JESUS SAVES

This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age. [John 3:16 (NTE)]

Another one of my Abundance assignments gave an interesting twist to paying it forward. We were to give an extra $3.16 to the drive-thru cashier who was supposed to credit it to the next customer and tell them the 3.16 was from John. We rarely utilize drive-thrus and now, with social distancing, aren’t going out, so this was one assignment I set aside. Nevertheless, I thought about the ways we do or don’t evangelize.

Christians tend to get upset when the presence of a religious symbol on public property is threatened. Yet, other than an occasional Christmas decoration, we rarely display anything religious on our own private property. We claim our children should be allowed to pray at school yet how many of us use our freedom to openly say grace before meals in a public restaurant or pray with others in public spaces? We’ll wear tee-shirts with logos advertising our favorite designers, restaurants, and teams; how many do we have with Bible verses on them?

For nearly forty years, we drove by the “Jesus Saves” rock. Prior to 1955, however, that big rock displayed a Potosi Beer advertisement. A prayer group from the local Presbyterian church obtained permission to repaint the rock and the “Jesus Saves” rock now is known throughout a tri-state area. To my knowledge, in all of these years, the rock has never been defaced. Granted, it is in rural Illinois, but it’s hard to believe that no youngsters have tried adding something to the sign. While that speaks to the virtue of small town values, it probably helps that the farmer who owns the land keeps a watchful eye on the famous rock (and a bull has been known to roam in the pasture below). A local family installed a light so that it can even been seen in the dark of night and various community organizations continue to keep the sign freshly painted. The “Jesus Saves” sign is both a community effort and a community witness.

While I disagree with their theology, I admire Jehovah’s Witnesses for their persistent evangelizing. Most of us hesitate to discuss Jesus with our neighbor, but Witnesses are willing to speak with strangers, often going door-to-door. They and their display are an almost daily fixture at our area parks and beaches. Few of us are that dedicated to spreading the Word of God, although I did read of one man who named his Wi-Fi router “Jesus Saves” so that anyone searching for a signal would see the message! Since his router probably is password protected and Jesus welcomes all, his would seem to be a slightly mixed message. Nevertheless, he’s witnessing in a small way.

Failure to share the message of John 3:16 isn’t like not telling someone about the latest NetFlix offering, our favorite YouTube video, or even the news that Walmart finally has toilet paper and hand sanitizer! Let us remember that people’s eternal destiny rests in our witness. As Charles Stanley said, “The joy you’ll have when you meet that person in heaven will far exceed any discomfort you felt in sharing the gospel.”

“All who call upon the name of the Lord,” you see, “will be saved.” So how are they to call on someone when they haven’t believed in him? And how are they to believe if they don’t hear? And how will they hear without someone announcing it to them? [Romans 10:13-14 (NTE)]

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PRAY FOR PEACE

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

Saying your prayers is like brushing your teeth.
It’s a habit you form—a commitment you keep.
You should brush your teeth, both morning and night;
The same with your prayers, if you’re saying them right.
To not let your spirit or teeth decay
Be sure to pray and brush every day! [Anonymous]

water lilyAlthough I’ve prayed while folding laundry and washing dishes, it seemed almost sacrilegious to combine prayer with an electric toothbrush and Crest! Nevertheless, after asking, “What would happen if we all pray twice a day for peace?” my next “Abundance” assignment was to pray for peace while brushing my teeth!

The lack of a declared war certainly doesn’t define peace. According to the Global Peace Index, last year the United States ranked 128th out of 163 nations rated for their peacefulness (with Iceland maintaining first place as the most peaceful and Afghanistan replacing Syria as the least). The U.S. Peace Index ranked my state of Florida at 47th out of 50 (with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire as the three most peaceful states.) Considering the political tensions both here and abroad, tribal conflicts and civil wars, terrorist attacks, conflicts and division within the church, divorce and custody battles, road rage, and the violence on our streets, in our homes and even at our schools, praying for peace seems like a good idea.

Since being peacemakers and praying for peace is God directed, I wonder why we’re not more diligent about praying for an end to the strife in our world. Living in a world that is fractured along political, ideological, socio-economic, ethnic, and even religious lines, we probably should pray for peace more than two times a day. We wouldn’t have to do it while brushing our teeth but, since we may be more conscientious about our dental hygiene than prayer, at least we’d remember to do it!

While we can cast blame for the lack of peace on things like politics, injustice, prejudice, corruption, economics, or this pandemic, the fault also lies within each one of us. While brushing and praying, I remembered the words to a song I often sang in Sunday school: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Peace must begin with us. As we pray while brushing, rinsing and spitting, perhaps we should consider what comes out of our mouths. Do we allow words of anger, frustration, criticism, and blame to spill out rather than ones of love, compassion, encouragement, or forgiveness? Our prayers for peace are empty and meaningless unless that peace begins with us!

What could happen if all of Christ’s followers really did pray for peace twice a day?

Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony.
With ev’ry step I take, Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
[Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

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BE LOVE TO SOMEONE

Children, let us not love in word, or in speech, but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:18 (NTE)]

lilyEven though we live 1,400 miles away, I still stay in touch with our northern church; after all, it was our church home for forty-six years. Over the last several months, I’ve joined them in a weekly abundance exercise, the purpose of which is to realize the abundance in life promised by Jesus. Reminding me that “love is an action word,” my abundance assignment was: “Be love to a family member or an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.” I was to call or visit someone with whom I’d fallen out of touch and the reconnect was to be more than a quick note or text. Since my calendar was already crowded with meetings, guests, deadlines, chores, and other obligations, I griped that the last thing I wanted or needed was another task (even if it was as simple as meeting an old friend for lunch). With an abundance of items on my to-do list, I certainly didn’t need one more to have an abundant life! I figured this exercise could wait for a more convenient time.

That was my frame of mind when, the following day, I learned that the pastor at my northern church has metastatic cancer. There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to put things into proper perspective. While I’d been complaining that showing a little love to someone was inconvenient and disruptive, he’d been given a diagnosis that truly was inconvenient, disruptive, and life-changing!

While grumbling about the inconvenience of the exercise, I’d missed the whole point: love. Indeed, love is an action word and rarely is there anything convenient about it. Selflessness, generosity, patience, kindness, bearing all things, and enduring all things: none of that sounds convenient and sacrifice always comes with a cost! In the ultimate act of love, God sacrificed His only Son for us yet I dared to grumble about arranging a lunch date! Out of love, Jesus laid down His life for us sinners but I didn’t seem to have time to spare for a friend! Yes, love often is inconvenient, even challenging, but we must never consider love to be a burden.

The pastor’s troubling diagnosis and the unexpected news I received the next morning that my sister died are vivid reminders of why we should reconnect with those we’ve let drift away. We don’t know if there will be a more convenient time tomorrow, next week, or the week after because we don’t know what the future will bring either for them or for us. There never will be a better time to be love to someone than today! Ann Voskamp said, “You love as well as you are willing to be inconvenienced.” Is there someone to whom you should be love? There’s no better time than right now to do it!

Three keys to more abundant living: caring about others, daring for others, sharing with others. [William Arthur Ward]

“I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” John 13:34 (NTE)]

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BE THE CHURCH!

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

Shepherd of the Hills - Schapville IL

Shutting their doors last Sunday was not an easy choice for church boards or parishioners. We are designed for community; gathering together for prayer, praise, instruction, fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper is part and parcel of being a Christian. Suddenly, our worship experience, traditions, rituals, and church family were taken from us with this new concept of “social distancing.” What it comes down to is simple: Jesus’ command to love one another. Right now, the best way to love one another is to avoid putting anyone, most especially those at high risk, in danger. Unfortunately, that means no longer meeting together in houses of worship.

I imagine Satan was chuckling in devilish glee last week as church after church cancelled services and closed their doors. What Satan doesn’t understand is that, while a church is a building, the Church isn’t! Scripture likens the Church to being a family, a flock of sheep, a body, and the “bride” of Christ. Whether a cathedral or a gazebo at the beach, the Church isn’t where we go, it’s who we are! Simply put, the church is a body of believers who live out the Gospel in their words and actions. We don’t need walls, pews, sound systems, kneelers, hymnals, programs, and video screens or an altar, stage, organ, choir, sanctuary, sacristy or narthex to do that!

Not attending church services or Bible study doesn’t mean we stop worshiping, praying, learning, or serving. We just have to do it another way by taking advantage of 21st century technology with things like streaming, pod casts, conference calls, FaceTime, App offerings, and on-line studies. Granted, it’s difficult to be the church when we can’t meet together, even in small groups. Nevertheless, we can still check on and encourage one another, paying special attention to those who live alone or may be without any support system. When necessary to leave our homes for supplies, we can continue to be Christ’s hands and feet by picking up necessities for house-bound neighbors. We even can evangelize by sharing our church’s online services with others. Although we all have suffered economically, some are better off than others. For those who are still able, continued (or even increased) support of our churches, missions, and relief organizations is a must. The need doesn’t go away when church doors shut! We’ll have to be creative, but we can continue to love and serve our sisters and brothers—even from a distance.

We can seek the hidden blessings in our isolation. Between closures and cancellations, I deleted forty events from my calendar for the next thirty days. My habitual complaint has been lack of time but, now that my calendar is free and I have nowhere to go, I have plenty of it! Let us endeavor to look at this forced isolation as a blessing rather than a curse!

Even though we can’t meet together, we must continue to encourage one another by finding joy in our trials and inspiring others to do the same. Using WhatsApp to spread the news, a Spanish trainer held a workout class on a low rooftop. Looking down through their windows, his class did jumping jacks and squats while sequestered in their apartments! Locked-down Italians have been having impromptu concerts from their balconies: a guitar and flute duet was presented in Turin, a man performed a trumpet solo in Trapani, and the streets of Siena and Salerno were filled with song as housebound people sang to one another. Last Friday, the term “flash mob” took on a new meaning when thousands of confined Italians stood on their balconies or hung out windows and made music with whatever they could find. A quarantined magician aboard the Diamond Princess is offering a daily televised magic show to his fellow room-bound passengers!

Most of us can’t lead an exercise class, sing from our balconies or make quarters disappear (except into vending machines), but we all can find a way to be the church. For example, the young people from a Colorado SK8 church are making grocery and pharmacy runs for the community’s elderly and housebound. As Christ followers, we continue to praise God, find joy in our circumstances, and bring light into darkness! While church doors are closed, our hearts and minds remain open to receive the joy of the Lord. We will pass that joy and His good news on to others because we are the church!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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SPEAK

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. [Mark 16:15 (ESV)]

zebra longwing butterflyMy latest exercise in learning how to live the abundant life promised by Jesus was both easy and difficult: I was to speak to one person about God, even if all I said was, “God is good” or “God loves you.” Since I write about God five days a week, said “God bless you!” to a friend, and talked about God with my pastor, I figured I was done, except I knew I wasn’t.

As with every abundance exercise I’ve been given, I wondered how this task led to an abundant life. When I took notice of God’s incredible creation in the first exercise, I joined the Psalmist in praise, thanksgiving, and worship. The second exercise entailed both acknowledgement of my sin and forgiveness, the third and fourth required me to encourage others and to be kind while expecting nothing in return. With last week’s assignment of sacrifice and this one of speaking about God, a common thread began to emerge: abiding in the Lord. Since we can’t abide in Him without being obedient to Him, each exercise involved obedience to His word. Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that obedience brings blessings—both to us and to others. The abundant life Jesus gives us is only realized when we truly are obedient to Him: when we abide in Him and He is us.

Obedience often means stepping out of our comfort zone and this exercise took me out of mine. Although talking about God with other believers and writing about Him in my blog fulfilled the letter of the assignment, it didn’t fulfill its spirit. Blessing someone when they sneeze or adding, ”God’s peace and joy,” to an email may be a start but they’re not the end of our Christian witness. Even though we’re called to proclaim the gospel to the world, many of us are hesitant to do that and our reticence is what prevents us from enjoying the richness of our faith. “To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in this world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth,” are the words of evangelist Charles Spurgeon. His words tell us that he knew what it was to experience the abundant life in Christ; it’s “heaven here upon earth!”

It is our commitment to Jesus that brings His blessings and true commitment requires obedience, even when that means stepping forward in witness. We are blessed by God when we bless the lives of others and I can’t think of a better way to bless someone than to share the gospel message of God’s love and forgiveness. Obedience—abiding in Jesus and He in us—is the key to an abundant life of blessings.

It is the greatest pleasure of living to win souls to Christ. [Dwight L. Moody]

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. [Deuteronomy 28:1-2 (ESV)]

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” [Luke 11:28 (ESV)]

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NEVER A STRANGER

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! [Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT)]

butterfly weedThe story has been told of a shoemaker who dreamt that Jesus would come to his shop the following day. His dream was so realistic that he washed his shop windows and dusted every shelf in preparation for his holy guest. The man patiently waited at his bench for the Lord to arrive but the only person to come through his door that morning was an old man seeking shelter from the icy winter rain. When the cobbler looked down at the man’s wet feet, he saw toes poking out of his beat-up shoes. Selecting a new pair of shoes, the shoemaker sat the old man down, dried off his feet, gave him a fresh pair of socks, and fitted him with the new shoes. When the rain stopped, the old man went on his way.

Just about lunchtime, a shabbily dressed woman came into the store and asked if she could stay just long enough to get warm. When the cobbler opened up his lunch box, he saw the woman hungrily eyeing his sandwiches. “I’m not really hungry,” he said as he offered her his lunch. After the woman had eaten, warmed up, and departed, the shoemaker continued to wait for Jesus but no one else came through the door. As the disheartened man closed up shop that evening, he heard a child crying. Looking down, he saw a small boy huddled in the doorway. The tearful child explained that he’d gotten hopelessly lost while running errands. He knew his address but he didn’t know how to get there. Although the cobbler wanted to get home for dinner, he wiped the youngster’s eyes and nose, took his hand, and escorted him home.

After returning the boy to his family, the disappointed man turned back toward his shop and said a silent prayer of despair. “Lord, I was so sure you’d come—so sure that I’d see your face at my door! Where were you?” It was then that He heard a gentle voice tell him, “Shoemaker, lift up your heart. I was right there at your door three times today. You clothed me, fed me, and comforted me! Don’t you know that when you did those things to my children, you did them to me?”

The Rule of St. Benedict, written in 516 by Benedict of Nursia, is a set of instructions for monastic living that has served as a guidebook to Christian discipleship for 1,500 years. Benedict opened chapter 53 with this statement, “All guests to the monastery should be welcomed as Christ, because He will say, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in.’” Just as Benedict directed the monks to see Christ in their guests, so we must see Christ in the people we encounter. Like the cobbler’s visitors, that person may look like an expense, interruption, or inconvenience; nevertheless, he is Christ. Our fictional cobbler welcomed three strangers at his door and received Christ as his guest. While becoming Jesus to others and seeing Jesus in others isn’t always easy, that’s what we’re called to do. Let us serve the Lord with gladness!

I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus. [Mother Teresa]

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me! [Matthew 25:35-36,40 (NLT)]

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