PERSONALITIES – EARTH DAY 2018

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” [Genesis 1:28 (NLT)]

Until recently, I didn’t know that scientists have identified personality (distinctive behavioral traits) in animals as diverse as elk, fish, ferrets, spotted hyenas, spiders, sea anemones, rodents, lizards and birds. Introversion and extroversion have even been identified in octopuses! Of course, the same characteristic will present differently in various species. An introverted octopus, for example, will stay in its den while feeding and try to hide by changing color but an introverted human might stand alone at a party or have difficulty getting a date. As for a shy African penguin named Tubbs who’s wintering at our local zoo—he takes his food into the back corner of his den to eat it, usually stands with his back to the other penguins and zoo visitors, and, like many timid fellows, hasn’t had success with the ladies.

We recently became acquainted with Tubbs and his friends Missy, Squirt, and Sal when we met their keepers and went behind the scenes at their exhibit to feed them. Initially, the penguins all looked alike but, when we looked more closely, we realized their black chest spots are as unique as fingerprints on a human. Like zebras, jaguars, monarch butterflies and the rest of God’s creatures, even though we may not discern their differences, no two are exactly alike. God never repeats himself.

As we fed these fascinating birds, their distinctive personalities began to emerge. Along with the socially awkward Tubbs, we met the outgoing Missy who, unfortunately for Tubbs, has a crush on her human keeper. The hen-pecked Sal follows his domineering mate Squirt wherever she goes. Although the other penguins prefer eating their fish head first, Squirt insists on getting hers sideways. It is penguin instinct that makes Tubbs gorge himself in preparation for molting but it is his timid personality that caused the curious penguin to peek around a corner at us rather than stand at the doorway with the others.

That scientists have found personalities and emotions in everything from limpets and crabs to coyotes and water striders amazes me. Before meeting the penguins, I’d thought of personalities only in domesticated animals and attributed them to training and environment. I hadn’t considered the possibility of undomesticated animals having distinctive personalities and the ability to feel and express emotions. Scientists have found that even the Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm with only 302 brain cells, can learn and remember and that honey bees can exhibit optimism and pessimism. Animals may not be able to speak in a way that we can understand or exhibit emotions in a way we recognize, but there is nothing dumb or unfeeling about any of God’s creatures. Their complexity and diversity point to our unlimited Creator and His intelligent, imaginative and loving design. God created every living thing and none of His creation happened by accident.

Sunday is Earth Day and ending plastic pollution is this year’s mission. Plastic pollution endangers African penguins like the zoo’s delightful foursome but it also threatens the survival of every other kind of sea bird along with seals, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, whales and dolphins. God commanded us to keep and care for His creation, not to exploit or abuse it. As title holder to the earth, He will hold us responsible for the way we care both for it and the creatures with whom we share it. For the sake of Tubbs and the rest of God’s creatures who are unable to speak for themselves, let us be better stewards of God’s beautiful earth.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life. [Attributed to St. Basil the Great]

You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. [Psalm 8:6-8 (NLT)]

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WHOSE SIDE?

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” [Joshua 5:13-14 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawk

The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan River and were preparing to conquer Canaan when Joshua came upon an armed man. Joshua was a stranger in a foreign land and I wonder if he brandished his sword when asking, “Friend or foe?” Neither Canaanite nor Israelite, the man identified himself as the commander of the Lord’s army. As to whether he was friend or foe, he said his loyalty was to neither side. His allegiance was to God and the only side he was on was God’s! Recognizing him as a divine being, Joshua fell to the ground.

Jump ahead 500 years to King Asa of Judah. Under attack by the Ethiopians, Asa turned to God for guidance. Rather than ask God to be on his side, he prayed that Judah’s side was God’s. In spite of overwhelming odds, Judah’s army was victorious, not because God was on their side but because they were on God’s. Asa then committed his kingdom to seeking God with all their heart and soul. Unfortunately, twenty-one years later, the King forgot whose side he was on. He depleted his nation’s treasury by committing himself to an alliance with Ben-hadad of Aram. Although the alliance at first appeared to be a success, the prophet Hanani rebuked the king for violating his covenant to seek the Lord. His foolishness meant that Judah would continue to be at war for generations. Asa, so sure he was on the right side, never bothered to find out if he was on God’s side.

During the Civil War, one of Abraham Lincoln’s advisors commented that he was grateful God was on their side. The President replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Whether the dispute is ours or someone else’s, getting involved eventually means taking sides. It’s not a question of which side we’ll support. It’s a question of prayerfully determining which side is God’s and understanding there’s a good chance that God has a side all His own. Perhaps, we should take a lesson from Joshua and Asa before taking sides, drawing lines in the sand, making threats, burning bridges, creating alliances, waging battle, or committing ourselves to a cause. It’s not who’s on whose side that matters; it’s simply a matter of whether or not we’re on God’s!

The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. [2 Chronicles 15:2b (NLT)]

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. [2 Chronicles 16:9a (NLT)]

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MAKE IT SPECIAL

Lowdermilk Park - Naples FLRemember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. [Exodus 20:8-10a (NLT)]

I’ve always thought of the first four commandments as being about our relationship with God and the next six about our relationship with people. The fourth commandment, however, seems to be a bridge between the two sections. It has as much to do with us as it does with God or our neighbor. Reminding us that we have six days in the week to work, it tells us to stop work on the seventh and to keep the Sabbath holy by setting it aside and dedicating it to God. Knowing how mankind loves to bypass rules, we’re told not to miss the point by expecting others to work for us either. Rather than a “thou shalt not” law, this commandment is a gift to us from God—the gift of rest!

As happened with many of God’s commands, the Israelites took a simple law and, by adding their own restrictions and interpretations, made what was a blessing into an inconvenience. Since His hungry disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath and Jesus had no qualms about healing on that day, He often came into conflict with the Pharisees about His Sabbath observance (or lack thereof). When criticized, Jesus made it clear that the Sabbath was made for man and should not be an onerous legal requirement.

While Christians aren’t bound by the Old Testament directives, Jesus never said to ignore the Sabbath. For most Christians, other than attending church, Sundays seem much like any other day. Parking lots are full at the grocery and mall, cell phones and the internet keep us in touch with work, the kids have sports and homework, and Sundays have become the day to complete everything that didn’t get done during the week. With families scattered every which way, even the traditional Sunday dinner (complete with cousins and grandparents sitting at the table) is but a distant memory.

Being retired, my husband and I have six Saturdays and one Sunday in our week so we can rest any time we want! The Sabbath, however, is more than taking a nap in front of the TV. God said to make it holy which means to set it apart. We can do that by taking something away (as did the Israelites with work) or by adding something to it (as we are doing).

On Sundays, we’re attempting to disconnect from the world and connect with one another, family, friends, and God by consciously doing something out of the ordinary. It can be as little as playing Rummikub or doing a jigsaw puzzle together to a bags tourney with our neighbors or a barbecue for church friends. Trusting God for enough hours in the other six days, we’re deliberately setting aside time for relaxation, laughter, fun, and fellowship.

How Sunday can be set apart from the rest of the week, in a way that both honors God and nurtures us, will vary from family to family. It’s probably naïve to think children won’t do homework and working moms and dads won’t have to play catch-up with chores. Nevertheless, we must remember why God gave us this commandment. He wants us to recharge our batteries: to rest from the week’s busyness, to take a break from our daily routine, to connect one another, and to rest in Him. When we neglect the Sabbath, we neglect ourselves and turn whatever it is we do the rest of the week into tedium and drudgery. God doesn’t need a Sabbath, but we surely do.

Thank you, God, for Sundays. May we make them days of worship, renewal, rest, peace, and joy.

A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week. [Henry Ward Beecher]

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” [Mark 2:27-28 (NLT)]

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KNOWING WHY (Discipline – Part 2)

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? [Hebrews 12:7-9 (NLT)]

water dropwortSeveral years ago, there was a popular television program in which “Supernanny” Jo Frost would visit a home to help parents deal with the behavior problems of their children. She emphasized the need for both discipline and forgiveness. If children misbehaved or broke a rule after receiving a warning, they served a time-out on the “naughty step.” The parent clearly explained the reason for the discipline and the length of time they’d be sitting there. Once the sentence on the step had been served, the parent offered a second explanation for the discipline. An apology was requested which, once offered, was followed up by a kiss and cuddle and the incident was over and done.

I thought of the nanny’s insistence that an explanation for the discipline was essential. After all, what good is discipline if we don’t understand the reason for it? In yesterday’s devotion about Aravis and Aslan, it was not the wounds that changed Aravis; it was understanding the connection between her wounds and her callous behavior that did. In real life, however, we don’t have a talking lion to explain our wounds. Moreover, God’s discipline involves far more than a few minutes in “time out” and can be more painful than the cuts received by Aravis.

We live in a fallen world and troubles will besiege both the righteous and sinner. As the Book of Job illustrates, not all trouble, hardship, sickness, and disaster come from God’s discipline. Nevertheless, we’re usually more than willing to blame the world rather than ourselves when life goes awry. When we dismiss our troubles simply as bad luck or complain about them without realizing we could be reaping the consequences of our own sin, we miss the point of enduring them. The one thing troubles aren’t is mere chance or fate. All that happens to us is part of God’s providence; there is a reason for the storms of life whether it is direction, inspection, protection, perfection or correction.

Unlike the Supernanny, God doesn’t sit us on the naughty step for as many minutes as our age. If He did, I might spend hours each day sitting on the stairs! We’re not toddlers but even toddlers know when they’ve misbehaved. As for me, with just a little Scripture reading and prayerful thought, I usually know when my troubles are of my own making. Rather than mistakenly asking Him, “Why?” the question should be, “What do you want me to learn from this?” God is far wiser and loving than even Jo Frost and He’ll be sure to tell us! God will sit us on that step, the Holy Spirit will convict us, and Jesus will forgive us. Like the toddler’s error, the incident will be over and done with as far as He is concerned.

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. [Hebrews 12:10-11 (NLT)]

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DIVINE DISCIPLINE (Discipline – Part 1)

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” Hebrews 12:5-6 (NLT)]

lion - tanzaniaIn C.S. Lewis’ fantasy The Horse and His Boy, Aravis, a young noblewoman, is attacked by a lion. After her wounds are cleaned and dressed, she’s told that the cuts on her back are neither deep nor dangerous and no more serious than the cuts of a whip. Aravis later learns from Aslan, the lion who attacked her, that the gashes on her back, stripe for stripe, equal the stripes laid on the back of the maidservant she’d caused to be punished. At first, this seems more like the Old Testament retribution of “an eye for an eye” than something Lewis’ Christ-like character of Aslan would do. What if the maidservant had been hung or beheaded? What then?

I began thinking about God’s justice, judgment, mercy and correction and the difference between them. We have a God of justice and mercy and yet those two words seem totally incompatible. Justice is getting the deserved punishment for the crime and mercy is not getting it. Justice is about penalty and mercy is all about pardon and compassion.  Justice would be the judge finding us guilty of speeding through a school zone and his judgment would be a fine of $1000. Mercy would be the judge coming to the defendant’s table, getting out his checkbook and paying the fine for us. Justice is served because the penalty is paid—mercy is given because we weren’t the ones to pay the fine. That, however, doesn’t mean there might not be some much needed discipline to correct our behavior. The merciful judge might send us to traffic school or require us to do community service as a crossing guard at the school. Moreover,  he will not protect us from the consequences of our offense. The ticket may cause an insurance premium increase or even a license suspension. Nevertheless, we will have been treated mercifully.

Was what happened to Aravis justice or judgment for her past behavior or was it discipline and correction intended the future? While Aravis’ action was rash, it was defensible. She deceived and drugged the maidservant who was watching her so she could escape from a forced marriage to an evil man. Under those circumstances, Aravis’ receipt of those slashes seems like an injustice. It’s easy to miss that those cuts on her back were not because the servant had been whipped. Aravis wasn’t being punished for what her servant had endured. She was being disciplined for her wanton indifference to her maidservant’s fate. Earlier in the story, when asked about the fate of the girl, Aravis coolly replied that she’d be glad if the servant had been beaten. It was only after receiving similar wounds that the once spoiled and haughty Aravis realized her thoughtlessness and showed concern for the servant’s welfare and fate. Within the next few pages, she both apologizes to someone and shows concern for his welfare (something the unwounded Aravis would never have done). Aslan’s discipline helped her become a better version of herself.

Because it’s usually unpleasant, discipline can feel a lot like punishment. While it may look like divine retribution or payback, it isn’t. Its purpose isn’t to make things right; its purpose is to make us right—to turn us from rebellion to obedience. Divine discipline is disapproval, instruction, correction, and direction. As it did with Aravis, discipline causes us to change both our point of view and behavior; it is through discipline that we become the people God wants us to be.

But consider the joy of those corrected by God! Do not despise the discipline of the Almighty when you sin. For though he wounds, he also bandages. He strikes, but his hands also heal. [Job 5:17-18 (NLT)]

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PAYING THE PRICE

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. [Galatians 6:7 (NLT)]

osprey“It wasn’t worth it!” I grumbled while applying cortisone over four painful red bumps on my foot. When walking around the lake at the botanic gardens, I’d spotted an osprey in a nearby tree. To get a good shot, I had to step off the paved trail into what I knew to be fire ant territory. Having had previous encounters with these stinging insects, I knew better than to stand there in sandals, but I did it anyway; the picture wasn’t worth the price I was paying for my poor decision.

It’s not just fire ants that cause us to regret our poor choices. Wanting to sow his wild oats, the prodigal son enjoyed himself while recklessly spending his inheritance but, when the hungry young man was slopping pigs, he knew his wild living hadn’t been worth it. Adam and Eve (and the rest of mankind) paid a hefty price for a bite of an apple: banishment from Eden, painful childbirth, marital discord, toil and death. I wonder if David thought adultery worth the price he paid: his first son by Bathsheba died, he was humiliated when Absalom publicly took his wives, and violence and rebellion plagued his family. King Manasseh knew better than to build pagan shrines, sacrifice his own children, and place a carved idol in the temple. The price he paid was being led away to Babylon in bronze chains with a ring in his nose. Fortunately for him, Manasseh was given a second chance by God; not everyone is so lucky. Lot’s wife had been warned; was that last look at Sodom worth the price she paid? Then again, as a pillar of salt, she could gaze at the city’s ruins forever.

After nearly 3000 prescription pills were found in her possession, a sheriff’s deputy in a northern community pled guilty to “attempted possession of a controlled substance.” Punishable by up to a year in prison, she was sentenced to seven days in jail and a year of “conditional discharge.” Less restrictive than probation, conditional discharge means the court retains jurisdiction over her with several provisions including drug and alcohol evaluations, no employment where she might have access to drugs, and no use or possession of a firearm. Since the original charge was negotiated down from felony possession (meaning four to fifteen years in prison), most of us would think she got off easy. Apparently expecting probation with no jail or restrictions, the defendant was shocked by what she considered a harsh sentence. As a deputy, she couldn’t plead ignorance of the law or its consequences; nevertheless, she thought the price she paid too high. My study Bible speculated that had David known the cost of his sin, he might not have bedded another man’s wife. I disagree. As a king, David knew the law given in Leviticus: the punishment for adultery was death for both he and Bathsheba! Like the deputy, he knew the consequences and like her, he got off easy.

Stepping onto an ant hill has painful consequences but so does sin. The penalty I paid for that photo was negligible compared to the cost of many of our poor decisions. When choosing between right and wrong, the price we pay can be far greater and longer lasting than a few insect bites. Although Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and God promises forgiveness when we repent, we still have to face the consequences of our sins here on earth. We, however, are not the ones who get to pick and choose what those consequences will be nor do we get to complain and say, “But God, it wasn’t worth it!”

Temptation can be tormenting, but remember: The torment of temptation to sin is nothing to compare with the torment of the consequences of sin. Remorse and regret cannot compensate for sin….though sins can be forgiven immediately – the consequences can last a lifetime. [Edwin Louis Cole]

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. [Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT]

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