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)]

monarch butterfly - whorled milkweed

“Simply by being in your presence, non-Christians ought to be able to tell that you have spent time in God’s presence,” were the week’s words of wisdom in my email. In Bible study, one woman echoed the week’s wisdom when saying that she behaved so that the light of Christ could be seen in her conduct all day. Although actions speak louder than words and all of our actions should shout “Praise the Lord!” I wonder if, by depending solely on our examples, we are taking the easy way out of Jesus’ command to let our lights shine. After all, what good does our light do if no one ever learns the source of its power? Eventually, we need to open our mouths and share the gospel message with words as well as actions.

“Christian” as a noun means someone who professes specific belief in the doctrine of Christianity. When “Christian” is used as an adjective merely to describe good behavior (i.e. “he did the Christian thing”), the word loses its power. After all, we haven’t cornered the market when it comes to being good people. Being respectful, helpful, caring or kind is not limited to Christians. Some of the most compassionate, loving, moral, and generous people I know are of other faiths or of no faith at all. While I’d like to think that believers usually exhibit better behavior than non-believers, the difference between Christians and non-Christians is not behavior; the difference is Christ! Unless we open our mouths and talk about Jesus, people won’t know what makes us the way we are.

When reading the cast notes in a Playbill recently, one actress finished her brief resume with these words: “All glory to God! 1 John 4:19.” Hopefully, her demeanor among the rest of the cast and crew reflects the light of Christ. But, just in case they weren’t sure from where her light comes, she told them (as well as the audience): “We love because He first loved us.” Indeed, she said, “Praise the Lord!” and told us why.

Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words. [St. Francis of Assisi]

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” [Mark 16:15 (ESV)]

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)]

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When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Lord, open the door for us!” But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from.” [Luke 13:25 (NLT)]

Not to decide is to decide. [Woodrow Kroll]

Tetons - Wyoming“Meh,” the verbal equivalent of a shoulder shrug, was added to the dictionary in 2008. Popularized by The Simpsons, it is a decisive assertion of non-commitment (or as decisive as having no opinion about something can be.) The New York Times used to run a list with the tagline, “Not hot. Not not. Just meh.” The list has included assorted celebrities and such things as Harrison Ford’s earring, petting zoos, Febreze, stocking stuffers, Tufts University, pumpkin ale, mugs with slogans, and the Golden State Warriors. The magazine’s culture editor, Adam Sternbergh, said the list was meant “to celebrate all those things in life that [are]…neither adored nor reviled, but, simply, meh.”

Whether we say “meh,” or dismissively use words and phrases like “whatever, it is what it is, I don’t care, not my problem, booooring, who cares” and “so what” we’re expressing indifference and an unwillingness to think about something. Apathy and disinterest are insulting: we don’t care enough to muster up any sort of approval, support, or regard for something but we also don’t care enough to dislike, oppose, or reject it.

Some in the media call Millennials “The Meh Generation,” but I fear that indifference, cynicism, disillusionment and jadedness are not limited to those born between 1982 and 2002. They’re not the only ones who find it easier to live together than commit to marriage or to walk away from a marriage than fight to save a family. They’re not the only ones who find it simpler to go along with the crowd than to stand up and speak or to accept what’s wrong rather than try to make it right. They’re certainly not the only ones who’ve decided the concept of sin is out of date, right and wrong is relative, or that anything goes as long as they aren’t the ones who get hurt. An ostrich puts its head in the sand to turn eggs but we put our heads there to avoid seeing what we don’t want to see. And, sadly, way too many in this world would put Jesus on “The Meh List” because He is “neither adored nor reviled, but, simply, meh.”

Jesus spoke of going through the gate to God’s Kingdom. At some point, we can’t ignore the gate’s presence or fail to form an opinion about the gatekeeper. We can no longer remain impartial, dispassionate or wishy-washy; a decision about following the shepherd has to be made. While neither death nor taxes can be avoided, remember that only the IRS grants extensions! Adore Jesus or revile Him but don’t simply shrug your shoulders and say, “Meh!”

I believe in my soul that there are more at this day being lost for want of decision than for any other thing. [Dwight L. Moody]

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. [Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT)]

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Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. [Luke 10:33 (NLT)]

prairie false indigoAccording to the historian Josephus, around 9 AD, when Jesus was just a boy, some Samaritans snuck into Jerusalem on Passover and defiled the Temple with human remains. The hatred between Jews and the Samaritans, however, had been going on for centuries. In 930 BC, when Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) was king, the kingdom of Israel divided. The northern kingdom, known as Israel, eventually became known as Samaria. The southern kingdom, where Jerusalem and the Temple were, became known as Judah. Fearing a change of alliance if his people returned to Jerusalem to worship, the northern kingdom’s first king, Jeroboam, set up his own worship centers complete with golden calves. After they were conquered by Assyria in 772 BC, most of the Jews were taken into captivity and foreigners, bringing their pagan gods and beliefs, colonized the land. The remaining Jews began to worship idols along with the God of Israel and the Samaritan religion became a mix of idolatry and Judaism.

Samaritans were a continual source of difficulty for the Jews of the southern kingdom. Insisting that Moses said they should worship on Gerizim, they erected a temple there. Recognizing only the five books of Moses, Samaritans rejected most Jewish traditions, interfered when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and offered safe haven to Judah’s criminals. Controlling the land between Galilee and Jerusalem, they regularly harassed pilgrims on their way to worship in Jerusalem. Because of all the intermarriage between the Jews and Gentiles of Samaria, Samaritans were considered “half-breeds.” Seeing them as both racially and theologically contaminated, the Jews had a proverb: “A piece of bread given by a Samaritan is more unclean than swine’s flesh.”

This is the world in which we find Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan with the unlikely hero being a Samaritan (whose people were known to harass travelers). We know this parable was in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” but let’s back up one chapter to see what preceded it. Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. Rather than taking the longer walk around Samaria, they were walking right through it. When Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village to make sleeping and eating arrangements, they were not welcomed. Although Jesus had previously told the disciples to simply shake the dust from their feet if a town refused to welcome them, John and James suggested calling down fire from heaven to destroy the village. Luke says Jesus rebuked them but we don’t know what was said.

Part of their rebuke may have been the story of the Good Samaritan. The parable could have been as much for His disciples (especially James and John) as it was for the legal expert who asked the question. Jesus easily could have made his point with a Roman soldier as the story’s unlikely hero, but He didn’t. Although the Samaritans had been unneighborly in snubbing Him, Jesus deliberately chose a Samaritan to teach a lesson about neighbors! That parable told the disciples that, even when our neighbor is inhospitable and slights us, we still treat him as our neighbor. Whether or not someone helps us, we are to help them and, when someone offends us, we’re not to take offense. We do unto others as we would like them to do to us and not as they’ve done to us!

Although there are about 800 Samaritans still living in Israel, for most of us the word “Samaritan” refers to someone who helps other people, especially strangers, when they have trouble. How ironic that the despised “pagan half-Jews of the Old Testament” (as one writer called them) took a place of honor in the New!

Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! [Luke 6:30-31 (NLT)]

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The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe. [Proverbs 16:17 (NLT)]

Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. … They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly. [Psalm 112:4,7-8 (NLT)]

great blue heronIs virtue its own reward? An article in Psychology Today reporting the conclusions of seven studies found that virtue actually does bring rewards. The benefits of doing the right thing include less depression, better self-esteem, increased happiness, a “helper’s high,” and a good night’s sleep! That good night’s sleep might well be the result of the clean conscience that accompanies virtue. Given the momentum of the #MeToo movement, I suspect many prominent people are losing sleep nowadays. Unfortunately, it’s not just well-known producers, actors, newsmen, ministers and politicians who abandoned virtue for self-interest. Many everyday folk are losing sleep as people continue to step forward and break their silence about wrongs that have been committed.

Unless we are adulterers, cheats, molesters, abusers, or thieves, we have no fear of exposure and no need for non-disclosure statements or payoffs. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t confuse good behavior with being virtuous. In writing of virtue, C.S. Lewis points out that even a bad tennis player can make a good shot and an evil person can do good things some of the time. Doing good things, however, is not the same as being a good person. Let’s not make the mistake the Pharisees did of thinking that virtue comes from a set of rules and standards. Virtue and morality are not something we possess; they are something we are and they come from the very heart of our being. We all can manage to be virtuous at times but it is only through God’s divine power that we can live virtuous lives of godliness and holiness.

What the world calls virtue is a name and a dream without Christ. The foundation of all human excellence must be laid deep in the blood of the Redeemer’s cross and in the power of his resurrection. [Frederick W. Robertson]

Men are not made religious by performing certain actions which are externally good, but they must first have righteous principles, and then they will not fail to perform virtuous actions. [Martin Luther]

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. [2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)]

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And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. [Luke 23:34 (ESV)]

deptford pinkIn one of our small group sessions earlier this year, we heard the story of a man who spent more than twenty years imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The evidence proving his innocence had been suppressed by the police and he was a bitter angry man. Sixteen years into his incarceration, he became a Christian but he still struggled with forgiveness. Knowing Jesus expected him to forgive the men whose lies had stolen his life, he couldn’t find the power to do so. How can we forgive someone who has deliberately hurt us, someone who isn’t even contrite or repentant? Vengeance, anger, retribution, and revenge come much easier than forgiveness and yet forgiveness is what God calls us to do.

It was when this prisoner read Jesus’ words on Calvary that he understood where the power to forgive lay—in God the Father. “Father, forgive them!” said our Lord as He hung on that cross. Like him, Jesus was an innocent man and yet He prayed for His executioners. His words were not those of anger or complaint but of pity and compassion. The sinless tortured one was praying for his sin-filled torturers. Mind you, the people for whom He was praying hadn’t asked for forgiveness; they were neither remorseful nor repentant. Many had eaten His bread, seen His miracles and heard him speak, but they’d chosen the criminal Barabbas over him. Mocking Him, the soldiers were gambling for his clothing. While blood was dripping down his forehead and seeping out of the wounds on his hands and feet, the suffering Jesus was praying for pardon not revenge; He didn’t ask for justice but for forgiveness. It was on the cross that radical forgiveness met radical injustice and triumphed. If our sinless Savior can forgive, how much more should we?

Jesus’ words on Calvary told this prisoner that he didn’t have to forgive under his own power but that forgiveness was possible through God’s power. Like Jesus, he prayed for those who had persecuted him and he was finally able to forgive. Truth eventually prevailed several years later when his conviction was overturned but he’d been made a free man many years earlier when he forgave those who wronged him so horribly. It was Alexander Pope who wrote, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.’” Indeed, it is.

The Holy Spirit, thank God, often enables people to forgive even though they are not sure how they did it. [Lewis B. Smedes]

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV)]

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A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them. [Proverbs 15:18 (NLT)]

Scoundrels create trouble; their words are a destructive blaze. … Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city. [Proverbs 16:27,32 (NLT)]

red vlover - beeBattlefields aren’t found just in war-torn nations. They can be found in some of the nicest homes, work places, neighborhoods (and even churches). Unfortunately, some people delight in controversy and discord. They may be passive-aggressive or simply aggressive. Frequently, they deliberately say something provocative just to get a reaction and start conflict. Rather than discuss, they argue and debate. Their goal has nothing to do with conflict resolution or agreement; it is to be victorious in their battle, no matter what the cost.

These word soldiers seek out their targets and battlegrounds and it’s easy to be drawn into their drama. Naturally, we want to defend others, ourselves, or our beliefs when attacked, especially when done unjustly, irrationally or unreasonably. Nevertheless, we don’t have to engage in a tug-of-war—nothing says we have to pick up the rope and start pulling just because the other guy has the rope in his hand. It’s not a question of winning or losing; it’s a question of staying out of the battle in the first place. We don’t have to attend every argument to which we’re invited! Moreover, if we do pick up the rope, there’s nothing shameful about dropping it and simply walking away. We’re not defeated when we choose a higher road; we’re just wiser! I’ve found that when reason has left the room, it’s time for me to go, as well!

Lord, guide us through the minefields of life. Grant us the wisdom to know when it is best to keep our mouths shut, the insight to know when it is best to walk away, and the courage to do so. May we have obedient and loving hearts so that, instead of responding in anger, we pray for those who attack us. Keep our hearts free from rancor and the need to get even; let there be peace in our lives.

Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance. [Robert Quillen]

The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. [Dale Carnegie]

Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling. [Proverbs 20:3 (NLT)]

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. [2 Timothy 2:22-25 (NLT)]

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