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.

AND EVIL BEGAT EVIL

swamp (string) lily - corkscrew swampAs you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell His people, “Do not murder; those who murder will be judged and punished.” But here is the even harder truth: anyone who is angry with his brother will be judged for his anger. Anyone who taunts his friend, speaks contemptuously toward him, or calls him “Loser” or “Fool” or “Scum,” will have to answer to the high court. And anyone who calls his brother a fool may find himself in the fires of hell. [Matthew 5:21-22 (VOICE)]

While Satan’s presence is easy to see in malevolent acts like terrorism, genocide, slavery, torture and human trafficking, he’s usually far more subtle. That we don’t expect his presence in our emotions and actions works to his advantage and we don’t see him when he comes slithering into our lives. Like a trickle of water seeping through a foundation crack, he oozes in without our noticing and, before we know it, he’s settled into the La-Z-Boy and made himself at home in our hearts.

Evil is anything that contradicts the nature of God and it includes immorality, pettiness, deceit, envy, maliciousness, unforgiveness, hatred, slander, hypocrisy, covetousness, and corruption. Unfortunately, those evils are harder to recognize and far more likely to be in our hearts than genocide, murder or even adultery.

The enemy doesn’t care who he captures and the more the merrier as far as he is concerned. Rebekah and Jacob let him into their hearts when they plotted to deceive Isaac into thinking he was blessing Esau when actually blessing Jacob. Esau’s reaction to their deception allowed the enemy entrance in his heart when he decided to kill his brother. Their story illustrates how evil has a way of begetting more evil.

After recently witnessing some of the enemy’s destructive work, I’ve had righteous indignation at the way innocent people were hurt. Unfortunately, I’ve also had some very unrighteous anger and ill will. There’s a fine line between disappointment and disgust, indignation and fury, and making things right and retaliation. I found myself hoping for disaster to strike the wrongdoers and have caught myself disparaging and despising them. The enemy has used my anger to open the door for malice, unkindness and even gossip. His evil is just begetting more of the same.

Somehow, during Jacob’s twenty year absence, Esau managed to empty his heart of bitterness and anger at his brother; Satan lost that battle. If, however, I allow anger to continue brewing in me, he’ll be able to put another notch on his belt. Anger, spite, contempt, disdain, condemnation—they all diminish me and the Christ within me. That I’m angry on someone else’s behalf or that the other people’s sins have harmed people while mine have harmed no one (but me), is of no matter. My thoughts have been evil and the only option is to capture them, send them packing, and seal the cracks that allowed them entrance. I’ll do that by conforming my thoughts to God’s will and allowing His love and forgiveness to rule my heart.

Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good. [Romans 12:21 (VOICE)]

We are demolishing arguments and ideas, every high-and-mighty philosophy that pits itself against the knowledge of the one true God. We are taking prisoners of every thought, every emotion, and subduing them into obedience to the Anointed One. [2 Corinthians 10:5 (VOICE)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SINNERS ALL

Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal?  You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. [Romans 2:21-23 (NLT)]

Steamboat ski areaWhile yesterday’s story of the testy foul-mouthed grandpa was funny, it was also sad. That grouchy man with the bad vocabulary claims to be a God-fearing Christian and yet he thought nothing of losing his patience and taking God’s name in vain when annoyed by a little boy! His story points out the complaint so many have about the Christian church—we’re just a bunch of hypocrites!

I know a young pastor, raised in a church family, who was so disillusioned by the hypocrisy he saw that he gave up on God. Fortunately, God didn’t give up on him and He eventually came to Christ. I have several Roman Catholic friends who have left Christianity because of the hypocrisy they saw regarding priestly abuse in the church. The news has been filled with various preachers, celebrities, and politicians, claiming to be Christians with high moral values, who have been knocked off their pedestals with assorted scandals. Unfortunately, their public unmasking throws mud on the entire church.

In actuality, we all are guilty of hypocrisy. It’s just that, for most of us, our hypocrisy is rarely publicized. Nevertheless, just because our falseness isn’t exposed on the media doesn’t mean we’re any less guilty of it. Sometimes, all it takes is a little child’s repetition of our words to convict us!

Knowing that our behavior is our witness, we tend to focus on outward appearances and wear a false face of righteousness. Eventually, however, that perfect persona cracks, our hypocrisy is evident, and our witness becomes worthless. The best witnesses to the power of Christ are the Christians who are the most open and honest about their own weaknesses. When someone says we should forgive and doesn’t, that’s hypocrisy. When someone says we should forgive but confesses to difficulty doing so, that’s honesty. None of us are perfect and we all struggle with sin; why is that so hard for us to admit?

I write about praying and reading the Bible but do neither of them enough. I write about trusting God but I worry. I write about having a strong faith but have moments of doubt and even though I write about letting God lead me, I resist handing Him the reins! I would be a hypocrite if I denied being the terribly flawed person I am. My hypocrisy is in the pointing of my finger at the grumpy grandpa when I, too, have been known to let loose with a string of profanity! Admitting our flaws is not the same as accepting them and, like the Apostle Paul, we continue to be works in progress. Although better than we were, none of us are a good as we could be!

There’s not one Christian who completely lives up to the standard set by the Bible. Rather than trying to appear perfect on the outside, we must let God repair us from the inside. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can progress toward the goal of becoming more like Christ. Just because we haven’t attained that goal doesn’t make us hypocrites, it simply makes us human.

So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. [James 1:21-22 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT SONG DO WE SING?

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. [James 1:26 (NIV)]

southern mockingbirdHearing the bird’s shrill harsh scream, I looked up expecting to see a blue jay. To my surprise, it was a mockingbird. Of all the beautiful songs it can imitate, I wondered why it chose the strident call of the jay. Then, remembering how many blue jays inhabit the area, I realized their raucous “jaaaaay” is what the mockingbird hears so that is what he sings. If he’d been listening to squeaky gates or frogs, he’d be mimicking them.

The bird reminded me of a friend who can be a bit of a grouch at times. While visiting family in the north over the holidays, he tired of hearing the grandkids squabble over their new toys and decided to go out and shovel the snow. To his displeasure, his young grandson insisted on helping. The boy was given a small shovel but complained that he wanted the big one. My friend used a few ill-chosen words to tell his grand no and set about shoveling. A few minutes later, the grand again insisted that he had to use the big shovel. Grandpa used a few more of those expletive-deleted words before letting the child give it a try. Of course, once he started with it, the boy cried that it was too heavy. “$@#!&)%! I told you so!” Grandpa angrily replied. There were a few more profanities when the boy started to toss snowballs but, eventually the shoveling was finished. Back in the house, as they took off their coats and boots, the youngster loudly and proudly announced to his parents, “We just shoveled the whole $@#!&)% driveway!” You can’t blame him for the bad language; like the mockingbird, he was just mimicking what he’d heard!

It’s not just small children and birds who echo what they’ve heard; we all model ourselves after the people we hear. For example, my mother-in-law often tells us how delicious the food is in her senior residence. If one of her tablemates complains about the night’s dinner, however, by the end of the meal, all eight women will be griping and, by the next day, Grandma’s telling me how terrible the food is. Pleasant or not, we tend to sing the song we hear. When we get together with our co-workers, once someone starts to grumble about the boss, before long everyone is grumbling about nearly everything at work. Someone starts to gossip and soon we’re all dishing about anyone not present. Most of us don’t start out planning on being negative, critical, disparaging or gossipy but, once someone starts the ball rolling, we tend to jump right in. Like the mockingbird and boy, we’re just mimicking what we hear to become one of the group.

Our job as Christians is more than just not singing the shrill song of the jay or the profane one of the testy grandpa. We must not join the disagreeable or objectionable chorus when it starts and should find a way to gently stop that nasty song from continuing once it has started. Our voices should be as pleasant as that of the nightingale or wood thrush. Let us always remember that our behavior is our witness, we should always bear the fruit of the spirit, and the only voice we should mimic is that of Jesus.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. [Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)]

Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. [Psalm 141:3 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ANGELS IN DISGUISE

Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation. [Hebrews 1:14 (NLT)]

dubble tulip“I’m the answer to Pastor’s prayers,” said the woman lightheartedly as she sat down next to me at Bible study. Having seen on Facebook that he was praying for more people at Bible study, she felt the urge to come. Her comment caused me to think about the way God uses us to answer people’s prayers.

I was looking at the vast array of allergy medications when another woman joined me. While perusing the shelves, we discussed the merits of various brands. She then said, “I see from your cross, you’re a Christian, so you’ll understand. I know I should be thankful in all things but I’m just having an awful time with this one.” She went on with her grievance that severe allergies had suddenly attacked her at sixty years of age. I sympathized since, like her, I never suffered from allergies until my senior years. “Perhaps,” I suggested, “we should be thankful that we haven’t had to suffer from them since youth!” We talked a little about gratitude and God and joined one another in a quick prayer. When done, she said, “Thanks; I needed that!”

A stranger approached me at church and asked if a certain pastor had arrived. After telling her not yet, something made me pause and ask if there was anything I could do for her. Replying that she needed someone with whom to pray, I offered. She shared her concerns and we laid them before God in prayer. We chatted briefly and I gave what comfort and guidance I could (along with a big hug). I then offered to find the pastor but she said, “No, you were just what I needed.”

I think of a friend who, when he discovered a loved one was using drugs, was devastated. The next day, he had lunch with a business acquaintance who asked what was troubling him. As my friend poured out his concerns to a man he barely knew, the businessman shared his own story of addiction and gave some much needed and excellent advice. He was just what was needed.

Were those mere coincidences or were they orchestrated by God? That first woman didn’t have to come to Bible study. In response to the woman with allergies, I easily could have said, “That’s too bad,” and finished my shopping. As for the woman who needed someone with whom to pray, after telling her the pastor wasn’t there, I could have gone about my business. That businessman didn’t have to ask my friend about his troubles and he certainly didn’t need to share a very private part of his own life. By responding to someone’s need, had we become answers to their prayers?

Although angels are God’s messengers and spiritual beings, I wonder if we humans might also act as His messengers and be given opportunities to answer people’s prayers. Rather than ministering spirits, we are ministering mortals. Although we have bodies and angels don’t, there is a bigger difference between God’s holy messengers and us. God’s angels have unquestioning obedience to His commands; we, on the other hand, often ignore Him and the opportunities and tasks He sets before us. God’s angels are sent by Him to help believers—but so are their brothers and sisters in Christ. Could you be an earthly angel in disguise? Could you be the answer to someone’s prayers?

Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels who serve him and do his will! [Psalm 130:21 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE WATERFALL

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. [Matthew 28:19 (NLT)]

Giessbach Falls - SwitzerlandLast year my eldest grand took advanced calculus. I could neither understand what she was doing nor the purpose in doing it (other than gaining entrance into a good university). This year she is taking something called Discrete Math, the definition of which leaves me in the dust. Apparently used in computer science, I didn’t even know that numbers could be discrete. Fortunately, I’m not the one taking SATs and making application to colleges so I don’t need to make sense of her difficult curriculum.

As confusing and difficult to explain as Calculus and Discrete Math is the concept of the Holy Trinity. Although my grand has to fully understand the concepts taught in her math classes, I don’t have to completely comprehend the Trinity to believe in it (which is good since the Trinity can seem as confusing as algorithms, algebraic combinatorics, and hypergraph theory.)

While various analogies are often used to describe the Holy Trinity, none seem to work completely. The Trinity has been compared to an egg with its three parts: yolk, white and shell. Although each is part of the same egg, the analogy fails because none of the three are the egg themselves. All three distinct parts of the Trinity are God rather than just part of Him. Others analogies compare the Trinity to water with its three properties of liquid, solid (ice) and vapor or steam. Although they all are water, the analogy fails since the same water can’t be all three at the same time. God, however, is Father, Son and Holy Spirit simultaneously. In previous devotions, I’ve compared the Trinity both to a chef’s mirepoix and the three dimensions of a book; while close, they weren’t perfect either.

While viewing a waterfall recently, I remembered an analogy used by one of my pastors. Picture yourself standing at the foot of a beautiful and powerful waterfall. You look up to the top. You can’t see the river that is the source of the water and yet you know it is there. The river, the source, is like God the Father. Then you look ahead and see the water pouring down over the rocks. The water you can see is Jesus (the Son who comes from God). Finally, you feel the spray on your face, breathe it in through your mouth and nose, and the water becomes part of you. That mist is the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the Trinity is central to our Christian faith. God is one being who exists as three coexistent, equal, eternal and divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. While they are all God, none of the three are any of the others. The Father is not the Son or Spirit; the Son is not the Father or Spirit, and the Spirit is neither Father nor Son. That we can’t fully comprehend this incredible phenomenon is understandable. God is God and we are not and His ways are beyond our limited human understanding. Nevertheless, just because I can’t understand calculus or discrete math doesn’t mean they are false or nonexistent and just because I can’t quite grasp the concept of a Triune God doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist either. His power and presence are not dependent upon my understanding. After all, this is the God who created a vast universe from nothing and scattered countless stars across the sky; fashioned everything from elephants to dragonflies and redwoods to roses; and understands theoretical astrophysics, nanotechnology, quantum physics, calculus and discrete math. Being three in one is probably child’s play to our omnipotent Triune God. Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.