TELL THEM WHY

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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CLOSED MINDS

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 2:23-25 (NLT)]

killer whaleWhen discussing whales, the 3rd grade science teacher insisted that because of the whale’s small throat it was physically impossible for one to swallow a human. Disagreeing, the little girl told her that Jonah had been swallowed by a whale. When the teacher insisted it was just a silly story, the girl said that when she got to heaven she would ask Jonah. ”Well,” replied the teacher scornfully, “What if Jonah isn’t there? What if he went to hell?” The little girl politely answered, “Then I guess you can ask him!”

Last year, we took a bus tour of the Canadian Rockies and, at times, our tour guide and bus driver must have felt like they were herding cats. Although there were less than forty in our group, I compared us to the two million Israelites of Exodus and them to Moses and Aaron who led those “stiff-necked” people for forty years. When people weren’t ready on time, asked already answered questions, complained about the food, whined about accommodations, didn’t follow directions, wanted special treatment and misplaced their possessions, I appreciated the frustrations the brothers must have had leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. Overhearing my comment, a fellow traveler took me aside. After advising me that he didn’t want to disparage my faith, he added, “But really—two million people? Forty years? How can you possibly believe that? How could they all be fed?” My response was easy: “God provided manna!” Rather than continue the conversation, I smiled and walked away. This man didn’t want to talk miracles or God’s provision and, in spite of his words to the contrary, like the teacher in the joke, he really did want to disparage my faith.

As for that whale, according to several sources, including the Smithsonian, while most species of whales (like the killer whale pictured) couldn’t swallow a human, the exception is the sperm whale. Capable of swallowing a whole giant squid, it could easily swallow a man. In actuality, however, both the girl and the teacher were wrong. The Hebrew Bible says neither whale nor fish but rather dag gadôl  which means a great sea creature. The Greek translation was kêtei megalô, meaning a mega-sized ketos or huge sea serpent. The ketos was a sort of dog-headed sea dragon and several references to it are found in both art and non-Biblical literature from 700 BC through 500 AD. Whether the leviathan mentioned in Job, Psalms, and Isaiah is the same creature as that in Jonah and whether it was fish, reptile, whale, or some extinct form of sea monster, we really don’t know. Just because we don’t know, however, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Would the teacher have been interested in this answer? I think not. Like the man who spoke to me, her mind was already made up.

There always will be non-believers who are more interested in proving we’re wrong than hearing our answers. Wanting to display their cleverness and our naiveté, they ask questions like, “Why aren’t there dinosaurs in the Bible? How did Noah get those animals in the ark? How did the penguins get to the ark from Antarctica?” and, “If God is so all-powerful, why did it take Him six whole days to create the world?” The Bible is filled with a slew of fantastic and extraordinary accounts that defy easy explanation and I’m not sure it’s worth getting into a debate about such things. In most cases, even if we answered these types of questions to the skeptics’ complete satisfaction, it wouldn’t make a difference to them. All we can do is decline to accept their challenge with a simple and gracious answer. Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust from their feet as they left any town that refused to welcome them. Sometimes, we must do the same thing.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. [Ephesians 4:18 (NLT)]

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. [1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)]

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MEH

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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A MESSAGE IN THE SKY

skywriting - love godJesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-38 (NLT)]

After a lovely walk in the park, I looked up in the sky and saw a skywriter busy at work. The word “love” was starting to fade in the sky and, thinking a marriage proposal was in the works, I thought the pilot needed to work faster to get his message written. Curious, I waited to see what came next and was surprised to see the word “God” written in pale white smoke before the pilot flew off.

“Love God” – that’s the first and greatest commandment and we are to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind. In other words, love Him with our entire being: our passions, prayers, thoughts, words, voices, skills, desires, reactions, appearance, finances, strength, desires, relationships, and possessions. With no punctuation, however, that wasn’t necessarily what was meant. Rather than the command “Love God!” those little two words in the sky could have been more like the closing and signature line to a letter, card, or love note: “Love, God.” Indeed, the sunny day had been a beautiful gift sent from Him.

Although God sends us love notes all of the time, they’re usually not done in skywriting on a blue sky day. A rainbow, the symbol of God’s covenant with His creatures to never again send an all-destructive flood, is one of His reassuring love notes reminding us that His love shines through all the storms of life. Rainbows, beautiful days, magnificent sunsets, butterflies, even the aroma of spring lilacs—all can say “Love, God” to us. Today, when I opened my email, I realized God sends His love another way—in the encouraging words and prayers of a Christian friend. Having mentioned my heavy heart for a loved one, she immediately responded with encouraging words and by lifting us both in prayer. The email may have come from her address, but it bore His signature: “Love, God.”

In church Sunday, I turned to a stranger and told her how beautifully her daughter had sung during the teen led worship service. She welcomed those words with such enthusiasm that you would have thought I’d offered her girl a recording contract. Telling me how thrilled her daughter would be to hear the compliment, she added that the teen had just been cut from a choral group and badly needed reassurance. I spoke the words but they came from one of His nudges and were signed “Love, God.” In the many ways we share God’s love, we fulfill the second, equally important commandment given to us: to love our neighbors as ourselves.

“Love God!” or “Love, God” – in this case, the punctuation makes no difference. Each day brings opportunities to love and honor God by being one of His love notes with our prayers, an encouraging word, a quick text or email, a warm touch, a hand-written note, extra patience, a friendly smile or a helping hand. It is in the love we show to one another that we can fulfill both of His commands at once.

All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [1 John 4:15-16 (NLT)]

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IT HURTS

I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (MSG)]

oleander - rocky mt. bee plant

I recently read about a man who can’t feel pain because of a rare neurological condition called “congenital insensitivity to pain.” As someone who often reaches for the Ibuprofen because of assorted aches and pains, this sounded like a true blessing. In actuality, as nice as never having a headache, sciatica, or feeling the sting of fire ants initially sounds, it is life-threatening. Although this man can identify whether something is warm or cool, he can’t know that the coffee is burning his tongue, the stovetop is blistering his fingers, or the subzero temperatures have given him frostbite. He won’t feel the pain in his abdomen before his appendix bursts or the tightening in his heart signaling a heart attack. He chewed off part of his tongue when just a baby and has broken over seventy bones simply because he doesn’t know how to avoid injury. With no pain to restrain them, children with this condition tend to be daredevils. Pain is what teaches us to use our bodies correctly and safely. It warns of danger by telling us when something is too hot, cold, heavy, tight, hard or sharp and alerts us when something is wrong—a muscle is torn, a bone is broken, or an infection has set in.

Not only does pain protect and correct us, it certainly gets our attention, knocks us to our knees and turns us toward God. Moreover, it offers an opportunity both for our church family to draw near and comfort us and for us to witness to others in our pain.  As much as we don’t appreciate pain, it is a blessing rather than a burden. In reality, along with thanking God for the Ibuprofen, we should be thanking Him for the pain.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. [C.S. Lewis]

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. [2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (MSG)]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)]

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WHAT DON’T YOU DO?

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. [1 Corinthians 9:22b (ESV)]

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13 (ESV)]

“I don’t do desserts!” my neighbor said. My initial thought was, “Anyone can bake brownies!” As it turns out, my neighbor was absolutely right; a horrible cook, she is proof that not everyone can bake a tray of brownies! Unlike me, however, she has a gift with animals and volunteers at the Conservancy caring for injured wildlife.

God gave each of us the gift of doing some things well. As important as it is to know what those gifts are and to use them wisely, it’s just as important to know what our gifts aren’t! We’re not divine and there will always be some things we don’t do well, no matter how hard we try. When Paul said he’d become all things to all people, he meant he could find common ground with them and was sensitive to their needs, not that he could do all things for them. Moreover, when he said he could do all things through Christ, He wasn’t claiming to be a superman. He was speaking of the strength God gives us to faithfully endure the challenges of life. We can’t be all things to all people nor can we do all things for them. Trying to be Superman or Wonder Woman brings unnecessary stress to us and poor results to everyone else. Only God can do it all!

God has given each of us different ways to best serve Him and others. There are certain things, such as painting, public speaking, guitar playing, computer programming, teaching, and even baking, that some of us can do. There are a number of things, like gossiping, enabling, hating or belittling, that none of us should do. There also are specific things, like worshipping, praying and serving, that all of us can and should do.

Father, help us recognize both our gifts and limitations. Show us how to manage our talents in the best possible way to bring honor and glory to you.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function… Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. [Romans 12:4,6a (ESV)]

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: [1 Peter 4:10 (ESV)]

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