SHIFTING SANDS

Dome house - Cape RomanoAnyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

5-miles south of Marco Island, Florida, the remains of the Cape Romano dome house are a perfect illustration of Jesus’ parable about building on a solid foundation. When completed in 1982, the 2,400 sq. ft. house was on Tice Island and about 100 feet from the water. Consisting of six interconnected dome-shaped modules, it was eco-friendly and state-of-the-art. Completely self-sustaining, it had solar panels, generator, satellite TV, a 23,000-gallon cistern that collected water runoff, a water filtration system, and even air conditioning. While its rounded domes survived the hurricane force winds of Andrew in 1992, in the years following, water levels began to rise and destabilize the house’s foundation. After 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, the domes began leaning as the shifting sands eroded their foundation. As the beach retreated, the domes appeared to be marching into the Gulf and, by 2013, they were standing in 6-feet of water. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, two of the domes collapsed into the sea. The remaining domes now sit about 300 feet offshore. When the house was built in the 1980s, two other large houses stood on the island. But, like the dome house, they were no match for Florida’s storms that sucked the sand beneath them right back into the Gulf of Mexico; they, too, are a thing of the past!

Before erecting this house, the owner built a prototype in Tennessee to test his design and it still is standing. Since sand from the beach was used for the concrete, the sand was analyzed to make sure it had the proper aggregate for construction. The problem, however, wasn’t with the concrete or the domes’ unique design; the problem was with the choice of foundation! Rather than bedrock, it was sand!

The Sermon on the Mount concludes with the parable of The Wise and Foolish Builders. Israel is known for torrential rains that cause floods and, when the winter rains came, the Jordan River would pour into the sea causing it to overflow its banks. While the sand around the Sea of Galilee was hard on the surface during the hot summer months, a wise builder would not be fooled those conditions. He’d dig down as far as ten feet below the surface to reach the bedrock for the foundation of the house. The foolish builder, however, takes the easy way and doesn’t dig down to the bedrock. Like the homes on Tice Island, both homes would look secure in good weather. It was only when the storms hit that the difference would become obvious. Houses built on the bedrock can withstand floods and erosion while those built on sand won’t.

Having been raised by a builder, Jesus knew His topic well but He wasn’t giving a lesson in construction. Many of His listeners had built their lives on surface righteousness—one of cursory adherence to the letter of the Law without actually building a deep faith in and obedience to God. No matter how carefully they observed the outward rituals of Judaism, without an inner relationship with the Lord, they had no foundation. They’d built something that looked good on the outside but was weak on the inside and would not stand strong during life’s tempests and turmoil.

It’s inevitable that one or more storms will pummel us and challenge our foundation and this parable still applies to us. Foolish builders choose to build their lives on worldly things like the false gods of wealth, status, looks, power, and self. However, their lives will crumble and collapse when those things disappear. As with the dome house, it may not occur all at once but it will happen. Because wise builders build their lives on faith in the unchanging Lord and His Word, they can withstand life’s challenges. If our foundation is laid in the bedrock of Jesus and Scripture, while battered and bruised, we will remain standing.

When the homes on Tice Island originally were built, they looked sturdy—but looks are deceiving. Without a firm foundation, they couldn’t stand; neither can we! How firm is your foundation?

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken. [Isaiah 28:16 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SEEING ISN’T BELIEVING

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief. [Matthew 13:57-58 (NLT)]

kurrajong hybridAlthough Jesus performed many miracles, when compared to the illusions performed by various well-known magicians, they aren’t all that impressive. Jesus emerged from the tomb on the third day but David Blaine buried himself alive in a plexiglass coffin under a 3-ton water-filled tank for seven days and nights! Calling Lazarus out of the tomb after several days was impressive but only his family and some mourners were there to see it. When David Blaine emerged from the 6-ton block of ice in which he’d been encased for over 63 hours, thousands in Times Square were there and even more watched it on television. Granted, Blaine fell short of his 72-hour goal but the man knows how to draw crowds! Couldn’t Jesus have done something similar?

The disciples saw Jesus walk on water but magician Criss Angel did the same thing on national TV. Jesus appeared in a locked room after His resurrection but Criss Angel has passed through a glass window (without breaking it) and both a metal door and an iron gate. Jesus had Peter take a coin out of a fish’s mouth but David Blaine turned a cup of coffee into a cup of money. Feeding several thousand with a boy’s lunch pales in comparison to David Copperfield making the 225-ton Statue of Liberty disappear. Quietly transforming water into wine isn’t nearly as impressive as illusionist Cyril Takayama removing his head or David Copperfield making an airplane disappear.

Of course, the difference between Jesus and those magicians is that the men are mere illusionists and Jesus was God. Those magicians and their tricks only seem miraculous because we don’t understand how they’re done. Miracles done by Jesus had nothing to do with misdirection, deception, trickery, or sleight of hand. Without worldly explanation, they truly were supernatural. Nevertheless, wouldn’t Jesus have gathered more followers if He’d been more of a showman?

Couldn’t Jesus have done something more dramatic and remarkable in Nazareth than a few healings and a display of wisdom in the synagogue? People unimpressed by his background might have been awestruck if He’d made a camel disappear, pulled shekels from children’s ears, or cut a disciple in half. No matter how spectacular the miracles, however, the people’s skepticism would have blinded them to His message. The lack of belief in Nazareth didn’t mean Jesus couldn’t perform miracles; it simply meant He wouldn’t because there was no point. Some people are unwilling to believe no matter what they see.

The magician’s end purpose is to create illusions for money, fame, and entertainment—none of which were Jesus’ purpose. He performed miracles only out of compassion, to illustrate a lesson, or to establish his credentials as God. Frequently, He even asked people to say nothing about them. Miracles were a small part of His ministry because Jesus knew that miracles alone make a poor basis for faith.

Jerusalem was filled with people that Passover week some 2,000 years ago. Surely some of the populace there had been fed by Him, received his healing touch, or witnessed Him perform a miracle or two. If they hadn’t been eyewitnesses, many more had heard about His miracles. Nevertheless, on that Friday when Pilate asked if he should release Barabbas or Jesus “who is called Christ,” we don’t read of anyone in the crowd trying to drown out those who called for the release of Barabbas. They weren’t calling for Jesus because seeing was not enough to make them believe.

Men can see the greatest miracles and miss the glory of God. What generation was ever favored with miracles as Jesus’ generations was? Yet that generation crucified the Son of God! [Tom Wells]

Jesus asked, “Will you never believe in me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?” [John 4:48 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FEEDING THE MULTITUDE – Part 2

At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “You have so little faith! Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up?” [Matthew 16:7-10 (NLT)]

white ibisMatthew and Mark tell of a second time Jesus fed a multitude. Jesus had been north of Galilee in Tyre and Sidon before going south to the Sea of Galilee and on to the region of the Ten Towns or Decapolis. Once there, a huge crowd assembled and set up camp around Jesus as He healed and preached. After three days on the hillside, the crowd ran out of provisions and Jesus voiced His concern. Just like the first time they were faced with a hungry crowd, the disciples don’t know what to do, even though the solution was standing right in front of them. After they found seven loaves and a few fish, Jesus miraculously turned that into a feast for 4,000 men (plus women and children) with seven large reed baskets of food remaining!

Why would Matthew and Mark include two almost identical stories to their gospels?  Perhaps the reason is found in the location of these miracles. While the setting of these miracles seems unimportant to us in the 21st century, it wasn’t when the miracles occurred and the words were written. Located on the north shore of the Galilean Sea, the Bethsaida region was Jewish, and most (if not all) of the recipients of that first miraculous meal were Jews. When Jesus was in Tyre and Sidon, however, He was in a Gentile region and at least 35 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. To get to the Decapolis, He had to go east, cross the Jordan, and then proceed south to the southern end of the Sea. Since he was on His way back to Judea, it’s evident that Jesus deliberately went out of His way to minister to this Gentile and largely pagan region.

With their addition of Jesus feeding the multitude in the Decapolis, Matthew and Mark made it clear that Jesus came for both Jew and Gentile. Let this story be a reminder that, whether Jew or Gentile, good church-going people or idol worshippers and pagans, deserving or undeserving, all of God’s children deserve to be fed both spiritually and physically.

It also seems that Jesus’ miracles of provision needed repeating for His disciples. Even though He previously turned a boy’s lunch into a banquet for well over 5,000 hungry people, the disciples stood around not knowing what to do when faced with another hungry crowd of 4,000 men (plus women and children)! Instead of seeing an opportunity, they saw an impossibility. Rather than asking Jesus where they’d find enough food in the wilderness, they immediately should have offered what they did have to Jesus and asked Him to make it enough! It seems the disciples were slow learners!

Even though Jesus turned seven loaves and a few fish into an al fresco picnic for thousands, the disciples still didn’t understand. Shortly after this miracle, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat and crossing the lake. When the disciples realized they had only one loaf of bread between them, they argued about the lack of food! They sat there quarreling about bread while the Bread of Life sat in the boat with them. For the One who could multiply seven loaves to feed a multitude, turning one loaf into enough for thirteen men was child’s play, but they were blind to who He was and what He could do!

May we always remember that God can do things that exceed our wildest imagination. If we just bring Him what we have—no matter how little or insignificant it may seem—God will make it enough. As the old hymn goes: “Little is much when God is in it.”

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

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.” [John 6:35 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DEBORAH 

One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.” [Judges 4:6-7 (NLT)]

rainbowSince the judges usually were military leaders, it’s not surprising that only one of the twelve, was female: Deborah. Normally, the culture of the day wouldn’t support a woman in this role. Judges were called to save Israel from their enemies and to restore peace and prosperity. They did it by driving out or annihilating Israel’s oppressors—not considered women’s work in 1150 BC. Nevertheless, God designated the prophet Deborah as Israel’s judge. At the risk of sounding sexist, it could be that God appointed a woman as the judge because there were no qualified men at the time!

Deborah served during the time Canaanite King Jabin oppressed Israel. After summoning Barak, she revealed God’s plan—promising victory, God commanded him to gather an army of 10,000 men and go to war. Even though Barak was assured of success, the warrior’s reluctance is understandable. Israel was nearly weaponless at the time. Either they lacked the technology to make weapons or had been required to turn in their weapons to their Philistine and Canaanite oppressors. The Canaanites, however, had 900 chariots (the superweapons of their time) at their disposal! The odds were against Israel!

Barak accepted God’s call on one condition—that Deborah join him! Deborah was a wife, prophet, and judge but she wasn’t a warrior; nevertheless, Barak wanted this woman at his side. Perhaps he trusted Deborah’s relationship with God more than he trusted his! After agreeing to go to battle, Deborah warned Barak that, if she did go, he would not be the battle’s hero—that honor would belong to a woman.

As Deborah prophesized, Barak’s troops were victorious. They killed every Canaanite warrior save one—the army’s commander, Sisera. And, as Deborah predicted, the honor for the battle’s victory went to a woman—but not to Deborah. While both Deborah and Barak are mentioned in the victory song, the honor went to Jael. The wife of Heber the Kenite, Jael sized up the situation when the fleeing Sisera arrived in her campsite. After welcoming him into her tent, she fed him and covered him with a blanket. Then, in what can only be called a serious breach of hospitality, Jael hammered a tent peg through Sisera’s skull after the exhausted man fell asleep!

Deborah’s story closes with a beautiful song of victory attributed to her. Believed to be some of the oldest poetry in the Bible, it is a beautiful narrative of the battle. When God caused a storm, the heavy rain caused the river to rise and the Canaanites’ chariots became stuck in the mud. The panicked troops were sitting ducks when Israel’s army descended upon them. The song pays tribute to all of the people and tribes who fought (and berates those who didn’t). As Jael’s part is recounted, she is called the “most blessed among women” and a prayer is offered that Jael “be blessed above all women who live in tents.” Deborah’s song, however, really wasn’t about giving Jael the honor of victory. That honor was given to God. Deborah gave credit where credit was due as she celebrated God’s righteous act in bringing the power of the heavens against their enemies!

When Barak insisted that Deborah come to battle with him, he seemed to forget that she was not the one guaranteeing victory; that guarantee came from God. The question before Barak wasn’t one of Israel’s success or defeat in battle. The question of victory was answered the moment God promised it. The question before Barak was simply whether or not He would believe God enough to claim that victory! He almost didn’t! May we remember to claim the victories that God promises to us!

So on that day Israel saw God defeat Jabin, the Canaanite king. And from that time on Israel became stronger and stronger against King Jabin until they finally destroyed him. [Judges 4:23-24 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

THE BETRAYAL

Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles. My enemies shout at me, making loud and wicked threats. They bring trouble on me and angrily hunt me down. … Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! [Psalm 55:1-3,6 (NLT)]

mourning dove
Psalm 55 describes a time in David’s life when he was being attacked by his enemies. Crying out to God, he wished for the wings of a dove so he could escape those who were hunting him down. What is unusual in this psalm is that David’s enemies were not adversaries like Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, or Amalekites; the attack came from “my equal, my companion and close friend.” Commentators tend to place this psalm during the rebellion led by Absalom, David’s son. The friend about whom David speaks probably was Ahithophel. Once David’s trusted counselor, Ahithophel switched his loyalty to Absalom who was attempting to overthrow David’s kingship.

My brother-in-law was the picture of health until he was betrayed, but not by his best friend. His body betrayed him with Parkinson’s disease. Instead of deceit and arrows, he was attacked by muscle rigidity, poor balance, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing and speaking, dizziness, urinary problems, trouble standing and walking, fatigue, irregular blood pressure, depression, and finally mental decline. David eventually defeated his adversary; my brother-in-law did not. He surrendered last year as did my sister the previous year when her body overpowered her with the complications of multiple sclerosis. Rather than a child or friend, their bodies attacked them; even so, David’s words could have been theirs.

As I read David’s psalm this morning, I thought of friends who, like David, wish they could run from their troubles and escape to a safe place where their enemy couldn’t follow. Unfortunately, wherever they run their enemy follows because, as with my brother-in-law and sister, the traitor is their body. Recently, a friend with MS was unable to join my husband for coffee because his legs “wouldn’t cooperate” and he couldn’t get into his car! Two of the men with him at coffee have spouses whose bodies have conspired against them with dementia. Sadly, they are not the only ones we know whose bodies are progressively betraying them. Whether it’s MS, ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, COPD, cancer, the aftereffects of a stroke, or some other incapacitating disorder, David’s words could easily have been written by them or anyone else with a chronic condition.

As much as David wanted to escape his troubles and flee, he couldn’t and, as much as people suffering from a debilitating physical condition would like to escape theirs, it can’t be done either. Rather than fleeing from his situation, however, David called God into it and expressed confidence that the Lord would hear his voice. In the end, his prayer of despair became one of faith. Sure that God would sustain him in his trouble, David submitted the situation to the will of God. When faced with insurmountable trouble, prayer is all we have. For a believer, prayer is all that is needed because we know that God already has saved us!

Heavenly Father, we offer prayers for those who are suffering from debilitating ailments. Fortify their faith in the challenging days they face and reassure them of your presence. Give them courage to face their difficult tomorrows, however many or few they may be. When their battle is over, gently carry them to your heavenly place of rest where pain is no longer experienced and bodies are no longer broken.

He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken! [Isaiah 25:8 (NLT)]

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. [2 Corinthians 5:1-3 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

CHUCK AND THOMAS

Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [John 11:16 (NIV)]

You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” [John 14:4-5 (NIV)]

red-shouldered hawkIn 1976, Chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families and acting as an advocate for criminal justice reform. Nevertheless, whenever I come across his name, I don’t think of the 36 years he spent in his ministry. Instead, I remember the ruthless man once considered Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” Along with being one of the Watergate Seven, Colson was known as a “dirty tricks artist” who tracked down incriminating photographs and leaked damaging and untrue rumors to discredit and blacken the reputations of political enemies. In 1974, as a new Christian, Colson pled guilty to obstruction of justice on a Watergate-related charge and served seven months in prison. It was after his release that he mobilized the Christian Church to minister to prisoners.

Why do we remember the negative rather than the positive about people? Think of the disciple Thomas. Most of us think of him as the doubter rather than a disciple zealous for Jesus. When the other disciples urged Jesus not to return to Judea because of the danger he faced, it was Thomas who urged the disciples to join Jesus and face death with Him!

The next we read of Thomas is at the last supper when the inquisitive man is probably more honest than the rest of the disciples. Not understanding that Jesus had just described His destination—heaven and eternal life—Thomas acknowledged his ignorance and asked the same question the others probably were silently asking. Thomas wasn’t doubting, the eager man just wanted to understand exactly where he was going and how he was to do it.

Although Thomas heard Jesus say that He was “the way, the truth, and the life,” like the other disciples, the man didn’t know what to believe after the crucifixion. One moment of skepticism and that’s what we remember of him but Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted. Luke tells us that the disciples didn’t believe their eyes when Jesus first stood before them and thought they were seeing a ghost. [24:37] Even after seeing His pierced hands and feet, Luke says they “stood there in disbelief” and it was watching Jesus eat a piece of fish that finally convinced them. [24:41-42]

Let’s remember, Thomas wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared and it wasn’t Jesus he doubted. He questioned the veracity of the disciples in the same way Mark tells us the disciples doubted Mary Magdalene that Sunday morning [16:11]. He wanted to be sure it actually was Jesus they saw. When Thomas finally sees Jesus, he makes the clearest confession of faith we find in any of the gospels by exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” If anything, Thomas’ willingness to express his doubt led to a greater faith!

Neither Chuck Colson nor the Apostle Thomas should be remembered for their worst moments yet they probably are. Oddly, we don’t immediately think of Peter as the man who denied Jesus three times. Instead, we first think of him as the rock upon which Jesus built His church. May we grant the same amount of grace to the Chuck Colsons and the “doubting” Thomases we meet in life!

No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure—that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation—being sent to prison—was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one thing in which I could not glory for His glory. [Chuck Colson]

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [John 20:28-29 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.