TATTOOS – Part 1

Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord. [Leviticus 19:28 (NLT)]

Moses - Meiringen - Michaelskirch
Since Leviticus 19:28 seems to prohibit tattoos, some people mistakenly believe that that it’s a sin for a Christian to be tattooed. My attention was drawn to this specific verse because a friend’s parents had cautioned him throughout his youth that a tattoo would keep him out of God’s kingdom.

Even though the word “tattoo” appears in most Bible translations of this verse, Scripture makes no specific reference to tattoos as we understand them today—a permanent mark or design on one’s body made by depositing pigment beneath the surface of the skin. The original Hebrew word was kethobeth; appearing just this one time, it appears to mean incised writing. Whether this was a scar from cutting (previously mentioned in this verse), a brand, or a mark using dye is unclear. The English word “tattoo” comes from tatau, tatatau, and similar words found in the tribal cultures of Polynesia and didn’t even enter the English language until 1771 when Captain James Cook (and his freshly tattooed sailors) returned from their first South Pacific voyage. Published in 1611, the King James Bible more correctly translates kethobeth as “mark.”  We really don’t know if Leviticus 19:28 was a blanket prohibition of all body markings or just certain types nor do we know if it applied to all circumstances or just specific ones like mourning, idolatry, or blasphemy.

Nevertheless, we’re curious about the various prohibitions in the Mosaic law and often wonder about God’s reasoning behind them. Many laws that seem quite arbitrary, like that in Leviticus 19:28, may well have been to distinguish the Israelites from the pagan customs they left in Egypt and would encounter in Canaan. Archeology indicates that ritualistic cutting was common in the Canaanite, Hittite, and Mesopotamian cultures when mourning the dead or honoring their gods. In their false belief that drawing blood called the attention of the gods, 1 Kings 18 tells us the prophets of Baal, “following their normal custom,” cut themselves with knives and swords “until the blood gushed out!” after they failed to call down fire from heaven.

Since we can’t understand God any better than an ant can understand us, trying to determine His reasoning behind many of the Torah’s laws is an exercise in futility. Moreover, obedience to God’s word isn’t dependent upon our understanding; His laws are to be obeyed simply because He is God and we are not. If the Israelites were presumptuous enough to ask God’s justification for the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah, His answer would have been the same one our parents gave us when we whined about curfews, TV time, proper attire, and being nice to our annoying little brother: “Because I said so!” God doesn’t need to justify His reasoning to His children any more than did our parents to us!

Heeding his parents’ caution about tattoos, my friend never got one but his grandchildren have! I assured him that their body ink has no bearing on their final destination. While many of the Old Testament laws are guidelines for knowing how to love God and our neighbor, they are not the standard by which Christians measure their conduct. We wear garments made of two or more kinds of fabric, trim our beards and side burns, consume dairy and meat in the same meal, and eat things like bacon, shrimp, and shellfish—all of which defy the Torah’s laws, yet no one claims any of those things will keep us out of the Kingdom and neither will tattoos!

When Jesus died on the cross, He put an end to the Old Testament law (even the one about body markings). As Christians the only law we are under is that of Christ: to love God with our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves!

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. … The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. [Ephesians 3:23, 24-25 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2023 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HANUKKAH (1) – FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” [John 10:22-24 (NLT)]

Today is the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar: the first of the eight days of Hanukkah. Last night, our Jewish brothers and sisters lit the first of the Hanukkah candles. Hanukkah isn’t a Jewish version of Christmas and it’s no more about dreidels (spinning tops), gelt (foil wrapped chocolate coins), potato latkes, or gifts than Christmas is about presents, decorated trees, holiday lights, or Santa. Just as Scripture doesn’t require celebrating Christ’s birthday, it doesn’t require Hanukkah’s observance. Nevertheless, because they both recognize events of great significance to Christians or Jews, these holidays continue to be celebrated throughout the world.

The Hanukkah story is recorded in the books of 1st and 2nd Maccabees and celebrates events that took place in 164 BC. Having been mercilessly persecuted by their Seleucid rulers, the people of Judah rebelled when the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes vandalized the Temple and defiled it by erecting an idol on its altar and sacrificing swine. Three years after its desecration, Jewish guerilla forces (led by Judah Maccabee) managed to defeat an army of 40,000 to reclaim the Temple. After thoroughly purifying the Temple, they relit the golden lampstand (the menorah), rededicated the Temple, and celebrated for eight days. Known as the Feast of Dedication (hanukkah means dedication), this celebration also became known as the Festival of Lights in commemoration of the relighting of the seven lamps of the Temple’s menorah.

The books of the Maccabees, however, have never been part of the accepted canon of the Hebrew scriptures and, like other books of the Apocrypha, they won’t be found in Jewish Bibles or in most Christian ones. Nevertheless, the Feast of Dedication was celebrated by Jews in the 1st century and John tells us that Jesus was at the Temple in Jerusalem during its observance. It was at that time that He was asked point blank if He were the Messiah.

Having seen His miracles, the people knew Jesus’ power exceeded that of an ordinary man and, having heard His words, they knew His authority surpassed that of their religious leaders. Nevertheless, they were expecting a military leader like Judah Maccabee—someone who would free them from Roman oppression and Jesus hadn’t spoken of politics or rebellion. Saying that the proof of His identity lay in His works, Jesus accused his questioners of being unwilling to believe. Indeed, rather than being interested in the truth, many simply wanted to catch Jesus saying something that might lead to His arrest. After Jesus made a claim of divinity by saying, “The Father and I are one,” they accused Him of blasphemy. Indeed, if Jesus were a mere man claiming to be God, His words would have been blasphemous. Jesus, however, wasn’t a man claiming to be God; He was the second member of the Godhead who was claiming to be a man!  Wanting to stone Jesus for His supposed sacrilege, the people tried to arrest Him, but He escaped. In the end, however, He died for His truthful words.

How ironic that, at the very time people were remembering God’s deliverance of Israel from the pagan Seleucids, they wanted to kill the One who came to deliver them from Satan! Having been conquered again by Rome in 63 BC, the deliverance they were celebrating had been temporary; the deliverance offered by Jesus would last forever! While celebrating the Festival of Lights, they wanted to kill the One who actually was the Light of the World! The way, the truth, and the life stood right before them and yet some refused to believe!

When we see the brightly colored lights associated with Christmas, let us celebrate the One who truly brought God’s light into the world. Those who follow Jesus will never walk in darkness because He is the Light of Life!

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 8:10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MIRACLE AT CANA – Part 2

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”… This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. [John 2:1-3,11 (NLT)]

eastern bluebird
Jesus told several parables about the importance of accepting God’s invitation to the feast in His Kingdom. The wedding at Cana, however, shows us what happens when we invite God to our feast! While we don’t know the reason Jesus and the disciples were at the festivities, the men weren’t wedding crashers. In fact, John makes a point of telling us they were invited guests. The story of Cana tells us that Jesus not only transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary but, when invited into our lives, He also changes circumstances, makes scarcity into surplus, exchanges sorrow for joy, and empowers the servants (us) to do His work, just as He did that day in Cana. That first miracle was Jesus’ simple way of saying, “Invite me into your life and see what wonderful things can happen!”

When Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into His home, salvation came as well! When Levi the tax collector invited Jesus home for dinner, he found salvation and the despised publican became Matthew, the gospel writer and Apostle. When Peter opened his home to Jesus, his mother-in-law was healed of her fever. Martha welcomed Jesus to her home and her brother Lazarus was resurrected! After the synagogue leader Jairus begged Jesus to come into his home, the man’s dead daughter was brought back to life. When Cleopas and his friend invited the resurrected Jesus to break bread with them, they finally recognized Him as the risen Lord! Good things happen when we invite Jesus into our homes!

The Old Testament tells us that good things happen when we invite God’s messengers into our homes and lives. Because Rahab welcomed Israel’s spies into her home, she and her family were saved when Jericho fell. Because the widow of Zarephath welcomed Elijah to her table and served him her last morsel, she, her son, and the prophet had food enough for the famine’s duration. After the wealthy woman of Shunem invited Elisha into her home, she was blessed by having a much-desired child and then by having her son brought back to life through God’s power. Indeed, good things happen when we invite God and His messengers into our lives!

Jesus didn’t gate-crash that wedding feast in Cana, show up uninvited at the house of Levi/Matthew, or bully His way into the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus; He was an invited guest. Right now, Jesus politely stands at the entryway of our lives, knocks at our heart’s door to gain admittance, and waits to be invited inside. Because we have free will, whether or not we welcome this guest is our choice alone.

There was no room for Jesus when He arrived in Bethlehem that first Christmas. Have we made room for Him this Christmas? Will we open the door to our hearts and lives and warmly receive Him into our homes and lives? Or, as happened that starry night 2,000 years ago, will we ignore His knock the way we would a door-to-door salesman and send Him on His way?

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen [child’s prayer from 17th Century German hymn]

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LOST

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. [Jeremiah 29:13-14a (NLT)]

Trapp family chapel - Vermont
As devout Jews, every year Joseph, Mary, and their family made the seventy-mile trek from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After spending the week in Jerusalem, they gathered with others to make the three-day journey back to Nazareth. It wasn’t until making camp that first night that they discovered Jesus was missing. At first, Joseph and Mary appear to be neglectful and careless parents and little better than the absent-minded McCallisters (of Home Alone) who misplaced their son Kevin not once but twice! After God entrusted His only son to their care, can you imagine Mary and Joseph trying to explain to the Lord how they managed to lose Him?

Mary and Joseph’s error, however, is understandable. Jerusalem normally had a population estimated at 80,000 but, during the Passover, it would have swelled to around 400,000 as people crowded into the city for the festival. Entire villages often travelled together. Traditionally, the women and children would have been in the front of the caravan while the men followed in the rear. Being twelve, Jesus was neither a young child nor a grown man and could have been in either group. As the people gathered for their return trip to Nazareth, each parent probably assumed Jesus was with the other one. Once they discovered His absence, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem the next morning to search for the missing boy and eventually found Him.

While at a mall some 45 years ago, we lost our youngest child in the same way—I thought he was with his father while he thought the boy was with me! Once he and I reconnected and discovered that our child was with neither of us, we spent a frantic ten minutes until we found him enjoying a lollipop at mall security. I can’t imagine waiting days before he was found! No wonder Mary’s anxiety and fear turned into a little scolding when Jesus was discovered!

Bible scholars disagree on how long Jesus actually was missing. Some say it was a total of three days: one day to discover His absence, another day to return to Jerusalem, and the third day to find Him. Other scholars, however, interpret Luke’s words to mean that after the two days of travel, Joseph and Mary searched Jerusalem for three days. Whether three days or five, it appears that the temple was not the first place Mary and Joseph looked. Knowing Jesus as His parents did, shouldn’t it have been the first place they looked? When they finally found Him there, Jesus was surprised by their frantic search. We now understand Jesus’ rather impertinent words to his parents: “‘Why did you need to search?’ he said. ‘Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” [2:49]

Like Joseph and Mary, do we make incorrect assumptions about Jesus’ presence in our lives? Do we expect Him to follow us or us to follow Him? Do we make the Pharisees’ mistake of assuming that being religious is the same as being righteous? Do we assume pardon without any penitence or forgiveness when we won’t forgive? Do we assume we’re saved without having been transformed? Do we assume He’ll answer our prayers without our answering His call? Do we assume we’re living for Him without first having died with Him? Do we take Jesus’ presence for granted? Do we expect him to take our journey or are we taking His? It’s never Jesus who is lost but, without Him, we surely are!

As Joseph and Mary learned, if we discover Jesus is missing, a good place to start looking for Him is in His Father’s house.

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. [1 Chronicles 16:11 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES

But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! [1 Peter 4:16 (NLT)]


Before my evening prayers, I often reflect on a prayer from The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers edited by Arthur Bennett. In a recent selection, the prayer’s author asked the Lord to let him know his “need of renovation as well as of forgiveness,” and confessed, “I am often straying, often knowingly opposing thy authority, often abusing thy goodness….” He went on to admit, “Much of my guilt arises from my religious privileges, my low estimation of them, and my failure to use them to my advantage.” His words gave me pause.

Since a privilege is a special right, advantage, benefit, exemption, or legal immunity granted only to a particular person or group, I pondered the “religious privileges” we enjoy as Christians. The obvious is that even though we remain sinners, our belief in Jesus gives us God’s forgiveness; because Jesus paid the price for our sins, we are exempt from an eternity in Hell. That, however, was God who willingly gave up His absolute power and privilege to take on mankind’s limitations and die a criminal’s torturous death for us! Do we truly appreciate what He did or do we take that privilege for granted and fail to do the spiritual renovation necessary to show our appreciation for His sacrifice and blood? Do we thank the Lord each and every day for what He did on the cross?

Aside from a Christian’s destiny of having a home in heaven and sharing in the glory of God, what other religious benefits do we have? As Christ’s followers, we have the advantages of the peace that surpasses all understanding and the ability to find joy in all circumstances. We have the blessings of His continual presence, guidance, and protection from the enemy. We have the privilege of sharing the Gospel message and even that of suffering in His name!

Do we value the privilege of direct access to God and the advantage of two intercessors: the Holy Spirit who intercedes within us and puts our concerns into words along with Jesus Christ who intercedes for us in heaven? The Holy Spirit, however, is more than an intercessor. He corrects, teaches, sanctifies, strengthens, comforts, protects, and enables us to recognize the truth and obey God. He gives us one or more spiritual gifts and produces His fruit in us. Do we fully appreciate and use the many privileges and benefits that only Christ followers can enjoy or do we ignore and possibly abuse them?

A Christian’s “religious privileges” are offered to all but accepted by few. May we never be unappreciative, neglectful, or careless with God’s gifts or favor by disregarding the privilege of being one of His adopted children.

It is our privilege to know that we are saved. [ D.L. Moody]

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.[Romans 5:2 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

KNOWING HIM WELL

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

Mallards
After fifty-five years of marriage, there’s not much that surprises me about my husband. Even the surprise birthday weekend he gave me earlier this year wasn’t a surprise. Granted, bringing all three of our children together for a weekend here truly was a surprise but that he chose to do something special for me was not. I was sure that, true to form, he had something wonderful up his sleeve for my 75th birthday; I just had no idea what it actually was!

After over five decades of togetherness, more often than not, my husband and I think alike. When one of us makes a suggestion, the other usually admits to having the same thought and, with at least 97% accuracy, we know what the other will order at any restaurant. We recognize each other’s voice in a crowd and probably have a good idea what the other is saying! After more than half a century, we’ve seen one another at our best and worst. There’s nothing left to hide and any awkwardness, embarrassment, or shame is long gone. I know when he needs some nudging and he knows when I need words of encouragement. Appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we rest comfortably in the knowledge that we love, trust, and honor one another completely. The relationship is relaxed, pleasant, peaceful, and comfortable but never boring. As my birthday weekend proved, even though we know what to expect, we can still surprise one another in beautiful ways.

The covenant relationship of marriage is much like our relationship with God with one major difference. Through the last five plus decades, both my husband and I have changed so that we complement each other and accommodate one another’s likes and dislikes. God, however, is immutable. Since His characteristics and divine nature do not change, He is not about to accommodate our preferences; we are called to accommodate His! As in any relationship, however, the more time we spend in His presence, the easier it is to recognize His voice, to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our hearts, to discern the meaning of His words, to know what He expects, and to offer prayers in harmony with His plan. As we draw closer to the Lord, we become attuned to His rhythm and pace and we’ll even begin to walk like Jesus.

At its most basic, Christianity isn’t a doctrine, philosophy, code of ethics, or a way of life; it is a relationship with God. Just believing in Jesus is not the same as having a relationship with Him. As with any relationship, we have to spend time in God’s presence, praying, listening to His voice, and reading His word for our relationship to flourish and grow. No serious bond is developed overnight; it took decades for my husband and me to get to this point in our marriage. Fortunately, developing a deep relationship with our triune God doesn’t take nearly that long. Like marriage, however, it is a relationship that continues to mature and mellow through the years.

After fifty-five years, I can ask myself, “What would Bob do?” and pretty much know the answer. As we develop our relationship with God, we’ll be able to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and know that answer as well!

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:6 (NLT)]

You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. [2 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.