CLOSED DOORS

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! [Psalm 141:2 (ESV)]

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6 (ESV)]

chapel of the transfiguration - Grand TetonsOne of the countless questions we have about this pandemic is how God could allow church doors to close throughout the world. 2020 is not the first time the doors to His house have been shut. In 586 BC, the Temple doors closed for the Jews when Judah fell to Babylon; Jerusalem was laid to waste and the Temple destroyed. Its doors didn’t open again until the exiles returned and completed the second Temple in 515 BC. Destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, all that remains of that Temple is a small portion of an external supporting wall on the Temple Mount.

Although the focal point of Jewish worship was the Temple, we know that synagogues existed in Jesus’ day. They may have evolved as a substitute for the first Temple during the Babylonian exile. Rather than houses of worship, however, they were places for study, communal meals, the local court, and from which to distribute charity. Until 70 AD, the Temple remained fundamental to Jewish worship and, every year, Jews from all over the world returned to Jerusalem to worship there for the festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

After the Romans destroyed it, the Jews wondered how they could continue to worship and offer the required sacrifices without a Temple. Looking to the Bible and tradition for answers, they found scripture that connected prayer with sacrifice. Prayer became a satisfactory substitute for ritual sacrifice and the synagogue became a place of worship and prayer (as well as study).

Nowadays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw Jews to the synagogue the way Christmas and Easter draw Christians to a church. COVID changed that this year and, when the High Holy Days were celebrated last month, even the doors to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue were shut. When asked how they could observe the holiest days of the year without going to synagogue, Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky replied, “You’re going to make your home into a mini-synagogue.” He then made reference to a quote by Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a 19th century Hasidic rabbi who, at the age of five, is said to have asked his father, “Where is God?” When his father answered, “God is everywhere!” the future rabbi responded, “No, I think God is only where you let Him in.”

God needs somewhere to live but that place isn’t a church or synagogue; that place is us! When we ask, “Where is God?” let us remember He doesn’t live in a building. God is wherever we allow Him in! He is in the simple everyday miracles of life and His Holy Spirit dwells within us. Since God has allowed our church doors to close, He must have His reasons. Perhaps it’s simply a reminder that being a Christian isn’t going to church; it is being the church! We can do that anywhere! Let our homes become mini-churches and may our lives reflect His presence.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” [John 14:23 (ESV)]

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [1 Corinthians 3:16 (ESV)]

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FOR THE CLERGY

Dear brothers, honor the officers of your church who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because they are straining to help you. And remember, no quarreling among yourselves. [1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (TLB)]

October brings Columbus Day sales, pumpkins, corn mazes, Halloween candy, jack-o-lanterns, and the first Christmas items in the stores. On the second Sunday of the month, it also brings us Clergy Appreciation Day. Although we should let our pastors know how much we appreciate them all year long, we probably don’t. We’re more likely to complain about a sermon, the choice of songs, the temperature of the sanctuary, or the sound system than we are to compliment, encourage or thank our ministers. If we haven’t expressed gratitude to our clergy men and women, this coming Sunday is the time to do so.

This year has been especially difficult for our pastors. Their biggest challenge was maintaining unity while addressing their congregation’s concerns and complaints regarding opening. Since March, they’ve continually fielded questions as to when or how their church would open while knowing that half the congregation wouldn’t like the answer. Deciding to close the church was a whole lot easier than figuring out how and when to reopen! They’ve had to cope with the technology required for on-line services and think outside the box as they offered drive-by blessings, drive-in church, Zoom Bible study, or Skype counseling. Preaching to a camera from their living room or an empty church presented its own set of challenges as did offering virtual communion. The isolation of sheltering in place was heartbreaking for the people who regularly visited households, nursing homes, hospitals, and hospice rooms. They could no longer lay hands on the sick or embrace those who grieved. As they’ve ministered to people with financial, health, and family concerns, they’ve struggled with those same issues themselves.

Our pastors have a huge responsibility and we have huge (and often unrealistic) expectations of them. They work far more than a few hours on Sunday morning. Along with writing sermons and prayers, planning services, teaching Bible studies, counseling the troubled, visiting the sick, supervising a staff, marrying, burying, baptizing, and blessing, they manage to unite a disparate group of people into a church family and lead them on their faith journey. We may not always like what they say or do but their job is not to please us; it is to lead us. Consider Moses and the Israelites—if they’d had their way, the Israelites would have ended up back in Egypt as slaves. In spite of their grumbling and complaints, however, Moses led them where God wanted them to go—to the Promised Land. Without a doubt, shepherding a church today is no easier than leading a bunch of disgruntled Israelites through the desert.

Appreciating our pastors shouldn’t be limited to just to one day; we should show our appreciation all year long. While a thank you note is nice, perhaps a better way of communicating our gratitude is by providing support with our time, talents, and treasures; avoiding church politics; and offering encouragement rather than complaints. The best thing we can do for our pastors, however, is to pray for them every day.

Father, we thank you for our clergy—the people you have called to shepherd your church. Let your Holy Spirit fill them so that they shine your light, share your love, and shape your people.

If a church wants a better pastor, it only needs to pray for the one it has. [Anonymous]

Pastors need your grace, not your gripes. [Woodrow Kroll]

Obey your spiritual leaders and be willing to do what they say. For their work is to watch over your souls, and God will judge them on how well they do this. Give them reason to report joyfully about you to the Lord and not with sorrow, for then you will suffer for it too. [Hebrews 3:17 (TLB)]

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BEING A CHRISTIAN

If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” [Romans 10:9-11 (GW)]

Then Jesus called the crowd to himself along with his disciples. He said to them, “Those who want to follow me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses, and follow me. Those who want to save their lives will lose them. But those who lose their lives for me and for the Good News will save them. [Mark 8:34-35(GW)]

Becoming a Christian is the most important step we will ever take in our lives and has longer reaching consequences that our choice of career or spouse. Fortunately, it is relatively easy: admit our sinfulness and turn away from sin, believe that Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin and to give us eternal life, and declare our faith in Jesus Christ. Repenting, accepting and confessing one’s faith—that’s the easy part.

Being a Christian—now, that’s where it gets difficult. Being a Christian is so much more than going to church, knowing Bible verses or saying prayers. It certainly is more than tithing, being baptized, confirmed, or even partaking in Holy Communion. Being a Christian isn’t a one-time event or an occasional action; it is a day-to-day process. By accepting Christ, we’ve become a new person. Unfortunately, that old sinful self is still there, relentlessly trying to assert itself. Being a Christian is a continual process of repentance and forgiveness and poses the daily challenge of giving our heart, minds and bodies to Him. It is allowing the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—to become evident and grow in our lives. Being a Christian isn’t knowing about Jesus; it’s actually knowing Him and having a relationship with Him. It is hearing and heeding His voice; it is loving Him and being loved by Him; it is devoting ourselves to Him, doing for Him, being His disciple, and spreading the gospel message.

I became a Christian years ago; being a Christian—well, I’m still working on that! Right now, I’m just a work in progress.

I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian. [Saint Ignatius]

Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ. [Billy Graham]

Examine yourselves to see whether you are still in the Christian faith. Test yourselves! Don’t you recognize that you are people in whom Jesus Christ lives? Could it be that you’re failing the test? [2 Corinthians 13:5 (GW)]

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WALKING ADVERTISEMENTS

The one thing I would stress is this: your public behaviour must match up to the gospel of the king. [Philippians 1:27a (NTE)]

As children of obedience, don’t be squashed into the shape of the passions you used to indulge when you were still in ignorance. Rather, just as the one who called you is holy, so be holy yourselves, in every aspect of behaviour. It is written, you see, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ [1 Peter 1:14-16 (NTE)]

ducks domestic

When I’m riding “shotgun” and we’re moving at snail’s pace in a traffic jam, I often amuse myself by reading the bumper stickers on the cars and trucks surrounding us. People tell us the number of children they have (and how bright they are) and make known their favorite pets, profession, and hobbies along with their stand on a variety of political issues. Bumper stickers certainly give an impression of the driver (or possibly the vehicle’s previous owners). While some stickers indicate the driver might be someone I’d enjoy meeting, I know I’d have little in common with the trucker who said he hated everybody, the one who thanked God he was an atheist, or the driver who told me to test my faith by driving with my eyes closed and avoid hangovers by staying drunk.

With the election coming up, many vehicles now display political ads. I don’t base my vote on bumper stickers, but the sentiments expressed by the other stickers on a vehicle often tell me something about the kind of person who supports the advertised party or cause. When the vehicles with political stickers also sport idiotic, hateful, bigoted or rude messages, their combination gives me pause. If the sort of person who supports that policy, party or politician sees nothing wrong or inappropriate with the rest of his messages, what does that say about his politics? If this driver is a typical supporter, would I want to further that movement?

If we were cars, what sort of messages would we display? Would they be the sort of stickers Jesus would have on His bumper? Or, do we claim to be Christian but preach a different story with words of hate, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, bigotry, or sexism? Are we good spokespersons for the church of Christ or do people look at us and want nothing to do with whatever it is we claim to believe? People judge Jesus by His followers and the world is watching us. What message are we sending with our words and actions?

The world takes its notions of God from the people who say that they belong to God’s family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; they only hear about Jesus Christ. [Alexander MacLaren]

Behave wisely towards outsiders; buy up every opportunity. When you speak, make sure it’s always full of grace, and well flavoured with salt! [Colossians 4:5-6a (NTE)]

Anyone who says, “I abide in him,” ought to behave in the same way that he behaved. [1 John 2:6 (NTE)]

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SCHEDULED

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. [Mark 1:35 (NLT)]

clock

I like the calendar app on our smartphones and its ability to remember recurring events: just put in an occasion and tell it to repeat every day, week, month, or year for as long as you want. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, yoga class, tennis lessons, Bible study—there’s no reason to miss any of those recurring events and my man no longer has any excuse for forgetting my birthday or our anniversary! Our devices notify us of the day’s events and, with just a quick glance, we’re reminded of something we need to do, somewhere to go, or someone we should remember that day.

Attentive as we are about scheduling book club, haircuts, birthday cards or the dentist, are any of us as diligent about scheduling God into our lives? Do we schedule a recurring daily appointment with Him or is He just allotted one hour Sunday mornings? The most important appointment of the day (one that should be repeated each and every day with no end date) is the one we have with God.

Scheduling an appointment, however, doesn’t always mean it is kept. Things come up, plans change and appointments are broken. Since some professionals like doctors, lawyers, and personal trainers often charge when we don’t show for a session, we’re usually careful about keeping their appointments. God, however, doesn’t charge a fee if we skip our time with him. Perhaps, since He’s never too busy for us, we take Him for granted and frequently get too busy for Him! If we don’t have time to pray and read Scripture, we are far busier than God ever intended us to be.

Moreover, for what the lawyer, physician, or trainer charges per hour, we’re usually attentive to whatever it is they have to say to us. Are we as attentive when we meet with God? I start the day reading the day’s Bible verses and meditations in my in-box but my attention can get diverted to emails from the kids, humor from a friend, or a sale from my favorite retailer. While reading Scripture, I can get side-tracked, as well. I start researching one thing and, several links later, find myself totally immersed in another thing! It’s not so much that I’ve wasted the time—it’s that God is no longer at the front and center of our appointment and something or someone else has taken my attention. Pretty soon, breakfast and the day’s activities call; prayer and meditation get put off until a more convenient time. I promise to get back to God later, but that rarely happens. Even though I’ll spend time later in the day writing devotions, that’s doing a task for Him, rather than spending time with Him and the two are not the same.

Originally, I started this devotion with the point being to schedule and keep a daily appointment with God. Now, I realize I’m wrong. In actuality, God shouldn’t have to be scheduled; He should be there in the forefront 24/7/365. Rather than making time with God fit into our calendar and plans, it’s all of the other things demanding our attention that we must arrange to fit into His agenda and timetable.

We usually spend our money on what is most important to us—on what do we spend our time?

The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God; keep it, or every other battle will become bigger. [Ravi Zacharias]

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. [1 Chronicles 16:8-11 (NLT)]

Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. [Psalm 86:11 (NLT)]

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LUKEWARM

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

I’ve learned something about my housekeeping habits during this pandemic. Like many, when it first began, I took my pent up energy and enthusiastically cleaned, arranged, sorted and scrubbed. Cupboards and baseboards were wiped, windows were washed, furniture moved, fan blades dusted, files sorted, and every closet, cupboard, and drawer organized. That, however, was many months ago. I now realize that hospitality was my real reason for cleaning house. Pre-pandemic, we frequently entertained, neighbors regularly stopped over, and houseguests often occupied one of the bedrooms. Being ready for visitors at a moment’s notice was my incentive for keeping the house spic-and-span. Guests, however, are a thing of the past and only repairmen get beyond the front door! While our house is still presentable, it’s not the way it used to be. With just the two of us, I’ve lost my motivation and become far more tolerant of things like dust, disorder, and dirty windows!

The image of Jesus knocking at the door to an unbeliever’s heart has been used by evangelists for decades but the unbeliever’s heart is not the best understanding of Revelation 3:20. Jesus wasn’t speaking to a non-believer; He was speaking to the believers in the church of Laodicea. Like the tepid water supply of their city, they were neither hot like the healing waters of the nearby hot springs nor cold like the refreshing springs in Colossae. They were a church that had become lukewarm and indifferent to Jesus. Their self-satisfaction and apathy had led to idleness and lethargy. Jesus had some harsh words for them as He stood knocking at the door of a church that didn’t even know He’d left the house!

The church at Laodicea had grown as lax in their faith as I have in my housekeeping. Their initial fervor for Jesus waned just as my early enthusiasm about cleaning did. They’d become satisfied with superficial religion rather than growing deeper in faith and I’ve become satisfied with surface cleaning rather than getting deep into the corners. The church at Laodicea, having grown content with their wealth and easy life, were cutting corners. Having grown content with sheltering in place, I’m taking short cuts, as well. While making these comparisons, I realize that the Lord’s words of censure are not limited to Laodicea. Just as I slipped into indifference about housework, like the Laodiceans, we easily can slide into a half-hearted perfunctory faith.

Indifference leads to idleness but I’m sure my zeal for housekeeping will return when I again welcome people into our home. Sheltering in place, however, doesn’t keep Jesus from knocking at our doors. Have we become too complacent, self-satisfied, or apathetic to hear Him knocking? Open the door, invite Him in, and share a meal as friends! He’s far more interested in our hearts than the cleanliness of our homes! Let us never become indifferent to Him or spiritually lukewarm!

I do not think the devil cares how many churches you build, if only you have lukewarm preachers and people in them. [Charles Spurgeon]

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!… I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. … Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. [Revelation 3:15-16,19,22 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.