GIVE PEACE A CHANCE

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. [Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)]

mourning doveIn 2 Samuel 20, we find the story of the “wise woman from Able.” Even though David and his men had suppressed Absalom’s revolt, hostility remained between the people of Judah (David’s tribe) and the ten northern tribes of Israel. When a “troublemaker” named Sheba led the men of Israel in rebellion, Joab and an army of Judeans pursued him. After Sheba’s men found refuge in the town of Abel, Joab’s forces raised a siege ramp against the ramparts of the city and began to batter its walls. Knowing the city and all of its inhabitants would be destroyed once the walls were breached, a “wise woman” came to the wall and asked to speak with Joab. After reminding him that her city was famous for the wisdom of its inhabitants, she assured him of their loyalty and inquired what it was he wanted. Telling her that all he wanted was Sheba, the woman struck a bargain with him and traded the life of Sheba for the safety of the city. After she convinced the town to turn over the rebel leader, his dismembered head was thrown over the city wall, Joab and his army withdrew, and the city was safe.

Like many Old Testament accounts, this story is gruesome, but that shouldn’t keep us from its lesson. With famine, disease, destruction, and death threatening the besieged city, Able’s men wouldn’t stand idly by while their walls were under attack and some of Joab’s troops surely would fall before they conquered the city. When it comes to war, while one side eventually may lay claim to victory, no one ever wins. Instead of coming to the city wall armed with weapons as did Joab, the wise woman of Able came armed with reason. Simply by saying, “Let’s talk!” she discovered what he wanted, determined a solution, and saved lives on both sides of that wall.

It was this nameless woman who defused the situation but that’s what Joab should have done. When God gave the Israelites all those laws in Deuteronomy, He gave them some about warfare and, before attacking a city, they were to offer the inhabitants terms for peace. [20:10] Joab, however, immediately launched an attack (but we know from the rest of Joab’s story that he was a man of treachery and not of God). Wisdom, however, comes from the Lord and the wise woman of Able knew God and His word!

Unlike Joab, we’re not likely to be chasing a rebel army and, unlike this unnamed woman, we probably won’t need to save an entire city from death and destruction, but consider what might happen if we always sought peace before conflict? What if, the next time we’re in a disagreement or dispute, we were more interested in resolution than victory? Instead of trying to change someone else’s mind, what if we opened ours? What if we discussed rather than disparaged and negotiated rather than litigated? Instead of insisting we’re right, what if we tried to reconcile our differences? What would happen if we said, “Let’s talk!” and then really listened? What if we asked, “What can I do to make this right?” and then did it?

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DIAMOND MINING

Some of his [Paul’s] comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. [2 Peter 3:16 (NLT)]

butterfly weed“You have to drill through mud and water to get oil; you have to sift through sand and silt to get gold; you have to chop and hack through stone to get diamonds. So why do so many people feel that the treasure of ideas should come to them with little or no effort?” asked Sydney J. Harris. Even though he wasn’t referring to the Bible, the journalist’s words made me think of the way we often approach Scripture; complaining that it’s too hard to understand, we simply don’t study it!

If we’ll put forth effort to perfect our golf or tennis swing, train for a marathon, master chess or bridge, plant a garden, or become a gourmet cook, I wonder why we think understanding Scripture should be effortless. It’s only natural that words penned by 40 (or more) people, between 1400 BC to 90 AD, in a wide variety of genres, in another language, and shaped by different cultures and traditions, require some work to comprehend. Scripture’s words were God breathed by the One who created words and thoughts! He is greater than any novelist or journalist so we should expect His words and ideas to be more difficult to understand than theirs! But, because of the effort required to understand them, many of us don’t bother and stick to a few favorite stories, verses and Psalms.

During this sheltering in place, our church conducted an online Bible study and, after thirteen weeks of video lectures given by Biblical scholar N. T. Wright, we finally completed our study of Philippians. In some sessions, Professor Wright walked us through as few as five verses, but the way he shed light on Paul’s circumstances, the Philippians’ society and environment, the political situation of the time, the original Greek meaning of many of the words, the way Paul’s words in Philippians related to his other letters, and what the Apostle’s words meant to us, was immensely rewarding. It was like taking a beautiful old piece of heavily tarnished silver and polishing it. Before this study, I appreciated Philippians the way I might the tarnished silver piece. After studying the epistle in depth, however, the profoundness of Paul’s words were uncovered the same way silver’s true beauty is revealed when it’s polished! Polishing silver, however, takes “elbow grease” and comprehending Scripture takes effort, as well.

Admittedly, understanding Bible passages and spiritual concepts can be challenging but that shouldn’t discourage or surprise us. Even the Apostle Peter admitted the difficulty of comprehending Paul’s words! Nevertheless, the Apostle knew the importance of trying to understand Scripture to avoid being misled. Peter was concerned about teachers who claimed that Christ’s followers could still live immoral lives. Today’s false teachers may be spouting other nonsense but, without our making the effort to study Scripture, we won’t recognize their errors.

Since each Bible study on Philippians lasted about 45 minutes, we spent around 585 minutes on four chapters. That sounds like a lot of time until we consider the 52 billion-plus minutes of The Office that were streamed by Netflix users in 2018 or the 437 billion minutes spent watching NFL and college football’s regular seasons that same year.

For the last several years, I’ve devoted a part of every day to studying Scripture. I still can’t quote chapter and verse, but my life is fuller and more purposeful because of its words. It’s worth the effort because, like mining for diamonds, each time I dig deep into God’s word, another beautiful gem appears.

The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. [Harper Lee]

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ELOHIM (The Trinity – Part 2)

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” [Mark 12:29-30 (NIV)]

Tower Falls - Grand Canyon

Although words like divinity, omniscience, incarnation, and omnipresent are fundamental to our understanding of God, they never appear in Scripture; their concepts, however, do. Like them, the word “trinity” never appears in the Bible but its concept is found throughout God’s Word.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, we find the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith and it was this commandment that Jesus cited as the most important commandment of all. Although His words made it clear there is only one God, from the first words of Genesis to those in Revelation, we find a plurality to that one God. In Hebrew, the singular form of God is El, but when Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the word translated as “God” is Elohim, the plural form of God. Yet, wherever we find the plural Elohim referring to God, the verb used is singular, clearly implying only one God!

In Genesis 1:26, we have God (Elohim) speaking in the plural, “Let us make man in our own image” and, in 3:22, He says that man “has become like one of us.” God isn’t speaking to the angels because they are nothing like us nor is God using a royal “we” since there are no other examples of its use in Scripture. In fact, the earliest evidence of royalty referring to self as “we” is not found until the 4th century!

The personages of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are found in both the Old and New Testaments. In Genesis 14:18, we have the Father when El, the singular form of God, refers to “God Most High.” In Isaiah 7:14, we have the Son in “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.” In Job 33:4 and 37:10, we find the Holy Spirit as the ”Spirit of God” and “Breath of God.” In the New Testament, we have all three personages present when Jesus was baptized, God publicly proclaimed Him as His Son, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon Him. [Matthew 3:16-17] We then have Jesus putting all three persons together when He gave the disciples the Great Commission.

Last Sunday, Christians celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers. While Pentecost, like Christmas and Easter, celebrates an event, this coming Sunday we will celebrate a vital part of Christian doctrine: the Holy Trinity. Just as the Trinity was there in the Old Testament when Elohim decided to make man, the Trinity was there when Elohim chose to save man in the New! Thank you God!

When I know it is the Word of God that declares the Trinity, that God has said so, I do not inquire how it can be true; I am content with the simple Word of God, let it harmonize with reason as it may. And every Christian should adopt the same course with respect to all the articles of our faith. [Martin Luther]

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ANALOGIES (The Trinity-Part 1)

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” [Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV)]

apache plumeI don’t think there is a way we can fully understand the Trinity—how one God can exist as three distinct and complete persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it comes down to finding analogies that come close. A common one is that God can be experienced in three forms just as water can be experienced as a liquid, solid or vapor. Like every analogy, though, it isn’t quite right. At Jesus’ baptism, God appeared in all three personages at the same time but water can’t do that! As imperfect as they are, however, analogies help us better understand the mystery of the Trinity.

It was hearing a chef on the Food Network use the term “holy trinity” that brought to mind another analogy. Rather than talking theology, the chef was making a mirepoix—a mixture of onions, celery, and carrots. Just as these three distinct vegetables combine into a flavor foundation for stocks and stews, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons who combine into one being and form the foundation of our Christian faith. In spite of a chef’s mirepoix being called a “holy trinity,” however, the analogy doesn’t capture the concept fully. In a mirepoix, once the vegetables are combined and sautéed, they are no longer distinct—not so with the Holy Trinity. Even when combined in the Godhead, all three persons of the Trinity retain their individuality.

Rather than a mirepoix, perhaps the chef’s cookbook makes a better analogy. Having length, width and thickness, it is three-dimensional. Its length is not its width, its thickness not its length, and its width not its thickness and, while they all differ, none is more important than the other. Each is a separate and distinct measurement and yet they connect into one book and, if we remove any one of the dimensions, we no longer have the book. The Godhead, like a cookbook, has three unique dimensions that combine to make up the entirety without changing the original dimensions.

God, however, is neither dimension nor thing; He is a being. Analogies will always fail us because they are limited by human comprehension. Nevertheless, being pretty much incomprehensible doesn’t mean the Trinity isn’t real. It just means that understanding an unlimited God is too immense for our finite minds. If we could fully understand the essence of God, He wouldn’t be God!

The point isn’t to understand it all; it is simply to know and be known by God. While I have but a vague understanding of the Trinity, I believe in it because I have experienced all three persons! I pray to God the Father, have knowledge of Him through His Son Jesus Christ, and have His Spirit living within me. Thank you, God!

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. [Athanasian Creed]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [2 Corinthians 13:14 (NIV)]

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. [John 14:26 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOOD SOIL (Soil – Part 4)

Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted! … And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. [Luke 8:8a,15 (NLT)]

strawberriesIn Jesus’ parable of the four soils, the farmer’s seed finally falls on fertile soil: the people who do more than just hear the Word. Receiving it into their hearts, the Word takes root, grows, and eventually bears fruit. This is the kind of soil we’d all like to think describes us!

The very same seed was sown in what we think of as four different soils but, in actuality, it was the same kind of dirt in four different conditions: hard packed, shallow and rocky, filled with weeds, and fertile. All of that soil had the potential to receive the word—but only if it yielded to the plow! Sadly, at various times in our lives, our hearts can grow hard, become shallow, or be overwhelmed by life’s weeds. If we are willing to yield to God’s plow and accept His seed, even the hardest soil can be farmed.

We often think of the heart only in terms of emotions but, in the Bible, the heart is more than the core of our feelings. The center and source of our belief and faith, the heart is the seat of our thinking: our imagination, ideas, interests, intentions, purposes, and understanding. Fertile soil is the honest and good heart that receives the word eagerly and with good intentions. Moreover, such hearts don’t stop at hearing the word (receiving the seed); they retain it, let it shape their lives and, with perseverance, yield a large harvest.

In this parable, we are both the soil—the hearer of the Word—and the farmer—the one who spreads the Word. The fertile soil of a receptive heart allows us to see, hear, understand and apply God’s Word so that we bring forth an abundant harvest of good fruit. To bring forth that harvest, however, the cycle must continue as we become the farmer in the parable and sow God’s word far and wide. It is our responsibility to spread the seed; whether or not it takes root, however, is between God and the soil!

The quality of the soil determines the future of the seed. [Mike Murdock]

I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.” [Hosea 10:12 (NLT)]

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. [Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THORNS AND THISTLES (Soil – Part 3)

Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. [Mark 4:7]

nodding - musk thistleSome of the farmer’s seeds fell among the thorns (probably what we’d call thistles). Prolific seed producers, thorny plants like thistles can grow in the harshest environment. While they may have been cut down and no longer were visible to the farmer, their seeds and roots remained. With their deep roots, thistles are masters of survival and can flourish in adverse conditions. Stealing the moisture and sunlight from the plants around them, they stunt their growth and, if allowed to grow, can overtake a field.

The farmer’s seed was good, it took root, and started to grow but, because of the thistles, it never developed into maturity. The thistles represent the material concerns of the world—the cares, riches and pleasures that distract us from God’s word and, like a thistle’s roots, are deeply seated in our hearts. Rather than robbing us of water, sunlight, and nutrients, they stunt our growth by keeping us from God’s living water, the light of Christ, and the nourishment of His church. The busyness, distractions, and cares of life; the challenges of work and tending a family; the pursuit of wealth; the desire for possessions, status, amusement, contentment, and even revenge: all of these distract us from letting God’s Word bear fruit in our lives.

The faith of Judas was like a field with thistles. He heard the word and followed Jesus as a faithful disciple and yet he betrayed our Lord. We never know exactly why. Perhaps, it was simply for riches. John tells us he was a thief who stole from the disciples’ purse and we know he received money for his betrayal. Judas also may have been distracted by politics and a desire to be among the elite when Jesus defeated the Romans. Disillusionment may have set in when he realized that wouldn’t happen. Whatever it was, like a field of thistles, those distractions allowed Satan to enter him

In God’s perfect plan, there were no weeds and He didn’t mean for thorns or thistles to be in hearts, either. Weeds and sin both came with the fall. Ridding a field of thistles and other weeds is nearly impossible but, with diligence and hard work, it can be done. It takes continual inspection of the field and, once spotted, the weeds must be eradicated. The questions we must ask are simple ones. What are the thistles or thorns in my life? What is holding me back? What is keeping me from bearing His fruit? Is my faith genuine?

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. [2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)]

When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it. [Hebrews 6:7-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.