LITTLE THINGS WITH LOVE

Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. [Isaiah 58:10 (TLB)]

food bankWhile tucking toothbrushes, dental floss, Band-Aids, and soap into shoeboxes already filled with pencils, notebooks, markers, tee-shirts, and toys, I thanked God, not just for the privilege of giving, but also that basic items like these are not a luxury in my world. In many parts of the world, however, they are! For example, our pastor just returned from Cuba where a sample-size tube of toothpaste costs the equivalent of $5 and is so sparingly squeezed that it lasts a family of four one month. The gifts he’d packed in his suitcase were simple drugstore items such as toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, and pain relievers, but the people who received those basics were as appreciative as if he’d delivered a treasure chest of gold and diamonds.

Dwight Moody once told of a man at sea who was ill and confined to his cabin. Hearing that a sailor had fallen overboard and not knowing what he could do to help, the man picked up his light and held it against the port-hole. Upon hearing that the sailor had been rescued, the man returned to his bunk. When walking on the deck after his recovery, this gentleman met the fellow who’d fallen overboard that night. Recounting the frightening episode, the sailor said he’d been sure no one would see him in the darkness as he desperately tried to stay afloat in the churning waves. But, just as he started to go down for what he was sure was the last time, a light from out of a port-hole shone on him; finally seeing the drowning sailor, a man caught his hand and pulled him into the life-boat.

Our pastor’s suitcase of basics and the clothes he and his wife left behind in Cuba can’t stop the blackouts, ease the nation’s food shortages, or shorten the queues waiting for a bus or a few gallons of gas. The Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes our church filled won’t change governments, provide jobs, or feed the hungry. The meals packed for food banks, clothes donated to resale shops, gifts purchased for strangers whose names hang on a giving tree, food served at a homeless shelter, change dropped into the bell ringers’ buckets, checks written to the Salvation Army, or the animal purchased for Heifer International won’t solve the world’s problems. Nevertheless, while we can’t change the world, we all can do our part to change the world for someone, even if it’s just with a toothbrush or a tube of toothpaste!

“Let us take the torch of salvation and go into these dark homes and hold up Christ to the people as the Savior of the world,” said Moody as he finished his story of the light in the port-hole. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” were the words of Mother Teresa. Few, if any, of us will pull a drowning sailor from the sea and we’re not likely to win a Nobel Peace Prize for our humanitarian efforts. Nevertheless, in our own small ways, we each can make a difference by shining a light for those in despair. Let us be the light that brings Christ’s love into the world!

You are the world’s light—a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (TLB)]

Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (TLB)]

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NOT KEEPING MY PROMISE

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. [2 Corinthians 5:10-11 (ESV)]

Yesterday, I wrote about my infant nephew’s baptism at my mother’s hospital bedside. Because she was at death’s door, everything was arranged in a rush; at fifteen, I was recruited as the baby’s Godmother (or sponsor in Baptism).

As his Godmother, I made three promises for my nephew: that he would “renounce the devil and all his works…believe all of the Articles of the Christian Faith and…keep God’s holy will and commandments.” In a perfect world, he would have made those same promises again when he was old enough to personally know Jesus. But the world isn’t perfect and he didn’t.

That same day, as his Godmother, I made a promise of my own: I would make sure he learned the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and “all the other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.” Sometimes promises are easier said than done and I did not keep my promise any better than did my nephew his. I can make all sorts of excuses for my failure: my youth at the time, that we’ve always had at least 1,000 miles separating us, and that I have only seen him a handful of times in his 57 years. Nevertheless, I did not try to keep those promises and I will answer to God for my failure.

When I stand at God’s judgment seat, my sins will not be an issue; they already have been forgiven and my ticket to heaven is secure. But I will be asked to give an accounting for what I have done (and failed to do) since becoming a believer. I squandered my opportunity, small as it was, to share God’s love and the good news of the Gospel with my nephew. I can’t say that anything I could have done would have made a difference in his troubled life but I should have tried. That weighs heavy on my heart—not because I may miss out on some heavenly reward, but because I missed an opportunity to be a disciple of Christ.

When believers stand before God, we will be judged. Since we each have been uniquely created and gifted, my evaluation will not be the same as yours; nevertheless, each one of us will give an accounting of ourselves. What did we do with the spiritual light we had, what did we do with the opportunities given to us, and what did we do with the time, talents, and property God entrusted to us?

My nephew is part of the reason I support recovery ministries as well as programs serving people who are homeless or mentally ill. I continue writing these devotions as a way of atoning for not keeping the promise I made 57 years ago. Older, wiser, and having more light, opportunity, time and ability, more is expected of me now. As for my nephew, I continue to pray for God’s protection, grace, and mercy on him. As for us, I pray that we will make good use of all that God has given us and that through our words and deeds we will live and teach the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and “all the other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.”

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. [Romans 12:6 (ESV)]

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. [Luke 12:48b (ESV)]

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WORLD KINDNESS DAY

Don’t ever forget kindness and truth. Wear them like a necklace. Write them on your heart as if on a tablet. Then you will be respected and will please both God and people. [Proverbs 3:3-4 (NCV)]

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. [Leo Buscaglia]

world kindnessThe mission of the World Kindness Movement (WKM) is to “inspire individuals and connect nations to create a kinder world.” Having no political or religious affiliations, the WKM is an international coalition of like-minded kindness NGOs (non-governmental organizations typically set up to address a social or political issue). Since its introduction in 1998, “World Kindness Day” has been observed every November 13. The purpose of this day is to “highlight good deeds in the community because kindness is the common thread that unites us all.”

When I looked at one kindness NGO website, it asked participants to pledge a good deed for today. Another site, hoping to make kindness a norm, made a series of suggestions, not just for November 13, but for every day! They suggested things like sharing a compliment or letting someone merge into your lane with a smile and a wave (and I don’t think they were suggesting using your middle finger in that wave). Other sites’ suggestions for Kindness Day included extra big hugs, three random acts of kindness, writing a thank you note, spending ten minutes cleaning up a park or playground, sending flowers to a friend, wheeling out your neighbor’s trash bin, visiting with someone who’s lonely, hiding a love note in that special someone’s purse or pocket, providing donuts to your co-workers, and bringing cookies to a neighbor. In this day and age, I’d be rather cautious about those extra big hugs unless you’re absolutely sure they’d be welcome, but the other ideas are all good. What bothers me is that we seem to need a day dedicated to kindness and a list of ways to do it. As Christians, shouldn’t kindness be the norm? After all, kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and we all should be bearing His fruit!

While working on this devotion, I came across a recent “Pearls before Swine” comic (by Stephan Pastis). In the first frame, Pig is adding the 37th hash mark to his whiteboard list of “Badness in the World.” In the next frames, he’s seen walking into the city and then down a dark alley where he gives money to a ragged man sitting by a trash can. In the final frame, we again see Pig’s whiteboard. While it still has 37 marks in the “Badness” column, a “Goodness” column has been added. Pig confides to his friend Goat, “I’ll even this thing yet.” “Good for you, Pig!” I thought, “We can make a difference.”

Curious about the comic strip, I did a little research. Pig’s creator, Stephan Pastis, describes him as a “gentle, sweet and naïve soul…a bit slow-witted…a living rebuttal to those people who say that swine are intelligent animals.” Based on his description of Pig, I don’t know if Pastis was encouraging acts of kindness or was saying that only the dim-witted think they’ll ever be able to change the world!

Perhaps I’m being as naïve and gullible as Pig, but I truly believe that kindness can make a difference. As individual Christians, while we may not be able to change the world, we can change the world for someone. Moreover, when we work together, we can help change the world for many! When Jesus told us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, He also told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. [Mark 12:30-31] In short, He told us to be kind—every day and in every way. We don’t need to make a pledge to do a good deed today; as the hands and feet of Jesus, we should be doing good deeds all day, every day! Let’s put some more hash marks on Pig’s “Goodness” list!

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. [Teresa of Avila]

We show we are servants of God by our pure lives, our understanding, patience, and kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by true love, by speaking the truth, and by God’s power. [2 Corinthians 6:6 (NCV)]

God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive each other. [Colossians 3:12-13a (NCV)]

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DID THEY KNOW?

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:5 (NLT)]

Twenty-one of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are letters (epistles) written by Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude. While the gospels tell us about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the epistles are letters of instruction, clarification, encouragement and, sometimes, caution to the new Christian community. I can’t help but wonder if those early letter writers realized the scope of their writing. Did they have any idea how fast and wide Christianity would spread? Did they envision how many people would come to know both their names and words? While they expected their messages to be read aloud to the members of the 1st century church, did they even dare hope that 2,000 years later their letters still would be read aloud regularly in many churches, that some of their words would even be used in Christian liturgy, or that people around the world would gather together to study their messages?

The God-inspired words of those men live today and still apply to us. While the issues we face are different than those in the 1st century, the underlying problems and concerns remain the same: false doctrine, dissension, immorality, and even persecution. We are still called to be godly, avoid foolish disputes, love one another, preach Christ to the world, and walk in a manner worthy of Jesus. We never will outgrow the need to understand doctrine and its application to our lives.

The story is told of a frail old man planting seeds in a garden. A passerby stopped to chat and the old gardener offered him a mango from one of his trees. When asked what he was planting, the aged man replied more mango trees. “But why bother?” asked the man. “It will be fifteen years before they produce a full crop and you’ll not live to see that day.” Pausing from his work, the gardener replied that the mango he gave the stranger was from a tree his grandfather had planted more than fifty years earlier. He was now planting trees for his grandchildren to enjoy long after his death.

Although they saw the church expand, the epistles’ writers never lived long enough to see the magnitude of their work. They did, however, know the promises of God: if they abided in Him, their work would bear fruit and His church would be built. The seeds they planted with their letters continue to bear fruit today.

Let us remember that, like the writers of the epistles (and the old man in the story), we should be committed to planting the seeds of faith, even though we may not see them bear fruit. It’s been said that, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Indeed, it is.

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace. [Colossians 1:6 (NLT)]

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TWO LISTS

coreopsis-and-cowpen daisyLive wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. [Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)]

Last Friday, on All Saints’ Day, I asked who we would acknowledge in our spiritual memoir. Who were the people who helped us find our way to Jesus? In my morning Bible study, we actually wrote lists of the people who were our champions of faith. On her long list, Rachel wrote the name of one special teacher all in caps: MRS. HART. Rachel described her as a woman who seemed to exude Christian joy out of every pore of her body. The woman’s life wasn’t easy; a widow, she’d had her share of heartbreak and disappointment (especially when her daughter rejected Jesus and became a Buddhist). Nevertheless, in all circumstances, Mrs. Hart was filled with the joy of the Lord. One day she confidently declared, “I have a lot of questions for God and I’m looking forward to the day when I come face to face with him and can get some answers!” Until the older woman said that, it had never occurred to Rachel that, as a believer, one day she, too, would come face to face with God. It was then that she began to understand the reason for Mrs. Hart’s joy.

Among others on my list, I named my mother, the pastor at our mountain church who challenged his congregation to pray, a neighbor who ministered to prisoners and truly knew who the “least of these” were, and Marilyn, one of my college roommates, who showed me what it was like to live biblically in a non-biblical world. Not remembering their names, I also listed “the Campus Crusade couple.” Offering dinner and the gospel on Sunday nights, they opened their home and hearts to young searchers and believers on my campus. They never condemned me for my failings or pushed me to make a decision; they simply helped me find my way to a relationship with Jesus.

One of the women in class said she considered writing a second list on the opposite side of the page. This list would be for those “Christians” who’d turned her away from God. On it would be the nuns who’d spoken of love, forgiveness and compassion while ruthlessly inflicting verbal and corporal punishment on their students, the chuch-going parents who wouldn’t allow their children to play with her because her father was an ex-con, and the priest who called her “Honey” and told her to sit on his lap. While it gave her a sense of closure to see his name (along with nearly 40 others) in the paper last year, she wondered how many people had turned from Jesus because of behavior like his. One woman added that the same name could appear on both lists. When the pastor who had opened her eyes to the gospel message deceived his congregation and slandered his accusers, she questioned all she’d come to believe. Eventually, for both of these women, it was through other people’s sincere Christian examples of truth, love, forgiveness, and compassion that they realized it was Satan, not the church, who was their true enemy—with hypocrisy, judgmentalism, and abuse of trust and power being his weapons of choice!

If our names were to occur on someone’s list, we’d want to be recorded in the column of God’s ambassadors rather than the one of His adversaries. The difference wouldn’t be that one column was sinless and the other sinful. All of those who guided me on my journey were sinners (as am I) and the joyful Mrs. Hart was a sinner, as well. It’s just that none of them ever pretended they weren’t; they never hid behind a “holier than thou” façade. As imperfect as they were, they were living evidence of God’s work. His truth, mercy, grace, and unlimited love were evident in their walk and the lives they touched were better for it. Rather than just telling me about God with their words, they showed Him to me with their actions and brought His light to the dark corners of my heart.

Heavenly Father, guide us on our walk so that we never deliberately or accidentally cause someone to reject the gospel message. May we always be Christ’s ambassadors by bringing light to the world and glory to you.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. [Brennan Manning]

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:16 (NLT)]

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 5:20 (NLT)]

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APOLOGIA

Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. [1 Peter 3:15 (RSV)]

red-shouldered hawkAlthough the word “apologetics” sounds a bit like acknowledging guilt or expressing remorse, it isn’t. In 1 Peter 3:15, we first find its use when Peter tells the persecuted Christians in Asia Minor to be ready to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks for a reason for their hope. In a nutshell, that one verse is what Christian apologetics is about: the communication of the evidence and reasons that Christianity is true. Of course, Peter adds that this must be done with gentleness and respect and his words hold true today.

Nevertheless, there are some things, done by those who claimed to be Christians, for which we, as the body of Christ, should apologize. The most obvious issue is that of sexual abuse and the failure of the church to protect its most vulnerable by acknowledging and addressing the issue. Going back nearly one thousand years, we also have the Crusades (1096-1291) when countless Jews and Muslims were slaughtered in the name of Christ. Calling for the first crusade, Pope Urban II said killing non-Christians wasn’t a sin and further distorted the gospel message by reassuring the crusaders that it would win remission for their sins! Consider the Inquisition, beginning in the 12th century and continuing for hundreds of years, when people were jailed, tortured, and even murdered as punishment for anything considered heretical. Ignoring the command to love our enemies, Pope Innocent III announced that anyone whose views conflicted with church dogma “must be burned without pity.” During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were forced into ghettos and more than 32,000 people were executed.

The Protestant Reformation pitted Christian against Christian. In contradiction to Paul’s command to live in harmony with one another, Christian hands shed Christian blood in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace! Catholics and Lutherans persecuted one another, Lutherans and Calvinists harassed each other, and everyone seemed to attack the Anabaptists. More than eight million people died as a result of the Thirty Years War alone. Some say that’s ancient history; nevertheless, it is our history!

Even the Reformation’s hero, Martin Luther, did his share to further hate when, in 1543, he wrote The Jews and Their Lies. Calling Jews a “miserable and accursed people,” Luther accused them of being “nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury.” There’s nothing of Christ in those false and hateful words. Unfortunately, some of his rhetoric was used to justify Nazi ideology and is still being used by anti-Semites today.

Why do I bring up these perversions of Christ’s message? If we hope to truly defend our faith, we must be ready to acknowledge (and apologize) for our failings. When Luther’s virulent diatribe was first pointed out to me by an unbeliever, I was dumb-founded; totally unprepared, I had no response. If you’re like me, you forgot most of the Middle Ages as soon as you passed World History and yet the Crusades and the religious wars of that time are some of the most frequent arguments used against Christianity. Granted, all of Christianity can’t be blamed for the actions of some people any more than all Muslims can be blamed for the actions of Islamic terrorists. Nevertheless, when the name of Christ has been exploited, blasphemed, or abused by people claiming to be His followers, we must be prepared with an answer to people’s questions and accusations. It seems that there may be times in apologetics when we just might need to offer an apology.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. [1 Corinthians 12:26-27 (RSV)]

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