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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 ….]

THE SCARLET CORD

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. [Hebrews 11:1-2 (NLT)]

red roseRahab is one of the two women Paul lists in his “Hall of Faith.” This woman from Jericho married Salmon, was the mother of Boaz, a great-great grandmother to David, and one of Jesus’s ancestors. Oh—and she was a prostitute who collaborated with the enemy. Yet, Matthew makes specific mention of her in Jesus’ genealogy and both James and Paul speak highly of her in their epistles. Why?

From what Rahab had heard of the Israelites, she recognized their God as supreme. This perceptive woman anticipated Jericho’s defeat and judiciously aligned herself with the winning side when she protected two Israelite spies. After hiding them from the king’s men, she requested the same loyalty to her that she’d given them and negotiated for the safety of her family. As she lowered the men to safety on a scarlet cord, they told Rahab her protection was only ensured if she had that same cord visible on the day of their attack. True to their word, when Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were saved. Was it Rahab’s treason to Jericho that caused Paul to include her in his list or was there more?

After leaving Rahab’s house, the spies hid in the hills for three days before returning to camp and reporting to Joshua. After that, the Israelites broke camp and moved to the banks of the Jordan where they stayed another three days before crossing the river. Once across, the Israelites erected memorials to commemorate their crossing by God’s power. Four days later, the people celebrated the first night of Passover and, at some point, all of the men were circumcised. As the Israelites observed the eight days of Passover and the men recovered from their surgery, the invincible city of Jericho closed its gates and readied itself for battle. Meanwhile, Rahab had waited at least two weeks for the Israelites and her rescue. Did she begin to doubt the two spies and their God? Had she picked the wrong side to support? Did she consider bringing in that scarlet cord and making an alliance with a protector in Jericho? Was she tempted to lose faith in the God of the Israelites?

Eventually, the Israelites set off to conquer Jericho but they didn’t assault the town or lay siege to it. Instead, seven priests blowing rams’ horns led the Ark of the Covenant followed by 40,000 soldiers around the walled city before returning to their camp. For six days, Rahab watched from her window as the army silently marched around the city and then departed without lifting a weapon. Was Rahab’s faith shaken by this strange behavior? Were the men too afraid to attack? What kind of God used such a bizarre battle plan? On the seventh day, when she watched the Israelites parade seven times around the city, did she abandon all hope as she witnessed what appeared to be another day of even more pointless marching? Apparently not; that scarlet cord, the sign of her faith in the God of the Israelites, was still hanging from her window. When the army finally shouted, the walls of the unconquerable city collapsed and Rahab and her family were saved.

The walls of Jericho were leveled by faith in God. Rahab helped two strangers and kept that scarlet cord dangling from her window by that same faith. When God’s plan seems inexplicable or a long time in coming, do we exhibit a similar kind of faith? When things seem at a standstill, when we can’t see His plan, do we despair or do we hang out a scarlet cord of faith in God?

It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:30-31 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WATCH OVER ME

The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. [Psalm 121:5-8 (NLT)]

mute swansIn his Small Catechism, Martin Luther instructs people to say the following prayer as soon they get out of bed: “God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over me. Amen.” When I watch my grands, it’s not just keeping the baby dry and fed, getting the toddler to use the potty and take his nap, getting the kids to school, preparing their lunch, or making sure that homework gets done. Watching over them is more than just supervising them and keeping them from destroying the house. It means protecting them—from dangerous objects, people, and activities. It’s keeping them from getting hurt or hurting anyone else. Sometimes it means stopping them in their tracks and other times it’s removing something from their reach. Watching them is wiping their tears, laughing at their jokes, and kissing their ouchies; yet, it is still more. It is leading by example, introducing them to new things, encouraging them and challenging them to become stronger and better. It is walking and talking with them and opening their eyes to the world around them. It is correcting, helping, comforting, loving, teaching and nurturing them.

Thinking of what it means to watch my grands, Luther’s short prayer packs a giant request into a few short words. Guide me, convict me, protect me from sin and evil, keep me from harm and from harming anyone, defend me, sustain me, provide for me, inspire me, direct me, walk with me, guide me, guard me, encourage and calm me…all these and more are pressed into those three words “watch over me.”

God, like parents and grandparents, doesn’t go off duty when His children go to sleep; He keeps watch 24/7. Luther advises saying that very same prayer again at bedtime. After that, Luther instructs, “You are to go to sleep quickly and cheerfully.” When we know that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is vigilantly watching over us, we can rest in peaceful sleep, secure in His loving arms.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over me. Amen. [Martin Luther]

I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. [Psalm 3:5 (NLT)]

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. [Psalm 32:8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OUTSIDE THE LINES

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

flower bouquetSeveral years ago, I purchased a beautifully drawn coloring book that featured scenes from our Colorado mountain town. A gift for one of my grands, I asked the artist to sign it. Along with her signature, she added the words, “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!” Excellent advice, I thought.

Rather than coloring outside the lines, the unconventional John the Baptist lived outside the lines. Nevertheless, in spite of his odd attire, strange diet, and extraordinary message, he fulfilled God’s purpose. His was the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. Elisha lived outside the lines when he left his prosperous farm and teams of oxen to become Elijah’s successor—an odd choice his family and neighbors probably didn’t understand. The young shepherd boy David stepped outside the lines when he dared to take on Goliath—something none of Saul’s seasoned soldiers had attempted. Even Joseph went outside the lines when he remained with the pregnant Mary rather than breaking their engagement. Abigail crossed the lines when she kept David from taking vengeance on her foolish husband as did Rahab when she helped the Israelites. Mary of Bethany went outside the lines both when she sat with the men rather than help in the kitchen and extravagantly anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. Eric Liddle lived outside the lines by refusing to race on Sundays and becoming a missionary rather than parlaying his Olympic medals into fame and fortune. Instead of following his father into medicine or pursuing his interest in music, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went outside the lines when he became a pastor. Then, rather than fleeing the Nazis, he remained in Germany and resisted their evil. These men and women may have defied the status quo but they didn’t defy God! They answered His call by living outside the lines.

Living outside the lines is what we do when we allow God to take control of our lives; it’s taking that first step out of the boat as did Peter when Jesus called to him. Staying in the lines is what happens when, like Peter, we take our eyes off God, see the wave, feel the wind, and start to doubt. Staying inside the lines is not trusting God enough to answer His call or follow His lead. When we become more concerned about what others think than what God says, when how we look becomes more important than who we are, we are staying within the lines. Living outside the lines is refusing to compromise our faith; it is defying the system and obeying God. Those lines on the page were drawn by people. The blank page is given to us by God and He means for us to use all of it.

The artist’s advice to my grandchild applies to us all: “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!” Let’s not be afraid to live outside the lines—honestly, boldly, creatively and joyfully—fulfilling God’s purpose and trusting in His promises.

Our focus must be on God above and not on those among whom we live. [Oswald Chambers]

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5b-6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE WILL GIVE US THE WORDS 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. [Acts 1:8 (NLT)]

wood storkSeveral years ago, Pastor John, the youth pastor at our mountain church, shared his experiences while on a mission trip to Malawi, Africa. Here in the states, we expect our pastors to keep their messages to thirty-minutes so we can get a table at the Pancake House or arrive home in time for the game. In Monkey Bay, however, the pastor is likely to speak nonstop for two hours or more. Shortly before the day’s service began, the host minister, Pastor Paul, informed our young pastor that he would be speaking that morning. John quickly declined saying he hadn’t prepared a sermon. He usually worked several hours to prepare a Sunday message and was sure, without notes, he couldn’t possibly wing it for thirty minutes, let alone two hours. Pastor Paul was not to be rebuffed and insisted that John could and would do it. Paul assured him the words would come and, indeed, they did! Pastor John reported that he was still going strong two hours later! In spite of John’s fears, the words kept coming because he tapped into the power of the Holy Spirit.

Recently, another young pastor conceded that his sermon is not the most daunting part of Sunday mornings. The real challenge for him comes when someone asks a question after the sermon and he doesn’t have a prepared answer. If pastors can experience stage-fright when it comes to talking about Jesus, what about us lay people? While we’re probably not going to be asked to give an impromptu sermon, I think we’re offered many opportunities to start Jesus conversations that are missed because we think we don’t have the words. Instead of worrying that we don’t know enough, we should remember that Christianity isn’t rocket science. The story of Jesus isn’t complicated, no one expects us to be theologians, and “I don’t know,” is a perfectly acceptable response when we can’t answer a question. While it’s good to be able to quote chapter and verse from Scripture, it’s more important to know and share its message of Good News. If we trust the Holy Spirit, we will find the right words.

There is not a better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit. [Dwight L. Moody]

And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said. [Luke 12:11-12 (NLT)]

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. [John 14:26-26 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)

star jasmineIn a recent Close to Home comic (drawn by John McPherson), we see the back of a white-haired gentleman at a podium. Several people are facing him with hands raised. “Does the universe really go on forever or is there a brick wall at the end?” asks one. “Who would win in a total fight to the death? Attila the Hun or Mike Tyson?” asks another. The caption at the bottom says, “Once a week, God holds a question and answer session for new arrivals in Heaven.” It reminded me of a quote by Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who, at the age of 13, survived the loss of her left arm in a 2003 shark attack.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people. But I do know that God knows all those answers and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it. [From “Soul Surfer” by Bethany Hamilton]

Later that day, I was talking with a widow friend. It had been just three months since her husband died in her arms and she has many questions she’d like God to answer. Thinking of the young surfer’s quote, I reminded her that any questions we don’t get answered in this lifetime will be answered in the next. We then looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “But, will we care?”

It occurred to us that, once in heaven, all of our earthly questions will be insignificant. We think we want to know why someone suffered or a child’s innocence was violently stolen. We think we want God’s reasoning for a partner’s betrayal, the barren womb, a loved one’s addiction, or a spouse’s death. Once in God’s presence, I wonder if those questions will seem as ridiculous as the questions posed by the people in McPherson’s comic strip.

As Job learned, our “whys” are not likely to be answered on this side of the pearly gates and I doubt we’ll need those answers on other side. The repentant thief on the cross beside Jesus was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Do you think when he got there, he spent time asking God about his abusive step-father or the unfairness of his death sentence? Our last breath here will be followed by our first breath in heaven (a place without pain or tears—one of joy and perfect peace) and all of our earthly concerns will be gone. When we arrive in God’s dwelling place and come face to face with Jesus, I seriously doubt we’ll have any questions that need answering. Knowing God’s love for us, it will all make sense.

You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. … No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. [Hebrews 12:18,22 (NLT)]

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KNOWING THE TRUTH

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. [1Peter 3:15 (NLT)]

pink roseSocrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth having.” It would seem that an unexamined faith isn’t worth much either and yet many of us are hesitant to examine it! Jesus told us to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Since He asked far more questions than He ever answered, it would seem that he wanted thinking disciples rather than unthinking followers. When we only love Him with our emotions and passion, we are vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks; faith can get shaky and stumble when it isn’t grounded in reason and certainty. Moreover, we don’t make good witnesses when we’re unable to speak as rational thinking believers. We must love Jesus with our minds as well as our hearts and souls.

At some point, when digging into Scripture, we may ask ourselves how we can believe the validity of what is read. Simply saying the Bible is true because it is God-breathed doesn’t hold water when doubt rears its ugly head (and it will). How can we trust the writers or know those really are the words God breathed? Since nearly 2000 years have elapsed since the writing of the New Testament and far more since the Old Testament’s prophecies, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if Christianity is more myth than reality. Fortunately, we have Christian apologists to help us see the truth. Rather than offering apologies for the wrongs committed by evil people in the name of Jesus, apologists share the objective reasons and evidence that Christianity is true and should be believed. The Apostle Paul was probably the first apologist when he showed that Jesus’ fulfillment of Scripture’s prophecies proved He was the Messiah. Paul knew that the truth could stand up to scrutiny and it still does today.

I’m not a religious scholar, historian or an archeologist; I haven’t examined the Dead Sea scrolls or ancient papyri. Nevertheless, I do read the work of those who have. The more I study Scripture and the work of Christian apologists, the more certain I am that there is nothing unreasonable, irrational, or unfounded about my belief. The Bible can stand up to intense archeological and historical investigation so we have nothing to fear (and much to gain) when we look closely at God’s word. Like the atheist turned apologist C.S. Lewis, we will know the reason for our belief in mere Christianity. As did Josh McDowell, we’ll discover that Jesus was more than a carpenter. When lawyer David Limbaugh put Jesus on trial, our Lord withstood the most intense scrutiny and cross examination and easily won. As thinking Christians, we must never be afraid to ask questions and seek answers. When we seek the truth, as did Lee Strobel, we’ll be able to make a case for Christ. We’ll recognize what Nabeel Qureshi did when, while seeking Allah, he instead found Jesus: Jesus really is the way, the truth and the life!

As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.” … they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men. [Acts 17:2-3, 11b-12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.