THE SENDING

“There’s a great harvest out there,” he said to them, “but there aren’t many workers. So plead with the harvest-master to send out workers for the harvest.” [Luke 10:2 (NTE)]

concord grapesWhat is the most important moment in your Sunday service? If your church follows a liturgy, perhaps it is the confession, absolution, or thanksgiving. Singing praise music, hearing an inspiring sermon or sharing in the Lord’s Supper may be the highlight of your worship. Reciting the Creed, saying the Lord’s Prayer, greeting one another, communal prayer—all are important parts of the day’s worship service but are they the most important part of it? I wonder if the holiest moment of our Sunday morning occurs when the service is over and we leave the sanctuary (or turn off the computer) and go into the world. When the service has concluded, instead of our obligation to God being over for the week, could it just be starting? Could the next six days and twenty-three hours be more critical than that hour or so we spent at church?

Our God is a God of sending—Jesus was sent to us and now He sends us into the world. When we stop for brunch at First Watch, make a purchase at Home Depot, or chat with people at the dog park, we are His workers sent into the fields to harvest. When we’re cut off in traffic, vie for a parking spot at the mall, our neighbor needs a favor, or customer service fails to serve, we remain His workers and Jesus is to be heard in our voices and seen in our actions.

When Jesus chose those seventy-two disciples to spread the word, He spoke of the lack of available workers. Here in the U.S., the Pew Research Center found that the number of adults identifying themselves as Christian was 65% of the population. Even though that percentage dropped from 78% in 2007, we’re still left with about 168 million potential workers. With an estimated 2.5 billion Christians worldwide, perhaps the problem isn’t a shortage of workers but rather a shortage of commitment to do God’s work. Fields ripe for harvest are everywhere we go—the office, grocery store, golf course, beach, hiking trail, yoga class, and post office. Are we willing to go where He sends us and do what He calls us to do? Granted, in this day and age of social distancing, working the harvest might look a little different than it did a year ago but, if we ask God for opportunities to be His witness, He will provide them.

If we had the cure for cancer, would we remain silent, only tell a select few, or shout it from the rooftop? As Christians, we have knowledge of something even more precious than cancer’s cure—we have the cure for death and it’s found in Jesus! Are we going to remain silent or will we spread the good news? This Sunday, when we’re released from church (or our on-line worship service), it’s not like being released from school for spring break or summer vacation. We may be dismissed from church but we are not dismissed from serving God. As a chosen people and a royal priesthood, the most important part of our week is just beginning.

But you are a “chosen race; a royal priesthood”; a holy nation; a people for God’s possession. Your purpose is to announce the virtuous deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. [1 Peter 2:9 (NTE)]

Jesus said to them again. “As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you.” [John 20:21 (NTE)]

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FEEDING HIS SHEEP

“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” [John 21:17b (NLT)]

skateboarding steamboat SK8When we spent our winters in the mountains, we often provided dinners for a local skateboard ministry. Offering a safe and sober refuge (along with the love of Jesus) to the area’s teens and young adults, this SK8 church defies definition. It’s an amazing combination of indoor skatepark/teen rec center and non-denomination Christian ministry where unconditional love mixes with rad skate ramps, both grip tape and Bibles are plentiful, conversations range from ollies and railslides to John 3:16, 360s and service projects are regular events, and, while you may hear some Christian rap or metal you’ll not hear bad language.

If the Christian church is a hospital for wretched souls, then SK8 church, with its goal of reaching “the lost, broken, and addicted with the love of Jesus,” is a MASH unit for them! Most of the youth have troubled pasts and few come from faith-based homes or with any knowledge of the Bible. Many, however, have transformed their lives as they have come to know Jesus through this ministry.

Last week, after receiving their year-end update, I thought back to our experiences with these youngsters as we dished up pulled pork or sliced ham on Thursday nights. The ministry began almost sixteen years ago when a young couple brought burgers and hot dogs to the local skatepark and shared both bread and the Bread of Life with kids who were desperately hungry for both. When winter’s snow made skating impossible, they opened their home for those dinners and the Word. Within five years, they had a building and built an indoor skate park. SK8 church now offers after school open skating, tutoring programs, counseling, recovery meetings, weekly Bible study, and five mission trips a year, along with middle school and high school/college/adult ministries that include weekly dinners (and God’s word). They recently expanded their ministry with a satellite skatepark/rec center/skate shop in a nearby town.

Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and three times Peter said he did. After each affirmation, Jesus either told Peter to feed or to care for his sheep. Feeding the sheep literally meant to take them to pasture and caring for the sheep meant to act as would a shepherd. That charge, however, wasn’t literal nor was it meant just for Peter. It applies to every one of us who claim to love the Lord. Rather than pasturing and shepherding sheep, we are called to feed God’s children His word and to care for them by guarding, guiding, nurturing, and restoring them along with seeking the lost and bringing back those who’ve strayed.

When they started SK8 church, that young couple’s only qualification was their love for Jesus. Nevertheless, they took Jesus’ words to heart and literally fed those youngsters dinner along with God’s word. Granted, feeding and caring for His sheep won’t always lead to a major ministry and 501c3 standing as it did for them but it should lead to some action on our part.

Sometimes, feeding His sheep is as simple as a platter of sliced ham or a tray of brownies! Our pastor tells of a woman at a previous church where he was the youth pastor. Well into her eighties, she faithfully appeared at the weekly youth meetings wearing noise reduction ear muffs (because of the loud Christian rock) and bearing a huge tray of home-made brownies. She may not have liked the music, but she loved Jesus and His lambs. The teens knew the special ingredient in her brownies wasn’t chocolate; it was love!

As we begin this new year, let us think of ways that we, too, can feed and care for His sheep.

Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)]

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PASS IT ON

Christmas lightsThe Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (NLT)

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s Love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on. [Kurt Kaiser]

Last year, our entire family celebrated Christmas in the Keys and we were able to worship together Christmas Eve. Typical of most Christmas Eve services, everyone received a small candle when entering the church. At the end of the service, the lights were dimmed and the first person’s candle was lit from an altar candle. As we sang Silent Night, the flame from that first candle was passed to the next person and continued to be passed from person to person until everyone’s candles were burning brightly. It was a tiny church with about one hundred worshippers. Nevertheless, even though each individual candle gave off only a little light, by the time the song was finished, the sanctuary was 100 times brighter than when we’d started.

While listening to praise music today, I heard an old favorite from my Girl Scout days: Pass It On by Kurt Kaiser. The words, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going,” got me thinking about those candles. When we light a candle, we can pass along the flame without our own light diminishing. In fact, as the light gets passed along, it only gets brighter! Just as the flame of a candle doesn’t weaken as it is spread around, neither does love—it simply grows larger and stronger. While having more children may lessen the amount of money we can spend on each child, it certainly doesn’t lessen the love we have each one of them. In fact, our love increases so that we still can love each child as if he or she were our only one. That’s how it is with our Heavenly Father’s love; His love is limitless and He loves each and every one of us as if we were his only child.

This year, my family was separated by thousands of miles and we only saw one another on Zoom. Instead of going to a church Christmas Eve, we attended church on our computers. No flames were passed from person to person and no candles illuminated a darkened church as we sang Silent Night. Nevertheless, it only takes a spark to get the fire going and we don’t need a candle’s flame to spread the blessings of God’s grace and love. Let us remember these words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” It can’t extinguish God’s love, either!

The candlelight from last year’s Christmas Eve service was limited by the number of people in the church but there is no limit to the brightness that can be brought into this dark world by Christ’s church. What if every one of us took the light of God’s love with us and passed it on to all who cross our path? Remember, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going!”

I wish for you my friend This happiness that I’ve found;
You can depend on God It matters not where you’re bound.
I’ll shout it from the mountain top;
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on. [Kurt Kaiser]

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)]

And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. [1 John 3:23 (NLT)]

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EISEGESIS

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. [2 Timothy 4:2 (NLT)]

snowy egretWhen writing about dance yesterday, Footloose came to mind. This 1984 movie was about a small Midwestern town that had banned dancing and rock music. A pivotal scene in the movie occurs when the young hero, played by Kevin Bacon, reads off several Bible verses in an attempt to convince the city council that God approved of dance. I used some of the same references in yesterday’s devotion. The young man, however, was way off base because the verses he cited were about sacred dance rather than social dancing. He didn’t want to worship the Lord; he wanted to have a senior prom!

Kevin Bacon’s character did something almost all of us do at one time or another: misinterpreted scripture by taking it out of context. We usually do this for one of two reasons. Either we come to the Bible with a preconceived notion of what it says or we come wanting to find a verse to support our viewpoint. In either case, we’ve drawn a conclusion before looking at all of the evidence.

For example, to support existing prejudice, rather than the sacred mark of protection it was, racists have interpreted the “mark of Cain” as the curse of black skin. To justify slavery of blacks, they wrongly interpreted Noah’s curse on Ham’s son Canaan as that of blackness and servitude. If we wanted to justify drunken revelry, I suppose we could cite Jesus turning all those jugs of water into wine at Cana. We wouldn’t mention the length of the feast, the number of people present, or that He was saving the groom’s honor. Jesus wasn’t promoting drunkenness at Cana any more than he was promoting gluttony when he turned a few fish and loaves into an excess of food for 5,000. Nevertheless, we could make it sound that way!

One of the most frequently misinterpreted verses is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” The Hebrew word translated here as welfare was shalom, meaning peace, completeness, and soundness. While most updated translations use “welfare” or “peace” for shalom, some Bibles still render it as “prosper” and those are the translations used by prosperity gospel proponents. The completeness of the word shalom, however, wasn’t found in possessions or wealth; it was found in a relationship with God—the one who makes us complete. Moreover, a quick look at the context tells us this was not a promise made to everyone. It was made specifically to the Jewish people who had been exiled to Babylon and would remain there for seventy years. Rather than a promise of wealth and health for all, this was God’s promise to Judah that, at the end of their judgment, He would bring them back to their land where they would have a future and a hope.

We must be cautious of reading our own presuppositions into the text or of cherry-picking verses out of context to support our opinions. It comes down to two fancy words: exigesis and eisegesis. Exigesis is drawing the meaning out of the text through careful reading (which is good) but eisegesis is reading meaning into the text (which is bad)! The first is objective and seeks to find the true meaning while the second is subjective and seeks to make a point. Although he didn’t know it, Kevin Bacon’s character in Footloose committed eisegesis. While it made for a good story, his was faulty reasoning and bad theology. God has entrusted us with His truth; let us be good workers and handle His word wisely, honestly, and carefully.

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. [2 Timothy 2:15 (NLT)]

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STORIES

Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen. Don’t let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren. [Deuteronomy 4:9 (MSG)]

Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts. [Psalm 145:4 (MSG)]

Hedge bindweedStories—everyone loves a good one and we all have stories to tell. My children loved hearing their Grandpa tell stories of boyish pranks like stealing watermelons and tipping over outhouses but it wasn’t just his tales of mischief they enjoyed. They relished hearing about him working on the farm, playing basketball and wrestling, working his way through college, having a victory garden, and starting a business. The stories we never heard, however, are the ones I wish he had shared: the stories of his faith journey. He was a Christian, yet I don’t know how he came to be such a man of faith. I know he met his wife at a church social and they both attended the Lutheran church in our town, but that doesn’t tell me when and how the Holy Spirit truly entered his life. It doesn’t tell me about the times he might have doubted or been afraid or the times he knew without question that God was holding his hand or had answered his prayers.

Accounts of faith journeys are some of the best stories we’ll ever hear. It’s not just from pulpits or lecterns that I’ve heard people chronicle their faith journeys. These stories came from people just like you and me: people who openly shared their wounds and scars and the way God changed their lives. They spoke of mental illness, alcoholism or physical abuse or told of losing a loved one, their health or even their faith. I’ve heard a Gideon tell how the Bible guided him to Jesus, an addict tell how a 12-step program brought him to Jesus, and a minister tell about his time in prison. I’ve heard people tell of reaching the depths of despair when they thought life was impossible and others tell of miraculous healing. These stories had little or nothing to do with what church they attended; they had everything to do with what God did with, for and to them. They were the testimonies that came from their tests and the messages that came from their messes and I am thankful to those who shared their lives so openly.

After ridding him of demons in Gerasenes, Jesus told the once possessed man to return home and tell his story. Can you imagine what it was like to hear his testimony or the testimony of Paul when he told of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus? Can you picture what it was it like to hear Peter speak of walking on water or Bartimaeus tell of regaining his sight? The woman caught in adultery would have had a powerful testimony to the forgiveness of Jesus and Mary Magdalene to His resurrection. Granted, not all of us have stories as remarkable as theirs, but we all have stories about the way Jesus has touched our lives and we don’t have to be missionaries, ministers, or Biblical scholars to share them. We are, after all, disciples of Christ!

What’s your story? Who should you tell?

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love. …
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
[A. Katherine Hankey]

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the demon-delivered man begged to go along, but he wouldn’t let him. Jesus said, “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story—what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.” The man went back and began to preach in the Ten Towns area about what Jesus had done for him. He was the talk of the town. [Mark 5:18-20 (MSG)]

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IMPEDIMENTS OR AMBASSADORS?

Celebrate your hope; be patient in suffering; give constant energy to prayer; contribute to the needs of God’s people; make sure you are hospitable to strangers. [Romans 12:12-13 (NTE)]

Don’t forget to be hospitable; by that means, some people have entertained angels without realizing it. [Hebrews 13: 2 (NTE)]

blanket flowerThe story was told of a devout Christian woman who, after moving to a new town, visited the local church: the Church of Holier than Thou. When the children’s choir sang the prelude, she was so happy to hear their angelic voices that she applauded at the end of their song. An usher came up and whispered in her ear, “Ma’am, we don’t applaud in this church.” She apologized for the disturbance and the service continued. When the pastor gave his sermon, she was so moved by his words that she shouted out an “Amen!” in response. The usher returned to her side and again sternly instructed her, “You’ll have to restrain yourself here in the Church of Holier than Thou.” Chagrined, the woman promised to behave and the service continued. The choir rose and sang a beautiful medley that included God of our Fathers and How Great Thou Art. Overcome by the words of praise, the woman shouted out “Hallelujah” and “Praise God!” at the song’s conclusion. The usher strode up to her and said, “Lady, you’re causing a disturbance. You’ll have to leave!” The poor woman responded, “I just couldn’t help myself; I was overcome by the joy of the Lord!” In a huff, the usher responded, ‘Well, you sure didn’t get it here!”

A good friend preached several times at our Colorado church and even served briefly as a pastor for a local parish when they were without an ordained minister. This man, filled with joy in the Lord, is a mature and knowledgeable Christian, but that wasn’t always the case. When he became a Christian many years ago, he was totally unfamiliar with the Bible and didn’t even know there were several different translations and publications of this one book. He couldn’t understand why chapter and verse had to be mentioned when just a page number should do. What would have happened to him if he’d attended the Church of Holier than Thou (or others like it)? I think God might have lost a child to disillusionment and doubt.

One friend told of an experience while searching for a church. She’d just settled into the pew when an irate couple told her she had to move because she was in their pew! When we first moved here and were “church shopping,” we attended a madrigal dinner at a local church in hope of meeting members of the congregation. In spite of getting there early and the large number of empty chairs, we had trouble finding a seat because everyone seemed to saving those chairs for the people they already knew. Sadly, I’ve seen the same thing at Tuesday Bible study when a newcomer has difficulty finding a place to sit among all the empty (but saved) chairs! Although the church is supposed to be a place of welcome, it frequently isn’t.

It has been said that there are two reasons people don’t become Christians. First, they haven’t met one. The second reason, of course, is that they have! What kind of Christians are we? Are we impediments or ambassadors? Are we filled with the joy of the Lord or are we holier than thou? Do we welcome others to worship and study with us? Are willing to enlarge our circle to receive someone new? If Jesus stopped by, would He have trouble finding a place to sit?

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. [Shane Claiborne]

Welcome one another, therefore, as the Messiah has welcomed you, to God’s glory. [Romans 15:7 (NTE)]

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” [2 Corinthians 12:20 (NTE)]

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