NO QUID PRO QUO

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

persicaria maculosa - redshankWe recently heard a great deal about quid pro quo, a Latin phrase which means “something given or received for something else.” Although every bribe is a quid pro quo, not every quid pro quo is a bribe and there’s nothing inherently wrong with giving something to get something in return. After all, a quid pro quo occurs every time we exchange money for goods at a store! When Jesus gave us what we know as the Golden Rule, however, He didn’t mean quid pro quo. He expects us to give while expecting nothing in return or pro bono, meaning “for the sake of the greater good.”

After quoting Matthew 7:12, another abundance exercise told me to “Let someone ahead of you in traffic.” When I received the task, it was high season here and the roads were clogged with snowbirds and spring breakers—all of whom seemed to have left their driving manners at home! Nevertheless, I willingly yielded the right of way in a roundabout to a driver who should have yielded to me.

Unfortunately, as people cope with the new normal of this pandemic, rather than the “Golden Rule,” a sort of “Me first!” mentality has set in, not just on the roads, but everywhere. Ignoring the government’s specific request to do their part in protecting the most vulnerable, spring breakers have packed restaurants, bars, and beaches while partying shoulder to shoulder en masse. Granted, the young are less likely to die from COVID-19, but they can pass it on to those at greater risk, including our first responders and health workers who selflessly put themselves at jeopardy for the greater good! It’s not just the young; in spite of requests not to hoard, store shelves are picked clean as people grab case after case of paper goods and soap. Sadly, along with every story of spirit and generosity, we find another one of people selfishly putting their wants above the good of their community with things like price gouging and excessive shipping fees. Some casinos, exempt from state orders, have irresponsibly chosen to remain open while equally irresponsible people are gathering there!

Even when it just entails yielding the right of way to another driver, doing unto others as we would have done to us is easier said than done. While extending grace to family or friend is relatively easy, extending it to strangers often depends on convenience, mood, or the possibility of quid pro quo. Jesus, however, tells us to love others as he loved us, which is sacrificially—expecting nothing in return—pro bono.

Sacrificial love entails far more than letting someone into traffic. While we need a generosity of spirit in all places and at all times, if ever there was a time we desperately need the Golden Rule, it is now! Our response to God’s grace must be to extend His grace to others, not because we benefit from it, but because we should. Rather than our good, let us consider the greater good! May His Spirit enable us to treat others as we want to be treated: with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

Nobody should seek their own advantage, but the other person’s instead. [1 Corinthians 10:24 (NTE)]

Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:3-4 (NTE)]

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HAUGHTY EYES

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. [Mattew 7:1-2 (NLT)]

peacockWhile I learned about international finance and Brexit at a women-only seminar, I also learned something more important by my reaction to two of the attendees. Their plumped up lips, wrinkle free faces, and curvaceous shapes indicated the work of a plastic surgeon and their perfect coifs and make-up caused me to wonder if they’d been professionally done that morning. Dressed from head-to toe in designer wear, it was obvious they shop at stores like Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, and Fendi rather than Kohl’s, T.J Maxx, or Old Navy. One woman’s long cardigan sported Gucci’s trademark red and green stripes and her purse, belt and shoes all displayed the designer’s gold double G logo. The other woman, with her very blond hair, heavy make-up, lavender rabbit fur vest, matching silk blouse, swanky jewelry, and glittery Lucite heels, looked like she belonged in an episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Granted, their appearance was over-the-top for a meeting that called for “business casual” but the women did nothing to justify my negative reaction to them. Later, a quick internet search told me that they run in a far different circle than do I and frequently attend local charity fundraisers (the kind where tickets range from $350 for lunch upwards to $1000 and more for dinner). While their lifestyle is significantly wealthier than mine, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. That they choose to spend money in a way that seems extravagant to me doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent, compassionate, generous, kind, or even devout Christians. For all I know, along with their affinity for designer clothes, they also tithe to the church, volunteer at the homeless shelter, and regularly go on mission trips!

I thought of Jesus’ words about judging others. I certainly didn’t want someone to judge my value based on my attire and I had no right to do the same with theirs. Then, realizing I would have been more accepting of someone arriving at that same meeting in jeans, scruffy sneakers, and sweatshirt, I recalled the Apostle James’ words about discrimination. Written to the early church, he told them not to show partiality to the rich. If it’s wrong to favor the rich over the poor, isn’t it as wrong to favor the poor over the rich or the ordinary over the flashy? Granted, James didn’t want the early church to show favoritism to the wealthy in hope of getting financial assistance and this situation was different. Nevertheless, his point was that prejudice and discrimination is wrong. The rich and poor have the same value to their Father in Heaven!

Self-righteous, I’d pridefully compared my modest attire with their showy display of wealth which, in their circle, probably isn’t showy at all! Other than their wealth, I really knew nothing about the women and yet I’d instantly viewed them as one-dimensional stereotypical “trophy wives” rather than individuals. I’d even shared catty comments with the woman beside me. While looking down on these two women instead of looking at them, I’d judged others without noticing the huge log of haughtiness in my own eyes! Although the Lord detests “haughty eyes,” [Prov. 6:16-17] I’d been looking through them and it was my haughty, arrogant, self-righteous eyes that caused me to belittle those women.

We shouldn’t judge people by their economic status any more than we should by their race, religion, gender, age, nationality, accent, politics, disability, appearance, or marital status. It is as wrong to fault the rich for their wealth as it is to discount the poor for their poverty. Everyone is our neighbor, a child of God, and someone to love.

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. [James 2:8-9 (NLT)]

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GIVE A WAVE

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. [Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronA man down the street has surrounded his home with security cameras pointed in every direction. I’m told that he’s an unpleasant old coot but I wouldn’t know; in all the years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen him. He has, however, managed to irk one neighbor enough that she salutes his cameras with her middle finger every time she passes by his house.

Anthropologist Desmond Morris claims the middle finger sign of rudeness is one of the oldest known insult gestures. Aristophanes wrote of the gesture in his play Clouds and the Romans called the middle finger the digitus impudicus or indecent finger. Sadly, in this day and age of rudeness, road rage, and irate neighbors, we frequently see it.

Several years ago, one of our pastors suggested that we give the “thumb’s up” gesture rather than the middle finger salute. He frequently repeated that thought until one day he misspoke and suggested the finger rather than the thumb! Popularized during World War II when pilots used it to signal ground crews their readiness for take-off, the “thumb’s up” gesture generally has a good connotation in English speaking countries. Unfortunately, it has a negative meaning in Greece, Russia, Sardinia, parts of West Africa and much of the Middle East. A full-fingered wave probably is a safer suggestion than thumb, especially when accompanied by a smile!

We all have moments when we’re angered or upset but, hopefully, we’re mature enough to refrain from giving that middle finger or yelling nasty words and escalating the situation. Nevertheless, it’s easy to mutter bad words to oneself, have hostile thoughts, and mentally give that rude gesture. After a reckless driver cut us off and nearly caused an accident, my husband growled angrily, “Here’s the thumb for you!” Although he refrained from a rude gesture, I gently reminded him that we’re not supposed to be thinking the finger when giving someone the thumb! Not doing the wrong thing is only half right; we also need to think and do the right one.

While Scripture never specifically refers to vulgar gestures, it does say a great deal about how we are to treat our neighbor and everyone is our neighbor—including the driver who cuts us off, the man who doesn’t clean up after his dog, the woman who pushes ahead of us in line, and the recluse down the street with his dozens of security cameras.

Not everyone who crosses our path is going to cross it nicely; nevertheless, there is no excuse for returning incivility with more of the same. Let us respond with grace and humility. Since we’re told to pray for our enemies, instead of merely refraining from nasty words and gestures, we could say a quick prayer for the person who’s offended us. While asking God to encourage our offender to improve both skills and attitude, we might want to ask Him to do some work on us, as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s give a friendly wave in actions, thoughts, and prayers!

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

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WHOSE TIME?

For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1 (VOICE)]

clockEcclesiastes tells us there is a right time for everything, Colossians and Ephesians tell us to use our time wisely, Proverbs warns about wasting time, James cautions that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, Corinthians warns us time is short and, readily admitting that his time and future are in God’s hands, David tells us to number our days. Nowhere does Scripture tell us how to have more time!

Time is precious and, like money, it can be given away. Unlike money, however, it can’t be saved for a rainy day, earned, found if lost, earn interest, grow when invested, or be replenished from a trust fund! Whether we use it wisely or not, once time has passed, it’s vanished forever!

I thought about time when my husband reminded me that I was to meet the church women for breakfast the following day. Having forgotten about the appointment, my initial reaction was a groan. I enjoy being with my church sisters: sharing, learning, laughing, encouraging, and loving one another. Nevertheless, I resented taking my time from a busy Monday to do it!

As God would have it, that morning’s reading took me to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and the words of the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Regarding the young man whose soul they hoped to capture, Screwtape writes: “Nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.” Those words described my reaction perfectly! Rather than seeing the blessing in fellowship, I’d seen only an intrusion on my time.

The devilish Screwtape instructs Wormwood to encourage the man’s false assumption that his time is a birthright and that every hour of every day belongs to him alone. Wormwood is to guide the man to consider interruptions of any kind as time that is stolen from him, work as time that is unduly taxed, and religious duties as a “generous donation” of his time.

Whether it was coincidence or the Holy Spirit’s intervention but Lewis’ words quickly caused an attitude adjustment regarding what I thought of as “my” time. Even the demonic Screwtape recognized that time is a gift that can’t be owned. He points out to Wormwood that, just as a man can’t hold title to the sun or moon, he can’t be the owner of time. We don’t own the heavens, church, friends, family, God, or our very lives and our time (whether an hour, a day, or a lifetime) does not belong to us. Any time with which we’re blessed belongs to God; He’s just allowing us to use a little bit of it. Rather than owners of our time, we are but stewards of His! Remembering that every day is the Lord’s day, let us always use His time to His honor and glory.

I give the moments of my life over to You, Eternal One. [Psalm 31:15 (VOICE)]

Everything and everyone under heaven is Mine! [Job 41:11b (VOICE)]

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NEVER THE EASY WAY

No one who is tempted should ever be confused and say that God is testing him. The One who created us is free from evil and can’t be tempted, so He doesn’t tempt anyone. [James 1:13 (VOICE)]

When the Apostle James tells us that God can’t be tempted by evil, we wonder how Jesus could be tempted to sin while in the wilderness. Christians agree that Jesus never sinned but some question whether He actually could. They hold the “impeccability” position: because Jesus was God, sin was impossible and He couldn’t have been tempted. Others hold the “peccability” position: because Jesus was a man, he could sin and was tempted. Still others, recognizing His dual nature, say that, as a man, Jesus could be tempted to sin but, as a divinity, He couldn’t.

Jesus was both God and man in one person. Rather than ceasing to be God while on earth, He added humanity to His being. At the same time, He was both divine and mortal, impeccable and peccable, immortal and mortal, infinite and finite. He didn’t have a multiple personality disorder with dueling personas; His fully divine nature was united in perfect harmony with his fully human one. While Jesus’ human nature was tempted by evil, His divine nature was not. Nevertheless, the temptation was real!

When in the wilderness, Satan tempted the hungry Jesus to make bread from stones. As the One who later fed a multitude with a boy’s lunch, we know Jesus could easily have done it; but He didn’t. Satan then tempted Jesus to prove himself by jumping off the highest point of the Temple. We know that the One who walked on water and passed unseen through an angry mob didn’t need angels to bring Him to safety. Jesus could have transported Himself safely to the ground effortlessly; but He didn’t. Finally, Satan tempted Jesus by offering Him kingdoms and glory if only He’d worship the enemy. We know the One who returned the dead to life, healed the sick, and turned water into wine didn’t need Satan to give Him kingdoms and glory. With a snap of His fingers, the One who was there at creation was capable of performing such an extraordinary spectacle that all of Jerusalem would have knelt immediately in worship; but He didn’t. When I look at those temptations, I see Satan tempting the Jesus to use His divine power to take the easy way out of the struggle and suffering that lay in His future as a man.

Satan left Jesus after that but his departure was temporary. He lay in wait for the next opportunity and I suspect he frequently tempted Jesus to take the easy way. As God, Jesus could be anywhere He wanted but, as a man, He had to walk to get there. God never gets tired, hungry, or thirsty but Jesus the man did When we look at the miracles done by Jesus, there was a unique purpose to each one and, while they helped to establish His identity, none were done to make His life easier. He deliberately chose to meet the challenges of life as a vulnerable human not an invincible God. Jesus never took a shortcut as God!

Satan is merely a fallen angel and was no match for the divine nature of Jesus. Satan, however, can overpower man and it was as a man that Jesus had to defeat him! Satan wanted to prove that no man could be obedient to God’s will but, by living as a man and resisting temptation, Jesus did just that. Out of love for us, Jesus defeated Satan by living sinlessly as a man and by dying as a man at Calvary.

Though He was in the form of God, He chose not to cling to equality with God; But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new; a servant in form and a man indeed. The very likeness of humanity, He humbled Himself, obedient to death—a merciless death on the cross! [Philippians 2:6-8 (VOICE)]

For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our weaknesses and flaws. He has already been tested in every way that we are tested; but He emerged victorious, without failing God. [Hebrews 4:15 (VOICE)]

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FORTY DAYS

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. [Matthew 4:1-2 (NLT)]

Moses Fountain - Bern SwitzerlandIn Scripture, the number forty often appeared in the context of preparation, judgment, or testing. The rain poured down upon Noah for forty days and nights. After spending forty years in Egypt and another forty as a shepherd, Moses twice spent forty days with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The Israelite scouts spent forty days exploring the land of Canaan and, because the people lost heart and rebelled at their report, they spent an extra forty years wandering the wilderness (one year for each day the men explored). Jonah warned Nineveh their destruction would take place in forty days, Ezekiel lay on his right side for forty days because of Judah’s sins and, before being slain by David, Goliath taunted Saul’s army for forty days.

The number forty has significance in the life of Jesus, as well. After His baptism by John, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of testing and, after His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days. Just because the number forty frequently appears in the context of trials, however, does not mean that forty is merely symbolic. Remembering that God is the One who chose the time, forty days probably means forty days.

Although people like David, John the Baptist, and Moses spent a time of testing in the wilderness, we wonder why Jesus, the son of God, would have to undergo a period of testing before beginning His ministry. Moreover, we wonder how Jesus, being God in flesh, could be tempted. Although both wholly God and wholly man, it was Jesus the man who grew, walked, talked, and was crucified for our sins, and it was Jesus the man who demonstrated His humanity by undergoing temptation. Obedience really isn’t obedience if disobedience is impossible and it’s impossible for our good God to sin. As God, Jesus couldn’t be tempted to sin but, as a man, He could. The sinless Lamb of God had to remain sinless, not as God, but as man and out of obedience to God the Father.

It’s how Jesus resisted temptation that is most telling. As God, he easily could have rebuked Satan and sent him scampering with a wave of His hand. As a man, however, Jesus relied on Scripture to defeat the evil one. God has provided us with His word as a way to withstand temptation. Of course, we have to know His word before we can use it against the enemy! I suppose we could spend the next forty days doing just that!

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)]

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