FREE WON’T

Live like free people, but don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Live as those who are serving God. [1 Peter 2:16 (ERV)]

red-bellied woodpecker“Get Fuzzy,” a comic strip drawn by Darby Conley, chronicles the life of Rob and his somewhat eccentric pets: Bucky Katt, a temperamental feline with “cat-attitude,” and the gentle Satchel Pooch who frequently is the butt of Bucky’s jokes and the target of his bullying. In one comic, Satchel pondered the concept of free will. “Having free will means you also have the freedom to not,” says the dog, who then resolves, “I choose to exercise free won’t and not get mad.”

In studying the human brain, neuroscientists have discovered that there is a brief instant between when the brain tells the body to get ready to act and the action itself. That nanosecond is when our mind can implement its veto power—when it truly can exercise “free won‘t”!

We are usually so busy touting all of the things we’re free to do, that it is refreshing to consider the things we’re free not to do. Unfortunately, we don’t exercise that freedom nearly enough. Eve and Adam tasted the forbidden fruit, the Israelites worshipped a golden calf, David pursued Bathsheba, Jacob stole his inheritance, Judas betrayed Jesus, and Lot’s wife took a last look. Sadly, they didn’t exercise their freedom to say “No!” Admittedly, I frequently fail at implementing my “free won’t.”

The ability to not choose a thought or action is as important as the ability to choose them. We don’t have to indulge our every notion or whim. Remembering that we can veto as easily as we can approve, all of our choices should be conscious ones—ones where we deliberately choose between will or won’t.

Unfortunately, by the end of the comic strip, Satchel, who had been sorely vexed by Bucky, exclaims that, “I’m starting to get a little free maybe-the-*@#!-I-will after all!” His frustration sounds a bit like us when we try to exercise self-control solely on our own. Fortunately, unlike Satchel, we have a secret weapon: the Holy Spirit. Through God’s power, when tempted, we can exercise the freedom to not respond and make our free will become free won’t!

So, my brothers and sisters, we must not be ruled by our sinful selves. We must not live the way our sinful selves want. If you use your lives to do what your sinful selves want, you will die spiritually. But if you use the Spirit’s help to stop doing the wrong things you do with your body, you will have true life. The true children of God are those who let God’s Spirit lead them. [Romans 8:12-14 (ERV)]

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INADEQUATE AND UNQUALIFIED

I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. [1 Corinthians 2:3-4 (NLT)]

buttercupWhen I sit in front of my computer to start writing, I often wonder what makes me think I am qualified to spread the good news of the Gospel. I take comfort in the Apostle Paul’s similar feelings of inadequacy. Of all the people we meet in Scripture, Paul’s credentials (other than those of Jesus) seem to be the most impressive. Fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, from the tribe of Benjamin, and a second-generation Pharisee who had studied and trained under the respected Gamaliel, Paul was well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and passionate for Jesus. Yet, we know that even he sometimes felt inadequate to the task. Although extremely knowledgeable, by his own admission, his preaching ability left much to be desired.

Then again, an 80-year old man who stammered was called to lead his people out of slavery, a shepherd boy was called to be a king, and a housewife was called to be a prophetess and judge. Samuel was just a boy when he first prophesized, Jeremiah little more than a teen when God called him, and the disciples were just ordinary people like you and me. None of them had impressive resumes. Yet God, knowing exactly who they were, their ages, skills, capabilities, and shortcomings, called them! And He calls us!

In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that, rather than calling the qualified, God choses to qualify those he calls: “God chose the things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.” [1:27] Paul reassured the Corinthians in a later letter that, “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” [2 Corinthians 9:8] While the Apostle was referring to material gifts for the believers in Jerusalem, his words hold true for the other gifts with which God has blessed us. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have those gifts until God calls us to use them!

Whether God calls us to lead two million across the desert or lead a small group, to compose letters to the new church or write a blog, to speak to kings or a troubled teen, to build a temple or the set for the Christmas pageant, none of us can do it alone; we must depend on God and believe his promises. We continually underrate ourselves because we’re thinking small; we think we have to go it alone, under our own power, but we don’t. When God called the young Jeremiah to be His prophet, He didn’t promise that it would be easy or that he’d never get discouraged or frustrated. What God promised was His protection, provision, and supervision. Those promises apply to us, as well. God is the source of our ability and it is His power that will enable us to do His work. We are merely God’s tools; He is the builder and we must let Him use us to build His Kingdom.

Loving God, His word, and His children hardly qualifies me to write and yet, with over 1,800 devotions written, as unqualified as I am, through God’s power, it’s been done. He has, indeed, generously provided. We must trust the God who calls us to reach beyond where we think we can grasp, to climb higher than we’ve ever been, or to dig deeper than we thought possible. He will enable us to do whatever He asks us to do. While we may not do it perfectly, all God asks is that we answer Him, obey His call to the best of our ability, and trust in His provision. The outcome is His responsibility!

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. [2 Corinthians 3:4-6a (NLT)]

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

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THE ARK of the COVENANT

I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. [Exodus 25:22 (NLT)]

Mt. Rigi crossYesterday’s devotion about Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant raises the questions of what was in it and what became of it. Constructed by the Israelites during the exodus, the Ark held the unbroken tablets of the Ten Commandments (representing God’s law), a golden pot of manna (representing God’s love and provision), and Aaron’s rod that miraculously budded (representing God’s power and leadership). Built in Mt. Sinai and carried all the way to Canaan, nearly 500 years passed before it finally found its home in Solomon’s temple. By the time the temple was built and Solomon brought it into the innermost chamber, only the stone tablets remained.

A thing of beauty, the Ark’s design was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Constructed of acacia wood, it was 3.9 feet long by 2.3 feet both high and wide. It was plated, inside and out, with pure gold. On the bottom of the box, there were four gold rings through which two long poles could be inserted. Also made of acacia and coated in gold, it was by these poles that the priests carried the Ark. Covering the box was the atonement cover or Mercy Seat. Made of one piece of solid gold, it was hammered into the shape of two cherubim on each end. Facing one another, their wings were extended and touched. If we wonder how a people who had been enslaved for over 400 years had gold enough for a golden calf let alone this golden box, we should remember that Israel “stripped the Egyptians of their wealth” [Exodus 12:36] and took their clothing, silver and gold. In a bit of holy irony, the same gold and precious stones that adorned their captors and embellished Egyptian idols was used to make the Ark and outfit the Tabernacle.

As far as we know, the Ark remained in the Temple until Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. Whether it was destroyed, captured, or hidden then, nobody knows; its whereabouts have been debated for centuries. The Babylonians made detailed lists of their plunder and the Ark is not listed. The Ark simply disappeared and there is no mention of it when Zerubabbel rebuilt the Temple upon the Jews’ return from captivity. When Pompey conquered Jerusalem and entered the Temple in 63 BC, he reported that its inner sanctuary was just an empty room.

One Midrash in the Talmud states that King Josiah anticipated Jerusalem’s invasion and buried the Ark in a vault under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount. Since that site is now home to the Dome of the Rock, a sacred Islamic shrine, archeologists have not been able to search there. According to Maimonides, King Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea for its protection and that is where Josiah hid the Ark. The Apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees claims that Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave on Mt. Nebo and its location “shall remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy,” leading some Jews to believe it won’t be found until the Messiah comes. Some Ethiopian Christians assert that the Ark was taken to Ethiopia before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. They claim it is in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion and guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark.” No one has been allowed to see it and it’s never been studied for authenticity. In 1982, an amateur archeologist, Ron Wyatt, claimed to have found the Ark beneath Golgotha and that Jesus’s blood dripped through a fissure in the rock onto it. No one, however, ever saw it and Wyatt’s many dubious claims have been thoroughly discredited by both professional archaeologists and respected Biblical scholars. Contrary to the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m pretty sure this divine relic is not shut up in a box and stored in the recesses of a government warehouse.

Under the Old Covenant, the Ark was a sign of God’s presence among His people. Under the New Covenant, God’s law, love, provision, leadership and power are no longer contained in a box; they are found in Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God doesn’t reside in the inner room of the Temple; He is in the hearts of all believers!

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? [1 Corinthians 6:19 (NLT)]

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SEEING INSIDE

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)]

crab appleAfter God rejected Saul as king, He sent Samuel to the home of Jesse, telling him that one of Jesse’s sons had been selected as the next king. Samuel was sure he’d found the new king after taking one look at Eliab, Jesse’s eldest boy. Like Saul, Eliab must have been tall, muscular, and handsome, but mere good looks hadn’t served the people well with Saul. Telling Samuel not to judge by outward appearances, God said that He judges by what’s in the heart. In Samuel’s day, only God could see into the heart; that’s not so today!

I recently had an echocardiogram. During this test, high-frequency sound waves, combined with Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler, provided images of my heart’s chambers, valves, and blood flow. The cardiologist then evaluated the size, structure, movement, and strength of my heart to detect any damage, defects or disease. Nevertheless, in spite of being able to actually observe the way my heart functions, she couldn’t see into my heart any better than did Samuel into either Saul’s or Eliab’s.

Although the cardiologist’s report gave the exact dimensions and thickness of each part of my heart, she really doesn’t know if I am big or small hearted, or if my heart is pure, true, honest, compassionate, meek, wise, joyful, willing or good. Although the cardiologist knows my blood flow velocity and cardiac output, she doesn’t know if my heart is hard, cold, haughty, deceitful, broken, bitter, rebellious, stubborn, wicked, heavy, or in need of cleansing. While her conclusion was that, in spite of a few abnormalities, my heart is fine, God is the only one who can truly evaluate it. Moreover, it is He, not a cardiologist, who determines whether or not anyone needs a whole new heart!

As used in Scripture, the heart is the origin of our behavior, expressions and words: our soul or essence. The center of our physical and spiritual life, it does more than pump blood. Holding our beliefs and faith, it is the source of our imagination, inclinations, affections, intentions, desires, ideas, passions, morals, concerns, purposes and will. No matter how skilled the sonographer, how sophisticated his equipment, or how knowledgeable the cardiologist, an echocardiogram can’t show any of that!

Having read my echo report, I know what the cardiologist saw when looking into my heart. The more important report, of course, is what God sees when he looks there. Is it just fine or is there some work that needs to be done?

Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart. [Psalm 26:2 (NLT)]

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. [Psalm 51:10 (NLT)]

But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. [Jeremiah 17:10a (NLT)]

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BROKEN

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins..…Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice.…The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. [Psalm 51:1,7-8, 17 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtailI showed the antique dealer the old silver tray we’d found at an antique store many years ago. Having just read Stephanie Kallo’s novel Broken for You, I’d been drawn to it. Hers was a story of secrets and redemption that told of how two women salvaged their brokenness, first by smashing priceless antique porcelain pieces that had been stolen from Jews during the Holocaust, and then by repurposing the fragments into beautiful mosaics. The novel was an homage to the beauty of broken people and broken things. The tray’s handle had been damaged and soldered back on and I imagine much of the silver plate had worn off its top. It was, however, a thing of beauty because it had been artistically covered with broken pieces of antique painted china. The dealer told me that artists often come into her shop looking for chipped pieces of decorative porcelain. Because they plan on breaking it to use in jewelry or mosaics like my tray, they don’t mind chips or cracks.

Since it was our anniversary weekend, my husband and I had purchased that tray as our gift to one another. The repaired tray, with its broken pieces of china, was a reminder that things don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. When I looked at the tray this time, however, the words from Psalm 51 telling us that God desires a broken spirit came into my mind. The psalm records David’s repentance regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. By bringing his broken and contrite heart to God, he was made clean and whole again.

Seeing the value in old but damaged china, those mosaic artists won’t reject it when they see it in the antique store and, seeing our value (no matter how damaged we are), God welcomes sincere repentant sinners who come to Him. Knowing that, in spite of our many flaws, we are precious, He salvages and repairs us. Rather than hitting us with a hammer or tossing us at a wall, God chips away at our pride, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, stubbornness, rebellion, and other sinful habits with His word, Spirit, and circumstances. Then, instead of taking our fragmented bits and using solder, glue, and grout to reassemble us, God takes our broken, humble and repentant selves and restores us. Indeed, because of His mercy and grace, with clean hearts and right spirits, we can become things of beauty.

Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely. … He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. [Dieter F. Uchtdorf]

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. [1 John 1:9 (NLT)]

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” [Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BEARING FRUIT (Part 2)

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (NLT)]

concord grapesBeing the branches on the vine of Jesus means that we are extensions of Him and a good branch is one that produces fruit. In Galatians 5, Paul told us that fruit should look like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our fruit doesn’t come by following guidelines or obeying laws; it comes from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ; it comes from staying connected to the vine.

My son lives in California and has several beautiful trees in his yard. Not an arborist, I didn’t know what kind of trees they were until I saw their fruit. It was only by the orange persimmons, yellow lemons, and dark figs that I recognized the trees. As with my son’s fruit trees, it is by our fruit that we are recognized as Christ followers. Our responsibility as Christians is to bear godly fruit and, if we’re not producing fruit that looks and tastes a whole lot like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we’re not connected to the vine!

As with any orchard, it takes time for trees and vines to grow and fruit to ripen and mature. Moreover, being a Christ follower doesn’t mean we’ll never sin. Admittedly, in spite of the Holy Spirit, often my behavior is anything but Christ-like and, frequently, there’s a shortage of good fruit in my orchard. There will be people and situations that challenge our capacity to act as would Jesus. Things will try our patience, test our faith, cause us to question our ability to love our neighbor, and challenge us to curb our anger. There will be times we’re exasperated, irritated, distressed, offended or worried. We’ll fail to turn the other cheek, lose our tempers, and say things we shouldn’t.

Because our behavior in these instances is a clear indication of where we are in our faith walk and how connected we are to the vine, I call them our “Jesus meters;” a bad score on the Jesus meter tells us we’re not walking His walk! When that meter indicates rotten fruit (or none at all), we repent, ask forgiveness, take comfort in God’s grace, reconnect with the Holy Spirit, learn from our errors, and continue to grow on His vine.

Just as I know my son’s trees by their fruit, Jesus know us by ours. If we’re bearing the Fruit of the Spirit, people will see some of Christ in us. If there were a litmus test for Christlikeness, it would not be pious words, powerful preaching, grandiose gestures, or even extraordinary feats; it would be the presence of the Fruit of the Spirit. If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control aren’t evident in our lives, we may be talking the talk but we’re clearly not walking the walk.

Being reborn takes only a moment but becoming a Christian, now that takes a lifetime. Every life bears fruit of some kind. The question for each of us is, “What kind of fruit is mine?”

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. [John 15:8 (NLT)]

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