JESUS SAVES

This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age. [John 3:16 (NTE)]

Another one of my Abundance assignments gave an interesting twist to paying it forward. We were to give an extra $3.16 to the drive-thru cashier who was supposed to credit it to the next customer and tell them the 3.16 was from John. We rarely utilize drive-thrus and now, with social distancing, aren’t going out, so this was one assignment I set aside. Nevertheless, I thought about the ways we do or don’t evangelize.

Christians tend to get upset when the presence of a religious symbol on public property is threatened. Yet, other than an occasional Christmas decoration, we rarely display anything religious on our own private property. We claim our children should be allowed to pray at school yet how many of us use our freedom to openly say grace before meals in a public restaurant or pray with others in public spaces? We’ll wear tee-shirts with logos advertising our favorite designers, restaurants, and teams; how many do we have with Bible verses on them?

For nearly forty years, we drove by the “Jesus Saves” rock. Prior to 1955, however, that big rock displayed a Potosi Beer advertisement. A prayer group from the local Presbyterian church obtained permission to repaint the rock and the “Jesus Saves” rock now is known throughout a tri-state area. To my knowledge, in all of these years, the rock has never been defaced. Granted, it is in rural Illinois, but it’s hard to believe that no youngsters have tried adding something to the sign. While that speaks to the virtue of small town values, it probably helps that the farmer who owns the land keeps a watchful eye on the famous rock (and a bull has been known to roam in the pasture below). A local family installed a light so that it can even been seen in the dark of night and various community organizations continue to keep the sign freshly painted. The “Jesus Saves” sign is both a community effort and a community witness.

While I disagree with their theology, I admire Jehovah’s Witnesses for their persistent evangelizing. Most of us hesitate to discuss Jesus with our neighbor, but Witnesses are willing to speak with strangers, often going door-to-door. They and their display are an almost daily fixture at our area parks and beaches. Few of us are that dedicated to spreading the Word of God, although I did read of one man who named his Wi-Fi router “Jesus Saves” so that anyone searching for a signal would see the message! Since his router probably is password protected and Jesus welcomes all, his would seem to be a slightly mixed message. Nevertheless, he’s witnessing in a small way.

Failure to share the message of John 3:16 isn’t like not telling someone about the latest NetFlix offering, our favorite YouTube video, or even the news that Walmart finally has toilet paper and hand sanitizer! Let us remember that people’s eternal destiny rests in our witness. As Charles Stanley said, “The joy you’ll have when you meet that person in heaven will far exceed any discomfort you felt in sharing the gospel.”

“All who call upon the name of the Lord,” you see, “will be saved.” So how are they to call on someone when they haven’t believed in him? And how are they to believe if they don’t hear? And how will they hear without someone announcing it to them? [Romans 10:13-14 (NTE)]

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FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14b (NLT)]

balloon over serengettiAlthough the book of Esther never mentions God by name, His fingerprints are found throughout the story as it illustrates God’s providence in human affairs. The Jews were in captivity in Persia and the Persian King had banished the queen. Along with all the other beautiful virgins in the land, the young Jewess Esther is taken to the King’s harem. She finds favor with the king and is declared queen while the evil Haman plots the massacre of every Jew. When Esther’s cousin Mordecai requests her help in begging for the king’s mercy, she hesitates out of fear. Reminding Esther that she isn’t exempt from Haman’s evil plot, Mordecai asks, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

I thought of Haman’s question as churches around the world struggle to provide worship and study opportunities during this crisis. By the time our church, Coastal Fellowship Church, was a year old, we’d developed a free App providing more than calendar, prayer requests, devotions and online giving. Through strategic partnerships, it provided preschool video Bible adventures and material from the Bible Project that now includes videos on reading Scripture, the Bible’s books from Genesis through Revelation, wisdom topics, and a word study. More recent offerings include a number of short videos showing where sports and faith connect and two series from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

At the time, I’m sure people wondered why a church like ours – brand new, without a building, with minimal financial support, and a small congregation of mostly senior citizens (some of whom still use flip phones) – became so committed to 21st century technology and developing an App. Our pastor felt God’s call to do an App and, as he led, the congregation, without clearly understanding its importance, followed in obedience to God’s urging. If anyone wondered why we did it, the last few weeks gave us the answer. Rephrasing Mordecai’s words, “Who knows if the App was developed for just such a time as this!”

We didn’t know over a year ago that online resources and platforms would be essential to serving the Church during this global pandemic. Distanced geographically, we remain connected by faith. We are a global church serving a global God and the App allows us to do just that!

The technical expertise acquired while creating the App enabled us to stream services within a few days’ time and develop a permanent platform for services and Bible study by the second week. Because the App received 30 awards for everything from logo to video and animation, it’s had international exposure; available on several platforms, there have been 40,000 downloads from all over the world. The strategic partnerships that started with the App led to more partnerships, including one with N. T. Wright, and expanded our offerings to better serve the global community. Our first Sunday service was viewed by people throughout the world with 2,182 viewings in the first week! What’s really important is that 88% of those viewers watched the entire service! (I’m not sure 88% of a congregation stays awake during a live sermon!)

As mortals, we don’t know God’s long range plans; even if we did, we wouldn’t understand them. Joseph didn’t understand why he ended up a slave in Egypt until he saved his entire family from famine. Moses didn’t know why he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter until God spoke to him from a burning bush. David didn’t know why he kept doing target practice with his sling until he came face to face with Goliath. Esther didn’t understand why she became queen until she saved an entire nation and I never knew that sending a daily Bible verse to a few women would morph into a daily devotional. Even though we don’t see God’s vision, like Abraham, we follow His lead. Once we get wherever God has taken us, we’ll know why we’re there. God will tell us, “For just such a time as this!”

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. [Hebrews 11:18 (NLT)]

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SPEAK

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

zebra longwing butterflyMy latest exercise in learning how to live the abundant life promised by Jesus was both easy and difficult: I was to speak to one person about God, even if all I said was, “God is good” or “God loves you.” Since I write about God five days a week, said “God bless you!” to a friend, and talked about God with my pastor, I figured I was done, except I knew I wasn’t.

As with every abundance exercise I’ve been given, I wondered how this task led to an abundant life. When I took notice of God’s incredible creation in the first exercise, I joined the Psalmist in praise, thanksgiving, and worship. The second exercise entailed both acknowledgement of my sin and forgiveness, the third and fourth required me to encourage others and to be kind while expecting nothing in return. With last week’s assignment of sacrifice and this one of speaking about God, a common thread began to emerge: abiding in the Lord. Since we can’t abide in Him without being obedient to Him, each exercise involved obedience to His word. Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that obedience brings blessings—both to us and to others. The abundant life Jesus gives us is only realized when we truly are obedient to Him: when we abide in Him and He is us.

Obedience often means stepping out of our comfort zone and this exercise took me out of mine. Although talking about God with other believers and writing about Him in my blog fulfilled the letter of the assignment, it didn’t fulfill its spirit. Blessing someone when they sneeze or adding, ”God’s peace and joy,” to an email may be a start but they’re not the end of our Christian witness. Even though we’re called to proclaim the gospel to the world, many of us are hesitant to do that and our reticence is what prevents us from enjoying the richness of our faith. “To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in this world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth,” are the words of evangelist Charles Spurgeon. His words tell us that he knew what it was to experience the abundant life in Christ; it’s “heaven here upon earth!”

It is our commitment to Jesus that brings His blessings and true commitment requires obedience, even when that means stepping forward in witness. We are blessed by God when we bless the lives of others and I can’t think of a better way to bless someone than to share the gospel message of God’s love and forgiveness. Obedience—abiding in Jesus and He in us—is the key to an abundant life of blessings.

It is the greatest pleasure of living to win souls to Christ. [Dwight L. Moody]

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. [Deuteronomy 28:1-2 (ESV)]

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” [Luke 11:28 (ESV)]

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NEVER A STRANGER

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! [Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT)]

butterfly weedThe story has been told of a shoemaker who dreamt that Jesus would come to his shop the following day. His dream was so realistic that he washed his shop windows and dusted every shelf in preparation for his holy guest. The man patiently waited at his bench for the Lord to arrive but the only person to come through his door that morning was an old man seeking shelter from the icy winter rain. When the cobbler looked down at the man’s wet feet, he saw toes poking out of his beat-up shoes. Selecting a new pair of shoes, the shoemaker sat the old man down, dried off his feet, gave him a fresh pair of socks, and fitted him with the new shoes. When the rain stopped, the old man went on his way.

Just about lunchtime, a shabbily dressed woman came into the store and asked if she could stay just long enough to get warm. When the cobbler opened up his lunch box, he saw the woman hungrily eyeing his sandwiches. “I’m not really hungry,” he said as he offered her his lunch. After the woman had eaten, warmed up, and departed, the shoemaker continued to wait for Jesus but no one else came through the door. As the disheartened man closed up shop that evening, he heard a child crying. Looking down, he saw a small boy huddled in the doorway. The tearful child explained that he’d gotten hopelessly lost while running errands. He knew his address but he didn’t know how to get there. Although the cobbler wanted to get home for dinner, he wiped the youngster’s eyes and nose, took his hand, and escorted him home.

After returning the boy to his family, the disappointed man turned back toward his shop and said a silent prayer of despair. “Lord, I was so sure you’d come—so sure that I’d see your face at my door! Where were you?” It was then that He heard a gentle voice tell him, “Shoemaker, lift up your heart. I was right there at your door three times today. You clothed me, fed me, and comforted me! Don’t you know that when you did those things to my children, you did them to me?”

The Rule of St. Benedict, written in 516 by Benedict of Nursia, is a set of instructions for monastic living that has served as a guidebook to Christian discipleship for 1,500 years. Benedict opened chapter 53 with this statement, “All guests to the monastery should be welcomed as Christ, because He will say, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in.’” Just as Benedict directed the monks to see Christ in their guests, so we must see Christ in the people we encounter. Like the cobbler’s visitors, that person may look like an expense, interruption, or inconvenience; nevertheless, he is Christ. Our fictional cobbler welcomed three strangers at his door and received Christ as his guest. While becoming Jesus to others and seeing Jesus in others isn’t always easy, that’s what we’re called to do. Let us serve the Lord with gladness!

I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus. [Mother Teresa]

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me! [Matthew 25:35-36,40 (NLT)]

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SECRET KINDNESS

deptford pink flowersDo nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [Philippians 2:3-4 (RSV)]

While we usually think of charity as giving to the poor, Biblical charity means love or agape: absolute love of God and universal good will to men. Not limited to gifts of money or goods, charity is any act of kindness or generosity to others. Perhaps Paul gave us the best definition of charity in his words to the Philippians—charity starts with caring for others more than we care for ourselves!

My next exercise in learning how to live an abundant life was one of charity, with the additional element of anonymity; I was to secretly do something kind and not get caught! This seemed better suited for another century when people left May baskets on doorstep. Nowadays, with surveillance cameras at every doorway and corner, it’s difficult to do anything without getting caught (and possibly shot)!

While I’d like to think we all regularly do kind things, we usually don’t keep our actions secret. “Kindness is the law of Christ’s kingdom,” said preacher Matthew Henry and our motivation for any kindness should be our desire for God’s approval rather than man’s. Nevertheless, we rarely make anonymous donations to charities and we often point out favors we’ve done so they don’t go unacknowledged! When Jesus said to keep the left hand from knowing what the right has done, he was telling us to keep our giving a secret. [Matthew 6:1-4] This exercise of doing a secret kindness, albeit a small one, was a way to understand what He meant. As Matthew Henry explained, “Do it because it is a good work, not because it will give thee a good name.” Giving, whether of money, goods, or good turns, is not a spectator sport.

I wondered how this exercise in anonymous kindness would lead to better experiencing the abundant life promised by Jesus until I remembered Jesus’ words found in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” The blessings given to us from God are far greater than any we could possibly give and yet it appears from His words that our blessings depend on the generosity of our spirit. Jesus, however, never promises those blessings will come back in kind. Leaving someone a May basket doesn’t mean we’ll get a basket on our doorstep and writing a check to a charity doesn’t mean we’ll get a larger check in tomorrow’s mail. Nevertheless, Jesus promises that we’ll get back more than we give. When we freely give of our love, joy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and grace while expecting neither recognition nor acknowledgement, God will refill our stockpile until it overflows. That is abundance!

If you want love and abundance in your life, give it away. [Mark Twain]

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:8 (RSV)]

 One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. [Proverbs 11:24-25 (RSV)]

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SEEING HIS FACE IN AN UNLIKELY PLACE

And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” [Matthew 25:40 (NLT)]

painted bunting - corkscrew swamp sanctuaryAfter my walk through the bird sanctuary, I visited the ladies’ room. While washing my hands, I heard someone struggling to open the door. As I opened it, a heavy set woman shuffled unsteadily into the room. I gave her my arm as she explained that she suffers from MS. After assisting her into the stall, I offered to stay in the rest room until she was done. As I lent a hand while she washed up, she thanked me profusely for my help and explained that her husband didn’t feel comfortable coming into the ladies’ room to assist her. I said that she’d do the same for someone else if she could. “Of course, I would,” she replied, pulling out a cross from around her neck, ”I’m a Christian.” My reply was a simple, “As am I!” I helped her out to the lobby and got her settled back into her wheelchair. “You see,” she explained, “I just had to come. I want to see the painted-buntings again before I leave for home.” I hope she wasn’t disappointed; I, too, had wanted to see the buntings but they’d remained hidden in the trees that morning.

I don’t know if she saw the birds that day but I do know what we both did see: the face of Christ. She saw it in a woman wearing glasses, a baseball cap, and a jean jacket who offered assistance, a few kind words, and a steady arm. I saw it in the smile of a gray-haired woman, visiting from England, who just needed a little help and a few minutes of my time. Thank you, Lord, for showing me your face when I took the time to help one of your children.

To love another person is to see the face of God. [Victor Hugo]

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. … No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. [1 John 4:7,12-13 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.