NOT KEEPING MY PROMISE

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. [2 Corinthians 5:10-11 (ESV)]

Yesterday, I wrote about my infant nephew’s baptism at my mother’s hospital bedside. Because she was at death’s door, everything was arranged in a rush; at fifteen, I was recruited as the baby’s Godmother (or sponsor in Baptism).

As his Godmother, I made three promises for my nephew: that he would “renounce the devil and all his works…believe all of the Articles of the Christian Faith and…keep God’s holy will and commandments.” In a perfect world, he would have made those same promises again when he was old enough to personally know Jesus. But the world isn’t perfect and he didn’t.

That same day, as his Godmother, I made a promise of my own: I would make sure he learned the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and “all the other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.” Sometimes promises are easier said than done and I did not keep my promise any better than did my nephew his. I can make all sorts of excuses for my failure: my youth at the time, that we’ve always had at least 1,000 miles separating us, and that I have only seen him a handful of times in his 57 years. Nevertheless, I did not try to keep those promises and I will answer to God for my failure.

When I stand at God’s judgment seat, my sins will not be an issue; they already have been forgiven and my ticket to heaven is secure. But I will be asked to give an accounting for what I have done (and failed to do) since becoming a believer. I squandered my opportunity, small as it was, to share God’s love and the good news of the Gospel with my nephew. I can’t say that anything I could have done would have made a difference in his troubled life but I should have tried. That weighs heavy on my heart—not because I may miss out on some heavenly reward, but because I missed an opportunity to be a disciple of Christ.

When believers stand before God, we will be judged. Since we each have been uniquely created and gifted, my evaluation will not be the same as yours; nevertheless, each one of us will give an accounting of ourselves. What did we do with the spiritual light we had, what did we do with the opportunities given to us, and what did we do with the time, talents, and property God entrusted to us?

My nephew is part of the reason I support recovery ministries as well as programs serving people who are homeless or mentally ill. I continue writing these devotions as a way of atoning for not keeping the promise I made 57 years ago. Older, wiser, and having more light, opportunity, time and ability, more is expected of me now. As for my nephew, I continue to pray for God’s protection, grace, and mercy on him. As for us, I pray that we will make good use of all that God has given us and that through our words and deeds we will live and teach the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and “all the other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.”

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. [Romans 12:6 (ESV)]

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. [Luke 12:48b (ESV)]

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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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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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WHAT IF HE HADN’T? (Zacchaeus – part 3)

Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. [Psalm 90:12 (TLB)]

climbing asterWhen Jesus stopped in Jericho, He was on His way to Jerusalem; His trial and crucifixion would soon follow. Although our Lord knew He would not pass that way again, no one else did; certainly not Zacchaeus. What if the publican had been too busy collecting taxes that day to go and see Jesus? What if it looked like it might rain or he was just too tired to make the effort? What if Zacchaeus had been discouraged by the large crowd and his inability to get a good viewing spot? Thinking he always could see Jesus the next time He passed through Jericho, what if he hadn’t run ahead and climbed that tree? Zacchaeus would have missed meeting Jesus and accepting His call.

Jesus once told a parable about a rich man so focused on the here and now that he concentrated on amassing earthly wealth rather than developing a rich relationship with God. One night, while planning to build even bigger barns to store his wealth, he died! The rich fool had waited too long to make provision for his soul!

In a different parable, Jesus told of another wealthy and selfish man who died. While suffering in torment, the rich man saw the pitiful beggar he’d callously ignored while alive; the beggar was being comforted in the arms of Abraham at a heavenly banquet. The rich man wanted Abraham to warn his brothers that, unless they changed their greedy ways, they would end up in torment, too. Refusing, Abraham told him they’d already been sufficiently warned. There are no second chances once we’re gone.

One of my husband’s favorite songs is “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce and he once said that he’d like it sung at his Celebration of Life. In this song, Croce wishes he could save time in a bottle “till eternity passes away” just to spend it all with his love. “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do, once you find them,” he adds regretfully. In response to my husband’s request, I reminded him that we can’t save time in a bottle or wishes in a box; we must make the most of the time we have. When we’re dead and gone, it’s far too late to regret poor choices and missed opportunities.

Let us never make the mistake of being so occupied with the stuff of life or so sure of tomorrow, that we miss the opportunities of today—whether it’s meeting Jesus, showing compassion to those in need, or merely spending time with those we love. Like the rich fool’s brothers, we’ve been warned!

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Etienne De Grellet]

My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you. Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. [Psalm 39:5-7 (TLB)]

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HEIRLOOMS

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:20-21 (NLT)]

CamillaWe’re selling our northern home and, with limited space in Florida, I must winnow out our 52 years of accumulated possessions. “How can I give them away?” I wondered while looking at the beautiful hand-painted Bavarian dinner and dessert plates that belonged to my mother and her mother before that. My fondness for the plates, however, has less to do with their beauty than with their provenance.

When my mother died, I was only fifteen. I remember sitting with my older brother and sister as my father read her hand-written note to us. He tried to hold back his tears as he spoke her words of farewell that passed along various family heirlooms to each of us children. Mentioning her joy at never having broken a plate in the 23 years she’d used them, my mother gave her mother’s china to me. When I look at what is little more than clay, bone ash, flint, feldspar, glaze, paint, and gold gilding, I don’t see plates—I see my mother’s exquisitely set table, the two of us setting it, our family gathering together for a holiday dinner, and my father reading her farewell words to me.

Later, when sorting through books, I came to some that had been my mother’s. Inside the front covers, she’d carefully written her name and home address. “How can I give away these books that meant so much to her?” I thought. Many of them were written by C.S. Lewis and I suspect my affinity for the author comes from her. She belonged to a women’s guild at our church—sort of the 1950’s version of a small group. The women gathered twice a month for fellowship and service and often met at our house. They would sit around the dining room table and sew something called “cancer pads.” My mother couldn’t even thread a needle and her poor eyesight and clumsiness with a needle probably made her more of a hazard than a help in the women’s work. What she excelled at, however, was reading aloud, analyzing the written word and leading discussions. When the women realized that busy hands didn’t keep their mouths from minding other people’s business, my mother suggested that she read to them while they worked.

As I ran my finger over her name, I decided to save just one of her books. The rest of them will go to the church’s library so they can bring someone else pleasure and knowledge. Then, realizing that I don’t need the china to remember the beautiful woman who gave me life, I decided to keep just one of the dessert plates and give away the rest. Rather than hold onto things, I will hold on to my memory of a woman who, recognizing her limitations, wisely used the gifts God gave her.

While the Old Testament speaks of material inheritance and even gives guidelines to ensure the financial welfare of the family, the New Testament speaks of a spiritual inheritance. Rather than worrying about amassing things here on earth, Jesus told us to store up treasures in heaven. Granted, we want our families cared for once we’re gone but more crucial than passing along possessions is the passing along of good character, love, and faith in God.

The important thing is not to hold on to material possessions but to remember the people we associate with them, the love they offered, and the lessons they taught us. I think of the words of Morrie Schwartz (in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie) who said we continue to live on in the hearts of everyone we’ve touched and nurtured while we were here. “Death ends a life, not a relationship,” said the wise old professor. My children don’t need old china or books to know my mother; they know her through me!

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. [1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)]

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WHAT DO YOU HAVE? (Elisha – 4)

“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”
“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied. [2 Kings 4:2 (NLT)]

swamp lilyRemembering that Elisha burned both plow and oxen to become an itinerate prophet for the Lord, let’s rethink the way he may have said “What can I do to help you?” With no home or money and possessing only what he could carry, how does the widow expect him to help? In the very next sentence, however, Elisha tells her to take stock of what she already has. Although she expected Elisha to solve her problem, he showed her how to solve it herself (with God’s help, of course). As it turned out, with a little work on her part and God’s intervention, the little she had was more than enough; she didn’t just pay her debts, she had money left over.

When God asked Moses what he had in his hand, the man thought his staff was just a piece of wood. When presented to God, however, that staff became a snake, brought forth Egypt’s plagues, parted the Red Sea, and made water spring from a rock. When offered to Jesus, six empty stone jars were filled with vintage wine. When offered to God’s prophet, another poor widow’s resources of only a little flour and few drops of oil were enough to feed three people for three years! When surrounded by hungry crowds, Jesus asked His disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” After taking stock of their resources and being blessed by the Lord, they had enough to feed a multitude.

What has God given you? The widow didn’t think she had enough but, in God’s hands, it became more than enough. If a small flask of oil can turn into gallons, think of what God can do with our resources (whether money, time, possessions, skills, experience, influence, or talent) if only we offer them to Him. Consider what God did with twelve Jewish men, ordinary people just like us, when they offered themselves to the Lord! When we take a step of faith and willingly offer what little we have to God, He will use it, sometimes in supernatural ways, but always in wonderful ones.

Elisha asked the widow, “What do you have?” God asks us the same question.

Trust God for great things; with your five loaves and two fishes, he will show you a way to feed thousands. [Horace Bushnell]

When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?” “Twelve,” they said. “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said. [Mark 8:19-20 (NLT)]

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