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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. [Psalm 19:14] 

I’m sharing these daily devotions in the hope they will inspire you to read God’s word. I’m praying that they will help you find your way to a closer relationship with God.  [Read More ….]

OUR WORST ENEMY

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. [James 1:14-15 (NLT)]

white ibisThe book of Numbers tells of Balaam, an unscrupulous prophet-for-hire, who was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the Israelites.  Although he tried to do just that, the Lord intervened and Balaam could only say the words God put into his mouth. The prophet ended up blessing the Israelites and cursing his own people. Although he escaped with his life, needless to say, Balaam wasn’t paid for his work.

The Israelites’ biggest threat, however, was not from pagan curses, Moab, Midian or even Jericho; it was their continual failure to remember their God—the God who delivered them from Egyptian slavery, brought them safely through the wilderness, and even protected them from Balaam’s curse. While they were camped on the plains of Moab, the men had sex with the local women who then persuaded them to make pagan sacrifices and bow down to the Baal of Peor. The Lord grew angry with them and commanded the death of all who’d defiled themselves by participating in the sacrilege; 24,000 men died in the violent plague of judgment.

Prevented from cursing the Israelites, it turns out that Balaam may have found another way to get his reward from Balak by getting them to bring a curse upon themselves. It was the prophet who instigated the women’s invitation to fornication and idolatry. Even though Balaam set the stage for the seduction of the Israelite men, no one forced them to respond; that responsibility fell squarely on each man’s shoulders.

Balak didn’t need a curse to kill any Israelites; they did a fine job of doing that on their own! The story didn’t end well for Balaam and the Midianites, either. The Lord commanded Moses to take vengeance on them for their seduction of His people; a brutal massacre of the nation followed and the prophet Balaam died in the carnage. Nevertheless, the Israelites’ fall to temptation reminds us that our greatest battles are not against enemy armies or pagan prophets but against Satan and our own sinful natures. God, however, has not left us defenseless. While our worst enemy is self, our strongest ally is Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us. [Charles H. Spurgeon]

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. [Galatians 5:16 (NLT)]

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. [Ephesians 6:10-11 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE MIDDLEMAN

Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. [Mark 11:23-24 (ESV)]

zinniaA pastor friend shared a story about a woman at a previous church who had an odd habit. Whenever the pastor announced a change of some kind, more often than not, she would say to him, “I’m so thankful. I’ve been praying you would decide to do that.” When curiosity overcame him, he asked “Instead of using God as a middle man, why don’t you just tell me what you’re thinking or want changed?” Revealing that she was a preacher’s kid, the woman told of the officious interference, meddling, criticism and complaint her father had endured during his ministry. In fact, the often unchristian fault-finding behavior of his parishioners nearly turned her away from the church. She vowed that, unless asked, she’d never tell a pastor what she thought he should do. Instead, she’d simply pray about it and, “if it is God’s will, then He will reveal it to the pastor.” Apparently, as she discerned, God makes an excellent “middle man!”

When hearing this story, I couldn’t help but wonder at my behavior. Do I see God as the Middleman—the conciliator, the peace-maker, the intermediary, the one who brings two opposing parties to the table and brokers the deal—or do I see Him as the court of last resort? Do I go to Him first or only when I can’t get the desired result on my own? Would I rather intrude, advise, instruct, complain or criticize than pray?

We say we believe in the power of prayer but do we really? Do we truly believe that God really hears us? Do we trust Him enough to put our concerns into His hands before taking them elsewhere? Do we really believe in a God who can make things happen—a God who can move mountains—or do we think He needs our help? If we believe God can move mountains, why is it so difficult at times to believe that He can move hearts? While going through a middleman often seems the indirect and a roundabout way to get things done, when that Middleman is God, both hearts and mountains can be moved!

Of course, there’s another more subtle lesson in the pastor’s story. Do we pray regularly for our clergy? I don’t mean those formal prayers for the church found in various liturgies. We consistently must pray for our specific pastors—not that they’ll do what we want them to do but that they will have the energy, strength, wisdom, and courage to do what God wants them to do!

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. [1 John 5:14 (ESV)]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOING HOME

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [John 14:1-4 (ESV)]

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” [John 11:25-26 (ESV)]

After a brief stay at hospital, we’d brought Gert, my 102-year old mother-in-law, home to die. Although she was a woman of faith, she seemed frightened of the journey that lay ahead of her and kept calling for her mother and father (who’ve been gone for more than half a century). When I shared this with the Hospice nurse, she asked if I’d told her that it was all right to leave. Since Gert was in a state of semi-consciousness, I questioned whether she would understand but the nurse assured me that hearing is the last sense to go.

That day, as I sat at her side, I read to Gert from the Bible, prayed with her, thanked her, and reminded her of her favorite memories. I knew them well since, not wanting to lose her amazing history when we lost her, I’d asked her about them (and written them down) several years ago. While talking to her that afternoon, I remembered a story Gert told me. Beginning with, “I believe in prayer!” she told of a cold winter day when she’d met some friends at a resort across the lake from her house. On her way home that evening, she took a short cut across the frozen lake (probably something the twelve-year-old had been told not to do). “I heard the ice cracking all around me,” she related, “and, believe me, I honestly thought I was a goner that time!” Sure that she’d fall through the ice and no one would ever find her, the terrified girl recited everything she had ever learned in her Sunday school classes. Having seen the “Star Memory Certificate” she’d received as a girl, I knew that included the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the 23rd Psalm, and all of the books of the Bible.

I reminded her of that cold winter night when she was a child and how her faith had gotten her across the ice and safely home to her mother and father. Telling her I understood the walk was frightening, I reassured her that she wasn’t a goner and we’d all know where to find her. Reading from the book of John, I reminded her that God had prepared a room especially for her and that, across the daunting lake was that room and her home: a home where the lights were on, the fire was lit, and her loved ones were waiting for her with spritz cookies and a warm cup of cocoa. Calmed and almost serene, Gert went to her forever home early that evening.

Gert once told me she loved the 23rd psalm but added that she always skipped “that one line.” Sunday afternoon, when I read that beautiful psalm to her, I included all of its comforting words. I spoke to Gert of that dark valley and God’s reassurance that He is beside her, just as He was that cold night ninety years ago. While I’ve always thought of our Christian faith as comforting to those who mourn, that afternoon reminded me of how comforting it is for those taking their final journey through the dark valley of death. Although neither family nor friends can accompany us on our last walk, we will not be alone and, waiting on the other side, is a beautiful room  prepared especially for us in our eternal home.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. [Psalm 23:4,6 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

CELEBRATING VALENTINE’S DAY

When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, “How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.” You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. [Deuteronomy 12:29-31 (NLT)]

just engagedSt. Valentine may (or may not) have been the Catholic bishop of Terni, a priest who helped persecuted Christians during the reign of Claudius II, one who suffered in Africa, one who secretly married couples when marriage was forbidden, or one who converted the family of a jailer named Asterius and restored sight to his blind daughter. It was a common name and whether there was only priest named Valentine who did all of these things or as many as three, supposedly he or they were beheaded by the Emperor Claudius II on February 14 around the end of the third century. The confusion about Valentine’s identity led the Roman Catholic Church to drop his saint day from their official calendar of feasts in 1969.

Today’s romantic traditions, however, have pagan roots. On February 14, the Romans celebrated a day dedicated to the goddess Juno. Included in the revelry was a matchmaking lottery that paired up couples for the duration of the festival. On the 15th, they continued the merriment with Lupercalia, a fertility festival that involved sacrificing goats and a dog and whipping women with thongs made from the skins of the sacrificed animals. Understandably, the early Christian church was displeased by such behavior and, around 496, Pope Gelasius I recast the pagan festival as a feast day in honor of St. Valentine. Instead of men drawing names of women who’d become sex partners, children drew names of saints whose lives they would emulate for the year.

Although there was a common belief that birds began to mate for the season on February 14, it wasn’t until the late 14th century that Valentine’s Day became associated with romance, thanks to the publication of Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, The Parliament of Fowls. Probably about the wooing of Anne of Bohemia by King Richard II, the poem depicts a dream of a pagan heaven where all of the birds have come before Dame Nature to choose their mates. “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,” wrote Chaucer, “When every fowl comes there his mate to take.” The birds have a debate while three eagles unsuccessfully try to seduce a female eagle.

Written valentines began to appear in the early 15th century and, by the middle of the 18th century, it became common for friends and lovers to exchange notes and tokens of affection. By the early 20th century, ready-made cards replaced the personal notes. Nowadays, over one billion valentines are sent each year.

With its pagan beginnings and the murky history of a man or men named Valentine, what does Valentine’s Day mean to Christians? At first thought, the day seems harmless enough. Some churches, however, prohibit celebrating this holiday because it, like certain other popular holidays, Christianizes or “whitewashes” pagan customs and traditions. We know from the Old Testament that God detests anything pagan. The Israelites were warned not to worship other gods but also not to adopt any pagan customs. The Apostle Paul warns us about not copying the behavior and customs of the world. [Romans 12:2] I wonder what God thinks about Valentine’s Day. What does He think of our spending nearly $20 billion to celebrate a day that began as pagan wantonness?

Although God is love, He is nothing like Cupid (the Roman god of erotic love). His love for us is immeasurable, consummate, unconditional, and sacrificial and has nothing to do with chemistry, sexuality, romance or even likability. We are called to love one another as He loves us—with a love that is generous, compassionate, forgiving, unqualified and expects nothing in return. We are to love the undeserving, unlikeable and adversarial as well as family, friend, and ally. How we celebrate this day is between us and God. There is no question, however, as to how we are to love one another every day of the year.

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. [John 15:12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE KNOWS WHAT WILL FIT

Then the Lord asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” [Exodus 4:11-12 (NLT)]

white admiral butterflyWe were window shopping and celebrating our anniversary. Wanting to get me a gift, my husband spotted a dress he liked in the window of a little boutique and insisted we go inside. The owner greeted us, said the dress in the window wouldn’t fit and showed me a different dress. It was so unlike anything I’d ever worn that I immediately said it wouldn’t look right on me—wrong color, wrong style, wrong material, and wrong fit. ”Don’t you tell me what it will look like,” she said indignantly. “I created this dress and know exactly who it will fit. It will be beautiful on you.” Chastened, but still sure it would look terrible, I reluctantly tried it on. The designer, however, was right. As the creator of the dress, she knew what she had in mind when making it and that it would be right for me.

Through the years, we got to know this woman rather well; as a Messianic Jew, I imagine she was familiar with the book of Exodus. Our first exchange was much like that between God and Moses when God spoke out of the burning bush and gave Moses the task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Like me, Moses protested that the job wasn’t a good fit. Who was he to approach Pharaoh? Why would the Israelites listen to or believe him? God responded by giving Moses three miraculous signs to convince them but Moses still objected that the task was not right because he wasn’t eloquent. Like the dress designer, God took that complaint personally and was angry that Moses didn’t seem to trust the One who made Him. As Creator of the man’s mouth in the first place, God knew what it could and couldn’t do. When He promised to empower Moses by putting the words in his mouth, Moses still balked so God provided him with Aaron.

It’s not just trying on dresses and freeing Israelites at which we balk. Whenever we feel one of those God nudges to step out of our comfort zones, our first response is usually something like, ”But God, that’s not the right task for me. I’m not designed for that sort of thing!” Be it sharing our faith or offering to pray with someone, volunteering at the food pantry, greeting at church, teaching Sunday school, writing a blog, visiting a shut-in, planning a fund raiser, organizing a blood drive, starting a Bible study or leading a grief group, we’re sure there is someone better qualified.

Perhaps there is; nevertheless, if God calls us to a task, it’s one He wants us to do and, as our creator, He knows exactly what it is we are capable of doing. Besides, He’ll give us the skills we need. He gave Moses the words and, when God appointed Bezalel and Oholiab to be in charge of building the Ark, the Tabernacle and its furnishings, God filled them with His spirit, wisdom, ability and expertise and gave special skill to all of their craftsmen. He’ll do the same for us! Moreover, just as He provided Moses with the assistance of Aaron, He’ll give us all of the help we need to do His work.

What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, “Stop, you’re doing it wrong!” Does the pot exclaim, “How clumsy can you be”? [Isaiah 45:9 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HIS PEDAGOGY

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. [James 1:2-4 (NLT)]

pink hibiscus

“May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God,” wrote John Piper. Pedagogy being a somewhat archaic word, I was unsure what Piper meant. Associating pedagogy with an old, boring, stodgy, and authoritarian teacher, I thought it wise to consult the dictionary. “Pedagogy” comes from two Greek words: pais, meaning child, and agogos, meaning leader. A paidagogos was a slave who led the boys to and from school, taught them manners, and tutored them after school. “Pedagogy” eventually came to mean the method and practice of teaching and “pedagogue” to mean teacher. While God is neither boring nor stodgy, He is older than time and an authoritarian (but loving) teacher with some unique, innovative and often challenging teaching methods or pedagogy.

I don’t know about boys in ancient Greece, but I imagine they were like boys today: often less than enthusiastic about learning their lessons, spending time in a classroom, and being taught restraint, civility, and good behavior. Like schoolboys, we are often less than enthusiastic about learning the lessons God is teaching us. Sometimes life seems bizarre or unreasonable and other times it’s downright difficult or heartbreaking; almost all of the time it’s hard to understand. It’s easy to begrudge the way God teaches us.

I think of a scene from the movie Peggy Sue Got Married in which the middle-aged Peggy Sue goes back in time to high school. When asked to solve a problem in algebra class, she responds, “I happen to know that, in the future, I will not have the slightest use for algebra, and I speak from experience.” I agree with Peggy Sue—once out of school, I had no need to know about coefficients, variables, constants or exponents. But, I didn’t know that when I took freshman algebra more than half a century ago.

We are finite beings and can only see what is right before us. God, however, is infinite and can see far into our future both here and in the hereafter. When He teaches us lessons about patience, humility, loss, conflict resolution, pain, worry, pride, fear, trust, obedience, persistence, and faith, we rarely know for what purpose we’re in His schoolroom or when we’re going to need the skill we’re being taught. God’s pedagogy only makes sense when we look back in time. It is then that we realize the benefit we’ve gained from His extraordinary and often bizarre teaching methods. Indeed, as John Piper said, “May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God.”

I never had a trial I wanted to have, but I never had trial I wasn’t glad I had. [Jack Hyles]

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver. You made me; you created me. Now give me the sense to follow your commands. [Psalm 119:71-73 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.