SOMEONE’S LOOKING

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord sits on his throne in heaven. He sees what people do; he keeps his eye on them. [Psalm 11:4 (NCV)]

beach weddingWhen I was a little girl and got sick, my mother would dress me in a fresh pair of pajamas, tuck me into her bed, get out her hairbrush, and do my hair. “Why bother?” I’d ask, “No one is going to see me.” She’d always reply, “God sees you and you want to look your best.” I found it comforting, as I lay in bed, to know that both God and my mother were watching me.

It’s not just God, however, who watches—people do, too. While enjoying dinner on the patio of a local restaurant, we observed a couple exchange wedding vows on the beach. Although here were only five people present for the ceremony, when the groom kissed the bride, the entire patio applauded in joy. The couple beamed with delight and enthusiastically waved at the sixty uninvited guests who had witnessed their nuptials.

Their joy as being observed was a contrast to another al fresco dinner many years earlier. We were seated on a porch overlooking a well-lit boat launch. Two couples were trying unsuccessfully to get their boat back onto its trailer. With one attempt, the trailer wouldn’t be back far enough but, with the next, it would be too far back. The boat would drift, the trailer tires spin, or the boat motor would quit. As the evening wore on and the boat remained in the water, the boaters’ tempers flared. That they may have enjoyed too much liquid refreshment during the day didn’t help and there were angry words, cussing and name calling. We were finishing our key lime pie when their truck successfully pulled the trailered boat out of the water. In relief, the entire dining room broke out in applause. The four looked up at us, somewhat mortified that their poor behavior had been witnessed by so many.

Unlike the wedding couple, we’re not always in our best attire and on our best behavior. Our conduct, like that of the boaters, frequently leaves much to be desired. We’re told to let our lights shine so that people will see Christ in us but we’ve been known to let our lamps get so dim that Christ is nowhere to be seen in us. Whether we’re shining or not, however, a bright light may be shining on us (as it was on the boaters)! It’s not just the eyes of God that are upon us; people observe us, as well. Are we the shining light we’re called to be?

We are indeed the light of the world—but only if our switch is turned on. [John Hagee]

In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:16 (NCV)]

You are God’s children whom he loves, so try to be like him. … In the past you were full of darkness, but now you are full of light in the Lord. So live like children who belong to the light. [Ephesians 5:1,8 (NCV)]

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TO THE MOON AND BACK

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen. [1 Corinthians 13:7-8a (PHILLIPS)]

rabbit“I love you,” said my grandson to his mother; “I love you more,” was her quick reply. They went back and forth, each claiming to love the other most, until one said, “I love you to the moon and back!” Of course, they’re echoing the sentiments found in Sam McBratney’s delightful book Guess How Much I Love You. In it, every time Little Nutbrown Hare tells his father how much he loves him, Big Nutbrown Hare responds with an even larger amount of love. As he’s being tucked into his bed of leaves, the sleepy youngster thinks he’s finally out-distanced his dad when he says he loves him all the way to the moon. His father kisses him goodnight and, with a smile, whispers, “I love you right up to the moon—and back!” Since the moon’s distance varies with its orbit, the distance to the moon and back varies from around 443,362 to 505,244 miles. Even that measurement, however, isn’t correct; we can no more quantify a father’s love for his son than we can our Heavenly Father’s love for His children.

While we have only one word for love in English, the Greeks had four: eros, storge, philia and agape. Because of its similarity to the word erotic, we think of eros in terms of sex and lust but it also includes romantic love and passion, like the love we find in Solomon’s sensual Song of Songs. Storge describes the natural affection (and obligation) between family members, such as Ruth’s love for Naomi. The Greek word philia is associated with deep friendship, like that between Paul and Silas or the Apostles. In Romans 12:10, Paul uses another word for love: philostorgos. A compound word made from storge and philia, it’s best defined as loving a friend as deeply as if he were a family member, such as the love Jonathon and David had for one another. Finally, we have agape: God’s immeasurable, consummate, unconditional, sacrificial love for His children.

Our infinite God has an unlimited amount of love for his children. Just as we can’t measure God’s love for us, I don’t think any word, even agape, can truly describe the kind of love He has for us. Not one of us is like another and, with our individual personalities, God loves each one of us in a way specifically designed for us. Love knows no bounds and, just as God has an infinite amount of love, He has an infinite number of ways to express that love. We can’t quantify, evaluate, assess, or delineate that love because something infinite can’t be weighed, measured, or catalogued.

The Population Reference Bureau estimates that over 108 billion people have lived on earth since the beginning of man and it would seem that God has found at least 108 billion ways to love them. While that’s not infinity, it’s way more than to the moon and back and God is not yet finished. His infinite love is eternal!

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. [Saint Augustine]

God is love, and the man whose life is lived in love does, in fact, live in God, and God does, in fact, live in him. [1 John 4:16b (PHILLIPS)]

And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ—and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself! [Ephesians 3:18-19 (PHILLIPS)]

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MINISTERS ALL

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…. [Ephesians 4:11-12 (RSV)]

alstromeriaWe tend to think of our pastors as the ones who do the ministering and we, the congregation, as the ones to whom he or she ministers. Indeed, our pastors do care for, comfort, aid and support us but their main job is to equip us: to train, outfit and prepare us to go out and be Christ’s ministers to the world! Rather than them being the players in the game with us being the fans who show up on game day, our pastors are more like the coaches and athletic trainers who prepare their team to go out on the field and play with skill and enthusiasm! Too often, however, we act like onlookers rather than members of the team.

Paul’s 1st century words continue to apply to the 21st century church. Those saints who are to become ministers are normal everyday Christ followers like you and me. Ministry is what being a Christian is all about and it has little to do with a pulpit, church, seminary, or ordination! When we became Christians, we were ordained as Christ’s ministers. Rather than preach with words from a pulpit, we preach with our lives: our words, demeanor, lifestyle, finances, and even our appearance.

The work we do every day is a gift from God and a way to reach out and touch people with the voice and hands of Jesus. We minister from behind the counter when we’re patient with the difficult customer, when we hold a nervous patient’s hand before surgery, or take the time to chat with the lonely widow whose room we’re cleaning. We minister when we volunteer at the charity resale shop, open the door for the woman with the stroller, or bring flowers to a new neighbor. We minister when we set good examples, listen, help, invite, welcome, encourage, offer assistance or smile. We minister when we use social media to God’s advantage. We minister when we quietly say grace regardless of where we are. We minister when we send an encouraging Bible verse to a friend. We minister when Bibles are present in our workspace and homes (and we know what’s in them).

There should be no division between clergy and laity—we all are ministers of the Gospel! I remember the words of a visiting pastor who, following the closing hymn, exclaimed, “Our worship has ended, let our service begin!” It’s time to get out of the bleachers and into the game!

We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ. [Eric Liddell]

He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. [2 Corinthians 3:6 (NLT)]

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. [2 Corinthians 6:4a (NLT)]

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INADEQUATE AND UNQUALIFIED

I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. [1 Corinthians 2:3-4 (NLT)]

buttercupWhen I sit in front of my computer to start writing, I often wonder what makes me think I am qualified to spread the good news of the Gospel. I take comfort in the Apostle Paul’s similar feelings of inadequacy. Of all the people we meet in Scripture, Paul’s credentials (other than those of Jesus) seem to be the most impressive. Fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, from the tribe of Benjamin, and a second-generation Pharisee who had studied and trained under the respected Gamaliel, Paul was well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and passionate for Jesus. Yet, we know that even he sometimes felt inadequate to the task. Although extremely knowledgeable, by his own admission, his preaching ability left much to be desired.

Then again, an 80-year old man who stammered was called to lead his people out of slavery, a shepherd boy was called to be a king, and a housewife was called to be a prophetess and judge. Samuel was just a boy when he first prophesized, Jeremiah little more than a teen when God called him, and the disciples were just ordinary people like you and me. None of them had impressive resumes. Yet God, knowing exactly who they were, their ages, skills, capabilities, and shortcomings, called them! And He calls us!

In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that, rather than calling the qualified, God choses to qualify those he calls: “God chose the things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.” [1:27] Paul reassured the Corinthians in a later letter that, “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” [2 Corinthians 9:8] While the Apostle was referring to material gifts for the believers in Jerusalem, his words hold true for the other gifts with which God has blessed us. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have those gifts until God calls us to use them!

Whether God calls us to lead two million across the desert or lead a small group, to compose letters to the new church or write a blog, to speak to kings or a troubled teen, to build a temple or the set for the Christmas pageant, none of us can do it alone; we must depend on God and believe his promises. We continually underrate ourselves because we’re thinking small; we think we have to go it alone, under our own power, but we don’t. When God called the young Jeremiah to be His prophet, He didn’t promise that it would be easy or that he’d never get discouraged or frustrated. What God promised was His protection, provision, and supervision. Those promises apply to us, as well. God is the source of our ability and it is His power that will enable us to do His work. We are merely God’s tools; He is the builder and we must let Him use us to build His Kingdom.

Loving God, His word, and His children hardly qualifies me to write and yet, with over 1,800 devotions written, as unqualified as I am, through God’s power, it’s been done. He has, indeed, generously provided. We must trust the God who calls us to reach beyond where we think we can grasp, to climb higher than we’ve ever been, or to dig deeper than we thought possible. He will enable us to do whatever He asks us to do. While we may not do it perfectly, all God asks is that we answer Him, obey His call to the best of our ability, and trust in His provision. The outcome is His responsibility!

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. [2 Corinthians 3:4-6a (NLT)]

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

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JUST LIKE US

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right. [2 Timothy 3:16 (NCV)]

St. Matthew - Cathedral of St. Francis - Santa FeWhen I was a child in Sunday school, we’d color pictures of David, Daniel, Samson, and King Solomon and sing songs about Zacchaeus, Noah, Joshua, and the trio with the fun names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As I learned their stories, they all seemed to be the Biblical version of super-heroes like Batman or Superman. Larger than life, invincible, almost indestructible, they seemed to overcome their obstacles effortlessly. Appearing perfect in their faith and actions, they weren’t people to whom I could relate. In reality, however, they were real people facing real challenges who sometimes made mistakes or struggled with their faith.

David may have killed Goliath, but he was an adulterer and murderer whose son died because of his sins. Rather than the strapping youth we picture, Daniel was an old man when thrown into the lions’ den. Samson was an impulsive braggart with incredibly bad taste in women. The wise Solomon disobeyed his father, erred in his choice of wives and over-worked and over-taxed his people. Zacchaeus was a corrupt collaborator and even the righteous Noah had a drinking problem. When singing about Jericho’s walls tumbling down, it’s easy to forget the faith it took for Joshua to obey God’s illogical plan of marching around Jericho with the Ark for seven days. That brave threesome were captives in a foreign land and defying an egotistic king; in spite of their words of faith, they had to have been shaking in their sandals as they faced that fiery furnace.

A real woman, the barren Hannah struggled with her sense of worth. Because of sibling rivalry, Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and blessing and Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Timothy’s youth made him timid and insecure, the publican Matthew probably had been a cheat and, to save his own skin, cowardly Abraham gave his wife to another man not once but twice! A weak leader, Aaron yielded to the people’s desire to make an idol of gold and Moses let his anger get the best of him. The great prophet Elijah prayed for death in the depth of despair and Paul persecuted Christians!

When we look at the heroes and heroines of the Bible with the eyes of an adult, we see real people who struggled with challenges, pain, and even their faith. In the midst of their difficulties, however, they met God and, through His power, accomplished incredible things. If God could use these flawed people to accomplish such great things, think of what He can do with you and me!

I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. …
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too. [Lesbia Scott]

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. The Scriptures give us patience and encouragement so that we can have hope. [Romans 15:4 (NCV)]

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JUST STUFF

“Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes.” [Luke 9:3 (NLT)]

While packing for our move, I considered Sarah and Abraham; they always seemed to be moving from one place to another. After starting in Ur of the Chaldees, Scripture mentions seventeen places through which they passed, sometimes more than once, including Haran, Bethel, Egypt, Dan, Salem, Gerar, and Beersheba before finally settling in Hebron. They did it all without cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, U-Hauls, pods, moving companies, pack-and-ship, or car transports. Of course, they didn’t have things like food processors, business files, Christmas decorations, picture albums, waffle irons, books, or electric toothbrushes! In all of Sarah’s 127 years, she probably never had as many sandals as I have shoes in my closet and, in all of Abraham’s 175 years, I’m sure he never had as many robes as there are tee-shirts in my husband’s. Because they were nomads, if it wasn’t necessary and easily transported, they didn’t have it.

Having recently cleaned out my mother-in-law’s home after her death, my husband and I are acutely aware of how little our stuff means to anyone else. Load after load of Mom’s clothing, furniture, and household goods went to charity resale shops and more bags than I could count went directly into the dumpster. Now, it’s our possessions that need disposal. While our children have taken some things, they have more than enough stuff of their own and don’t want more!

Every day, we make the rounds of resale shops. As I carried several boxes of clothing and household items into the Bethesda Communities’ store, I felt remorseful. Granted, my discarded items would benefit a faith-based organization serving people with disabilities but I wondered how much more Bethesda and other charities could have done with all the money I’d spent on that frivolous stuff in the first place! When people were going hungry, homeless, or in need of health care and support services, had I really needed another tablecloth or handbag, fashion boots, decorative pillows, and Christmas mugs?

When I remember Jesus’s words to the disciples to take nothing for their journey, I must admit to taking far more than I ever needed or could possibly use for mine. I’m not advocating an ascetic lifestyle but there is much in our lives that is unimportant and truly unnecessary. Abraham and Sarah weren’t encumbered by excessive stuff simply out of necessity. It is out of obedience to God that we should not become encumbered (or possessed) by our stuff. God, however, did give us the ability to enjoy our possessions and enjoy them we did!

The bright side to the move is finding the right home for our surplus things. It’s not just more blessed to give than receive; it’s more fun! A single mom received the dollhouse and play kitchen for her little girls, Gigi’s Playhouse (serving those with Down Syndrome) got the Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, a new grandma appreciated the crib, Habitat got our tools, the church has my books and music, some of our art work will be auctioned off for a scholarship fund, and a woman going through a divorce has our glassware, vacuum and kitchen appliances. One friend asked for the spinning wheel while another needed luggage for her children going off to college; a green-thumbed neighbor has our decorative pots and an avid sportsman received the fishing gear. We’re happy that someone else now will be enjoying our stuff!

May we always remember that possessions are temporary; we were empty-handed when we came into the world and we’ll be empty-handed when we leave. U-hauls aren’t part of a funeral procession and there are no storage units in the hereafter. We must learn how to appreciate and enjoy things we don’t own without wanting to own them (or something like them) for ourselves.

Lord, keep us from envy, covetousness, discontent and greed. Give us generous and appreciative hearts. May we always remember that it’s just stuff!

After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. [1 Timothy 6:7 (NLT)]

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