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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 ….]

EXPECT TROUBLE

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. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT)]

sunset

While talking about discerning God’s plan for us, a friend said she knows she’s chosen the right path when she moves forward in a plan and doesn’t encounter obstacles or challenges. After thinking about it, I beg to disagree.

Three gospels tell of the time Jesus and the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee to escape the crowds. In a fishing boat without sails, the men rowed while Jesus slept. The lake is known for violent squalls that arise suddenly and one such storm did. As the wind blew and the sea surged, the waves broke over the gunwales and the boat began to fill with water. Sure they’d sink and drown, the disciples awoke Jesus. After admonishing the men for their lack of faith, He quickly rebuked the squall and calm was restored. That the wind and waves obeyed Jesus demonstrated His sovereign reign over nature. Scripture made it clear that only God has dominion over the natural world and the men wondered at Jesus’ ability to calm the storm.

While the storm presented an opportunity for Jesus to reveal the source of His power and authority, could there be more to it? Have you ever wondered why the exhausted Jesus wanted to cross over the lake to the Gentile region of Gardara or why the boat was pulled ashore near burial tombs? I suspect that Jesus knew of the two demon-possessed men living in those tombs and that He deliberately went there to exorcise their evil spirits. Rather than a teaching lesson for the disciples, could the storm have been Satan’s way of keeping them from their destination? Satan certainly had a vested interest in keeping Jesus from reaching the other side of the lake and, not wanting to lose those two captive souls, he attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrival with wind and waves. That storm occurred precisely because Jesus was doing God’s work!

When looking through Scripture, we find that encountering rough seas, storms, and obstacles seem to be a part of following God’s will. During the time he followed God’s plan, the Apostle Paul experienced ill-health, defections, beatings, imprisonment, at least three shipwrecks, and eventually martyrdom. Think of the troublemakers, false prophets, fabricated accusations, and persecution faced by the early church (all of which were courtesy of Satan). The enemy has been trying to thwart God’s plan since Eden; he’s not about to stop now!

When we are following God’s plan, we should expect opposition because the enemy does not want us to accomplish what God has purposed for us. Opposition doesn’t mean we should abandon ship; we just need to get on our life jackets and keep rowing! Like the early church, we do that by defending the truth, sharing the Good News, giving our concerns to God, living by faith, and remaining steadfast in our mission. “If you are going to walk with Jesus Christ, you are going to be opposed,” said preacher George Whitefield. That was true when he said it in the 1700s and it remains true today.

The way to thwart the devil is to strengthen the very thing he is trying most to destroy—your faith. [John Piper]

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY

Woe betide you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You’re like whitewashed graves, which look very fine on the outside, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and uncleanness of every kind. That’s like you: on the outside you appear to be virtuous and law-abiding, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. [Matthew 23:27-28 (NTE)]

yellow hawkweedAlong with proclaiming the Word of God, the young Church was committed to ensuring that there were no needy among them. As a result, many of the early believers voluntarily sold their property and shared their wealth with the rest of the church community. Barnabas, for example, sold a field he owned and generously brought the money to the apostles for those in need.

Immediately following the mention of Barnabas in Acts, Luke tells us about Ananias and Sapphira. Like Barnabas, they sold some land and brought the proceeds to the apostles but, unlike him, the couple retained some of the funds. But, wanting to impress everyone with their generosity without actually making a sacrifice, they claimed to have contributed the full amount. Peter, however, knew better and confronted each one about their deceit and they were struck dead in divine judgment.

This is a troubling story when we mistakenly think of it in terms of how much of our money we should give to the church. It’s important to remember that Ananias and Sapphira’s sin wasn’t in keeping some of the money; it was theirs to do with as they wished. The sharing among believers wasn’t compulsory and didn’t originate in the law. It originated in love and was completely voluntary. Rather than the sin of greed, the couple’s sin was that of hypocrisy; they wanted to impress the church into thinking they were something they clearly were not. They lied to the church but, worse, they lied to the Holy Spirit! Luke tells us that “great fear” struck the entire church when the learned what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. It should strike fear in us as well! The message, however, isn’t about money; it’s that God will not tolerate deception in spiritual and personal matters.

None of us manage to fully live up to our ideals and values; we’re flawed human beings who miss the mark in a variety of ways. That we fail to be the person we should be does not make us hypocrites; it’s failing to be the person we claim to be that is hypocrisy! Putting reputation before character, the hypocrite creates a public impression at odds with his or her true self.

The book of Acts relates how the early church was threatened by the world in which they lived: persecution, arrests, imprisonment, and even death. But it also relates how the church faced threats within its own community when the sins of a few (like Ananias and Sapphira) threatened the testimony of the church. Both threats continue today. I can’t help but wonder—if God dealt as severely with deceivers and hypocrites today as He did with Ananias and Sapphira, how many people would be left to fill our pews on Sunday morning?

The hypocrite, certainly, is a secret atheist; for if he did believe there was a God, he durst not be so bold as to deceive Him to His face. [Thomas Adams]

They declare that they know God, but they deny him by what they do. They are detestable and disobedient, and useless for any good work. [Titus 1:16 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE PEACE POLE – WORLD PEACE DAY

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:18,21 (NLT)]

peace poleCOVID kept us from the Botanic Gardens for well over a year. When we finally returned to one of our favorite places, we came upon a peace pole planted among the palms, bamboo and bromeliads. Although a similar pole is in the city park downtown, I don’t remember seeing one here when last we visited. These poles are just two of the more than 250,000 that have been erected in over 180 nations.  Symbolizing the oneness of humanity, the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” are written in eight different languages. The languages chosen for this pole were English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hawaiian, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish—the languages of people who, like us, live at the 26th parallel north. Peace poles stand as a visual reminder to pray for peace on earth and to think, speak and act in the spirit of harmony and peace.

Forty years ago, the United Nations designated today as the annual International Day of Peace (commonly called World Peace Day). In 2011, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate it as a day of cease-fire and non-violence. They ask every person and nation to halt hostilities and fighting for this one twenty-four-hour period. Unfortunately, I doubt the world can make one hour, let alone twenty-four, without aggression, hostility and bloodshed. Hopefully, you and I can go longer than twenty-four hours without conflict or violent behavior!

The causes of world conflict are many and, according to the UN, include poverty, social inequality, hunger, dwindling natural resources, water scarcity, environmental decline, disease, corruption, racism, and xenophobia (an intense fear of foreigners). This year’s theme, “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World,” continues the UN’s focus on finding ways to overcome those causes. Indeed, as our world struggles to recover from what seems to be a never-ending pandemic, we can see how the underprivileged and marginalized have been hit the hardest. In the last eighteen months, we have seen both the best and the worst of our fellow travelers on this planet. This day is a reminder that instead of fighting with one another, we should join in fighting mankind’s common enemies!

As Christians, we have the peace of God—the peace that passes understanding—but we must be more than possessors of peace. Jesus calls us to be makers of peace but erecting a peace pole is not enough! We can start by bringing peace to our little corner of the world, beginning at home and then moving on to work, school, church and community. Our peacemaking efforts, however, can’t stop at the borders of our neighborhood or even our nation. We must take Christ’s message of peace out into the world by thinking, speaking, and acting in the cause of peace. While we each have an obligation to improve the various conditions that promote conflict, changing people’s circumstances is just a beginning. For true peace, the peace that is found in a relationship with God, we must change people’s hearts.

World peace, while a lofty goal, is not something I expect to see in my lifetime. Nevertheless, we each must do our part.

We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ spoke much of peace on earth. [Henry Drummond]

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)]

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. [James 3:17-18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OUR ENEMY

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. [1 Peter 5:8-9a (MSG)]

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist and a magician with the same delight. [C. S. Lewis]

tiger

If asked to name your enemies, what would you answer? Unless you are embattled in a bitter lawsuit, you might say China, Russia, North Korea, or your fiercest business competitor. While you might even claim you have no enemies, would you think of mentioning things like discontent, doubt, resentment, discouragement, greed, despair, envy, pride, fear, or bitterness? Would you mention Satan, our greatest enemy—the  one who so generously gives us those unpleasant gifts? Probably not; yet Satan is far more dangerous than any nation, terrorist group, or cyber-criminal. Although his purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy, Satan rarely gets the recognition he deserves. Because we frequently think of him as a cartoonish character with horns and a tail, wearing red tights, and carrying a pitchfork, Satan doesn’t seem real or dangerous—but he is!

Our enemy is thrilled when we picture him as the silly red devil depicted on a can of Underwood deviled ham. If we recognized him as the repugnant fiend he is, we’d immediately flee in terror. Satan and his demons, however, are spirits, not beings, and have no physical likeness. We may not be able to see them, but we can see the destruction they leave behind with one glance at the day’s news.

Satan fell from grace when he opposed God and, as God’s adversary, he opposes God, His people, and His truth. “Satan” is the Hebrew word for adversary or opponent and “devil” is from the Greek diabolos, meaning accuser or slanderer. All that and more, as the father of lies, tempter, and sower of weeds, our enemy will do everything possible to thwart God’s purpose and destroy all that God loves.

Let’s never forget, however, that Satan is not, never was, and never can be God’s equal. Wanting to be God rather than God’s servant, Satan is more like a promising executive who grew proud, discontented, and jealous of his boss (the founder and owner of Heaven, Inc.). After Satan attempted a hostile takeover, the management easily defeated and fired him. Leaving with about a third of the original employees, Satan opened Evil, Inc. in direct competition. In an effort to destroy God’s customer base, Satan lies, cheats, and steals and offers an inferior counterfeit product that appears to be cheaper but costs far more in the long run.

Unfortunately, we seem more wary of the false advertising we see every day in the media than we are of Satan’s empty promises. While we might be able to spot a deal too good to be true in a magazine ad, we’re often oblivious to Satan’s subtle schemes. Even though the best he can offer is an eternity in hell, we keep falling for his lies. Like a good fisherman, he baits his hook according to the appetite of his prey!

A cunning enemy, Satan wants our souls far more than the most persistent telemarketer wants our money. If he can’t take our souls, he’ll use every tactic in his arsenal to hinder our witness and service. Limited in power, Satan is fighting a battle that was lost with Jesus’ resurrection; his final destination is eternal punishment in a lake of fire. That, however, doesn’t keep Satan and his demons from their malicious activities. Knowing how much God loves His children, Satan wants to wreak as much havoc and cause as much collateral damage as possible before the end. Let’s not play into Satan’s hands by failing to take our enemy seriously. It’s a matter of life and death!

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus! [Romans 16:19b-20 (MSG)]

After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways! [2 Corinthians 2:11 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MANY WRITERS BUT ONLY ONE AUTHOR

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return here but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)]

great blue heronA popular mystery writer, frequently on the best seller list, now writes most of his books in collaboration with another author. Several years ago, after reading one of his joint efforts, I stopped reading his work entirely. While I never expected a literary masterpiece, the mystery was unrealistic, implausible, and the chapters unconnected. Although it’s said that he sets the plot line and there is an intense back-and-forth between the authors, it didn’t seem that way to me. It was as if the two authors alternated chapters and, at the end of their chapter, each deliberately threw in some farfetched character or event as a way of challenging the other to make sense of it. Having a plot outline certainly didn’t mean continuity or structure in their book.

Six years ago, I was part of a book project in which twelve women, all Christian blog writers, were to write a chapter about being hurt, then healed, and how the Holy Spirit transformed them into wounded healers. In spite of having a similar theme, herding cats would have been easier than having twelve Christian women come together in a cohesive voice. Instead of being a patchwork quilt bound together by our experience with the power of the Spirit, we were more like twelve totally different blankets with absolutely nothing in common. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it clearly was not Spirit led and, while wishing the project well, I withdrew.

If twelve Christian women couldn’t come together into a unified voice and two well-known professional writers seem unable to put together a simple plot, I find it amazing that some forty writers managed to put together the sixty-six books of the Bible over a span of about 1,500 years. It’s not always easy to read but, without a doubt, the Bible makes sense and has a unifying theme: the revelation of God’s plan and purpose for His people and His Kingdom.

Within this one book we find poetry, law, and history along with biography, wisdom, prophesy, and personal letters. Written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), the writing took place in various locations—from the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula to the king’s palace in Israel, from Babylon to a prison in Rome. The writers were a diverse group of men—ranging from a doctor, publican, tent maker/Pharisee, and adviser to a Babylonian king to fishermen, shepherds, kings, scribes, and judges. They all had their own style and, in some cases, even a specific audience. Nevertheless, in spite of their different backgrounds, languages, times, and places, there is a cohesiveness to what all of these men wrote and their words never contradict one another. Even with the writers’ different perspectives, they have a unified voice that proclaims the same one true God and Jesus as the way to salvation.

When two well-known authors working together can’t put together a solid well-written mystery and twelve women, living at the same time, speaking the same language, and claiming to be Christian writers can’t successfully put together their faith stories, how did the Bible’s forty writers manage to do it? Perhaps, it’s because people write what they want to say but the Bible’s writers wrote what God wanted said! The Bible may have forty different writers—the people who put pen to papyrus or parchment—but there was only one author: God. It was God who inspired those men and, because they wrote His word, the Bible is one uninterrupted and unified story. It is, indeed, “God-breathed.”

The Bible is God’s word in human words. [Mel Lawrenz]

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)]

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. [Matthew 24:35 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FARMA – Part 3

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” [Matthew 13:24-28 (ESV)]

sunflowerWhile we usually reap what we sow, we also can receive unexpected and undeserved harvests! When we lived in the north, courtesy of God and nature, wildflower seeds took root in the field next to our house and Spiderwort, Sunflowers, Dame’s Rocket, and Wild Bergamot grew there without any effort on my part. Although I hadn’t sowed them, I never protested those beautiful wildflowers; I just thanked God for them. None of us are likely to complain to God about the many undeserved blessings He regularly bestows on us!

While we certainly don’t object when we get a harvest of blossoms, we’re sure to protest when we receive an unexpected (and seemingly undeserved) harvest of life’s thistles. Like the farmer who sowed high-quality seeds only to discover weeds growing in his field, we were distressed the year we discovered our beautiful field of wildflowers had been invaded by thistles. Although we hadn’t planted the invasive weeds, the unwelcome thistles were there!

Shortly before his eviction from Eden, Adam was told that the ground would yield thistles and thorns along with grain. That warning was both literal and figurative. Satan will spread his seeds wherever and whenever the opportunity arises and the enemy’s seeds of evil can invade people’s lives no matter how many good seeds they’ve sown. We can sow the seeds of love and fidelity but still be betrayed by an unfaithful spouse, we can work carefully and industriously but get downsized, we can drive cautiously and courteously but get hit by a drunk driver, and, even though we pray for and love our enemy, he may continue to hate us!

While we should expect more of the same when we sow thistle seeds, we’re perplexed when we’ve sown seeds of righteousness and get things like misfortune, difficulty, suffering, or loss. That’s the enemy assaulting us and we can’t allow his seeds of hatred, anger, resentment, doubt, or violence to take root in our hearts. Rather than wonder why, our job is simply to faithfully tend our fields and keep sowing seeds of righteousness. When the time is right, God will take care of the weeds and we’ll be part of a wonderful harvest.

If I ask, “Why me?” about my troubles, I would have to ask, “Why me?” about my blessings. … I take the good with the bad, and I try to face them both with as much calm and dignity as I can muster. [Arthur Ashe]

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.