CARPE DIEM – THE NEW YEAR

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

Hibiscus trionum - Flower-of-an-Hour
Several years ago, a young woman with Parkinson’s told me, “Every day I wake up, I realize that I’m the best I ever will be and it’s only downhill from here.” Rather than complaining, she was explaining how that knowledge made her determined to seize and delight in each day. Unlike her, I’m not suffering from a degenerative disease (other than age); nevertheless, her words continue to haunt me. No matter how healthy or happy we may (or may not) be today, we have no guarantee that tomorrow will be any better. Life is precarious and our tomorrows are uncertain. Yet, we so often squander the hours and days we’re given.

We regularly called a friend whose remaining time was counted in weeks. Having exhausted all treatment options, he was painfully aware of being on a steep downhill run. Like the woman with Parkinson’s, however, he refused to let that knowledge steal his joy in the present. In fact, his awareness of life’s fragility seemed to give him more appreciation of every moment with which God blessed him. Thankful for every morning he saw, he was determined to make that day his best one by rejoicing in its simplest gifts. Of course, being a man of faith, he knew that death does not have the final word and had no fear of what lay ahead of him. Nevertheless, until that time came (as it did last week), he continued to seize the day with all the joy and gusto he could muster.

A new year is fast approaching and, as I started making plans for 2023, I thought about the uncertainty of our tomorrows, not just for my friend, but for all of us. Why do we waste a single breath with anger, regret, resentment, or complaint? Why do we fritter away even five seconds in self-pity or worry when they should be spent in thankfulness and joy? Why do we see the day’s imperfections with twenty/twenty vision when we’re blind to the day’s blessings? The old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is only partially true. We all have expiration dates and today well could be the last day of our lives here on earth. Shouldn’t we make it the best one we’ll have?

Perhaps we can learn from the Hibiscus trionum. Called “Flower-of-an-Hour,” each flower blooms during a single sunny day and remains open only a few hours. Nevertheless, the flower makes the most of its brief time by turning to the sun, getting pollinated, providing pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies, and sharing its leaves with caterpillars and rabbits. Why don’t we make the most of our time in the sun? It shouldn’t take cancer or Parkinson’s to make us realize that today is the best day of our lives! It is the day the Lord has made—the precious day the Lord has given us in this precarious world—and we should rejoice in each and every moment of it!

Father, forgive us when we fail to make the most of the days with which you have generously blessed us. Help us to seize today with joy and thanksgiving and be glad in it. No matter what the future may bring, may each day be our best one ever!

The past, the present and the future are really one: they are today. [Harriet Beecher Stowe]

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. [Psalm 39:4 (NLT)]

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MIRACLE AT CANA – Part 2

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”… This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. [John 2:1-3,11 (NLT)]

eastern bluebird
Jesus told several parables about the importance of accepting God’s invitation to the feast in His Kingdom. The wedding at Cana, however, shows us what happens when we invite God to our feast! While we don’t know the reason Jesus and the disciples were at the festivities, the men weren’t wedding crashers. In fact, John makes a point of telling us they were invited guests. The story of Cana tells us that Jesus not only transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary but, when invited into our lives, He also changes circumstances, makes scarcity into surplus, exchanges sorrow for joy, and empowers the servants (us) to do His work, just as He did that day in Cana. That first miracle was Jesus’ simple way of saying, “Invite me into your life and see what wonderful things can happen!”

When Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into His home, salvation came as well! When Levi the tax collector invited Jesus home for dinner, he found salvation and the despised publican became Matthew, the gospel writer and Apostle. When Peter opened his home to Jesus, his mother-in-law was healed of her fever. Martha welcomed Jesus to her home and her brother Lazarus was resurrected! After the synagogue leader Jairus begged Jesus to come into his home, the man’s dead daughter was brought back to life. When Cleopas and his friend invited the resurrected Jesus to break bread with them, they finally recognized Him as the risen Lord! Good things happen when we invite Jesus into our homes!

The Old Testament tells us that good things happen when we invite God’s messengers into our homes and lives. Because Rahab welcomed Israel’s spies into her home, she and her family were saved when Jericho fell. Because the widow of Zarephath welcomed Elijah to her table and served him her last morsel, she, her son, and the prophet had food enough for the famine’s duration. After the wealthy woman of Shunem invited Elisha into her home, she was blessed by having a much-desired child and then by having her son brought back to life through God’s power. Indeed, good things happen when we invite God and His messengers into our lives!

Jesus didn’t gate-crash that wedding feast in Cana, show up uninvited at the house of Levi/Matthew, or bully His way into the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus; He was an invited guest. Right now, Jesus politely stands at the entryway of our lives, knocks at our heart’s door to gain admittance, and waits to be invited inside. Because we have free will, whether or not we welcome this guest is our choice alone.

There was no room for Jesus when He arrived in Bethlehem that first Christmas. Have we made room for Him this Christmas? Will we open the door to our hearts and lives and warmly receive Him into our homes and lives? Or, as happened that starry night 2,000 years ago, will we ignore His knock the way we would a door-to-door salesman and send Him on His way?

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen [child’s prayer from 17th Century German hymn]

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

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TITHING OUR TIME

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully. [2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)]

white peacock butterflyWhile many people faithfully tithe by giving ten percent of their income to God’s work, I read an article in which the author not only tithes her money but also her time. With 168 hours in a week, she dedicates a total of 16.8 hours a week to serving God. These tithed hours are spent in things like Bible study, prayer, mentoring, visiting the house-bound, bringing food to the needy, or sending encouraging notes.

While measuring out time for God may work for the author, I’m not so sure it would work for everyone. Would we have to tithe 2.4 hours each day or could we pick and choose when to use our week’s hours? Would we be talking gross or net hours? If net, once we’d taken out the eight hours for sleep every night, only 112 hours would be tithable and only 11.2 hours a week would belong to God. Would people need to keep a time-card and clock in and out every time they said a prayer? I wonder if Sunday evenings there might a frantic effort to find a way to fulfill the remaining unused time. Would we call an elderly neighbor to chat while counting minutes until we could disconnect?

Some people might split hairs about what actually determines giving time to the Lord. If we’re bringing the trash bin back to the house anyway, does bringing up the neighbor’s bin count? If we take canned goods to the food pantry, do we get credit for the entire time spent at the grocery store purchasing them? If we talk about church when meeting a friend for lunch count or must it be someone we don’t especially like or to whom we witness? Does the time spent driving to and from our volunteer job at the resale shop count? If we’re taking someone to church or Bible study, can we count the entire drive time or just the extra time it took to pick them up? Do we get extra credit for watching monster children in the church nursery? Once those sixteen plus hours are used, could we then turn a deaf ear to people’s needs or skip praying? If we gave more than 16.8 hours in one week, could the extra time carry over to the following one? Once we’re done with our hours, can we turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the needs surrounding us until the following week?

The Pharisees got so caught up in the minutia and letter of the Law that they missed its purpose and, like them, with all that nitpicking, it would be easy to get more concerned with tallying time than sharing God’s love. Instead of it being a privilege to give back to God, strictly tithing time could turn worship, prayer, study, and service into a chore. God loves a cheerful giver but this doesn’t sound very cheerful to me.

Admittedly, tithing time originally seemed like a good idea, especially since I spend more than 16.8 hours a week writing these devotions. I’d easily fulfill my weekly obligation at my computer so nothing more would have to be done for or with God! The Holy Spirit then gave me a kick in the behind and said, “You’re never done serving the Lord; I want all 168 hours of your week!” May we always remember that, other than our love, there’s nothing we can give Him that isn’t already His!

Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can. [Attributed to John Wesley]

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)]

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WOMEN IN THE CHURCH

And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. [Philippians 4:3 (NLT)]

pale purple coneflower
From the beginning of His ministry, women were among the earliest followers of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna accompanied and financially supported Him and Martha and Mary offered their hospitality in Bethany. Women were witnesses to His death, burial, and the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene was the first to view the resurrected Christ! Because women get little mention in the New Testament, however, we tend to overlook the role they played in the early church.

Yesterday, when I wrote about the feud between Euodia and Syntyche, I didn’t mention Paul’s commendation of these same two women for diligently working beside Paul, Clement, and others in spreading the gospel. That Paul was troubled enough by their disagreement to ask a ministry colleague to intervene implies these women had influence in the Philippian church. What role did they and other women play in the early church?

Although Philippi was a Roman colony, Euodia and Syntyche are Greek names. It’s a possibility that, like Lydia (a Greek merchant of purple cloth), they were merchants originally from Greece. The two may have been some of the women who met with Lydia at the riverbank for prayer. [Acts 16] Although Lydia merits just a few sentences in Scripture, the Philippian church began with her baptism and the baptisms of the rest of her household! That Lydia was the only Philippian named by Luke indicates she played an important role in the early church. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stayed at her home while in Philippi.

Along with Lydia, a number of other women served as leaders of the house churches that sprang up in the cities throughout the Roman Empire: among them were Priscilla, Chloe, Apphia, Nympha, Mary (the mother of John Mark), and possibly the woman John addressed as “the chosen lady” in his second epistle. While it is speculation, Euodia and Syntyche, like Lydia, may have led house churches. We know that Priscilla and her husband Aquila travelled with Paul to Ephesus and founded the church there. Both men and women could serve as deacons and Phoebe was a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. In Acts, we learn that Philip’s four daughters were prophetesses.

Paul even entrusted his epistles to be delivered by women and it was Phoebe who carried his letter to the Romans. In Romans 16, Paul specifically greeted Mary “who has worked so hard for your benefit” and a woman name Junia who, along with Andronicus, had been imprisoned for the faith. Among the 29 people he mentioned in this chapter, nine were women. Many of those mentioned, like Priscilla, traveled as missionaries with their husbands or brothers. Whenever Paul referred to someone as a fellow co-worker, he used the same word, synergos, for both women and men!

There is extra-Biblical support of the important role women played in the early church, as well. In the 2nd century, Clement of Alexandria wrote that women accompanied the apostles on their missionary journeys as colleagues. Acting as equals, not subordinates, Clement said they served as “fellow ministers in dealing with housewives…that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused.” When writing about the “crime” of Christianity, Pliny the Younger mentioned torturing two slave women he called ministrae (or deacons) in the Christian community.

Understanding the important role played by women in the early church, it’s easier to understand Paul’s deep concern about the rift between Euodia and Syntyche. Moreover, it tells me that both the early church and Paul (who has unfairly been accused of misogyny by some) truly lived by the words found in Galatians that, in Christ’s family, previous distinctions like nationality, race, status, and sex no longer exist. In Christ’s body, we truly are one!

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NLT)]

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EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE

I have a special appeal which goes jointly to Euodia and Syntyche: please, please, come to a common mind in the Lord. [Philippians 4:2 (NTE)]

sandhill cranes
These words from Philippians are the only mention of Euodia and Syntyche in the New Testament. Personally, if someone is going to read about me 2,000 years from now, I would prefer something about how easy it was to get along with me rather than about any arguments I had. Because Paul urges the women to settle their disagreement, it seems that their dispute was personal rather than doctrinal. Had the issue been one of doctrine, Paul would have stepped in and corrected the error as he did in many of his letters to the early churches.

Bible scholars have a sense of humor and it’s been suggested that better names for these women would be “Odious” and “Soon Touchy.” Perhaps Euodia really was disagreeable and unpleasant and Syntyche was thin-skinned and quick-tempered. Then again, maybe they were just like the rest of us at our less than best—stubborn, indignant, tactless, resentful, short-tempered, uncompromising, or easily offended. We don’t know what their problem was nor do we know who was “right” and who was “wrong.” In this case, by holding a grudge, they both were in error!

Because people in conflict usually expect others to take sides, conflict affects more than those directly involved. The women’s behavior was threatening the existence of the church at Philippi and their dispute was hindering God’s work. To save the church, Paul didn’t tell them they had to become best friends or even agree with each other, just to be of the same mind as the Lord. For the sake of the church, he wanted them to find a way to live in harmony.

The letter to the Philippians was written to “all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.” [1:1] In the early church, Paul’s apostolic letters were meant to be read aloud to the entire congregation. Less than 15% of men were literate and that number was less for women. The congregation sat in a circle or semi-circle around the reader so that everyone saw the speaker. This arrangement meant they also saw one another and their reaction to the words spoken. Can you imagine Euodia and Syntyche (and those who may have taken sides in their conflict) as they heard the apostle’s words? There probably was a fair amount of squirming in the seats that day!

Like churches, families can suffer because of quarrels. My friend Wendy’s two sisters have a long-standing feud and refuse to speak with one another. Whenever she returned to her hometown, each sister expected Wendy to spend time with her but got irate and offended if she spent time with the other sibling. Even though Wendy refused to be caught up in their animosity, she was in a no-win situation. Eventually, it became easier to step away from the drama altogether and not return home at all. The sisters’ vendetta impacted more than just Wendy; ten cousins were affected as were the women’s parents when they were alive.

Heavenly Father, knowing that we can’t agree with everybody all of the time, show us how to get along with them. Give us loving, forgiving, and understanding hearts. Toughen our hides so that we don’t take offense so easily. Show us how to have harmony in all of our relationships. Help us to acknowledge other people’s points of view and guide us to respectfully agree to disagree with one another when necessary.

Until the day that you become perfect, don’t expect others to be. [From “Hugs – Daily Inspirations for Grandmas” (Howard Books)]

So, my dear brothers and sisters, get this straight. Every person should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Human anger, you see, doesn’t produce God’s justice! So put away everything that is sordid, all that overflowing malice, and humbly receive the word which has been planted within you and which has the power to rescue your lives. [James 1:19-21 (NTE)]

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SELFIES

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. [1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)]

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. [Romans 12:15 (NIV)]


I watched as the couple extended their selfie stick and posed. Focusing only on themselves, they were oblivious to others on the beach and the beautiful sunset behind them. In love and on vacation, for the moment the world revolved around them and nothing else mattered.

It’s not just when we’re in love that we think the world revolves around us. When encountering difficulties, we frequently get out an emotional selfie stick. Focusing on ourselves and our particular situation, we often end up throwing ourselves a pity party while whining things like, “Poor me…my life is so difficult…I hurt…it’s unfair…no one understands my situation…I’m miserable…nobody cares!” Fixated on what we’re feeling, we can’t see God let alone anyone else!

On the other hand, if we put aside the selfie stick and turn the camera around, we can move beyond our limited self-awareness and interest. By zooming out or using the panoramic setting, we get an entirely different perspective. When our view widens, we begin to see people with problems of their own, and, in many cases, those problems are far worse than ours. With better perspective, we cease being the center of the universe and our difficulties cease being the center of our lives.

According to NASA astronauts, seeing the earth from space causes a profound change in their awareness. When astronaut Ron Garan viewed his home planet from space, he was in awe of its overwhelming beauty. By viewing the earth without borders, he also was struck both by the oneness of the world and by the inequity existing on it. He felt a deep sense of sadness as he thought of the billions of people on earth who suffer from things like hunger, lack of clean water, social injustice, conflicts, and poverty.

We don’t need to be astronauts to step back far enough to realize how many people suffer and suffer far more than do we on even our worst days. The pain and problems in our lives are just a small part of the interconnected and continually evolving drama of life in this world. We are but one of more than 7.8 billion people on earth and only one of the nearly 335 million people in our nation. Those numbers are humbling—and a gentle reminder that life does not revolve around us!

Oddly, when we recognize the pain of others, our pain is lessened, not because they might hurt more than we do but because we become united with them in our anguish. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, widening our perspective allows empathy and compassion to emerge. No longer alone in our suffering, we become connected with others in this flawed and troubled world of ours. No longer isolated in our distress, we move from focusing on the “me” to caring about the “we.”

Father, open our eyes to you and to the world around us. Broaden our view so that we see the purpose in pain, the lesson in loss, and the meaning in misery. Give us compassionate hearts and peace filled souls. If we are to cry, let our tears be for others and, if we are to mourn, let our mourning be for all who grieve. Please strengthen and comfort us so that we can strengthen and comfort others.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. [Viktor Frankl]

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. [2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)]

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