IGNORANCE OF THE LAW

And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. [Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (NLT)]

red shouldered hawkKnowing it was important for both the leaders and the people to be reminded of their rights and duties, Moses instructed the people that every seven years the Book of the Law was to be publicly read to the entire nation (including children and foreigners). This reading was to be done following the Feast of Shelters  during the Sabbath year.

Whether the Book of the Law was the entire Pentateuch or just Deuteronomy, we don’t know. We do know, however, that public reading of it is only mentioned four times in the Old Testament! The first public reading was done by Joshua following the Israelite defeat of Jericho and Ai. More than 500 years later, King Jehoshaphat sent out two priests with copies of the law to teach the people. The Book of the Law was misplaced sometime after that. When it was found during temple repairs more than 230 years later, King Josiah read it to the people of Judah. 200 years later, after Jerusalem’s wall had been rebuilt. Nehemiah gathered the people to hear Ezra read God’s law. It was then, nearly 1000 years after first commanded, that the Book of the Law finally was read during the Feast of Shelters.

The Israelites didn’t start out ignorant of God; Moses and Joshua gave them a good start. Although the people were instructed to commit themselves to the law and teach their children, generation after generation strayed further and further from God and His word. The Israelites broke God’s law, sometimes deliberately and sometimes in ignorance. Nevertheless, breaking God’s law came at a high cost; without a firm foundation in God’s word, both the northern and southern kingdoms were defeated and collapsed.

For the most part, the Israelites were Scripture illiterates. Today, however, we have no excuse for not knowing God’s word. The Barna Group’s research shows that 87% of Americans have at least one Bible in their homes (the average number being three). I was encouraged to learn that half of Americans are considered “Bible users” until I realized that simply meant they read, listened to or prayed with the Bible three to four times a year! That sounds more like Bible referrers than users to me. Worse, one third of Americans never even open a Bible!

As Christians, have we committed ourselves wholeheartedly to God’s word or are we becoming Scripture illiterates? The Israelites lost their way without His word; we don’t want to make the same mistake.

I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins. [Luke 6:47-49 (NLT)]

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GATEKEEPERS

“For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” [Isaiah 56:7b-8 (ESV)]

cardinal

In the Old Testament, the Levites acted as gatekeepers. Among their many duties, they maintained decorum, enforced the laws of ritual cleanliness, directed worshippers to the correct area, and prohibited entry to anyone considered defiled or unclean (such as lepers, eunuchs, or Gentiles). The gatekeepers placed a large stone between the Court of the Gentiles and the Women’s Court to remind the unclean they would die if they passed it; if they entered into the Temple area, they would be dragged out and killed.

Gatekeepers who determine one’s fitness to worship remind me of my response to Jimmy, about whom I’ve previously written. A man with what could be called a colorful past, Jimmy started attending our Florida church last March. I admitted in “It Takes All Kinds” that I was less than enthusiastic when my husband invited him to church after meeting him in the park. A bit of a character, Jimmy is a recovering addict/alcoholic and, while not homeless, he lives on the fringe of society. Although I knew my misgivings were unchristian, as I got to know him, I quickly learned they also were unfounded. After starting to attend our church, he began coming to Bible study, bringing his well-worn Bible with him, and often joined our group for fellowship after class. Early this summer, when Jimmy asked to be baptized, ten others from our church joined him in the Gulf of Mexico for that sacrament.

During the summer, Jimmy went north to be with family but kept in touch with our pastor. He wrote about meeting a man in the park who was new to recovery. When the fellow asked Jimmy how he managed to stay sober, his reply was simple and to the point: Jesus! Our new Christian became a witnessing disciple. Jimmy recently returned to Florida and was warmly welcomed by all when he joined us for Sunday worship; I felt honored to take his hand during prayers.

The story is told of a homeless man, disheveled and dirty, who entered a church Easter morning. The service had just started and the pews were jam packed. As the man walked up the aisle in search of a seat, people avoided eye contact and no one made room for him in the pews. Once at the front of the church, the man sat down on the floor near the altar rail. As an usher, dressed in a black suit with a boutonniere in his lapel, made his way up the aisle, the parishioners were sure that he would quietly ask the man to leave (as any good gatekeeper would do). Instead, to the surprise of the congregation, the usher handed the man both program and hymnal and sat down beside him.

Although more and more churches now use security people to protect personnel and worshippers, we no longer have Levites to keep the unclean out of worship. If we did, our churches would be empty because we’re all soiled by sin! While we don’t have official gatekeepers, let us all be cautious of being unofficial ones. What would have happened to Jimmy if we had gatekeepers in our churches? What of his new friend? The best part of any man is what’s found in his heart and we’ll never know what’s in his heart until we take the time to know the man.

May the church be the place of God’s mercy and love, where everyone can feel themselves welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the good life of the Gospel. And in order to make others feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged, the church must have open doors so that all might enter. And we must go out of those doors and proclaim the Gospel. [Pope Francis]

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. [Hebrews 13:2 (ESV)]

And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:40 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE BREAD OF LIFE – THANKSGIVING DAY 2018 

“Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves. [John 6:10-13 (NLT)]

fresh breadIn all probability, you’re not having more than 5,000 guests for dinner today and, rather than sitting on the ground, they’ll probably all be seated at a table. Nevertheless, other than that, these words sound a bit like dinner today at any number of homes throughout our nation—there will be lots of people, more than enough to eat, and plenty of leftovers.

While some people will take a stroll around the block in an effort to make room for the next round of food, many will settle into comfortable chairs and probably snooze while watching football. Although “I can’t eat another bite!” will be repeated at tables far and wide, sooner or later, people again will wander into the kitchen for another morsel of turkey or piece of pie. We’ll get hungry again and overeat once more, if not today then tomorrow or the next day. No matter how much we eat this afternoon, today’s meal won’t satisfy tomorrow’s hunger.

Jesus, however, offers us a meal that is more than satisfying; one that will erase the hunger in our souls forever. We won’t ever feel stuffed or need to unbutton our pants to enjoy it. Totally calorie-free, we have no reason to worry about fats, gluten or carbohydrates. As you pass the basket of rolls today, be sure to remember that Jesus is the true Bread of Life!

Farmers everywhere provide bread for all humanity, but it is Christ alone who is the bread of life…Even if all the physical hunger of the world were satisfied, even if everyone who is hungry were fed by his or her own labor or by the generosity of others, the deepest hunger of man would still exist…Therefore, I say, Come, all of you, to Christ. He is the bread of life. Come to Christ and you will never be hungry again. [Pope John Paul II]

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. [John 6:35, 47-50 (NLT)]

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LOOKS ARE DECEIVING 

peacock - peahenBut the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)]

Samuel was sent to the home of Jesse to find Israel’s new king. As soon as he saw Jesse’s imposing eldest son, Eliab, Samuel thought he surely had his man. God, however, corrected him and told the prophet that appearances can be deceiving. Man sees how a person looks but God actually sees who that person is!

I thought of God’s admonition to Samuel when visiting my son in southern California where a flock of feral peacocks roam his neighborhood. With their vibrant colors and extravagant plumage, they are a beautiful addition to an already picturesque location. I thought how fortunate the residents were to have these beautiful birds in their neighborhood until I heard one scream from a roof top. The dreadful noise was a cross between the braying of a mule and the screeching of a tortured cat. Legend has it that the vain peacock has incredibly ugly feet and shrieks horribly whenever he sees them. I don’t know about its feet but, once I heard the peacock’s call, I quickly thanked God that we don’t have peacocks in our Florida neighborhood.

Yes, looks can be deceiving. People can be beautiful, like the peacock, but what’s inside them can be as ugly as the peacock’s voice. On the other hand, people can be plain and easily ignored, like the grey mockingbird, but what’s inside them is as beautiful as a mockingbird’s song.

Lord, direct us so that we are more like you; help us look at people’s hearts and not their outward appearance. Guide us so that we are more concerned with having good hearts than in having good looks.

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you will never walk alone.
[Sam Levenson]

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. [1 Peter 3:3-4 (NLT)]

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PLAYING WITH HEART

For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall. You will stand against the whole land—the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah. They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken! [Jeremiah 1:18-19 (NLT)]

white tailed deerI thought of locker room speeches today when reading the book of Jeremiah. God calls Jeremiah to be His prophet and gives him the task of bringing a message of both judgment and blessings to the nations. Telling him to get ready for action and not to be afraid, God gives the prophet the Biblical equivalent of a locker room speech and tells him that he will be invincible, as unconquerable as a fortress, and promises to care for him. God’s words had to be encouraging and reassuring to the young prophet.

We all have our favorite motivational movie speeches. Perhaps it’s the one from Hoosiers when Gene Hackman’s character tells his team to play to their potential and not get caught up in thinking about winning or losing. Another great speech is when the groundskeeper in Rudy tells the young man that giving up, while easier than perseverance, leads to regret. It is pushing through that leads to triumph. My favorite scene is probably when the coach in We Are Marshall tells his team that the opponents don’t know their heart. “We cannot lose,” he says, adding that, while they may be behind on the scoreboard when the game ends, they cannot be defeated. Perhaps I like these speeches because none of the coaches said that winning the game was what determined the players’ victory. Victory would be achieved by playing the game with heart. When God encouraged Jeremiah, like these coaches, He never promised a win.

Jeremiah was Judah’s primary prophet during the dark days preceding their conquest by Babylonia. Known as the “Weeping Prophet,” many would say Jeremiah was a failure. He labored over forty years and, at best, his audience was apathetic and ignored him; at worst, they were antagonistic and hostile. His neighbors wanted to kill him, his family plotted against him, and he was banned from the Temple. He was arrested, whipped, put in stocks, and ridiculed at a city gate. After another flogging, he was imprisoned and then lowered into a cistern where he sunk into mud. Even after his prophecy proved true and Jerusalem fell, he was disregarded and ridiculed. Taken against his will to Egypt, tradition holds that Jeremiah’s fellow countrymen stoned him to death there.

A sportscaster would say that Jeremiah lost the game in an agonizing and humiliating defeat. The reforms of Judah that started with Josiah stopped there and it was downhill from then on. By the time Jeremiah wrote Lamentations, Jerusalem had fallen, the temple was destroyed, and his people slaughtered, tortured or taken captive. Nevertheless, Jeremiah did his utmost and never lost heart. Quitting certainly would have been easier but he persevered. His triumph was not in changing the minds of Judah but rather in following the will of God. Let us never forget that God’s idea of victory has nothing to do with winning or the numbers on the scoreboard but everything to do with how we play the game. Like Jeremiah, may we always play it with heart, faith, and obedience.

For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. [1 John 5:4-5 (NLT)]

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DEVOTIONAL MOODS

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. [Colossians 4:2 (NLT)]

Ghost Ranch NMIn his classic satire The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives the reader a series of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, advising the novice demon on ways to secure the damnation of his “patient,” an ordinary young man. Warning that the demons are defeated whenever man directs his gaze toward God, Screwtape encourages his nephew to keep the patient (a new Christian) from praying. If prayer can’t be prevented, he advises getting the fellow into a “devotional mood… since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s [God’s] service.” Screwtape reassures Wormwood that “lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.” It won’t be difficult to redirect the patient’s attention, he tells his nephew, since humans aren’t really as desirous of “the real nakedness of the soul in prayer” as they suppose.

We know that Jesus prayed frequently and fervently. Luke, who was a physician, tells us Jesus prayed so hard in Gethsemane that He sweat blood. This rare condition, called hematohidrosis, was reported by both Aristotle and Theophrastus more than 300 years before Christ. Under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress, the tiny blood vessels surrounding the sweat glands can constrict and then dilate to the point of rupture; blood then flows into the sweat glands and a person can literally sweat blood. That night in Gethsemane, as Jesus agonized in the garden, there was nothing superficial or lazy about His prayer.

After reading Screwtape’s counsel to his nephew, I thought about my morning devotional time. By 5:30 AM, I am in a comfy chair, sipping a latte, and surrounded by iPad, Bibles, books, notebook and pen. During the next 90 minutes or so, I read assorted devotions and Bible commentaries, get through a few chapters in the Bible and whatever book I’m studying in small group, journal, and pray. Unfortunately, with prayer being last, it often is least and, while sincere, it can be rather generic and hurried. Screwtape’s devilish words helped me see how easy it is to mistake my “devotional mood” for prayer. Thinking about God, even spending time in His word, is no substitute for talking with the Big Guy Himself! I don’t think God expects us to pray so passionately that we sweat blood; nevertheless, I do think He expects us to bare our souls in His presence.

Establishing and reinforcing our connection with God, prayer is far more than study and reflection or telling God what it is we want. It is a concentrated, purposeful and deliberate time of worship, praise, thanksgiving, self-examination, confession, repentance, acceptance, intercession, and petition. Rather than being in a “devotional mood,” prayer is attending to God and His voice with undivided attention and submitting to His will with an undivided heart.

Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray. [Samuel Chadwick]

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

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