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.

EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? [Luke 17:15-17 (NLT)]

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. [William Arthur Ward]

roseWhen writing yesterday’s message (“Jehovah Rapha”) about my ski accident, I thought about the ten lepers healed by Jesus. Only one returned to thank Him. Did the others assume they would see Jesus some other day and could express their gratitude then? Jesus, however, was on His way to Jerusalem. The lepers had a week’s worth of purification ceremonies, cleansing, isolation, and offerings ahead of them and that “other day” would not come. By not returning immediately, they missed a precious opportunity to thank Jesus.

We were seasonal residents of our Colorado mountain town so, after my accident, we didn’t return to the Rockies until winter. At our first church service back, I found myself behind the woman with the healing hands. During greetings, she turned back, looked at me intently, held my hands in hers, and asked, “How are you!” Hers wasn’t just a cursory church greeting and her question peered deep into my soul. I looked at her with a smile, squeezed her hands and, thinking we’d talk later, simply said, “I am well.” Although the previous months had been challenging in many ways, I finally was physically, emotionally and spiritually well. The music resumed and she turned back to face the pastor and worship leader. When the service ended, she immediately was surrounded by others. Not wanting to interrupt and anxious to get home, I decided to wait until the following week to thank her. I didn’t see her the next week and, one week later, our pastor told the congregation that she’d been killed instantly in a car accident in Denver.

I’d missed the opportunity to speak with this woman, share my testimony, and thank her. Making the mistake of thinking there always was time, like those nine lepers, I’d let life get in the way of my gratitude. Instead of personally telling this beautiful woman how much her compassion, touch, and prayers had meant, not just to my body, but to my soul, I ended up telling her husband in a letter of sympathy. I hope my words gave him some comfort in the depth of his sorrow. His wife was loved by all who knew her and her departure left a huge gap in our church family.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for our unspoken words of thanks, both to you and to those acting on your behalf. Thank you for your servants: the life lines, rescuers, spiritual first responders, and healers that you send into our lives. As your emissaries, they offer their prayers, hands, compassion, and encouraging words. They inspire, comfort, lead, teach, and lift us. Let us never delay expressing our gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon us.

It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do. [Tim Keller]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. [1 Chronicles 16:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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.

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.