TWO LISTS

coreopsis-and-cowpen daisyLive wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. [Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)]

Last Friday, on All Saints’ Day, I asked who we would acknowledge in our spiritual memoir. Who were the people who helped us find our way to Jesus? In my morning Bible study, we actually wrote lists of the people who were our champions of faith. On her long list, Rachel wrote the name of one special teacher all in caps: MRS. HART. Rachel described her as a woman who seemed to exude Christian joy out of every pore of her body. The woman’s life wasn’t easy; a widow, she’d had her share of heartbreak and disappointment (especially when her daughter rejected Jesus and became a Buddhist). Nevertheless, in all circumstances, Mrs. Hart was filled with the joy of the Lord. One day she confidently declared, “I have a lot of questions for God and I’m looking forward to the day when I come face to face with him and can get some answers!” Until the older woman said that, it had never occurred to Rachel that, as a believer, one day she, too, would come face to face with God. It was then that she began to understand the reason for Mrs. Hart’s joy.

Among others on my list, I named my mother, the pastor at our mountain church who challenged his congregation to pray, a neighbor who ministered to prisoners and truly knew who the “least of these” were, and Marilyn, one of my college roommates, who showed me what it was like to live biblically in a non-biblical world. Not remembering their names, I also listed “the Campus Crusade couple.” Offering dinner and the gospel on Sunday nights, they opened their home and hearts to young searchers and believers on my campus. They never condemned me for my failings or pushed me to make a decision; they simply helped me find my way to a relationship with Jesus.

One of the women in class said she considered writing a second list on the opposite side of the page. This list would be for those “Christians” who’d turned her away from God. On it would be the nuns who’d spoken of love, forgiveness and compassion while ruthlessly inflicting verbal and corporal punishment on their students, the chuch-going parents who wouldn’t allow their children to play with her because her father was an ex-con, and the priest who called her “Honey” and told her to sit on his lap. While it gave her a sense of closure to see his name (along with nearly 40 others) in the paper last year, she wondered how many people had turned from Jesus because of behavior like his. One woman added that the same name could appear on both lists. When the pastor who had opened her eyes to the gospel message deceived his congregation and slandered his accusers, she questioned all she’d come to believe. Eventually, for both of these women, it was through other people’s sincere Christian examples of truth, love, forgiveness, and compassion that they realized it was Satan, not the church, who was their true enemy—with hypocrisy, judgmentalism, and abuse of trust and power being his weapons of choice!

If our names were to occur on someone’s list, we’d want to be recorded in the column of God’s ambassadors rather than the one of His adversaries. The difference wouldn’t be that one column was sinless and the other sinful. All of those who guided me on my journey were sinners (as am I) and the joyful Mrs. Hart was a sinner, as well. It’s just that none of them ever pretended they weren’t; they never hid behind a “holier than thou” façade. As imperfect as they were, they were living evidence of God’s work. His truth, mercy, grace, and unlimited love were evident in their walk and the lives they touched were better for it. Rather than just telling me about God with their words, they showed Him to me with their actions and brought His light to the dark corners of my heart.

Heavenly Father, guide us on our walk so that we never deliberately or accidentally cause someone to reject the gospel message. May we always be Christ’s ambassadors by bringing light to the world and glory to you.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. [Brennan Manning]

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:16 (NLT)]

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” [2 Corinthians 5:20 (NLT)]

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FOR ALL THE SAINTS

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…[1 Corinthians 1:2a (ESV)]

The early Christians often marked anniversaries of the martyrdom of Christ’s followers. By the fourth century, however, there’d been so many martyrs that there weren’t enough days to honor them all and the idea of one feast day honoring all the martyrs began. In 609, Pope Boniface IV established an All Saints Day in May. After Christianity came to Ireland, the Roman church attached the Feast of All Saints to the already established pagan holiday of Samhain (a celebration of the end of the harvest) and, in 847, Pope Gregory IV formally rebranded this Celtic festival as All Saints Day. Today is All Saints’ Day: a day to commemorate all of the saints, not as determined by a Pope, but as defined in the Bible.

Biblically speaking, what is a saint? The word “saint” comes from the Greek word hagios meaning “consecrated to God, holy, scared, pious.” Sainthood isn’t conferred by people; it is granted by God to all who trust in Christ. When Paul addressed his letter to the Corinthians, it was to “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…” Even though they were struggling with issues like immorality, jealousy, and divisiveness, those early Christians were saints because they’d been made holy when they united with Jesus.

Sainthood wasn’t reserved for the Corinthians; Paul also referred to the believers in Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica as saints. Simply put, saints were and still are the Christian church—the body of Christ. All Christians (as flawed as we are) are called to be saints—not just in heaven but right here on earth. No martyrdom, miracles, heroic virtue, or canonization is required. Simply by being followers of Christ, you and I—everyday garden-variety believers—are saints! As His saints, like the Corinthians, we are called to grow more and more like Christ every day. Scripture, however, never tells us to revere, worship or pray to saints. Rather, it tells us that the saints (meaning us) are to revere, worship, and pray to God alone.

For Roman Catholics, the focus of All Saints’ Day tends to be on the “official” saints (those people canonized by the Pope). Nevertheless, regardless of denomination, this is a day for all of the living saints (that’s us) to remember the saints who went before us. We have never been alone in our journey of faith; along with the Holy Spirit, we encountered believers (saints) who demonstrated their faith, pointed the way, urged us on, answered our questions, and corrected us when we strayed.

If we were to make a list of those who influenced our Christian walk, there might be some big name champion saints like the Gospels’ writers and Paul, the Wesleys, Martin Luther, Augustine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Corrie ten Boom, or Billy Graham. There are, however, many ordinary run-of-the-mill Christians who guided us on our journey: saints like our parents, grandparents, neighbors, schoolmates, teachers, friends, co-workers, pastors, or even strangers, whose faithfulness encouraged us on our journey. Today, in honor of all the saints of God, let’s remember the life and witness of those people, both known and unknown, who were a part of our personal salvation stories—the people who strengthened our faith by their words and actions and led us to where we are today.

Who are the heroes in your individual Christian history? Who would you acknowledge in your spiritual memoir? Let their examples of faith spur you onward.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. [Ephesians 2:17-22 (ESV)]

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TAKING DELIGHT

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. [Psalm 37:4 (NLT)]

jump for joyGreedy creatures that we are, when reading today’s verse, we tend to focus on the promise that God will give us our heart’s desires rather than the qualification: taking delight in the Lord. I usually think of a parent delighting in a child rather than a child of God delighting in his or her Heavenly Father. What does it mean to delight in God and how do we find our delight in Him?

When pondering delight, I thought of a recent weekend when six of the family met New York City (where my eldest grand attends university) to celebrate my son’s birthday. While I enjoyed the city sights, the high point wasn’t the Statue of Liberty or strolling through Central Park. My delight was in my family’s company. It wouldn’t have mattered where we’d met; that we had gathered together was all that counted! Every moment spent with them was precious and our joy in one another was unmistakable; we genuinely delighted in one another. When we delight in people, we’re no longer preoccupied with ourselves and our desires; instead, we concentrate on them and how to please them. We treasure them and their company and, because we value their presence, we make room in our busy lives to maintain our relationship. In short, we find joy in being with them.

Taking delight in the Lord is much the same thing: finding joy in His presence. We delight in Him: in His great love for us and in His power, goodness, wisdom, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, faithfulness, and grace. When the Psalmist tells us to delight in the Lord, He’s telling us to find our joy in God and to guard our time so that we spend it with Him.

Today’s verse isn’t about gratifying our desires. Although true delight brings contentment, it’s not in things; it’s contentment in the object of delight. This verse isn’t about getting what we want from God in return for lip service in prayers or praise. It’s about delighting in God so much that He becomes our greatest desire. Instead of expecting God to please us, we want to please Him and truly pleasing God means that our desires will conform to His will. When that happens, we will, indeed, get our heart’s desire!

The desires of God, and the desires of the righteous, agree in one; they are of one mind in their desires. [John Bunyan]

The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. [Psalm 27:4 (NLT)]

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:33 (NLT)]

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JUST SORRY OR REPENTANT?

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. [Psalm 51:16-17 (NLT)]

The fellow looked at me and apologized: “I’m sorry; I know I can be a real #@!%* at times!” I debated as to my response. While the polite thing would have been, “It’s OK, I understand,” that wouldn’t have been honest. His behavior wasn’t OK. We’re told in Proverbs 27:6 that wounds from a friend are better than an enemy’s kisses and, since he’d left the door wide open, I agreed with him. “I know you are. But you don’t have to be,” I gently added. “It’s your choice!” Apparently preferring an enemy’s kisses to my honest assessment, he shrugged his shoulders and left the room.

Although “sorry” and “repentant” often are used synonymously, they are not the same thing. My friend’s regret may have been heartfelt but repentance requires a change of heart. While sorry, he wasn’t ready to change his heart or his petulant behavior.

In John 8, we read about a woman caught in adultery. Facing a crowd ready to stone her to death, she surely regretted her behavior. After Jesus’s words caused the crowd to disperse, our Lord didn’t condemn her but He didn’t send her back to her paramour either. Clearly expecting repentance, He told her, “Go and sin no more.” [8:11] Whether or not she repented, we don’t know, but Jesus’s actions and words that day make two things clear. First, rather than wanting sinners to die, God wants them to repent and live! Second, forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerance.

Repentance has two requirements: turning from evil and turning to good. When we repent, we turn from sin to obedience, evil to good, selfishness to selflessness, deception to truth, vulgarity to civility, meanness to kindness, animosity to goodwill, dysfunction to function, and childishness to maturity. As Christians, we don’t repent because we’re afraid of fire and brimstone or that God will strike us dead. Out of our love for God, we consciously decide to become better by moving away from anything that offends Him toward something that pleases Him. The power to do that comes from the Holy Spirit.

Let us never confuse an apology, regret or even confession with repentance. It’s not enough to say, “I have sinned;” we must commit to making a change and not sinning again!

To do so no more is the truest repentance. [Martin Luther]

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. [2 Corinthians 7: 10 (NLT)]

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. [Matthew 3:8 (NLT)]

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PRAY NOW

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. [James 5:13 (NLT)]

I’m continually amazed that, for someone who claims to believe in the power of prayer, I so rarely exhibit my belief! Our distressed friend had come over for advice and encouragement. The three of us brain-stormed various ways to meet her many challenges. When she departed several hours later, my husband and I promised to keep her family in our prayers. As she walked down the driveway, I realized that, while we pray daily for her, her family and their difficulties, we hadn’t bothered to pray with her! During our long discussion, we’d never paused to pray together and ask God for His guidance. Yes, my husband and I are a good source of information and encouragement, but it was God’s direction and His gift of courage that our friend needed far more than ours. We should have started the conversation with a prayer for God’s guidance rather than ending it with a promise to pray!

How often do we tell someone we’ll keep them in our prayers rather than pray with them right away? Worse, how often do we tell someone we’ll pray for them and then we don’t? Sadly, more often than not, our promise to pray becomes an empty promise but, if we pray right then and there, we’re sure to make good on that promise. Perhaps, if all the promised prayers actually were prayed, the world would be a far better place!

Communal prayer isn’t just for church, Bible study groups, or table blessings; it’s for everyday situations. Nevertheless, most of us are hesitant to pray with others; we’re uncertain of how the offer will be received, think we don’t have the right words, or are unsure about what it is for which we should pray. People are free to decline the offer of prayer but, whenever I’ve made the offer, it always has been accepted and appreciated. A heartfelt “Lord, please help!” is all we really need to say; our omniscient God doesn’t need us to tell Him what’s wrong or how to fix it! The time to pray, to invite Jesus into a situation, is now, not later!

Those who do not believe do not pray. This is a good functional definition of faith. Faith prays, unbelief does not. (John A. Hardon)

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine. [Ephesians 3:20 (NCV)]

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BITING OFF MORE THAN WE CAN CHEW

AlligatorPride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. [Proverbs 16:18 (NLT)]

I will not endure conceit and pride. [Psalm 101:5b (NLT)]

With her uncanny sense of what it means to be part of a family, Lynn Johnston’s comic strip For Better or for Worse often hits home. In one, Elly, the weary mother, is pecking away at her typewriter. When her husband John asks why, with all of the people in her department, she seems to get everything dumped on her, El admits that it wasn’t “dumped;” she volunteered! Her thoughts in the final frame read: “Trouble with having a big mouth is…You usually bite off more than you can chew!” Truer words were never said!

Many years ago, I certainly bit off more than I could chew. School, church, community, and charity obligations began to interfere with my mothering. I was in a push to complete a major publicity campaign for a charity event when, like Elly, I sat working at the typewriter. My three small children took one look at me, intently typing, and started to cry in chorus. Shushing them, I sat them in front of the TV, and returned to my work. Those tears, however, preyed on my mind. They told me, in no uncertain terms, that I’d clearly taken on way too much. While my family’s basic needs had been met, I’d neither been truly present nor very pleasant. Following that day, I finished the obligations I already had, lessened my participation in several activities, and didn’t take on any new responsibilities until my children were older.

What is it that gives us such big mouths when it comes to taking on more than we can chew? In my case, it was an inflated ego. Sure no one could do as good a job as I would, I tried to do it all! No one else could do the publicity right, so I did it; no one else could write a good newsletter, so I did it; no one else could be as good a Brownie leader, so I did it. I foolishly thought I could do it all! It took three tearful children to remind me that only God can do it all and He’s the only one who can do it perfectly. The rest of us need to realize our limitations.

Having greatly overestimated my abilities and underestimated those of others, I was filled with pride and conceit. While the obligations I had were all good causes and worthy of my efforts, I had to understand that I wasn’t the only person who could complete God’s tasks. Pride had kept me from trusting that God would provide the qualified people necessary to do His work if He wanted it done.

The following year, I handed my publicity notebook over to someone else. Did she do it the way I would have? No. Did she miss some deadlines? Yes. Without my publicity, was the event successful? Yes; in fact, even more so! Did my various causes survive without my over-involvement? They did and it was humbling to realize that the world does quite well without me trying to run it.

Make no mistake, I’m not advocating an attitude of “Let the other guy do it.” I am, however, warning us to beware of the pride and arrogance that refuses to allow him or her to do it. Inflated egos can turn us into little gods who think we are the only ones who can write, play an instrument, lead a choir, take photographs, chair a meeting, bake, entertain, organize, teach, lead, encourage, or create. All of us have God-given talents and spiritual gifts and God rightly expects us to use them to his glory. We need to remember, however, that others also have been blessed. If you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, perhaps it’s time to let someone else use their talents and gifts.

Father, we want to serve you. Give us the wisdom to know both when and how to use our gifts in the best way possible. Guide us when we make obligations so that we never let pride or vanity make us say, “Yes,” when we should be saying, “Thank you, but no!”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. [Proverbs 3:5-7a (NLT)]

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