IT’S ABOUT TODAY

The thief only comes to steal, and kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life – yes, and have it full to overflowing. [John 10:10 (NTE)]

When I wrote about my friend Pat yesterday, I didn’t want to imply that the only thing non-believers miss is eternal life. The saddest part of being a non-believer (or waiting until the eleventh hour to believe), is foregoing the abundance of life promised by Jesus while we live on this side of the grass.

When we choose to believe in Jesus, our lives are transformed, renewed, and healed; they become “full to overflowing” right now! Sometimes, we overlook that point when we share our faith. Not being a Christian is more than missing the assurance that we’ll dwell in the house of the Lord forever; it means not having Christ live in our house today!

Evangelism messages concentrating on hellfire, brimstone, and the afterlife miss the point that failing to believe in Jesus means we forego the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in this lifetime. We don’t experience salvation when our soul leaves our body; it comes when the Holy Spirit enters our soul! Not following Jesus isn’t just losing the assurance of God’s forgiveness of our sins; it’s passing up the Spirit’s power that enables us to forgive the sins of others.

Whether believer or not, most of us can resist the temptation to steal or kill but we desperately need God’s power when it comes to resisting those everyday temptations of negativity, envy, pride, arrogance, stubbornness, laziness, impatience, anger, and fear. When God moves in, we experience the Fruit of the Spirit and, with His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we’re not helpless when it comes to temptation. While we’re far from perfect, we’re far better people than we were before Christ entered our lives!

The non-believer doesn’t have the stability that comes from faith in God and His plan. Christ’s followers are never at the mercy of their circumstances. When the storms come and the waves toss our boat, we know Jesus is there with us and will calm the storm (or teach us to swim). Like the Apostle Paul, Christ’s followers can find joy in all circumstances. We have confidence that God will provide our everyday needs—whether it is strength, courage, wisdom, or just our daily bread. Sadly, a non-believer foregoes the fullness that comes from being part of a faith community: the joy of corporate worship and having meaningful relationships with other believers. Being a Christ follower brings us a sense of purpose because, in God’s world, there’s always something to do! All of that, along with eternal life, is missed by the non-believer.

Following Jesus isn’t just about going to live with God some day in the future; it’s about God coming to live in us right now! It’s about experiencing the peace and joy that comes with the assurance that our loving God is at large and in charge! Let us remember to speak of the here and now as well as the hereafter when we speak to others about following Jesus.

Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate! Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. [Philippians 4:4-7 (NTE)]

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FINAL HOURS

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” [John 3:3 (NLT)]

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying. [Martin Luther]

ColumbineWhen Pat died, it was difficult to find words of comfort for her grieving husband. A non-believer, he has no faith in Jesus, no understanding of the soul, no hope of eternity, and no anticipation of Christ’s return. Distance and timing kept me from attending Pat’s Celebration of Life and, because we rarely saw one another, I’m not sure I felt her absence until today when I received a letter from her husband. With the letter was a bookmark made for her Celebration of Life. It had her picture and some sweet words about memories filling our hearts, time healing our souls, and the peace of knowing there’s one more angel in heaven. To a non-believer, those words may be comforting but, to me, they were empty (along with being theologically incorrect). I’ve never understood how non-believers find it so easy to believe in heaven and angels but so hard to believe in judgment, hell, God, or Jesus.

As difficult as I found it to find comforting words for Pat’s husband, I’m not finding words in Scripture that bring much comfort to me. Sadly, Pat seemed to share her husband’s lack of faith in Jesus. Although we grew up together, our lives went in different directions when I was fifteen and we lived more than 1,000 miles apart as adults. Except for an occasional wedding or funeral, our contact consisted mostly of emails, a shared interest in genealogy, a few phone calls, and Christmas cards.

Growing up, we attended the same church and I know Pat was baptized as an infant; that, however, doesn’t mean she was saved. Regardless of the age or the method, Baptism isn’t what saves us. We are saved by a proclamation of faith in Jesus. While she may have proclaimed her outrage at cold water sprinkled on her head, that wasn’t a statement of faith.

We both were confirmed in eighth grade but, like infant Baptism, Confirmation has no Biblical basis. At the time, Pat reaffirmed the vows her Baptismal sponsors made for her, but I suspect that was more about doing what was expected and getting a new white dress and gifts than declaring her undying faith in the work and words of Jesus. In spite of our Confirmation classes, I don’t think either of us truly understood the ritual’s meaning or knew what a commitment to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior really meant.

Undoubtedly, Pat was a good person but “Christian” is not an adjective nor is it a synonym for good. If good works were all it took for eternal life, Jesus’ death upon the cross wouldn’t have been necessary. Salvation is more than going to church, being raised in a Christian family, a sprinkle of water, a Bishop laying his hands on your head, a prayer, giving to charity, calling yourself a Christian, or even saying you’ve made a decision; it is becoming a new person in Christ. Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, involves putting our entire faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus, finding a new life in Him, and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our lives.

Pat knew of my faith but let me know that Jesus was off limits when it came to our communications. Nevertheless, I look at that bookmark with the picture of her smiling face and wish I’d tried harder. If Pat didn’t do so earlier, I hope that, in her final days, she took God up on his offer of salvation. Waiting until the eleventh hour, however, is dangerous; after all, we might die at 10:30!

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. [Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)]

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NECESSITIES

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! [Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)]

fireweedGames seem to be a requirement at wedding and baby showers and one such game is a purse scavenger hunt. Guests are given a list of items and the woman whose handbag contains the most of them is the winner. After playing it, I was amazed at the variety of articles beyond wallet, lipstick, tissues, and gum women pack into their purses.

Out of curiosity, I Googled what the well-packed purse should contain to be prepared for every situation. Combining the lists from the first two sites consulted, I’d need to carry 26 items. If I packed all of that in my purse, I’d need the recommended three zippered pouches to keep everything organized!

Even without handbags, men manage to carry things like handkerchiefs, pill cases, toothpicks, combs, Swiss Army knives, keys, cell phones, and overstuffed wallets. When researching what are considered a man’s necessities, the first site listed ten items and the next added six additional ones. Perhaps that’s why I’m seeing so many men carrying messenger bags and backpacks.

Looking at all the essentials these various sites listed, I wondered about the items a Christian brings with him or her when starting the day. More important than all the things we cram into our handbags or pockets, we need to remember the Fruit of the Spirit. I’d rather lose an earring because I don’t have an extra earring back than lose my temper because I forgot to bring along self-control! In a pinch, we’re more likely to need patience than a flask or stain-erasing pen. Faithfulness is more important that having a bit of shine on one’s nose, joy makes us more attractive than any lipstick, and a gentle word may save the day better than a safety pin. While I’d rather not have to choose, I’d prefer being a good person with bad breath or a kind one with body odor than a cold-hearted or unkind person who smells like cinnamon gum, peppermint or rose petal deodorant. An atmosphere of love is far more pleasant than the aroma from perfume or after shave and the peace of God is far more essential than even a flashlight or Ibuprofen!

God’s wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s guidance take less room and cover more situations than the multitask key ring that includes a pry bar and both flat-head and Phillips-head screwdrivers. We don’t need ear buds to hear God’s voice or a flash drive to keep His word in our hearts. People shouldn’t need our business card to know we are Christ’s followers and, unless we’re hiking in the back woods or expecting to light birthday candles soon, there is no need for a lighter or matches; we carry the light of Christ!

What we have in our hearts is far more important than what we carry in our purses or pack in our pockets. What are your essentials for the day?

Jesus spoke to them again. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “People who follow me won’t go around in the dark; they’ll have the light of life!” [John 8:12 (NTE)]

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LEADING THE HERD

sheepDo not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Come to your right mind, and sin no more. [1 Corinthians 15:33-34 (RSV)]

You’ve probably heard of herd mentality or herd behavior: when people’s natural desire to be part of the crowd affects their decisions. When herd behavior occurs, rather than relying on their own judgment, values, or natural instinct, people allow themselves to be influenced by the behavior of those around them. While copying what others are doing can be useful at times (it gets our garbage out the right nights), challenges arise when our personal beliefs contradict what the crowd is doing.

A few years ago, when we were in Chicago, my husband wanted to purchase his favorite cheddar/caramel popcorn mix at Garrett’s. While he waited in line inside the crowded store, I remained outside. The queue of customers eventually extended out the door and partway down the street. When a couple visiting from France asked me why people were waiting, my reply of popcorn surprised them. Telling me they could understand lining up for chocolate or ice cream but certainly not popcorn, I expected they’d continue walking. Instead, they decided to follow the herd and joined the long line.

Even though that couple weren’t fans of popcorn, they joined the herd, but do we only follow the herd when there are more of them than us? According to an experiment done in 2008 at Leeds University, the answer is no. 200 subjects were told to walk in a totally random path around a large hall without communicating with one another in any way. Unknown to them, however, a group of walkers had been given detailed instructions on where to walk. In a short time, the “random” walkers started following the ones who seemed to know where they were going and a long snake-like line formed. When the experiment was over, those “random” walkers admitted not realizing that they’d become followers. The researchers found that it took only 5% of the people to walk purposefully to get the other 95% to follow. Apparently humans, like sheep and birds, will subconsciously gather in flocks and follow a minority if that minority appears to know what they’re doing!

Scripture warns that bad company can corrupt good character but, if we consider herd behavior, could good company improve bad character? Believing their findings could be used when planning traffic flow in emergencies and crisis situations, the Leeds’ researchers called the people who were followed “informed individuals.” The world appears to be in crisis and, as Christ’s followers, we are the “informed individuals.” Could this be our call to lead the herd?

Jesus left His church in the hands of just a few followers and yet there were over 3,000 believers by the first Pentecost and the church continued to grow rapidly. In those early years, Christianity was illegal, believers were persecuted, and there were no church buildings, public ceremonies, famed evangelists, or mass media. Nevertheless, the church steadily expanded in the first 300 years. It spread because people saw the lives of Christ’s followers: that Christians walked with a sense of purpose in a different and better way. Knowing the route to take, the informed minority led the herd to Jesus. Do we walk as “informed individuals” or like someone with a bumper sticker reading, “Don’t follow me—I’m lost, too!”  Let our lights shine brightly that we might lead the way to the Lord!

We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause. [Justin Martyr describing Christians to Emperor Antoninus Pius in 153 AD]

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:14-16 (RSV)]

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. [Philippians 2:14-15 (RSV)]

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BEING AN INSTRUMENT

tiger swallowtail butterflyBlessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NIV)]

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

We’ve come to know this prayer as “The Prayer of St. Francis” and usually attribute it to Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the founder of the Franciscan religious orders. The patron saint of ecology and animals, Francis often is portrayed surrounded by animals. Stories first recorded by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century tell of the gentle man taming a wolf that had been terrorizing the town and preaching to the birds, rabbits, and fish (who both listened and obeyed).

Francis, however, was much more than a man who loved animals; he loved Jesus above all things, preached a gospel of simplicity, repentance, and radical obedience to Christ’s teaching, and put into practice the gospel life he preached. His contemporaries claimed that Francis lived out the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone other than the One who originally spoke those words. It’s easy to see how this prayer might have been penned by this godly man who endeavored to have the mind of Christ, but its origins are more recent.

Originally written in French and titled “A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass,” the prayer was published anonymously in 1912 in a small French Catholic magazine. In 1915, a French marquis sent the prayer to Pope Benedict XV and, in 1916, it appeared in Italian in L’Osservatore Romano (the Vatican’s daily newspaper). In 1920, titled “Prayer for Peace,” its original French translation was printed on the back of a prayer card bearing the image of St. Francis. The prayer circulated through Europe and, in 1927, it was attributed to St. Francis in print by French Protestants. Translated into English in 1936, the prayer was widely disseminated and, wherever it went, the name of St. Francis went with it.

This peace prayer became popular in an era not much different from ours. We may be able to travel from New York to London in seven hours rather than five days but we still are without peace! In spite of advances in technology, science, communication, medicine, and transportation we continue to have wars, financial disparity, social inequality, prejudice, injustice, unemployment, poverty, and even a global pandemic. We desperately need to pray for peace today as much as they did a century ago!

The author of this prayer asked to be an instrument—a tool, implement, or conduit—of peace. He continued with the actions of sowing (not gathering) love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy. Rather than receiving consolation, understanding and love, he sought to console, understand, and love others and then finished with the acts of giving and pardoning. His prayer reminds us that it is the peace makers, not the peace experiencers, Jesus said would be called the children of God! Being a peace maker takes us out of our comfort zones and into the territory of conflict resolution, relationship restoration, and change. Yet, we can’t resolve, restore or change anything if we are part of the problem! What seeds are we sowing? Are we seeking to console, understand, and love? Are we willing to give and forgive? Let us be peace makers and instruments of peace!

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. [Psalm 34:14 (NIV)]

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy. [Hebrews 12:14a (NIV)]

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HE “HAD” TO GO THAT WAY (John 4:1-42 – Part 2)

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. [Colossians 3:11 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronJerusalem and Samaria may only have been about 40 miles apart but centuries of hostility separated them. Both politics and religion alienated the Jews from the Samaritans—much as they did Catholics from Protestants in Northern Ireland during the violence plagued decades of The Troubles. Because of the enmity between the people, even though the shortest path from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria, most Jews detoured east to avoid Samaria entirely. John 4:4, however, tells us that Jesus “had to” pass through Samaria. The word used was edei meaning “it was necessary.” Why?

We certainly know Jesus didn’t take that shortcut through Samaria because He was in a hurry. After meeting the woman at Jacob’s well, He lingered there for two more days. It would seem that route was necessary because Jesus and the disciples had a divine appointment in the Samaritan village of Sychar. The appointment wasn’t just with the woman but also with the townspeople who would hear His message and come to believe.

While Jesus rested at the well, the disciples went into town to buy food. Because the gospels aren’t in chronological order, we don’t know if this happened before or after another Samaritan village had spurned the disciples and James and John had suggested raining fire upon it. [Luke 9:53] This time, however, the Samaritans welcomed them. After the disciples successfully obtained food, the village begged Jesus and His men to stay. That divine appointment clearly prepared the disciples for the command Jesus later gave at His ascension: “You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” [Acts 1:8] Did that divine appointment also include a valuable lesson about not judging an entire people by the bad actions of a few?

Whether it’s because of politics, history, language, race, religion, ethnicity, past grievances, or simply because we don’t know them, we tend to dislike people who are different from us. Thinking in terms of “them” and “us” we define others by our differences. Perhaps it’s time to start with our similarities: we all are children of God! We’re told to love our enemies but how can we do that if we don’t know them?  Animosity begins someplace but, then again, so does relationship. Maybe we’ll find “they” aren’t our enemies at all!

The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend. [F.F. Bruce]

But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. [Luke 6:27-31 (NLT)]

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