IMMANUEL – PENTECOST

”And be sure of this,” He promised, ”I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20 (NLT)]

oleanderMy mother’s father walked out of her life when she was a child and never made contact with her again. When I learned this as a girl, I couldn’t understand how someone could do that. How could he not care about the daughter he’d left behind? Didn’t he want to know the beautiful woman she’d become? I secretly fantasized that he would finally come to his senses, seek her out, and embrace both his daughter and his grands. He never did.

People come in and go out of our lives; some leave abruptly and others just fade away. We see that most clearly in December with Christmas cards. We remove names from our list because we stopped getting a card from someone we haven’t seen for twenty years or last year’s card was returned as undeliverable. Because of a death or divorce, some cards we receive are signed by only one when once there were two. In this world, people move, depart, and die and even our closest relationships are only temporary.

Relationships may be transitory, but there is one constant: Jesus. Isaiah called Him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” But, when Jesus lived as a man, He could be with only a few people at a time. Confined to a man’s body, even though he was God, He couldn’t be with everyone at once. When in Capernaum, He drove an evil spirit out of a man and healed both Simon Peter’s mother and the paralytic who came through the roof but He had to leave Capernaum to raise the widow’s son in Nain and heal the paralytic by the pool of Bethesda.

Because Jesus couldn’t be with people in Jerusalem, Gennesaret, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Cana, Bethany, Ephraim, and Samaria all at once, he journeyed from place to place. It’s estimated that He walked more than 3,000 miles during his three year ministry. Sadly, we don’t know what became of most of the people whose lives He touched. After Jesus left Samaria, did the woman He met at the well ever see Him again? Did she lose touch the way we lose touch with old friends? What of the ten lepers, the two blind men, Jairus, his daughter, or the bleeding woman? Jesus was with them for a time but then He left to preach and heal elsewhere. When confined to a human body, Jesus couldn’t be with both Martha and Mary in Bethany and with the disciples a day’s journey from Jerusalem. When He lived as a man, Jesus was only Immanuel, “God with Us,” to those who were near Him.

When Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t leave us alone the way the loved ones of so many of my friends have. When He ascended into heaven, Jesus didn’t move without a forwarding address, lose touch with us as happens with friends, and He certainly didn’t walk out on us the way my grandfather did to his family. Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven but He never really left us. Because of His Holy Spirit, Jesus is truly with every one of us, all of the time, no matter where we are. Moreover, unlike my grandfather who never came back for his children, Jesus will. No longer limited by time or space, He is, indeed, Immanuel: God with Us.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. [John 14:16-18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

PROPERTY LAWS

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. [Romans 3:23-24 (NLT)]

toddlerAlthough my husband attended law school, there is one law he never knew until he became a father: the Toddler Property Law. Starting out with the basic premise of “What’s mine is mine!” it then defines exactly what is meant by “mine.” The toddler defines “mine” as the following: it’s mine if I like it; if I think it’s mine, it is; if it’s yours, it’s mine; if I can take it from you, it’s mine; if I had it but put it down, it’s still mine; if you had it but put it down, then it’s mine; and, if it is broken, it’s yours.

If we ever doubted the existence of original sin, we only need to watch a few toddlers at play to see that we are born into this world with sinful natures. Granted, the toddler doesn’t exhibit vanity or pride or practice sorcery, watch porn, get drunk and disorderly or commit adultery, but he sure knows a lot about greed, selfishness, coveting, hitting, defiance, anger, and the attachment to worldly goods (especially if made by Fisher-Price or Melissa & Doug).

Since I have difficulty following the various theological arguments and isms regarding original sin, I’m not going to define it or expound on how it came to be. Nevertheless, I don’t need a theologian to tell me that it’s not necessary to teach a toddler how to be a selfish grabby little beast but we do have to teach him how to share. I don’t think we’re born defective; after all, we were created in God’s image. Nevertheless, we were given that troublesome thing called free will which means we have the capacity to choose between right and wrong. Simply put, we sin because we can.

C.S. Lewis posits that Satan gave Adam and Eve the idea that “they could be like gods” and “be their own masters.” Without the theology, that’s pretty much the toddler mind set; he thinks he’s the master of the universe, the world revolves around him, and all that he wants is his. Sadly, some of us never grow out of thinking that way.

I don’t think God is holding me responsible for Adam and Eve’s poor choices; He doesn’t have to! Long ago, I started making plenty of my own poor decisions. If we didn’t have a tendency or predisposition to sin, you’d think someone (other than Jesus) could have remained sinless in all of this time! One reading of Scripture, however, tells us no one seems to have been able to keep perfectly the moral standards and precepts set by God. For example, Abraham, a man who walked with God, was a liar and a coward and David, said to be “a man after God’s own heart,” was an adulterer and murderer. Under mankind’s own power, we don’t appear to have the ability to stop sinning even when we want to do so.

Christianity tells us that we are unable to overcome the power of sin without the power of the Holy Spirit. That power comes by turning to Christ and relying on his sacrifice to atone for our sins. It’s only when we admit that we are helpless in the face of sin and that our sin has separated us from God, that we see the need for a savior and understand why Jesus (the perfect sacrifice) died for us. It is only through God’s grace that we finally have the power to renounce the sin of the world.

The beautiful thing about God’s grace is that when we sin (and try as we might not to do so, we will), God has enough grace to shower us with His undeserved mercy again and again. He gives us yet another chance to grow in godliness and His Spirit will empower us to do just that.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. [Titus 2: 14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WEAR YOUR OWN SHOES

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. [Galatians 1:10 (NIV)]

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. [Galatians 6:4-5a (NIV)]

seedboxLast Thursday night’s Bible study had been as inspiring as Easter Sunday’s sermon. As we walked out of the building, I confided to my friend that there was no way I could follow such brilliant preaching. You see, our pastor was taking a much needed vacation and I would be doing the preaching for the next two Sundays. Afraid I couldn’t possibly fill his shoes or touch people’s hearts the way he does, I asked, “How can I possibly compare to him?” My friend wisely answered, “You don’t!” He reminded me to be myself and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

As I continued to polish my sermon, the enemy kept reminding me that I could never fill our pastor’s shoes.  I thought of the Apostles after Jesus had ascended. I’m sure their preaching, no matter how heartfelt and inspired, was no match for that of Jesus. That no one could possibly fill His holy sandals, however, didn’t stop them from speaking and spreading the gospel message. Scripture tells us that many became believers and were baptized after hearing the Apostle Paul speak. Yet Paul’s vast knowledge and speaking skills never kept Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Titus or others from sharing God’s word.

When whispers of doubt are heard, I find it best to turn to God’s Word, so I turned to Paul’s letters to Timothy. Telling him not to be ashamed of his testimony, Paul encouraged the young man by reminding him that God’s Spirit “does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” He advised the young man to let his teaching be shaped by his faith and love for Jesus and to teach others so that they could pass those teachings on to still more people. Reminding Timothy that the only approval he should seek was that of God, Paul’s instructions were simple: “Preach the word.” [4:2]

Granted, I felt a heavy responsibility. Ours is a growing young church and I didn’t want us to lose momentum or have the church flounder in our pastor’s absence. Then again, I suppose the people Paul left to pastor the churches he planted felt much the same way. Nevertheless, Paul’s words made me ask whose approval it was that I sought. Did I want to please God or the people? While I prayed that my words would manage to do both, I had to focus on pleasing God and trust Him to take care of the rest. The only approval I should be seeking was that of God.

My preaching, like my writing, is not about me; it’s about God. While I hope that it pleases people, the only one I need to please with my words is God. Saturday morning, my friend sent some more words of encouragement. He reminded me that I’m a child of God, gifted by Him in my own special way, and that all God asks of me is to be myself and “Preach the word.” That’s all God asks of any of us! None of us are expected to fill someone else’s shoes; we just have to wear our own and walk in a way that pleases God.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord. [2 Timothy 1:7-8a (NIV)]

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. [2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

A MATTER OF CHOICE

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. [Luke 1:38 (NLT)]

great blue heronYesterday, when writing about the angel’s visit to Mary, I came upon some articles by women who take offense at the story of Jesus’s conception. Interpreting Mary’s response as involuntary, they picture the Annunciation of our Lord as some weird sort of a supernatural rape. This is inconsistent both with Scripture and God as we know Him. The angel didn’t say, “Surprise, you’re pregnant!” and leave. Read the words as reported by Luke; Gabriel told Mary what would happen, not what had already occurred. It was only after Mary asked how the angel’s words would be fulfilled and she accepted God’s invitation to motherhood that the angel departed.

The God we know from Scripture is one of choice: it was He who gave us free will. Although God pursues, seeks and invites us, it remains our choice to accept or reject Him. Jesus called the people to follow Him but not everyone who heard His invitation did. When the people of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave, that’s exactly what He did. When Jesus told the parables about banquets to which the invited guests refused to come, the host accepted their refusals and simply invited others to the feast. God gave us free will and He will not violate this gift. No one, not even the virgin Mary, is ever forced to partake of God’s grace.

Although some would have us think that Mary was powerless in Gabriel’s presence, she was the one with the power. It was Mary who would decide whether or not to accept God’s call. Writer Mark Ballenger refers to God as a “sovereign gentleman,” and, like a true gentleman, He waited for Mary’s verbal consent before the Holy Spirit came upon her!

When feminists object to Mary saying she was the Lord’s servant, they are confusing being servile (mindlessly doing what is ordered) with consciously choosing to serve. There is nothing demeaning or weak about being a servant. Jesus was God and yet he called himself a servant and laid aside his majesty to selflessly serve mankind and die on the cross.

Mary was far more than an incubator for God. We honor her not because she had the womb in which Jesus grew; we honor her because she freely chose to be a faithful and obedient servant to God. God could not have carried out His plan of salvation without Mary’s consent and cooperation. Let us remember that God cannot continue to carry out the plans for His Kingdom without ours. Like Mary, we are called to be God’s servants. Whether or not we accept His invitation, is entirely up to us.

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. [John 12:25-26 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GLOW IN THE DARK

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “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 8:12 (NLT)]

photoluminiscent exit signsA business friend took us upstairs at his corporate center and then turned out all of the lights. With blackout curtains covering the windows, we were in complete and utter darkness. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, we saw glowing strips marking the perimeter of the room and around the door. A luminous exit sign was above the door and the doorknob was marked with a glowing circle around it. In spite of the blackness, we easily found our way to the door. When we opened it, another glowing sign warned us “Caution—watch your step.” Although the stairwell was pitch black, we weren’t frightened because the hand railing, baseboards, and edges of every stair were marked with glowing strips and another exit sign, outlined door, and marked doorknob indicated the way out of the dark stairway. That luminous greenish light safely guided us even when we couldn’t see where we were going.

My friend manufactures photoluminescent tapes and signs and it was his products that were glowing in the dark. He explained that photoluminescence occurs when a substance is capable of absorbing energy photons, storing them and then emitting them as a glowing greenish or yellow light. His products also glow in the light but, because of the ambient light, our eyes don’t see the glow; they seem brightest in the darkness!

Light and dark in the Bible are usually metaphors for good and evil, God and Satan, believers and unbelievers. Maybe it’s because I write Christian devotions but, after seeing how that glowing light led us through the building, I couldn’t help but think about the light of Christ that leads us. Just as the purpose of those photoluminescent products is to give off light, Christians are called to be the light of the world. Needing neither electricity nor batteries, those tapes and signs must absorb external light before they can make light of their own and it is Christ’s light that enables us to illuminate the world’s darkness; we can’t do it on our own. And, just as those photoluminescent tapes and signs seem brightest in the dark, the light of Christ shines brightest in the shadowy and troubled times. While darkness can never overpower God’s light, His light can overpower the world’s darkness.

Photoluminescent products continually absorb ambient light and, when fully charged, can glow brightly for about 90 minutes. But, without being recharged by light, they’ll eventually run out of energy and stop glowing. While 90 minutes is more than enough time to guide one out of a burning building, Jesus expects us to have more than a mere hour-and-a-half worth of His energy in us; we are to shine 24/7! Moreover, if photoluminescent tapes and signs get dirty or covered with paint, they can’t do their job. The same goes for Christ’s followers, but it won’t be dust, mud or paint that will soil us; rather, the filth of the world can keep us from lighting the way. We must keep ourselves free from sin and continually recharge with prayer, Scripture, fellowship, study, worship, praise and thankfulness.

Jesus led us from darkness into light. Are we doing our part to lead people to the fire exit and safely home to the Lord? Do we live as people of the light and glow with the glory of the Lord?

The fundamental principle of Christianity is to be what God is, and he is light. [John Hagee]

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! [Ephesians 5:8 (NLT)]

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

DAY ONE

DawnThe faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” [Lamentations 3:22-24 (NLT)

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. [2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT)]

I’m an early riser anyway but the three hour time difference between the east and west coasts had me up well before dawn. While sipping my morning latte, I looked out the window and watched the morning appear. As the sun began to rise, God got out his paints to color the sky and the horizon took shape. I slipped on my shoes and went out to greet the new day. While a rooster in the distance crowed his welcome to the sun, I silently shouted my good morning to God and thought of Matthew West’s song Day One of the Rest of My Life. “It’s day one and here comes the sun!” I sang to myself. Indeed, each morning brings day one of the rest of our lives—day one of the best of our lives! Thank you, God.

Seeing the sunrise shouldn’t just be saved for Easter morning services and I feel sorry for those who sleep through the day’s awakening. They miss experiencing that perfect moment when dawn breaks through: when today becomes yesterday and tomorrow becomes today. Although saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is a cliché, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Telling us that yesterday does not have to repeat itself today, each dawn brings a new beginning.

Of course, we don’t have to arise while it’s still dark to enjoy a dawn in our lives. Our faith in Jesus takes us from the darkness of unbelief into a new beginning. Moreover, because of God’s grace, we’re assured that even when we mess up (and we surely will), there is another new beginning and plenty more after that. Nevertheless, seeing a sunrise reminds us both of God’s forgiveness and the new life in Christ we’ve been given. It tells us that this is the day we should live life to the fullest, honor and serve God the most, and be the best we can be. This is the day we can get back on the right path, realize our dreams, fulfill His will, and be wiser, better, and more forgiving. But, just as we don’t have the power to make the sun rise, we don’t have the power to become the person God wants us to be by ourselves. That power comes from the Holy Spirit within us. It is He who fills us with the peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to meet each day.

The Psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” [118:24] Indeed, each new day brings reason to rejoice. Yet, since every dawn inevitably ends in a sunset, the sunrise also serves as a subtle reminder of the brevity of life. Not a moment should be wasted in regret, anger, resentment, worry or fear. Lord, whether today is the first or the last day of the rest of our lives, fill us with your Spirit so that it is the best day of our lives!

Well, I wish I had a short term memory,
Wish the only thing my eyes could see
Was the future burning bright right in front of me;
But I can’t stop looking back.
Yeah, I wish I was a perfect picture of
Somebody who’s never not good enough.
I try to measure up but I mess it up
And I wish I wasn’t like that. …
Well, every single day Your grace reminds me
That my best days are not behind me.
Wherever my yesterday may find me
Well, I don’t have to stay there.
It’s day one of the rest of my life!
It’s day one of the best of my life! [Matthew West, Peter Kipley]

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.