JEHOVAH RAPHA

Steamboat SkiThe same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. … It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. [1 Corinthians 12:9,11 (NLT)]

Several years ago, what should have been my first ski run of the day became my last one of the season when a tumble down an icy slope left me with three broken ribs and tears in both my ACL and MCL. After the closing prayer at church that evening, the woman behind me said, “I see you’re in a lot of pain. May I lay hands on you and pray for you?” This woman believed she’d been gifted by the Holy Spirit with healing and I’d often seen her praying over others after church. Unsure about her supposed gift, I was in such pain and despair that I would have accepted any offer of relief. She accompanied me to the front of the church where a few others joined her as they laid hands on me and prayed.

I certainly needed prayer; my body hurt but so did my heart. Scheduled to depart in five days for a much anticipated tour of Belgium and the Netherlands, I suspected my injuries meant we’d have to cancel the trip. I also feared that I’d seen the last of my days skiing on the mountain.

While I can’t say whether those hands and prayers made an immediate difference, I know I felt far better leaving church than when I arrived. I still had torn ligaments and broken ribs, but my pain had eased and my spirits had lifted. The following day, we returned to the Midwest. Only time would heal my ribs but the orthopedic surgeon gave me a full leg brace and scheduled physical therapy. We took our trip and, in spite of my discomfort, had a wonderful time. Hoping to avoid the surgery that seemed inevitable, the next several months were spent in intense physical therapy. Fortunately, without needing surgical repair, I returned to the slopes and continued to ski, albeit with a leg brace and a little more caution, for several more years.

Was my excellent recovery because of the hands laid on me and prayers offered for me or the skill of my physician and physical therapist or both? Only God knows for sure, but I believe those petitions reached God’s ears and He acted on them. Through the healing prayers and touch of my brothers and sisters in Christ, God gave me the spiritual, emotional, and physical strength (along with good medical care) to recover fully.

Throughout the Bible we read of miraculous healings: Naaman was healed of leprosy, Elijah brought the widow’s son back to life, Peter and John healed a lame man, Paul healed the father of Publius, and physical healing was Jesus’ most common miracle.  We have a God who hears our prayers and has the power to heal: our Jehovah Rapha. Today, however, miraculous healings seem few and far between.

Before that evening, I’d questioned whether the Spirit still bestowed the gift of healing on believers. Could someone’s touch really serve as a conduit for God’s healing grace? I no longer doubt; while the spiritual gift of healing may not always manifest in immediate or inexplicable recovery, it does exist.

While few of us may be gifted with healing, every one of us should be engaged in intercessory prayers for the sick. Nevertheless, no matter how strong our faith, the faith of those who pray for us or of those for whom we pray, healing does not always occur. Let us remember that healing is more than the mending of broken bodies; it is the mending of broken souls. God is more concerned with our spiritual salvation than our physical well-being and the restoration of our bodies may have to wait until we enter God’s glory. The healing of our souls, however, can happen right now!

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. [James 5:13-15a (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

STARTING OVER

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy! [Psalm 126:1-3 (NLT)]

along Stagecoach trailWhen the first group of exiles returned from Babylon, they rebuilt the altar and celebrated the Festival of Shelters. Seven months later, after laying a new foundation for the temple, the people again gathered for a celebration. Trumpets blew and cymbals clashed. They sang responsively with one chorus chanting, “He is so good!” and the other answering, “His faithful love endures forever!” In the midst of the crowd’s great shouts of praise, however, weeping could be heard.

Those shouts of praise were from the younger people: the ones who knew nothing of the glorious temple that Solomon had spared no expense in erecting. They’d never seen the doors and walls decorated with carvings of cherubim, flowers, and palm trees and completely overlaid with gold. They’d never walked on the porch or gazed up at the two 27-foot tall pillars of bronze topped by 7-feet chapiters decorated with lilies and pomegranates. For the younger people, the temple foundation was a beginning but, for those who’d seen the once magnificent temple, it was a painful reminder of all they’d lost.

50 years earlier, all of Jerusalem had been looted and destroyed. To those who’d seen the thriving city, splendid palace, and ornate temple, the smaller foundation in the middle of Jerusalem’s rubble was a poor substitute for what once was. David had amassed 1,000 times more money for the construction of Solomon’s temple than they had for this one and they knew it could never come close to matching the first. Standing in the midst of the city’s remains, they were disheartened. I imagine those returning to their homes along the Louisiana coastline after Hurricane Laura feel much the same way as they look at the devastation surrounding them.

In the years that followed, the Judeans encountered opposition to rebuilding the temple from their enemies. The real enemy, however, was their own discouragement and apathy. Sixteen years after they celebrated the temple’s foundation, God’s house still was unfinished while their own homes had been built (quite possibly with the lumber initially meant for the temple). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah called for the completion of God’s temple. The Lord’s message through Haggai was simple and direct: “Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house.” [1:8] The people obeyed and, four years later, the second temple was dedicated.

I suppose we could call COVID-19 the “great detour” of 2020. It’s been our exile to Babylon and, while it hasn’t lasted decades, it sure feels that way. This year’s events certainly caught us off guard. Unless we were epidemiologists, most of us thought things would be back to normal by now. We now understand that, when this pandemic eventually is over, the world to which we return will not look the same. While it won’t be the wreckage of an uninhabited and destroyed Jerusalem and a vandalized and demolished temple, it will be vastly different from the one we left in March. Like the Judeans, we will have to rebuild and, like them, we will have to fight our greatest enemy: discouragement. Let us “Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” [Haggai 2:4b] Let us remember, “He is so good! His faithful love endures forever!”

Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest. [Psalm 126:4-6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE MILLSTONE

These people are as useless as dried-up springs or as mist blown away by the wind. They are doomed to blackest darkness. They brag about themselves with empty, foolish boasting. With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. [2 Peter 2:17-18 (NLT)]

zion parkAround 67 AD, Peter wrote to the church at large to warn them about the danger of false teachers. In a stark contrast to the Messiah’s living water, they were likened to wells without water and Peter warned that they were dangerous, especially to those new to Jesus.  The Apostle’s words reminded me of Jesus’ caution to the disciples about causing one of His “little ones” to fall into sin. “What sorrow awaits the one who does the tempting,” He warned while mentioning a fate involving a millstone. It’s bad enough when we sin but even worse if we drag others down with us. We can do that by preaching a false message, inviting them to share in our sinful behavior or, in a far more subtle way, by causing them to distrust the gospel message or turn from their faith.

The Greek word translated as “cause to sin” is skandalizō, meaning “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way upon which another may trip and fall.” In the New Testament, it meant “to entice to sin.” If skandalizō  sounds familiar, it should. It’s the source of a word we see far too frequently nowadays: scandal. Yet another well-known name has been added to a long list of church leaders brought down by scandal and I think of the stumbling block of scandal. The worst thing about any scandal in the church is what it does to those left in its wake: the “little ones,” the spiritually immature, the “baby Christians” in our midst. They are the people who may be tempted to reject the gospel message because of the sinful behavior of those who supposedly represent Jesus and His followers!

While it’s easy to point a finger at fallen evangelists, let’s remember that three fingers point back at us. Our failings may not be as well-publicized or as blatant as theirs but they easily can be stumbling-blocks to someone’s faith. Our transgressions do not invalidate the message of Jesus but they certainly undermine our witness. When we fall, we wound more than ourselves. If we don’t shake people’s faith in Christ, we do shake their faith in His followers.

Granted, the non-believer will not be able to excuse his lack of faith or sins because of our failings. Nevertheless, if we’ve harmed or lost a soul because of our behavior, we’ll be held accountable. That millstone of which Jesus spoke? A stone used to grind grain, it was so large and heavy that it had to be turned by a donkey. Drowning with a millstone around one’s neck actually was a form of execution used by the Romans for particularly heinous crimes and Jews found this method especially repulsive and inhumane. Jesus’ reference to the horrific fate of those who cause others to fall into sin was not lost on them. Let it not be lost on us!

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. [Matthew 18:6-7 (NLT)]

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. [Romans 14:13 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IT’S A MYSTERY

[A Maskil of Asaph.] O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? [Psalm 74:1 (ESV)]

[A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.] Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me. [Psalm 56:1 (ESV)]

[To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.] Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! [Psalm 81:1 (ESV)]

ibisDepending on the Bible translation used, there are five strange words we might encounter when reading the Psalms: maskil, miktam, shigionoth, gittith and selah. Maskil is seen in the titles of thirteen psalms and once in a psalm’s text (47:7). Believed to be derived from the Hebrew word sakal, meaning to be prudent, understand or ponder, maskil may indicate a psalm of wisdom with instructions for godliness. It’s sometimes translated as a “contemplative poem,” “instruction,” or “skillful psalm.” It also could refer to the skillful construction of the psalm (like a sonnet with its 14 lines and fixed rhyme scheme). The Amplified Bible covers both bases by calling a maskil  “a skillful song, or a didactic or reflective poem.” Since the maskil psalms don’t share a common theme or a unique form, maskil could just be a musical term relating to its performance and its exact meaning remains a mystery in the Psalter.

The six miktam psalms are another mystery. Miktam may be from the Hebrew word katham, meaning to carve, engrave, or inscribe indelibly. Some scholars believe these psalms were valued so much that they were engraved upon tablets. Other scholars believe miktam is from the Hebrew word kethem, meaning “fine or stamped gold” and indicate the psalm was “as precious as stamped gold.” Along that line, the Amplified Bible calls the miktam psalms “a record of memorable thoughts.” While the designation may indicate the importance of the psalm, like maskil, miktam could just be a musical term. We don’t know.

Found only in the title of Psalm 7 and in Habakkuk 3:1, shigionoth usually is translated as prayer. Because its root word could be shagah, meaning reeling or going astray, it’s thought to indicate a wild passionate song with rapid changes of rhythm. In Psalm 7, the Amplified Bible translates shigionoth as an “ode of David…in a wild, irregular, enthusiastic strain.”

Three psalms have the strange heading of gittith. Associating it with the city of Gath where a harp was made, scholars assume the heading meant it was accompanied by a Gittite harp or sung to a Gittite tune. Gittith also could refer to a wine press, indicating the psalms were sung during wine production. As with maskil, miktam, and shigionoth, its exact meaning remains a mystery.

Because those enigmatic terms typically are found only in a psalm’s title, their ambiguity doesn’t affect our appreciation of the psalm; selah, however, is different. Found within the text of 39 psalms and Habakkuk 3, selah bears notice. It may be from the Hebrew word salal, meaning lift up or exalt, which could be an indication for the choir to lift their voices higher and louder in praise. Many scholars, however, believe selah comes from the Hebrew salah, meaning “to pause” and signifies a pause in the music or recitation. Perhaps, selah means both: to praise and to pause.

Thinking of selah as less important than a quarter rest on a music score, I used to skip by it. Like a musical rest, however, selah, shouldn’t be ignored. While we don’t know its exact meaning, the Psalmists thought selah important enough to place it 71 times in Psalms and it should cause us to stop and reflect on the psalm’s previous words. Whenever selah occurs in the Amplified Bible, these words follow: “pause, and calmly think of that!” Regardless of the Bible translation we use, that’s wise advice!

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah [Psalm 32:5 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NOT SEEING THE CAMELS FOR THE GNATS

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! [Matthew 23:23-24 (NLT)]

camelJesus criticized the Pharisees for their meticulous tithing of herbs and spices while missing the more important aspects of the law. While both gnats and camels were forbidden food, in a wonderfully graphic hyperbole, He compared the way they poured their wine through a strainer to avoid accidentally swallowing a gnat (the smallest of prohibited “unclean” animals) while actually swallowing a camel (the largest)! Feeling self-righteous over their adherence to minor details, the Pharisees entirely missed the foundational principles of the Law: loving God and loving others.

Although the law demanded the tithing of produce, the Pharisees in Jesus day debated whether that applied to all the herbs and spices. One group determined it didn’t apply to black cumin but, in later years, the tithing of cumin was again required when the tithing of mint wasn’t. While this seems much ado about nothing, I’m not sure we’re that much different from the Pharisees. We’re probably not splitting hairs about herbs or accidentally ingesting a gnat, but it’s easy to become fixated on the details (tithing, attire, drinking, church attendance, rituals, sex, smoking) while missing the bigger issues like materialism, impatience, anger, pride, selfishness, callousness, lust, duplicity, and prejudice as well as justice, mercy, and faith. If we haven’t neglected church attendance, committed adultery, murdered anyone, robbed a bank, pummeled someone with our fists, or watched porn, we feel complacent and self-righteous. Like the Pharisees, we might not be doing the wrong things, but are we putting into practice the right ones?

It is in Christ’s character that we find the Christian virtues: things like humility, wisdom, self-control, courage, perseverance, patience, peace, joy, self-denial, gentleness, compassion, moderation, kindness, mercy, goodness, integrity, faithfulness, and love. Noting that “things will go swimmingly” for the first week, C.S. Lewis suggested making a serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues for at least six weeks. By then, he noted, we’ll have taken “the first step toward true humility” and discovered some rather unpleasant truths about ourselves. “No one knows how bad he is,” said Lewis, “until he has tried very hard to be good.”

It didn’t cost the Pharisees much to strain out a gnat or tithe their herbs and it doesn’t cost us much to obey the letter of the law. Justice, mercy, and faith, however, came at a cost to the Pharisees as the Christian virtues do to us. What good was it for the Pharisee to tithe his dill to the priests but refuse a crumb to the destitute leper begging at the temple steps? What good is it for us to donate ten percent of our money when we won’t give ten minutes of our time to someone in need? Putting into practice Christian virtues is a great deal more difficult than putting ourselves into a pew in a Christian church.

Because they were more concerned about appearing pious than actually being men of virtue and integrity, Jesus continued his denunciation of the Pharisees by comparing them to a cup that is clean on the outside but filthy inside! Like the Pharisees, it’s much easier to avoid scandalous sins – to appear righteous to our neighbors – than to actually be godly people – to be clean both on the outside and inside! Just a week of consciously practicing Christian virtues can be humbling; that’s all it took for me to realize how dirty my cup actually is!

Now is the hour we should humbly prostrate ourselves before God, willing to be convicted afresh of our sins by the Holy Spirit. [Watchman Nee]

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!  You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. [Matthew 23:25-26 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

UNDETERRED (Part 3 – Mark 10:46-52)

Lots of people told him crossly to be quiet. But he shouted out all the louder, “Son of David – take pity on me!” [Mark 10:48 (NTE)]

hibiscusWhen Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, the crowd surrounding him kept telling him to be quiet. Not about to be deterred, the blind beggar just shouted louder. Another man in Jericho was as determined as Bartimaeus: the short and much disliked publican named Zacchaeus. When the little man couldn’t shove his way through to the front of the crowd to catch a glimpse of Jesus, he climbed up a tree (an extremely unseemly behavior for a man of his position).

There are many other stories of such dogged determination to see Jesus. In spite of the disciples reprimanding them for bothering Jesus with their children, some parents persevered in getting their little ones blessed by Him. We have the sinful woman who followed Jesus into a Pharisee’s house so that she could wash His feet with her tears and anoint them with her perfume. That she hadn’t been invited to dinner didn’t stop her from worshiping the Lord. In spite of trying to keep His whereabouts in Tyre a secret, a Syrophoenician woman doggedly tracked down Jesus. When she fell at His feet and pled for her daughter’s healing, the disciples urged Jesus to send her away. Refusing to leave, she even dared to debate with Jesus about her request (inappropriate behavior for a woman of any nationality)! The woman with the bleeding disorder was so intent on touching the rabbi’s cloak that she broke Jewish law and risked public humiliation and severe punishment to get to Him. Two blind men were so determined to see that they followed Jesus right into the house where He was staying. Consider the four friends who carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus only to find the doorway blocked. Unwilling to accept defeat, they cut a hole in the roof and lowered the man down to the Lord.

Bartimaeus and the rest of these people were not about to be deterred from coming into the presence of the Lord. Are we anywhere that resolute in worship, study, praise, and prayer? Would we fight our way through a crowd, climb a tree, refuse to leave, risk humiliation or punishment, go where we weren’t welcome, or cut a hole in someone’s roof? They did and their determination was rewarded. Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ plea, visited Zacchaeus, blessed the children, forgave the sinful woman, and healed the Gentile woman’s daughter, the bleeding woman, the blind men, and the paralyzed man.

While questioning our determination to be with Jesus, we also might ask ourselves if we might be like the ones who hinder or discourage people from coming to Christ. Are we like those who shushed the blind beggar, elbowed Zacchaeus, scolded the parents, wanted to send away the Syrophoenician woman, reminded the sinful woman she wasn’t welcome, shut the door, or blocked the entryway? Do we openly welcome the very people Jesus came to save: the socially unacceptable, weak, troubled, different, disenfranchised, vulnerable, and unclean? Let us be like those who, upon hearing Jesus’ call, said to Bartimaeus, “Cheer up. Come on,” and led the blind man to the Lord!

Then they too will answer, “Master, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t do anything for you?” Then he will answer them, “I’m telling you the truth: when you didn’t do it for one of the least significant of my brothers and sisters here, you didn’t do it for me.” [Matthew 25:44-45 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.