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.

PEACE ON EARTH

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” [Luke 2:13-14 NLT)]

Naples botanic gardenWhile visiting a church recently, the pastor announced a new security precaution: ten minutes after the service started, the outside doors would be locked from the inside and no one could enter the building. Yesterday afternoon, another church offered a four hour class for their congregation. Led by a private security company, topics included ways to identify threats, how to develop layers of security, and techniques for conflict resolution. While talking with my daughter about a recent school shooting in her area, I learned that my grand’s school has regular “lock-down” drills in preparation for such an attack. Is no place safe from violence?

In 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created what is known at the Doomsday Clock. Designed to show the world how close it is to destroying itself with technology, the clock was originally set to 7 minutes before midnight with midnight being catastrophe—the end of the world as we know it. After the Soviet Union tested their first atomic bomb in 1949, it was reset to three minutes before the hour and, by 1953, it was down to two minutes. I was in first grade at the time; rather than “lock-down” drills, we had air-aid drills and practiced ducking under our desks in case a bomb was dropped. In 1991, with the end of the Cold War, the clock’s hands were set back to seventeen minutes before midnight. Since 2007, disruptions from climate change have figured into the calculations. This past year, the clock was set to only two and half minutes until midnight. Locking down a church or school, ducking under a desk, or building a bomb shelter won’t protect any of us if the minute hand reaches the twelve.

The world is in turmoil; we’re no closer to peace now than two thousand years ago. We live in a divided and troubled world and it grows more brutal daily. It’s no longer just atomic bombs that threaten us—cyber warfare, biologic weaponry, thoughtless rhetoric, fake news and catastrophic weather events all contribute to the danger. Where is this peace on earth we sang about these last several weeks?

Scripture tells us wars and violence will continue (and even get worse) until Jesus returns and establishes true lasting peace. Indeed, the end times appear to be on the horizon but what are we to do until then? I suppose we’ll continue having lock downs, going through metal detectors, getting luggage x-rayed and handbags searched, securing church doors, and meeting with security companies but that’s merely trying to stay safe. It’s not enough.

When we accepted Jesus, His Holy Spirit brought a fruit basket as a house-warming gift. In it we find peace along with several other qualities that will help us be peaceful: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, calmness and self-control. We all got the same beautiful basket and, as Christians, we’re all capable of letting His peace rule our hearts, actions and words. While our behavior may not move the hands of that clock backward, we might be able to make our little corner of the world a kinder, gentler, and better place.

Over two thousand years ago, the angels sang, “Peace on earth.” Let our lives continue that song as we move into this new year. Heavenly Father, let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. [Colossians 3:15 (NLT)]

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.

HOLY INNOCENTS

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this. … He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. [Matthew 2:1-3a,16b (NLT)]

Herod the king, in his raging, Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing, “Bye bye, lully, lullay.”
[Coventry Carol (Robert Croo)]

sleeping baby boyRuthless and paranoid, King Herod had killed three sons, several uncles and cousins, and one each of his wives, mothers-in-law, and brothers-in-law to protect his regime and keep his crown. When he was dying, desirous of having the Jews mourn rather than rejoice at his death, the heartless king hatched a diabolical plan to imprison all of the Jewish leaders and execute them upon his death. Having been crowned “King of the Jews” in 40 BC by the Roman Senate, it’s not likely a man like that would be willing to share his title with an infant. To safeguard his reign, the merciless king ordered the death of Bethlehem’s baby boys.

While there is no historical evidence of this slaughter, the story is plausible. It’s easy to believe that Herod, the Kim Jung-un of the ancient world, would order the death of innocent children. The early church grossly inflated the number killed by Herod’s men to thousands when, in actuality, Bethlehem’s population at the time was between 300 and 1,500. It’s estimated that only about fourteen to twenty-four of those were children under two, half of which were girls. Given all of Herod’s other evils, the death of a six to twelve baby boys in a time of high infant mortality wasn’t newsworthy.

The first Christian martyr wasn’t Jesus on Calvary or even the sainted Stephen; it was some nameless baby boy in Bethlehem. Those babies may have gone unnoticed by ancient historians but they had names to their mothers and their loss was noticed by all who knew them. Having only sung the first two verses of “Coventry Carol,” I hadn’t realized that, rather than Mary’s lullaby, it is a mother’s lament for her doomed child.

Around 485 AD, Herod’s massacre was commemorated in a feast day called “Holy Innocents” or “Childermas.” Recalling this slaughter and picturing mothers desperately trying to save their boys is the dark side of Christmas. Today, several churches celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents by remembering the preciousness of children. As we recall Herod’s victims and thank God for the children with which we have been blessed, let us also remember the holy innocents of the twenty-first century: refugees, the homeless, hungry, and disenfranchised; the elderly, mentally ill, sick, and isolated; casualties of war, the victimized, poverty-stricken, and vulnerable. They are all God’s precious children. How can we protect them from the Herods of today?

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen [Collect for Holy Innocents from the Book of Common Prayer]

Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah—weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” [Matthew 2:17-18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

COUNTING THE COST

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? [Luke 14:27-28 (RSV)]

Station of Cross 3 - loretto - santa fe NMHaving often watched the condemned walk to their tortuous deaths while carrying the crosspieces of their crucifixes, Jesus’ followers knew exactly what it meant to carry a cross. When Jesus told them to count the cost of being His disciple, he wasn’t offering a ticket to Easy Street; He was offering one to eternal life. The cost, however, was high: the giving up of self and all that might come to mean—loss of status, relationships, family, possessions and even life.

Some of us, looking at the cost, would prefer a watered down gospel. We want to be Christians without Jesus having any effect on our lives. We’re happy to bear his name and celebrate both His birth and resurrection, but we’re not anxious for His yoke. Wanting to guarantee our final destination, we want salvation without the sacrifice. Unwilling to surrender to God’s will, we figure a few good deeds can make up for our lack of faith and obedience. We want what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

While free, God’s grace is not cheap; it cost God His only son. Jesus was the gift of God’s grace by which all of mankind could be saved. Accepting His name means far more than taking a spot in a church pew. We can’t just listen to a preacher, we must practice what Jesus preached! God’s grace expects us to follow Jesus wherever He leads us and to do whatever He asks. God’s grace expects us to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgiveable, reach the unreachable, and do what often seems impossible. God’s grace demands that we grow smaller while He grows greater; it is taking up our cross and losing our lives in complete commitment to Him.

Costly grace…is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

Jesus knew the price He’d pay when He threw the money changers out of the temple, healed on the Sabbath, and confronted the Pharisees; nevertheless, He did His Father’s will. Over 2,000 years later, He still calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. These last few weeks, I have watched as a young man did just that. He stood up for what is right and, while he’s not being hung on a cross, he is suffering both professionally and financially. After prayerfully counting the cost and consequences, he followed where God led him because he was not about to settle for cheap grace. Let’s never settle for cheap grace either. Our lives won’t necessarily be easier when we take on Jesus’ yoke but they definitely will be better!

And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. [Matthew 10:38-39 (RSV)]

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. [Titus 2:11-12 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE DASH

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)]

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years. [Linda Ellis]

clock - ChicagoAfter scrutinizing the website for the umpteenth time in a futile search for the perfect gift for my daughter-in-law, I closed the iPad and announced, “What a waste of time! This is why God created checks and gift cards!” I remembered last Friday when both Linda Ellis’s poem “The Dash” was read and the recently deceased David Cassidy was mentioned. The former Partridge Family heartthrob’s last words were: “So much wasted time.” Indeed, too much time is wasted in unproductive activities or agonizing over what, in actuality, are trivial matters. Searching the same website, over and over, and expecting to find something different was certainly one of those.

Last Friday morning, I made better use of my time; after looking at a photo of a friend’s niece, I prayed for her. This two-year old, bald from undergoing chemotherapy for stage 4 cancer, was asleep in her mother’s arms and doesn’t understand that the chemicals making her so miserable are a last ditch effort to destroy the cancer that has ravaged her body. Later that day, I attended a Celebration of Life for a man who, less than a week earlier, set out for an afternoon ride on his motorcycle never knowing that would be his final ride in life. Absent from that memorial service were our senior pastor and his wife. They’d been in a car accident earlier in the day. Like the toddler and the motorcyclist, they never expected what came hurtling into their lives. One child is fighting for her life, one man lost his life, and one couple escaped with their lives.

Many of us might say we have too little time but the quantity of time granted us and our loved ones, whether just days or several decades, is exactly the right amount of time and has been determined by someone far greater than we are. The way we spend those precious moments, however, is our choice alone. Unfortunately, David Cassidy had it right: “so much wasted time.” When the book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a season for everything, wasting time is never mentioned as one of them. We can fritter away our minutes in all sorts of futile ways—anger, nitpicking, regret, lethargy, worry, complaint, conflict and fretting are just a few—or we can use them generously, joyfully, thankfully and with love.

This week we celebrate my mother-in-law’s 101st birthday; her dash has been long and well spent. While she has been blessed with exceptional longevity, last Friday was a reminder that we all have expiration dates and none of us know that day. In many cases, it will be far sooner than expected. The dates we are here, however, are not as important as how we spend the time between those dates. How will we spend our dash?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.