MAKE IT PERSONAL

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

white peacock butterflyI recently read a devotion that suggested substituting our own personal anxieties and concerns for the troubles listed by Paul in Romans 8. Perhaps your version would read: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither old age nor loss of loved ones, neither cancer nor dementia, neither our fears for our wayward children nor our worries about finances—not even the powers of terrorism and hate can separate us from God’s love. No hurricanes or earthquakes—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then again, maybe widowhood, heart disease, migraines, foreclosure, floods, stroke, bullies, loneliness, crime, hunger, depression, fires, hard times, debt, anger, betrayal, homelessness, violence, or tornadoes would be on your list. However you fill in the blanks, Paul’s words remain true and bear repeating. Nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from God’s love as shown in Jesus Christ.

That God is for us, however, doesn’t mean we have no enemies. In fact, Paul’s words were written to the Roman church, a church that underwent tremendous persecution for the following 300 years. We encounter threats from both physical and spiritual enemies daily. What it does mean is that those enemies, no matter how powerful they are, can’t turn God against us. Because God gave His only son to save us, we can be sure, not just of his unchanging and everlasting love, but of our salvation.

What troubles would you substitute for Paul’s in Romans 8? No matter what they are, rest assured in the promise that the battle is already over and overwhelming victory is ours through Christ our Lord!

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? … overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. [Romans 8: 31b-32,37b (NLT)]

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APPROVAL RATINGS

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. [Galatians 1:10 (NLT)]

rabbitsI’d just returned from the dentist’s when their email arrived asking, “Would you recommend us?” Thinking the question theoretical, I answered in the affirmative only to be taken to hyperlinks for both Google and Facebook to do just that. The following day, I got a longer survey regarding my visit. It again asked if I would recommend his services and requested use of my name in a testimonial. Clearly, my dentist wants the approval of his patients.

Like my dentist, we all want to be noticed, liked, approved, applauded and endorsed but, unlike him, we don’t employ a company to do surveys for us. Nevertheless, we tend to measure approval in other ways—the quantity of Christmas cards sent or received, “friends” on Facebook, hits on the website or likes on the posting. Approval is determined by the number of invitations extended or accepted, memberships (and offices held) in various organizations, honors awarded, and followers on Twitter or Instagram. We judge admiration on the number and expense of gifts received, the reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor, the size of the obituary and the length of the line to pay condolences.

In the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes (drawn by Bill Watterson), there were several instances (usually after having been disciplined or given a chore) in which the precocious Calvin informed his father that his approval ratings were dangerously low (especially with six-year olds and stuffed tigers). To Calvin’s surprise, his dad seemed unconcerned about his approval ratings’ ups and downs. This comic strip father knew that a parent’s purpose wasn’t to gain his child’s approval. Would that other parents were so wise!

We all seek approval but by whom? Like Calvin’s dad, our job is not to please our children; nor is it to please any other person. Jesus warned us that we can’t be servants to both God and the world (its wealth, possessions, fame, popularity, status, or praise). Our job is to please God; His approval rating of us is the only one that truly counts! When we try to please both the world and God, the interests of our two masters eventually will collide. When that happens, and it will, whose approval will we seek—man’s or God’s?

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. [1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NLT)]

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. [Matthew 6:24a (NLT)]

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NOAH AND THE RED TAPE

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith. [Hebrews 11:7 (NLT)]

pikaWhat if God came to Noah in 2018 with his ark building orders? As the rain started to fall, God would probably find Noah sitting on a small pile of wood. When asked about the absent animals and missing ark, Noah would reel off a litany of excuses. Boat building wasn’t allowed in his neighborhood so he had to go before the planning commission, zoning board, and city council for rezoning. The ark building permit couldn’t be issued until the blueprints were revised to allow for the required sprinkler system, emergency lighting, additional bathrooms, handicap accessibility, and a commercial kitchen. After the electric company insisted he pay for the raising of several power lines for the ark’s passage to the shore, the Army Corps of Engineers said he had to get a permit to dredge the channel once there. Noah’s explanation that both were unnecessary since the sea would be coming to him fell on deaf ears. FEMA said Noah couldn’t start his work until an environmental impact study was done on the proposed flood. Although he countered that he wasn’t proposing a flood but was just preparing for one, he had to wait until the study was finished. Because of a threat to the hazel dormouse and the great crested newt, there was a logging moratorium and he couldn’t get any wood. After getting in a dispute with the CDC and USDA about importing and exporting animals, PETA and the ASPCA claimed Noah was collecting wildlife against their will and that placing them in pens on a boat was cruel. Even though he was trying to save rather than harm them, an injunction now prevented him from gathering or possessing any animals. Noah added that he’d also had run-ins with the EPA about using tar to waterproof the ship and the Coast Guard about the number of passengers and animals that could come aboard. “Lord, I tried, but what you asked was impossible!” he cried.

Fortunately, the deluge happened 5,000 years ago and long before man’s invention of bureaucracy. If the real Noah had allowed circumstances to deter him from God’s task, mankind’s story would have ended in the sixth chapter of Genesis. In actuality, however, it probably wasn’t a whole lot easier for him than this fictional Noah. Gathering the materials, building the ark, explaining the project to his family, dealing with skeptical neighbors, supplying the ship, assembling and loading the animals—all posed tremendous challenges. Noah, however, is called a righteous man; described as blameless, he was a man who walked with God. Even in the 21st century, a man like that wouldn’t let any amount of red tape keep him from doing God’s will!

What my fictional Noah didn’t understand is that we are to fear God above all others—even indignant neighbors, government bureaucracy, and angry protesters. There is an urgency in our obedience to God that has been lost in today’s world of red tape and excuses. The real Noah did everything that God commanded him to do when God told him to do it and God expects us to do the same. When God assigns a task, He doesn’t abandon us. He equips, enables, provides and qualifies us and will give us all the resources, skills, and direction necessary to do His work. Let us remember that the Jordan River didn’t stop flowing for the Israelites until the priests’ feet had touched the water! If we are doing God’s will, He will hold back the water when we bravely step into it or provide us with a giant pair of scissors to cut through the red tape when we get tangled in it. All we have to do is trust Him enough to take that first step.

Each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and He will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip us well. [Alexander MacLaren]

May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:21(NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE SCARLET CORD

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. [Hebrews 11:1-2 (NLT)]

red roseRahab is one of the two women Paul lists in his “Hall of Faith.” This woman from Jericho married Salmon, was the mother of Boaz, a great-great grandmother to David, and one of Jesus’s ancestors. Oh—and she was a prostitute who collaborated with the enemy. Yet, Matthew makes specific mention of her in Jesus’ genealogy and both James and Paul speak highly of her in their epistles. Why?

From what Rahab had heard of the Israelites, she recognized their God as supreme. This perceptive woman anticipated Jericho’s defeat and judiciously aligned herself with the winning side when she protected two Israelite spies. After hiding them from the king’s men, she requested the same loyalty to her that she’d given them and negotiated for the safety of her family. As she lowered the men to safety on a scarlet cord, they told Rahab her protection was only ensured if she had that same cord visible on the day of their attack. True to their word, when Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were saved. Was it Rahab’s treason to Jericho that caused Paul to include her in his list or was there more?

After leaving Rahab’s house, the spies hid in the hills for three days before returning to camp and reporting to Joshua. After that, the Israelites broke camp and moved to the banks of the Jordan where they stayed another three days before crossing the river. Once across, the Israelites erected memorials to commemorate their crossing by God’s power. Four days later, the people celebrated the first night of Passover and, at some point, all of the men were circumcised. As the Israelites observed the eight days of Passover and the men recovered from their surgery, the invincible city of Jericho closed its gates and readied itself for battle. Meanwhile, Rahab had waited at least two weeks for the Israelites and her rescue. Did she begin to doubt the two spies and their God? Had she picked the wrong side to support? Did she consider bringing in that scarlet cord and making an alliance with a protector in Jericho? Was she tempted to lose faith in the God of the Israelites?

Eventually, the Israelites set off to conquer Jericho but they didn’t assault the town or lay siege to it. Instead, seven priests blowing rams’ horns led the Ark of the Covenant followed by 40,000 soldiers around the walled city before returning to their camp. For six days, Rahab watched from her window as the army silently marched around the city and then departed without lifting a weapon. Was Rahab’s faith shaken by this strange behavior? Were the men too afraid to attack? What kind of God used such a bizarre battle plan? On the seventh day, when she watched the Israelites parade seven times around the city, did she abandon all hope as she witnessed what appeared to be another day of even more pointless marching? Apparently not; that scarlet cord, the sign of her faith in the God of the Israelites, was still hanging from her window. When the army finally shouted, the walls of the unconquerable city collapsed and Rahab and her family were saved.

The walls of Jericho were leveled by faith in God. Rahab helped two strangers and kept that scarlet cord dangling from her window by that same faith. When God’s plan seems inexplicable or a long time in coming, do we exhibit a similar kind of faith? When things seem at a standstill, when we can’t see His plan, do we despair or do we hang out a scarlet cord of faith in God?

It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:30-31 (NLT)]

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WATCH OVER ME

The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. [Psalm 121:5-8 (NLT)]

mute swansIn his Small Catechism, Martin Luther instructs people to say the following prayer as soon they get out of bed: “God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over me. Amen.” When I watch my grands, it’s not just keeping the baby dry and fed, getting the toddler to use the potty and take his nap, getting the kids to school, preparing their lunch, or making sure that homework gets done. Watching over them is more than just supervising them and keeping them from destroying the house. It means protecting them—from dangerous objects, people, and activities. It’s keeping them from getting hurt or hurting anyone else. Sometimes it means stopping them in their tracks and other times it’s removing something from their reach. Watching them is wiping their tears, laughing at their jokes, and kissing their ouchies; yet, it is still more. It is leading by example, introducing them to new things, encouraging them and challenging them to become stronger and better. It is walking and talking with them and opening their eyes to the world around them. It is correcting, helping, comforting, loving, teaching and nurturing them.

Thinking of what it means to watch my grands, Luther’s short prayer packs a giant request into a few short words. Guide me, convict me, protect me from sin and evil, keep me from harm and from harming anyone, defend me, sustain me, provide for me, inspire me, direct me, walk with me, guide me, guard me, encourage and calm me…all these and more are pressed into those three words “watch over me.”

God, like parents and grandparents, doesn’t go off duty when His children go to sleep; He keeps watch 24/7. Luther advises saying that very same prayer again at bedtime. After that, Luther instructs, “You are to go to sleep quickly and cheerfully.” When we know that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is vigilantly watching over us, we can rest in peaceful sleep, secure in His loving arms.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over me. Amen. [Martin Luther]

I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. [Psalm 3:5 (NLT)]

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. [Psalm 32:8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OUTSIDE THE LINES

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

flower bouquetSeveral years ago, I purchased a beautifully drawn coloring book that featured scenes from our Colorado mountain town. A gift for one of my grands, I asked the artist to sign it. Along with her signature, she added the words, “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!” Excellent advice, I thought.

Rather than coloring outside the lines, the unconventional John the Baptist lived outside the lines. Nevertheless, in spite of his odd attire, strange diet, and extraordinary message, he fulfilled God’s purpose. His was the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. Elisha lived outside the lines when he left his prosperous farm and teams of oxen to become Elijah’s successor—an odd choice his family and neighbors probably didn’t understand. The young shepherd boy David stepped outside the lines when he dared to take on Goliath—something none of Saul’s seasoned soldiers had attempted. Even Joseph went outside the lines when he remained with the pregnant Mary rather than breaking their engagement. Abigail crossed the lines when she kept David from taking vengeance on her foolish husband as did Rahab when she helped the Israelites. Mary of Bethany went outside the lines both when she sat with the men rather than help in the kitchen and extravagantly anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. Eric Liddle lived outside the lines by refusing to race on Sundays and becoming a missionary rather than parlaying his Olympic medals into fame and fortune. Instead of following his father into medicine or pursuing his interest in music, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went outside the lines when he became a pastor. Then, rather than fleeing the Nazis, he remained in Germany and resisted their evil. These men and women may have defied the status quo but they didn’t defy God! They answered His call by living outside the lines.

Living outside the lines is what we do when we allow God to take control of our lives; it’s taking that first step out of the boat as did Peter when Jesus called to him. Staying in the lines is what happens when, like Peter, we take our eyes off God, see the wave, feel the wind, and start to doubt. Staying inside the lines is not trusting God enough to answer His call or follow His lead. When we become more concerned about what others think than what God says, when how we look becomes more important than who we are, we are staying within the lines. Living outside the lines is refusing to compromise our faith; it is defying the system and obeying God. Those lines on the page were drawn by people. The blank page is given to us by God and He means for us to use all of it.

The artist’s advice to my grandchild applies to us all: “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!” Let’s not be afraid to live outside the lines—honestly, boldly, creatively and joyfully—fulfilling God’s purpose and trusting in His promises.

Our focus must be on God above and not on those among whom we live. [Oswald Chambers]

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5b-6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.