I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! [1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (MSG)]

Even though they have their own unique song, northern mockingbirds usually incorporate the songs of other birds into theirs. With their ability to sound like jays, thrashers, hawks, orioles, and robins (along with car alarms and frogs), rather than sounding like themselves, these masters of mimicry can sound like what they’ve heard.

While we often see people imitating the monkeys at a zoo, we’re as likely to see the primates imitating us! Along with being a way to learn, researchers have found this mimicry is a way of interacting and communicating with one another. The old phrase, “monkey see, monkey do!” actually holds true.

Even though it is unintentionally and unconsciously done, like mockingbirds and monkeys, we tend to mimic the voices, mannerisms, and gestures of the people we’re with because of something often called the “chameleon effect.” We find ourselves returning facial expressions like smiles and yawning, as well as accents, gestures, and tone or pitch of voice. Researchers say that such mimicry builds rapport and empathy and can have an impact on our social success.

In Romans 1, Paul wrote of his own willingness to emulate certain behaviors as a way of building rapport with the people he wanted to bring to Christ. Even though he knew Jesus had freed him from Judaism’s 613 laws, Paul abided by them when with Jews. When with Gentiles, however, he would disregard those same laws. Although he was willing to adapt his communication to the culture of his audience, he never changed the message of the gospel or compromised his principles.

Social success or not, not every behavior should be copied and yet we often find ourselves in situations where not joining in becomes problematic. To fit in with our classmates, neighbors, co-workers, small group, or friends, we may find ourselves mirroring behavior that shouldn’t be mimicked such as griping, gossip, coarse language, criticism, disparagement, rudeness, or complaint. Without realizing it, like the mockingbird, we start copying the voices around us.

There’s a fine line between finding common ground and losing our way. If we’re not careful, like the mockingbird, we may begin to sound more like what we’ve been hearing than who we actually are and, like the monkey, begin to act like those around us rather than Jesus. While it’s often easier to conform to the world around us than to remain in the world while staying true to our faith, our words and actions should never be compromised. If Jesus wouldn’t do or say it, neither should we!

At the end of the day, Paul knew he’d been true to Jesus whether or not he’d eaten dairy and meat at the same meal, had fringes on his robe, or wore phylacteries on his forehead and arms. At the end of the day, no matter what songs he’s sung, the mockingbird knows he’s still a mockingbird. At the end of the day, we need to be able to say that we are Christians who have sung our song in a way that honors God and reflects our faith.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. [Romans 12:2 (MSG)]

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clam pass floridaJust as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. [Romans 12:4-5 (NLT)]

Even though we now live in the land of forever summer, I know autumn is upon us—and not just because nearly everything from lattes, tea, and donuts to English muffins, gelato, and Cheerios comes in pumpkin spice! The migratory birds (both feathered and human) have begun to arrive. Birds of a feather really do flock together as evidenced by the number of brown pelicans and terns gathering by the hundreds on the beach. Soon other birds like belted kingfishers, sandpipers, and grebes will arrive en masse.

Flocks of birds also signaled autumn when we lived in the north—only  they were leaving rather than arriving! A nearby park served as a “staging area” for Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes, which means that the normal bird population swelled as hundreds of geese and cranes congregated there to gorge themselves in preparation for their challenging flight south. Once they’d eaten their fill, it was a magnificent sight to watch as these beautiful birds took to the sky in unison to continue their journey south.

Without knowing a thing about aerodynamics, wingtip vortices, updrafts, or reducing drag, those birds know enough to conserve their energy by flying in a V-formation that reduces wind resistance and takes advantage of wind currents. The lead bird does most of the work and, when he tires, he moves back and lets others take their turns. The V-formation also allows the birds to see the rest of the flock, preventing them from crashing into one another and enabling them to spot a bird in trouble. It’s been said that when a goose gets injured or falls behind the group, at least two others from the flock will join it. These beautiful creatures instinctively know there is strength in unity and safety in numbers.

As it is for those birds, the journey we are on is not a solo one. As Christians, we also are members of a flock. Unlike the birds, we don’t look like one another or sing the same song, but we all are on a journey that is not meant to be a solo one. Church is more than the place we meet for Sunday services; it’s the Christian’s version of a “staging area.” It’s where we meet others in the flock, gain strength by feeding on God’s word, and help one another as we move forward.

As part of Jesus’ flock, we depend on one another as much as do those migratory birds. We need our flock to reduce the drag when we encounter a head wind, refresh us when we grow tired, urge us on when we lag behind, and lift us when we’ve fallen. We break bread together, share resources and responsibilities, and teach and learn from one another. Our brothers and sisters in Christ not only encourage, comfort, and pray with and for us, but they also hold us accountable for our behavior. Like those migrating birds, we need the flock as much as it needs us.

Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people. [Charles Spurgeon]

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. [Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)]

This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. [1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT)]

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Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life in your neighborhood so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. [1 Peter 2:11-12 (MSG)]

laughing gullWe’d gathered for coffee when the conversation turned to tipping. Several who had been servers at one time or another mentioned what notoriously bad tippers church people seem to be. Rather than a tip, some only leave a religious tract. A barista admitted removing any she finds in the tip jar because her fellow workers find them incredibly offensive. Rather than bringing anyone to Jesus, they serve to further distance non-believers from any church!

I recalled my college days in the 60s when many restaurants and businesses had restroom attendants. Rather than money, my fellow Campus Crusaders often left religious tracts in the attendant’s tip jar. Believing that a woman who cleaned up other people’s messes in bathroom sinks and stalls for tips (and purchased gum, breath mints, hand lotion, and perfume to increase those tips) would appreciate the money more than a tract, I always left money.

Thinking that leaving a tract meant they could “chalk one up” for Jesus, my friends may have  congratulated themselves for sharing the Gospel but I thought they were taking the cheap and easy way out of witnessing for Christ. Religious tracts aren’t a substitute for sharing the Word; they are mere tools. While they may get a conversation going, explain a concept, or provide information, they don’t replace interacting with someone. Tracts are an extension of a relationship, not a replacement for one. Relationships, however, take time and effort.

Since we were discussing “bad” Christian behavior, the barista mentioned the incivility of some of the local clergy who frequent her shop. One minister is so notorious that the baristas play rock-paper-scissors to determine who has to wait on him! Doing nothing to promote the Kingdom with their short-tempers, supercilious manner, or brusque behavior, those rude clergy could take a lesson from my son.

While listening to him talk with an airline’s customer service agent, I knew why he’s such a good salesman. He sincerely cares about the people with whom he interacts. Rather than beginning with a complaint about the airline, he started out by asking the agent how she was doing, where she was located, and followed up by commenting on the location and asking about the weather. He sincerely tried to find some common ground before launching into the problem at hand. My son, however, doesn’t save his charm for people who can help him. He’s that way with baristas, butchers, bell hops, bus boys, cashiers, and supermarket baggers as well as neighbors, vendors, employees, customers, and bankers. Everyone he meets is treated with the same amount of courtesy and respect. As salesmen for Christ, we must do the same!

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Sadly, many people hold that same sentiment. Both believers and non-believers can be arrogant, nasty, and stingy but that doesn’t make it right! It’s not just the eyes of God that are upon us—the world sees us and judges Jesus by our behavior.

It simply comes back to how we treat people—not just the people we like, want to impress, or who can do something for us—but everyone from the homeless man, server, janitor, and landscaper all the way to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Remembering to reflect God’s grace and generosity in all things, let’s not further the stereotype that Christians are a rude, judgmental, and cheap lot! (And, if you want to leave a tract, be sure to leave a hefty tip, as well!)

The world takes its notions of God from the people who say that they belong to God’s family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; they only hear about Jesus Christ. [Alexander Maclaren]

Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get. [Matthew 7:12 (MSG)]

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SARAH SMITH (The Great Divorce – 2)

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8 (ESV)]

Growing up, one of my favorite hymns was, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Its author, Lesbia Scott, wrote hymns for her children as expressions of the family’s faith. Not originally intended for publication, she wrote this song to emphasize that saints lived not just in the distant past but also in the present day. My favorite verse was the final one and I recall singing it loudly with childlike enthusiasm: “The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, In church, by the sea, in the house next door; They are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too.”

It’s been years since singing that song but its words came to mind while reading C.S. Lewis’ fantasy The Great Divorce. After the dreaming narrator, presumed to be Lewis, takes his bus ride from hell to heaven, he meets his guide—the author George MacDonald. Although MacDonald was dead before Lewis read any of his books, his writing had a direct impact on Lewis’ faith and work. Lewis believed there was “hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continuously close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.” MacDonald’s writing was instrumental in causing the atheist Lewis to eventually become one of Christianity’s greatest apologists.

While conversing with his heavenly guide, the narrator sees a woman of “unbearable beauty” surrounded by a dazzling procession of angels, children, animals, and musicians. Although he’s sure she must be someone of great importance, perhaps even Jesus’ mother, MacDonald explains, “Fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.” Identifying her as “Sarah Smith of Golders Green,” he says she was “one of the great ones.”

Since MacDonald was a real person whose books I read as a girl, I thought Sarah Smith might have existed and immediately put down my book to Google her. Sarah Smith, however, was but a figment of the writer’s imagination—an ordinary person who loved children, was kind to people, and cared for animals. Nevertheless, explains MacDonald, like a stone dropped into a pool, Sarah had a ripple effect of love and joy on the lives of those she encountered and the “abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father” flowed over into the lives of all she met. As a result, children loved their parents more and men even loved their wives more. After knowing her and being loved by her, people were renewed, restored, and transformed in a meaningful and beautiful way. In short, ordinary Sarah Smith of Golders Green touched the lives of others as only a Christ follower can. She was, indeed, a saint of God.

Like the fictional Sarah Smith, the real Sarah (and Sam) Smiths of today humbly and lovingly shine the light of Christ on all whose lives they touch. Completely ordinary men and women, they are the kind of people about whom I sang as a child—and the kind of people Jesus call us to be. As followers of Christ, we are called to be the Sarah and Sam Smiths of our troubled world. May we all be saints of God.

We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining—they just shine. [D.L. Moody]

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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 5:14-16 (ESV)]

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God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:18,21 (NLT)]

peace poleCOVID kept us from the Botanic Gardens for well over a year. When we finally returned to one of our favorite places, we came upon a peace pole planted among the palms, bamboo and bromeliads. Although a similar pole is in the city park downtown, I don’t remember seeing one here when last we visited. These poles are just two of the more than 250,000 that have been erected in over 180 nations.  Symbolizing the oneness of humanity, the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” are written in eight different languages. The languages chosen for this pole were English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hawaiian, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish—the languages of people who, like us, live at the 26th parallel north. Peace poles stand as a visual reminder to pray for peace on earth and to think, speak and act in the spirit of harmony and peace.

Forty years ago, the United Nations designated today as the annual International Day of Peace (commonly called World Peace Day). In 2011, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate it as a day of cease-fire and non-violence. They ask every person and nation to halt hostilities and fighting for this one twenty-four-hour period. Unfortunately, I doubt the world can make one hour, let alone twenty-four, without aggression, hostility and bloodshed. Hopefully, you and I can go longer than twenty-four hours without conflict or violent behavior!

The causes of world conflict are many and, according to the UN, include poverty, social inequality, hunger, dwindling natural resources, water scarcity, environmental decline, disease, corruption, racism, and xenophobia (an intense fear of foreigners). This year’s theme, “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World,” continues the UN’s focus on finding ways to overcome those causes. Indeed, as our world struggles to recover from what seems to be a never-ending pandemic, we can see how the underprivileged and marginalized have been hit the hardest. In the last eighteen months, we have seen both the best and the worst of our fellow travelers on this planet. This day is a reminder that instead of fighting with one another, we should join in fighting mankind’s common enemies!

As Christians, we have the peace of God—the peace that passes understanding—but we must be more than possessors of peace. Jesus calls us to be makers of peace but erecting a peace pole is not enough! We can start by bringing peace to our little corner of the world, beginning at home and then moving on to work, school, church and community. Our peacemaking efforts, however, can’t stop at the borders of our neighborhood or even our nation. We must take Christ’s message of peace out into the world by thinking, speaking, and acting in the cause of peace. While we each have an obligation to improve the various conditions that promote conflict, changing people’s circumstances is just a beginning. For true peace, the peace that is found in a relationship with God, we must change people’s hearts.

World peace, while a lofty goal, is not something I expect to see in my lifetime. Nevertheless, we each must do our part.

We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ spoke much of peace on earth. [Henry Drummond]

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. [James 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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FARMA – Part 2

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. [2 Corinthians 9:6 (NLT)]

Illisnois corn field - farmWhile we often reap what we’ve sown, farmers don’t plant on one day and expect to harvest the next and neither should we. No matter how good the soil, it usually takes about two weeks for a corn shoot to appear and two to three months before it’s ready for harvest. Spiritual farming is even less predictable than growing corn and we shouldn’t expect immediate results after sowing seeds of God’s love and Word. Rarely does an apology yield instant reconciliation, words of correction yield an immediate change, or our first witness produce an instantaneous conversion. It often takes considerable plowing and sowing to soften a hardened heart.

In both agriculture and “farma,” even with the best seeds, richest soil, and the farmer’s diligence in tending the field, not every seed sowed will survive to harvest. Between insects, wildlife, and weather, millions of farm acreage are ruined every year. For example, between 2020’s derecho windstorm and its late summer drought, nearly one million acres of crops in Iowa were destroyed. When seeds of God’s love and Word have been sowed, instead of animals or weather, it is Satan who ruins the crop. Just as wildlife steal soybeans and corn, he tries to steal every seed sown in God’s name. Just as hail and wind can break a cornstalk, by breaking down people with storms of his making, the enemy attempts to keep seeds of righteousness from maturing.

Sadly, not every seed will bear fruit and not every hand extended in love will be accepted. Not every person to whom we witness will respond, not every hearer will believe, and not every soul will be saved. Nevertheless, we are farmers in God’s world and our job is to cultivate His fields and sow His seed. Like the local farmers, we don’t give up when the crop is slow in coming or the enemy ruins the harvest. Even if we have to replough and reseed, we faithfully continue to do our part by sowing the seeds of God’s love and Word.

With nearly a third of the world’s population Christian, there are plenty of potential farmers. Unfortunately, that percentage has remained about the same for more than a century and appears to be dropping. Apparently, we haven’t been sowing anywhere near enough seeds to defeat the enemy and bring forth a bountiful harvest.

He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” [Matthew 9:37-38 (NLT)]

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