a tree just a few feet from us. After getting a photo, I walked back to a man we’d passed earlier on the boardwalk. His tripod and huge lens told me he was hoping to get some good shots and I let him know a Kodak moment was waiting on the side trail. He followed me back and my husband pointed out the impressive bird perched above him.

Later, we came upon one of the sanctuary’s naturalists who admitted she’d been waiting for someone to come along so she could point out a limpkin. With its dark brown body and white speckles, the bird blended into the underbrush and we never would have seen him without her direction. Then, opening a small jar of pond water she’d collected, she pointed out two dragonfly nymphs swimming around. Walking on, my husband pointed out an anhinga high in the trees and I returned the favor when I spotted a black-crowned night heron across the lake. Seeing the naturalist coming toward us, I waited so I could show her the easily missed bird.

When people come to the bird sanctuary, they come to see the swamp’s flora and fauna. But, if they don’t know where to look, it’s easy to miss the things that make the walk worthwhile. The naturalists often leave signs indicating points of interest and, when the ghost orchid is blooming, they leave a scope focused on the rare flower. Bird lovers share their findings on various bird websites and last week, after such a posting, dozens of birders turned up hoping to catch a glimpse a Hammond’s flycatcher.

John the Baptist was surrounded by a crowd of people who’d come to be baptized and hear him preach. Can you imagine what it was like when John saw Jesus and, pointing to the Lord, identified Him as the Lamb of God? Did all the heads turn and look? John’s job was to prepare the way and point the people to Jesus, the promised Messiah, and he did his job well.

While I’m happy to point out hawks, herons, swamp lilies, alligators and scarlet hibiscus to visitors at the bird sanctuary, I have another more important job that is shared with every Christian. Just as John pointed to the living Christ, we are to point to the risen Christ! But, I’m not sure pointing is enough. Had we just pointed in the hawk’s direction, the photographer might have ignored us and, if the naturalist had merely pointed toward the limpkin, we wouldn’t have seen it. It was only when she told us what to look for and described his location that we saw the bird. It seemed like her jar was filled only with murky swamp water until she showed us the nymphs and explained what they were.

When people come to the bird sanctuary, just knowing there are wood storks, herons, painted buntings, and old growth cypress isn’t the same as being shown those things. With our words, we can point people to Scripture, the church, and Jesus. Better than that, however, is showing people how the words of Scripture apply, what the church means, and how Jesus’ followers live a life of peace, joy, patience, forgiveness, love, compassion and service. It is by living the way we say we believe, by loving and serving, by praying both for and with someone, by seeking and interacting with the lost, by sharing our stories, and by listening to theirs that we truly show people the Lamb of God.

Birders are so enthusiastic that they share their sightings with everyone. Are we that enthusiastic about Christ? Like John, are we witnesses to His light? Do we show the Way?

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:4-6 (NLT)]

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OBITUARY OR LEGACY?

Those who are righteous will be long remembered. … They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. [Psalm 112: 6,9 (NLT)]

Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper. [Billy Sunday]

giant swallowtailMore than thirty years ago, a friend confided that she wanted her obituary to be a good one. A few years ago, explaining that she wanted an updated photo in case it was needed for her obituary, she asked me to take her picture. Although she was in excellent health at the time, this woman clearly understood the fragility of life. Sadly, she died unexpectedly just a few days ago.

When considering a “legacy,” we usually think in monetary terms, but a legacy can be anything given by or received from an ancestor, predecessor, or the past. It’s the body of work we leave behind when we’re gone and, in actuality, my friend was far more concerned with leaving a legacy of service and love than with the words of her obituary! She wasn’t trying to impress others, pad her resume with good works, or serve her way into heaven. A woman of deep faith, she knew she was saved by grace not works. Nevertheless, she served the Lord she loved by loving and serving His people. Although she’d expressed concern about some of her denomination’s doctrine, she had no doubts about Jesus. The Holy Spirit was present in her life and she never missed an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

My friend was no saint—she was just another imperfect Christ follower struggling to make it through each day the best she could. Her life wasn’t easy and she had more than her share of heartbreak and disappointment. Nevertheless, as her obituary read, “She began and ended each day with the intent of making people smile and laugh. She accomplished that every day of her life. … In her wake, she left a trail of smiles, heartfelt laughter and love.”  Indeed, the world was a better place because of her and, as she had hoped, her obituary was filled with glowing words and the picture was a recent one. Her obituary’s words, however, will soon be forgotten. It is the humble way she served her neighbor and the seeds of faith, love, and joy she scattered wherever she went that will live on in the many lives she touched.

Our true legacy has nothing to do with wills, trusts, bank accounts or property titles; it begins with our relationship with God and ends with our relationship to His children. What we leave behind when we’re gone is determined by how we choose to live today! Do you want to be remembered with a long obituary or a legacy of love?

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. [Augustine]

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!” [Revelation 14:13 (NLT)]

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