JEHOVAH-NISSI (Rephidim – Part 1)

But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power. [Psalm 60:4-5 (NLT)]

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. [Psalm 20:4-5 (NLT)]

The Amalekites were a warlike nomadic tribe who frequently raided settlements to carry off plundered goods. About six weeks into the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, these marauders made an unprovoked attack on the weary refugees while they camped at Rephidim. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead an army against their enemies the following morning. Joshua’s army, however, wasn’t made up of soldiers! Facing the veteran warriors of Amalek were men who less than two months earlier had been enslaved brick makers and field laborers! Worse, this unseasoned army was led by a general as inexperienced as were they. Nevertheless, Israel’s men set out to battle while Moses, his brother Aaron, and a man named Hur (who Jewish tradition believes was married to Miriam and brother-in-law to Moses) climbed to the top of a nearby hill to watch. As Israel fought their powerful foes, Moses extended his arms and held out his staff for all to see.

When going into battle, opposing armies would carry banners or standards that served as rallying points before battle, encouraged the warriors as they fought, and announced when the battle was won. Representing their tribe or leader, the banners usually depicted animals, birds, or pagan gods. Made of fabric, wood, or metal, they were fastened onto a long pole or staff so they could be seen from a distance. Marauders like the Amalekites probably had such a banner. The Israelites, however, weren’t an experienced army and had no flag or standard under which to rally.

Moses’ staff was the closest thing Israel had to a banner. Although it looked like an ordinary shepherd’s tool, to the Israelites it symbolized God’s intervention. Through God’s power, it had transformed into a snake, turned water into blood, produced hail, and infested Egypt with frogs, gnats, flies, and locusts. When Moses raised it over the Red Sea, the waters parted and, when Moses struck a rock with it, water gushed out. That staff, associated with God’s miracles, became Israel’s banner. As long it remained in sight, Israel’s novice army believed God was with them and victory was possible. That symbol of God’s faithfulness, presence, and power remained in the men’s sight on the hilltop until Israel was victorious over the army of Amalek.

After their victory, Moses built a memorial altar and called it Yahweh-Nissi (Jehovah-Nissi), which meant “The Lord is Our Banner.” By not calling it “The Staff is Our Banner” or “Our Banner Brought Us Victory,” it was clear that Moses knew it wasn’t the staff, Joshua’s battle strategy, or Israel’s military might that defeated the Amalekites. The name Yahweh-Nissi acknowledged that it was God’s presence and power that gave them their triumph. God, and God alone, was the author of their victory.

Indeed, the Lord is our banner. Unlike the Israelites, we’re not being attacked by an army of marauding warriors but, like them, the enemy attacks us every day with desire, discontent, despair, anger, and guilt. We face our battles under God’s banner—one of encouragement, courage, hope, love, faith, power, and might. If we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, victory is ours. Because of Yahweh-Nissi, we don’t have to fight our battles on our own strength – we have His!

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. [Isaiah 11:10 (NLT)]

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COMING … (Part 1)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)]

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

elephantAs we came together in worship, each of us bringing the Lord our own private sins, sorrows, doubts, and fears, the hymn’s words, “Just as I am… I come, I come,” seemed a fitting way to start the service. Because its heartfelt words are so relatable, Just as I Am is one of my favorite hymns. Curious about its origin, I learned that its words were written by a Victorian hymn writer named Charlotte Elliott. The daughter of an evangelist, she suffered a serious illness at the age of 32 that left her an invalid for the rest of her life. Angry about what she perceived as uselessness because of her disability, Elliott became severely depressed and spiritually lost. After a visiting minister counseled her to come to Jesus, she asked how she could come to Him when all she had was her anger, sadness, questions, and broken body. The clergyman’s response was simple: “Come to Him just as you are.” Although she gave her life to Christ at that time, she continued to be plagued by depression.

After a sleepless night filled with doubts and feelings of uselessness, the distressed woman “gathered up in her soul the grand certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation: her Lord, His power, His promise.” [Lutheran Hymnal Handbook] Remembering the words said to her twelve years earlier, “Come to Him just as you are,” Charlotte Elliott wrote the hymn we know as Just as I Am. By the grace of God, this woman who came to Jesus just as she was (with broken body and troubled heart) ended up writing about 150 hymns, many of which as still in use today!

Not a one of us comes to the Lord without sin, doubts, pain, scars, weaknesses, and a whole lot of troubling history. John and James had big egos and short-tempers, the Pharisee Saul/Paul hated Gentiles and persecuted Christians, and Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons! For twelve years, the woman with the bleeding disorder was considered unclean and the leper who knelt before Jesus literally was untouchable. Nicodemus was so afraid that he came with his questions in the dark of night. The woman at the well lived with a man not her husband and had been used and discarded by several men before that! The blind men who came to Jesus were nothing but beggars and Zacchaeus and Matthew came to Him as corrupt collaborators. We don’t know the sins of the man hanging on the cross beside Jesus and we can only imagine the baggage carried by the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Yet, they all came to Jesus just as they were and He welcomed them all!

It’s never been a question of whether or not we’re good enough to come to Jesus—none of us are worthy to stand in His presence. Nevertheless, “Come as you are!” is how He invites us to come to Him. In spite of our flaws, sins, doubts, anger, depression, limitations, illness, regrets, or checkered pasts, Jesus loves us as we are and welcomes us with open arms. But, while He welcomes us as sinners, He doesn’t welcome our sins. Our Lord expects us to leave them behind with all the other worldly baggage that weighs us down. It is when we humbly and repentantly come to Jesus just as we are that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He will make of us what we should be!

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
[Charlotte Elliott (1835)]

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 6:35, 8:12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2023 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.


One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. [Luke 18:1 (NLT)]

mourning doveIt is in the Talmud (a compilation of ancient Jewish teachings and history) that we find the legend of Honi ha-Ma’agel (the Circle Maker). After three years of drought in the land, the man prayed for rain. When none came, Honi drew a circle in the dirt and vowed not to leave it until God had pity on his people and sent rain. When God sent a light rain, the circle maker informed God that wasn’t the kind of rain for which he prayed and stated his desire for rain enough to fill the cisterns. When God answered with torrents of rain, Honi again complained that, “Not for such a rain I prayed.” After the circle maker informed God he wanted a “rain of goodwill, blessing, and graciousness,” God provided a rain that satisfied Honi. In fact, it rained so much that the people finally asked Honi to pray the rain away! While Honi’s behavior is a great example of chutzpah (audacity and impudence), I’m not sure it’s a good example of proper prayer.

Every week since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago, the pastor has opened her Saturday evening worship service with a prayer for peace in Ukraine (as well as in our hearts). Regardless of how long it takes, until there is a peaceful settlement or God instructs her to stop praying for Ukraine, she will continue starting every service this way. What she is not doing, however, is drawing a circle in the chancel area, placing a bed and porta-potti in it, arranging for Uber Eats and Grub Hub deliveries, and moving into that circle until God brings peace to the war-torn nation!

While I join in the pastor’s persistent prayers for peace, like her, I don’t draw a circle and refuse to leave it until God answers my prayers on my terms and time line. Rather than an example of perseverance in prayer, the demanding Honi seems a bit like a spoiled child who refuses to leave the store until his parents buy the toy he wants. In fact, the Talmud says the rabbis compared Honi to a son who “importunes” (pesters, annoys, plagues, or harasses) his father to do his will. They even considered excommunicating the circle maker for dishonoring God in such an impertinent way.

No matter how persistently we pray, drawing a circle and challenging God to produce results on demand seems dangerously close to testing the Lord. Requiring something of God to prove Himself is the very thing Satan tempted Jesus to do in the wilderness. By challenging Jesus to jump off the Temple, the enemy wanted to manipulate a situation that would oblige God to intervene. Satan wanted Jesus to prove the truth of God’s word by forcing God’s hand. Honi’s actions weren’t that much different.

Nevertheless, finding Honi’s story similar to Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow and dishonest judge, there are some who think we should follow the circle maker’s example. The widow in the parable tenaciously pestered the corrupt judge for justice against the man who harmed her. Worn down by her persistent pleas to right the wrong, the beleaguered judge eventually granted her request. Jesus, however, wasn’t comparing the unjust judge to God; He was contrasting them! The corrupt judge had no fear of God or concern for people. Since he was more likely to be persuaded by a bribe than compassion or a desire for justice, the widow’s only recourse was to relentlessly hound him until she received what she deserved. In contrast, rather than corrupt, cruel, or hardhearted, God is righteous, merciful, and loving. Jesus explained that God “will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night.”

Presenting ultimatums or harassing, beleaguering, and nagging the Lord is unnecessary because our just and compassionate God always hears and answers our prayers. While Jesus calls for persistence in prayers and perseverance in faith until His return, there is a fine line between boldly praying with perseverance and impertinently praying with cheek, impudence, stipulations, or a sense of entitlement.

The story of Honi is not Biblical and, if praying the way Honi did were important, we’d find such an example in Scripture. After all, Elijah didn’t have to make a circle before God answered his prayers for both drought and rain. The power of our prayers does not come from standing in a circle or making brazen demands—it comes from the God who hears our prayers and answers them according to His will and timing. In the meantime, until peace comes to Ukraine or God tells us to stop, please join the pastor and me as we persevere in our prayers for peace.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. [James 5:16b-18 (NLT)]

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“I am the resurrection and the life,” replied Jesus. “Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never, ever die.” [John 11: 25-26 (NTE)]

Matterhorn Memorial - Zermatt

Courtesy of technology, we recently attended an Illinois church service while sitting at our computers in Florida. The choir, accompanied by pipe organ and trumpet, began with Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and ended with Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. The trumpet’s bright piercing sound and the organ’s lilting accompaniment in the first song and the uplifting words in the final one makes them popular choices for joyful occasions like weddings, Christmas, and Easter. Although we were rejoicing, we weren’t celebrating nuptials, Christ’s birth, or His resurrection. Instead, we were rejoicing in a life well lived and celebrating the life of a friend who recently went home to God.

During the service, several people spoke of this Christian man’s faith, character, modesty, generosity, humility, compassion, honesty, reliability, thoughtfulness, wisdom, and curiosity. A leader both in his community and church, he built consensus rather than caused discord, bore the fruit of the Spirit, and truly lived his life as a follower of Christ. Although he played the trumpet in college, he never blew his own horn or called attention to himself. Nevertheless, he was a shining light in a world filled with darkness. Our lives were blessed by his presence and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

As much as his family and friends mourn his absence, the service was one of unparalleled joy because, while here on earth, he followed Jesus with his heart, soul, body, and mind. We could be joyful because we know death is not the end of our lives—just of our lives in these perishable bodies. As Christians, we have hope of something greater that goes far beyond life and death.

In contrast, I can’t feel joy at any funeral or memorial service for a non-believer. While songs may be sung, they’re more likely to be My Way or Over the Rainbow than Abide with Me or It is Well with My Soul. After sharing memories and listing accomplishments, the person giving the eulogy will say reassuring things about the deceased being in a better place, with the angels, or watching over us—none of which are based in reality. Unbelievers are not going home or into the arms of God, they won’t be “looking down” at their loved ones, and there won’t be a happy reunion in heaven with friends and family. The only way an unbeliever lives on is in photographs and people’s memories; sadly, even those will fade and be lost over time. There is little comfort in the passing of a non-believer.

While there are different opinions in Christ’s church about what happens immediately after death, there is unanimity in His church about what eventually happens—we will come face to face with God and our entire lives will be examined. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mean that His followers aren’t afraid of God’s judgment on the day. Regardless of our failures and sins, we are recipients of God’s grace and forgiven for our wrongs. Because of God’s mercy and grace, all of His adopted children have a confirmed reservation waiting for them in heaven.

Because the only way to heaven is faith in Jesus and there is no return from the depths of hell, there is no comfort or joy in the passing of a non-believer. On the other hand, in spite of our sorrow, we can rejoice when Christ’s followers depart this world because we know their destination, that our separation is only temporary, and that we will meet again in God’s good time. That’s why, at their passing, we can raise our voices and joyfully sing, “Joyful, joyful, we adore You, God of glory, Lord of love; Hearts unfold like flowers before You, Opening to the sun above.”

Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell. [Charles Spurgeon]

I’m telling you the solemn truth: anyone who hears my word, and believes in the one who sent me, has the life of God’s coming age. Such a person won’t come into judgment; they will have passed out of death into life. [John 5:24 (NTE)]

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PRAYERS – Chronicles (Part 2)

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)]

Easily missed in Chronicles’ nine chapters of genealogy is Jabez (whose name meant distress or sorrow). Described as more honorable than his brothers, Jabez prayed: “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” [4:9-10] The Chronicler tells us God granted Jabez’s request and the man whose name meant distress apparently had a trouble-free life!

Those two verses are the only mention of Jabez in the entire Bible yet his short prayer inspired a bestseller in 2000 and countless sermons since. Amazon describes the words of Jabez as “a timeless prayer that produces timely results!” and promises that readers of the book can “discover how they can release God’s miraculous power and experience the blessings God longs to give each of us.” Some people seem to think that the Chronicler tell us about Jabez because he had the right combination of words to guarantee blessings and a trouble-free life. We, however, do Jabez a disservice in assuming he was asking for material blessings like power, land, health, and wealth. He may have been asking God for spiritual blessings—that God to be with him in his words and actions. Rather than expand his land, perhaps this honorable man prayed to enlarge his area of spiritual influence. Rather than avoiding physical pain, he may have prayed to be free of the heartache of seeing others (perhaps his brothers) disobey God.

While we don’t know if Jabez’s prayer was one of self-interest or selflessness, we do wonder why the Chronicler included the words of this historically insignificant man in his genealogy. It is in remembering that Chronicles’ purpose was to remind the exiles of God’s faithfulness that we discover the reason for the prayer’s inclusion. It’s not the words Jabez prayed that were important; it’s that this honorable man actually prayed and that, hearing his prayer, God answered him!

Throughout his account of Judah, the Chronicler continually tells of prayers offered and God’s faithfulness in answering them. He reports that the warriors of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh cried out to God for help during battle. Because they trusted Him, God answered their prayer, fought for them, and gave them victory. The Chronicler recounts how God provided battle strategies and victory to David and how He responded to the prayers of other kings like Solomon, Rehoboam, Asa, and Abijah. He tells how Jehoshaphat’s prayer saved him from the Arameans. When Jehoshaphat asked God to save Judah from a trio of enemy armies, God promised they wouldn’t even have to fight because the battle was His! Indeed, as the people sang praises and thanks to God in anticipation of victory, their enemies fought among themselves and none survived. All Judah had to do was collect the plunder. The Chronicler tells us how the prayers of Hezekiah and Isaiah rescued the people of Jerusalem from Assyria. Saying that Hezekiah prospered because “he sought his God wholeheartedly,” he adds that, when the seriously ill king prayed for relief, God healed him. After humbling himself before the Lord, even the evil Manasseh is reported to have had his prayers answered!

The Chronicler told of the answered prayers of Jabez and the many others as a way of urging the post-exilic people of Judah to seek the Lord as previous generations had done. God’s answers to the prayers of their ancestors reassured this new generation that Jehovah was the covenant God of Israel who could be trusted to hear the prayers of His people!

The Chronicler didn’t include the prayer of Jabez because of a “name it and claim it” prosperity theology nor was it included because Jabez’s words released “God’s miraculous power.” The Chronicler included this prayer for the same reason he included all those others. He didn’t believe in the power of a prayer’s words but rather in the power of our God to know our needs, hear our prayers, and answer them, in His timing and way, with blessings and forgiveness!

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. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given, you children of his servant Israel, you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones. [1 Chronicles 16:8-13 (NLT)]

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Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

Hibiscus trionum - Flower-of-an-Hour
Several years ago, a young woman with Parkinson’s told me, “Every day I wake up, I realize that I’m the best I ever will be and it’s only downhill from here.” Rather than complaining, she was explaining how that knowledge made her determined to seize and delight in each day. Unlike her, I’m not suffering from a degenerative disease (other than age); nevertheless, her words continue to haunt me. No matter how healthy or happy we may (or may not) be today, we have no guarantee that tomorrow will be any better. Life is precarious and our tomorrows are uncertain. Yet, we so often squander the hours and days we’re given.

We regularly called a friend whose remaining time was counted in weeks. Having exhausted all treatment options, he was painfully aware of being on a steep downhill run. Like the woman with Parkinson’s, however, he refused to let that knowledge steal his joy in the present. In fact, his awareness of life’s fragility seemed to give him more appreciation of every moment with which God blessed him. Thankful for every morning he saw, he was determined to make that day his best one by rejoicing in its simplest gifts. Of course, being a man of faith, he knew that death does not have the final word and had no fear of what lay ahead of him. Nevertheless, until that time came (as it did last week), he continued to seize the day with all the joy and gusto he could muster.

A new year is fast approaching and, as I started making plans for 2023, I thought about the uncertainty of our tomorrows, not just for my friend, but for all of us. Why do we waste a single breath with anger, regret, resentment, or complaint? Why do we fritter away even five seconds in self-pity or worry when they should be spent in thankfulness and joy? Why do we see the day’s imperfections with twenty/twenty vision when we’re blind to the day’s blessings? The old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is only partially true. We all have expiration dates and today well could be the last day of our lives here on earth. Shouldn’t we make it the best one we’ll have?

Perhaps we can learn from the Hibiscus trionum. Called “Flower-of-an-Hour,” each flower blooms during a single sunny day and remains open only a few hours. Nevertheless, the flower makes the most of its brief time by turning to the sun, getting pollinated, providing pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies, and sharing its leaves with caterpillars and rabbits. Why don’t we make the most of our time in the sun? It shouldn’t take cancer or Parkinson’s to make us realize that today is the best day of our lives! It is the day the Lord has made—the precious day the Lord has given us in this precarious world—and we should rejoice in each and every moment of it!

Father, forgive us when we fail to make the most of the days with which you have generously blessed us. Help us to seize today with joy and thanksgiving and be glad in it. No matter what the future may bring, may each day be our best one ever!

The past, the present and the future are really one: they are today. [Harriet Beecher Stowe]

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. [Psalm 39:4 (NLT)]

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