SUNDAY MORNINGS

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. [John 4:23-24 (NIV)]

waer lilyIn this day and age, we refuse to be bored. We watch one of three TVs while on the health club treadmill, listen to our iPods when out walking, and check our phones at red lights because, technically, we’re not texting while driving—we’re simply texting while stopping. We could blame technology, but our penchant for boredom has been a problem since the beginning of time. A golden calf and some “pagan revelry” was the Israelites’ antidote for boredom while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Then, when they got bored with manna, they demanded meat. David had at least eight wives but boredom caused his eyes to wander over to Uriah’s house where Bathsheba was bathing. Mankind just seems to be hardwired to tire of the “same old, same old” and, sometimes, that propensity for boredom enters into our worship.

“I laugh so much during church, it’s seems almost sinful; it’s just so much fun to come!” said a friend about her church. A neighbor said of his pastor, “You’ve got to hear him preach; he’s just a fabulous speaker!” I know many who attend a nearby church because the services tend to revolve around the musical talents of a well-known and dramatic pianist/organist. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these and our worship should be pleasurable, we must be cautious. The center of attention is neither the musicians nor the man at the pulpit; it is the man who hung on the cross for our sins! Jesus was an impressive man while He walked the earth but impressing people was not His goal. If it was, He would have performed far more miracles; instead, He often told people not to tell anyone. His purpose wasn’t showy miracles but the lasting message of salvation.

Is church where we go to be entertained or is it a place we go to be strengthened by His word and grow to be more like Christ? Is it where we go to be distracted from the cares of the world or where we go to worship the Lord and to revel in His glory? While bells and whistles are pleasant, we should remember that the purpose of church is worship not theater. Rather than fluff and stuff, we should be seeking a foundation in God’s word, the presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. If we’re bored during church, the antidote isn’t more pageantry or spectacle, funnier sermons, or better music; it is a more mindful worship on our part.

Worship is not about my enjoyment. It is about my enjoyment of God. It is not about my pleasure or my delight or my satisfaction. It is about my pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in God. Worship is not simply about glorifying God. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. [Sam Storms]

The purpose of this Christian society called the “Church” is, first: to glorify God by our worship. We do not go to church just to hear a sermon. We go to church to worship God. [Billy Graham]

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)]

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ARMLOADS OF GIFTS

O Israel, hope in the Lord; for he is loving and kind and comes to us with armloads of salvation. [Psalm 130:7 (TLB)]

dahliaMy arms were filled with precariously piled packages as I trudged through the mall parking lot. Thinking it was the perfect time to test the easy tailgate feature on our new SUV, I kicked my foot forward under the car’s rear bumper expecting it to magically open. Perhaps it was the trailer hitch or that my legs are too short, but the sensor didn’t work and the trunk lid remained closed. After trying several more times, it became clear that, in spite of the car’s promise, I was not going to open the tailgate while holding armloads of anything! It was when I tried to find the keys in my purse that my pile of holiday gifts tumbled every which way. On the plus side, my arms were finally free to lift the tailgate!

As God would have it, that morning’s Bible reading had taken me to Psalm 130 in the Living Bible translation: “He…comes to us with armloads of salvation.” While gathering up assorted packages in the parking lot and muttering a few bahs and humbugs, I wondered how God, with his armloads of salvation, would do with my tailgate. Then I pictured another, far nicer, scenario. It’s Christmas and someone’s at the door. As the host opens the door, he welcomes his visitor inside. The guest’s arms are overflowing with beautifully wrapped packages piled so high that you can’t even see his face. Everyone eagerly gathers around him with open hands to receive their gifts. The boxes, however, aren’t filled with shirts, purses, perfume, toys, books, and the latest electronics; they are filled with a never-ending supply of salvation, redemption, wisdom, forgiveness, joy, peace, faith and love. It may be His birthday, but it is Jesus who brought us armloads of gifts!

Since the Lord’s arms are filled with His gifts, we must open the door for Him. I couldn’t open the tailgate when my arms were filled with packages and we can’t open the door to our hearts if our arms are filled with the stuff and nonsense of this world. Although attachment to wealth and actual possessions can fill our arms, things like unforgiveness, fear, doubt, pride, anger, ingratitude, shame, and guilt also can leave us too encumbered to open the door or accept His gifts. God’s got an armload of good things for us but our arms must be free and our hands empty if we ever hope to get them.

Faith is two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord. [Alan Redpath]

Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me. [Revelation 3:20 (TLB)]

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ARE WE READY?

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken! [Isaiah 40:3 (NLT)]

christmas ornamentYesterday was the first Sunday in Advent – the church season leading up to Christmas. Advent, coming from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival,” is a time of preparation. Back in the 4th century in Spain and Gaul (Western Europe), Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians on Epiphany (January 6). On that day, they celebrated not just the gifts of the Magi, but also Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and His first miracle at Cana. The forty days leading up to Epiphany were to be spent in penance, prayer and fasting. By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the coming of Jesus — but to His promised second coming rather than His first. By the Middle Ages, however, Advent was tied to the celebration of Jesus’ first coming. Today, Advent is a time we both commemorate Christ’s first coming and anticipate His second. It’s a time of preparation both for Christmas, when Jesus came as a servant and a sacrifice, and for His return, when He will come as a conquering King.

Indeed, most of us use the four weeks of Advent as a time of preparation. But for what are we preparing? Rather than readying our hearts for Christ, we’re making lists and checking them twice, scouring flyers for the best sales, decorating our homes and yards, planning parties, cooking our favorite recipes, trimming the tree, wrapping packages, addressing Christmas cards, and shipping boxes, all of which have little or nothing to do with that first Christmas when God came into our chaotic world in the village of Bethlehem. Moreover, none of those activities have anything to do with anticipating His return.

We have four weeks to focus on Christ’s coming. During this time, let’s remember how the Jews longed for the promised Messiah and, recognizing mankind’s need for a savior, let’s focus on Jesus’s incarnation and answer to that prayer. May we also look forward to Christ’s second coming—a time when peace and justice will prevail and there will be neither sorrow nor tears. We must never allow our holiday preparations to keep us from preparing our hearts for the promises that Christ brings to our lives.

The question isn’t “Are we ready for Christmas?” The question is, “Are we ready for Christ?”

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:4 (NLT)]

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. [Isaiah 11:6 (NLT)]

An old abbot was fond of saying, “The devil is always the most active on the highest feast days.” … The supreme trick of Old Scratch is to have us so busy decorating, preparing food, practicing music and cleaning in preparation for the feast of Christmas that we actually miss the coming of Christ. Hurt feelings, anger, impatience, injured egos—the list of clouds that busyness creates to blind us to the birth can be long, but it is familiar to us all. [Edward Hays (A Pilgrim’s Almanac)]

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MY VACUUM

Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens—and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld—what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea. [Job 11:7-9 (NLT)]

great blue heronAt our house, the closest thing we have to a pet is one of those robot vacuums. While it’s nearly as entertaining as a puppy, it needs far less care. As I watch it zip around the house, its movement appears to be entirely random. Sometimes it starts by spiraling outward in a circle and other times it heads for the perimeter of the room. Whenever it hits an obstacle, it seems to bounce off in another direction. Apparently, it has multiple sensors that help it calculate room size, detect obstacles, and adjust for variations in surface.

Sometimes I think I’m not even as smart as this silly machine. It knows enough to stop and beep if it gets in a tight spot; as for me—I usually think I can get out of tight spots on my own when I clearly can’t! I should call on God as readily as the robot beeps for me. The robot will stop when it is filled with dirt. Like it, I don’t function well when bogged down with the grime of my life. Unfortunately, I’m not very good about confessing my sins and asking God to empty me of my burdens. When its battery runs low, this little vac knows enough to find its way back to its recharging station, connect, and charge up again. I, however, tend to forget the importance of resting in God and letting Him power me up again. I often run myself ragged until I stop dead in my tracks.

In spite of reading various explanations of its programming, I have yet to figure out whatever logic is built into this robotic cleaner. Right now, it is zipping around my office, going under tables and chairs and ducking in and out of corners; I can see neither rhyme nor reason to its behavior. Nevertheless, that robot knows what it’s doing and, given enough time, does a good job. I can’t help but think of the often inexplicable way God runs the universe. The events of life often seem random, disconnected, and perplexing and yet they are all part of a program we simply don’t understand. Just because we don’t understand them doesn’t mean they’re not part of God’s perfect plan.

I can program the vacuum to clean on my schedule, move it wherever I want, and place it on or remove it from the charger. I can even erect a virtual wall with a battery-powered infrared beam so it stays where I want. Clearly, in the case of my vacuum, I’m the one with the power. With God and us, however, He’s the one with all of the power and we are at His mercy. He schedules our lives, gives us tasks, and erects life’s barriers. He moves us wherever and whenever He wants and determines when our running time has ended. We just need to remember that the way He orchestrates our lives, like the way my little robot works, is beyond our understanding.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)]

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OUR FATHER

Mute swan - cygnetsPray like this: Our Father in heaven…” [Matthew 6:9a (NLT)]

Throughout Scripture, God is called by several ancient names that reflect His character: El Shaddai (God Almighty), El Olam (The Everlasting God), El Elyon (The Most High God), and El Roi, (The God Who Sees). He is Yahweh-Jireh (The Lord Will Provide), Yahweh-Rapha (The Lord Who Heals), and Yahweh-Roh (Our Shepherd). We also find references to God as both a Rock and a King. Yet, with all these ways to address God, when Jesus taught us how to pray, He chose to address God with the words “Our Father.”

As I pondered calling on our Father in prayer, I recalled an episode that occurred more than twenty-five years ago when two of our children attended college together. They went camping with a group of friends and enjoyed beers around the campfire. In the wee hours of the morning, the group was awakened by a police officer who breathalyzed them all. Unfortunately, the results indicated they’d been drinking and, since all were all under 21, each received a ticket for “illegal possession of alcohol by consumption” (a Class C misdemeanor). My children’s friends were amazed when they immediately called their dad, admitted their mistake, and asked his advice. My daughter’s response to her friends’ shock at their quick call was simple: “If I can’t call my father, who can I call?”

Our children called their father not because he paid their tuition and provided for them or even because he has a law degree. Even knowing he would expect them to face the consequences of their foolishness, they called on their father because he loves them! He’s their daddy and they are his children and they knew that, in spite of his disappointment in them, he would lovingly forgive and wisely counsel them.

“Our Father,” said Jesus. We can address God as Creator, Most High, Shepherd, Rock, Healer or any of a dozen other impersonal ways but it’s like calling on someone great and powerful; we know of Him but we don’t know Him. Prayer isn’t like scheduling an appointment to present a petition before a foreign king; it is an intimate conversation with someone we love who also loves us. It’s like my children coming to their daddy, confessing their error, and asking for his guidance. We appeal to God in love, not in fear of His anger or even awe of His power. God adopted us when we accepted Christ—we are His children, His heirs, and we can come boldly before Him with our prayers. That our unchanging, sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, infinite God desires a relationship with us and wants us to address Him as “Our Father” is a privilege and an honor—let us never take it lightly.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. [Romans 8:14-16 (NLT)]

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. [Romans 1:7b (NLT)]

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JAMES KNEW HIM

This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings! [James 1:1 (NLT)]

large striped swordtail butterflyFour men were in heated disagreement at a falafel stand in Jerusalem when they asked a passerby to settle their dispute about the authorship of an epistle. “I’m James, the father of the disciple named Judas (also known as Thaddaeus),” said the first man, ”I wrote the book of James.” The next man interrupted, “I’m James, the son of Zebedee, a fisherman and brother to John. I was a disciple of Christ and I wrote that epistle!” The third man disagreed, “Oh no!” he said, “I’m James, the son of Alphaeus. I was one of the twelve and I wrote those words.” The fourth man contradicted him saying, “I’m James, the brother of Jesus, and I’m the one who wrote that letter to the Jews.” The man they’d asked to settle their dispute calmly said, “You’re all wrong; I wrote it.” In unison, they asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “God—and all Scripture is God-breathed.”

Although all Scripture is God-breathed, someone named James put those words on paper. I’d always assumed it was one of the disciples but, according to Bible scholars, the weight of the evidence seems to point to James, the half-brother of Jesus. One of the earliest epistles, this letter isn’t about doctrine; it’s about the application of Jesus’s teachings and a testimony to the kind of life we should have as followers of Christ. James makes it clear that faith without works is meaningless. We can’t just talk the talk; we must walk the walk. Having known Jesus all of His life, rather than just the three years of His ministry, James knew what he was talking about. He may not have heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but he’d seen Him live that sermon every day of His life. Until the resurrection, James may not have known Jesus was the Messiah but he knew Jesus as only a brother can. Whenever we wonder, “What would Jesus do?” there’s an excellent chance we’ll find the answer in James’ epistle, in words penned by a man who actually saw what Jesus did!

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? … So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” [James 2:14,17-18 (NLT)]

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