GOING TRASH-FREE

A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash. [Proverbs 15:14 (NLT)]

eastern tiger swallowtail butterflyEvery breakfast, lunch and dinner, a recent house guest consumed between five and fifteen supplements like flaxseed and fish oils, magnesium, vitamin D, calcium, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and resveratrol (among others). Annually, people like our guest spend around $35 billion on supplements, vitamins, minerals, botanicals, and other substances to enhance their health. It doesn’t stop there; every year, five million diet books are published, at least 17 million cookbooks are purchased, and $33 billion is spent on weight loss products. Add to that all of the magazines, food channels, websites, blogs, and podcasts dedicated to nutrition, recipes, and weight loss and you have a nation of people who seem obsessed with what goes into their bodies.

Recently, a several hours delay at the airport led me into one of the terminal’s newsstands. After browsing the magazine rack for something to read during the long wait, it occurred to me that our nation appears to be more concerned about what we feed our bodies than the material with which we nourish our minds. I’m no prude but just looking at the topics listed on the covers of many magazines caused me to blush and the exposed bodies on the covers should have made the models blush! Although the Bible is pretty clear about not gossiping, many of those magazines and tabloids were nothing but gossip about the private lives of various celebrities. Rather than being so concerned with the calories or fat grams we put in our bodies, we might want to give some consideration to what we put in our minds. Instead of going fat-free, we could try going trash-free!

If we go on a trash-free diet, however, we should give serious thought to the other things we consume. We have television programs with housewives unlike any I’ve ever met, bachelors and bachelorettes trying out one another the way King Xerxes did with Esther, and hook-ups instead of relationships. While I wouldn’t want to return to the 50s when Elvis’ gyrations meant he was televised only from the waist up, it seems that we’ve gone too far the other way as near naked entertainers twerk while singing disgusting lyrics like “Sex in the air, I don’t care … Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me.” As Christ followers, we should give serious thought to all that we consume, not just in print, but also on our phones, radios, iPods, computers, television, and movie screens.

The words and images we take in affect our spiritual well-being as much as food affects our physical health. If we want high-quality ideas and words to come out of us, we need first-rate ideas and words to enter into us. Are we looking at and listening to the media with the eyes and ears of Jesus or just mindlessly snacking on the equivalent of the empty calories found in junk food?

As for supplements—in actuality, the efficacy of many of my friend’s supplements is questionable; all they really do is create expensive urine. Supplementing our lives with daily Scripture, prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, and church, however, is guaranteed to make us better, stronger, and happier than any pill could!

Today, let’s spend more time thinking about our spiritual food than our daily bread.

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. [Isaiah 55:2-3a (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8 (NLT)]

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CHAMELEONS

Let all who fear the Lord repeat: “His faithful love endures forever.” In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? [Psalm 118:4-6 (NLT)]

chameleonWhen writing about mimicry yesterday, I thought of Esther and her cousin Mordecai. The book of Esther takes place between 483 and 473 BC but the story began about 120 years earlier when Mordecai’s great-grandfather was in the second group of Jews deported from Jerusalem to Babylon. Rather than treating these deportees as captives or slaves, they were more like immigrants. Although they were given new Babylonian names, the were allowed to keep their God as long as they also worshipped the Babylonian ones. After Babylon fell to Persia in 539 BC, the first Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem the following year. Perhaps because they’d become comfortable in their new homeland or feared the challenge of rebuilding Jerusalem, like many others, Mordecai and Esther’s family did not return.

Going by their pagan names, Mordecai and Esther blended in with their neighbors. His name was a version of Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, and Esther’s was a derivative of Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of war and sexual love. Although most Jews lived away from the Persian capital of Susa, they lived in the city where Mordecai served as a government official.

When King Ahasuerus (better known as Xerxes) sent out the casting call for his new queen, Esther was one of several hundred women selected for this ancient version of “The Bachelor.” Mordecai’s motive for telling Esther to conceal her Jewish lineage is unknown. While he may have feared anti-Semitism, he also may have thought having his cousin share the king’s bed would further his career. Even though she would break Jewish law by sleeping with a man not her husband, marrying a pagan uncircumcised Gentile, and eating unclean food, Esther followed her cousin’s direction and did not reveal her heritage. Having integrated into Persian society and no longer observing Jewish law, Mordecai and Esther had become chameleons.

Esther pleased the king; she was made queen and her cousin became a palace official who served at the king’s gate. Since both commercial and judicial business took place at the city gates, Mordecai’s position was an important one, possibly that of judge. It was at the gate that he overheard a plan to assassinate the king but Mordecai intervened and the king’s life was saved. The new queen and her cousin, however, continued to conceal their ancestry until the king appointed Haman the Agagite as prime minister and second-in-command.

The proud Haman demanded that all of the king’s officials bow down to him. Although Jewish law did not prohibit bowing as a sign of respect, Haman wanted more. The word used was shachah which meant prostrating oneself by lying down flat, extending hands and feet, and placing one’s face in the dirt. Haman was demanding the sort of reverence that belongs only to God and Mordecai refused to do it. When officials asked why he wouldn’t bow, Mordecai simply replied that he was a Jew. While he may not have kept a kosher home or worn tassels on his robe, Mordecai drew the line at prostrating himself before anyone but God. The Jew’s refusal enraged Haman and set in motion his desire to exterminate the entire Jewish population in the empire. It was when Esther revealed both her heritage along with Haman’s evil plan, that the massacre was thwarted.

Unlike Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who continued to remain true to Jehovah while in captivity, both Mordecai and Esther chose to be pragmatic by compromising their faith and disguising their heritage. It was only when they stopped being chameleons and revealed their true identities that they served the one true God.

While we probably won’t be asked to save a nation, there will be times when God expects us to risk our status and security and step out in faith to serve Him. Real security, however, is not found in people, position, wealth, or power; it is found in God. When the time comes, will we be chameleons or show our true colors?

But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? [Psalm 56:3-4 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

VOLUNTEER OR SERVANT?

Jacobs ladderWhen a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, “Come in and eat with me”? No, he says, “Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.” And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, “We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.” [Luke 17:7-10 (NLT)]

Even though we no longer live in Illinois, we still receive our northern church’s newsletter. The latest edition mentioned the need for substitute Sunday School teachers and people to participate in “a crazy afternoon of ‘Do-Gooding’” called “Rake and Run” in which church members go from yard to yard raking leaves for those unable to do so for themselves. It also included an image of a newspaper “help wanted” ad that read:

SERVANTS WANTED: We have unlimited openings for motivated servants to meet the needs of God’s people. Start immediately. Responsibilities include performing random acts of kindness, serving and pleasing God, and doing what He calls you to do. No skills needed. God will equip you with on-the-job training. Benefits will include growth opportunities leading to one incredible “raise” at the end of your service. To apply: Contact God.

Notably absent in the newsletter was the word “volunteer.” Volunteers are an essential part of clubs, homeowner associations, service groups, and non-profits, and groups like these couldn’t function without them. The Church, however, doesn’t need volunteers; it needs servants! Jesus never told parables about volunteers because He wasn’t enlisting volunteers. Instead, He told parables about servants because that’s what He was calling us to be!

The word often translated in our Bibles as servant or bond servant, however, had nothing to do with being a servant like the chamber maid, butler, or valet in Downton Abbey. The word used was doulos, meaning slave, and it literally meant a person owned by another for his or her lifetime. While the word “volunteer” occurs eight times in the Old Testament, it never appears in the New. Doulos, however, occurs there 127 times in 119 verses. When Jesus freed us from slavery to sin, He freed us to become slaves to God. While our bondage to sin meant death, our bondage to God means eternal life—the “raise” at the end of our service!

For a follower of Jesus, there is big difference between being a volunteer at the church and a doulos or servant to Christ. Since they’re under no obligation, volunteers never need to leave their comfort zones; they can choose their task and are free to decline any or all requests. Serving at will, volunteers use leftover time to work and can quit and walk away at any time. It’s an entirely different matter for a doulos or servant of Christ. Instead of choosing the task we are willing to do, we do the task that needs to be done—the one God call us to do—even  when it means leaving our comfort zone. While volunteers use their free time at their convenience, Jesus’ servants sacrifice their time (often at their inconvenience) to serve Him. A volunteer’s commitment is temporary but, as servants of Christ, we have a lifetime commitment to serving our Master whenever and wherever He calls us. We volunteer only when we want to but we serve God because we need to do so. It is what we are called to do because faith and works are inextricably linked!

When Jesus told His disciples that the harvest was plentiful but the workers were few, could it have been because those workers viewed themselves as volunteers rather than His servants? Jesus is calling us to serve Him, will we answer His call?

It is a greater glory to us that we are allowed to serve God, than it is to him that we offer him that service. He is not rendered happy by us; but we are made happy by him. He can do without such earthly servants; but we cannot do without such a heavenly Master. [William Secker]

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:20-23 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

STATS

Does this sound as if I am trying to win human approval? No indeed! What I want is God’s approval! Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ. [Galatians 1:10 (GNT)]

canna - bandana of the evergladesA pastor friend who’s led dozens of mission trips used to evaluate his mission’s success by the number of new believers gained during the trip. If the latest mission’s altar call stats did not exceed the previous mission’s numbers, he felt it was a failure. Like him, we tend to be number people who measure our success or failure quantitatively. Business success is gauged by the balance sheet, bottom line, and price-earnings ratio; financial success by income, the value of our investment portfolio, and the size of our house or the price of our car. Regardless of the sport, with their assorted BAs, RBIs, Yds, Gs, PPRs, FT%s, and GOAT points, stats seem to evaluate every athlete’s success. Social success is assessed by the number of holiday cards we send or receive, how many “friends” we have on social media, and how many “likes” we got on our latest post. Intellectual success is measured by IQ, SAT, ACT and GPA numbers. A pastor assesses his success by Sunday’s attendance (or the offering), the teacher by the standardized test results of her students, and the author by his book’s ranking on the best seller list. I’m no different; I often check my website’s stats to see the number of followers, visitors, and views.

When we quantitatively assess our lives, it’s way too easy to find people with better numbers than ours. Moreover, when the numbers aren’t stellar, we often think we’re failures. God, however, isn’t an accountant or statistician. He measures success by standards completely different than those of the world. His standards are qualitative—the quality of our obedience, faith, and love.

That pastor friend eventually came to understand that God looks at a mission’s success far differently than man. Regardless of the number of new believers gained, when the pastor obediently follows God’s direction to lead a mission—to spread God’s word and share His love—he has been a good and faithful servant. When we hear God’s call and whole-heartedly respond to the best of our ability, regardless of the statistics, we have not failed. Success is when we go where He sends us and do what He tells us to do.

Let’s stop playing the numbers game and judging ourselves quantitatively by the world’s standards. Rather than comparing our scores to those of other people, there is only one person to whom we should compare ourselves and that is Christ. He sets the standard for our behavior and, while that standard is observable, it is not measurable. We’re successful if the fruit of His Spirit is visible in our lives—if we demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. In God’s book, we’re successful when we become the sort of people Jesus wants us to be.

We should do what we do in order to gain God’s approval instead of prestige and approval from other human beings. … Are we motivated by the approval of people or the applause of God? [Phil Harper]

You should each judge your own conduct. If it is good, then you can be proud of what you yourself have done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done. For each of you have to carry your own load. [Galatians 6:4-5 (GNT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

STAYING HUMBLE

And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. [1 Peter 5:5-6 (NLT)]

salt marsh mallowBelieving that God’s spirit would not enter into something flawless, various Native American people intentionally strung a wrong-colored bead (the spirit bead) into an otherwise perfect pattern of beadwork so to create an opening through which God’s spirit could flow. In a similar way, believing that a perfectly woven rug or carpet would be an offense to Allah, followers of Islam would make an intentional small mistake in their weaving. Concerned that a perfect quilt would encourage pride, imperfect squares called humility squares or blocks, are said to have been deliberately placed in quilts by Puritan women as their acknowledgment that only God is perfect.

Whether these intentional errors were done for God as acts of humility, as a way to use miscellaneous beads or scrap fabric, or simply to explain away a mistake, I don’t know. Nevertheless, feeling the need to make a deliberate mistake to keep from perfection seems the height of pride to me. Having done needlepoint, quilting, and other handwork, I can guarantee that mistakes will always creep into anything we make (at least anything I make).

The Greek word most often used in the Bible for sin was harmartia. An archery term, it meant missing the mark—a failure to hit the bull’s eye. Having done a little archery as a girl, I didn’t need to deliberately miss the bull’s eye to remain humble since I frequently missed the target altogether! No matter how hard we try, when it comes to being sinless, we don’t have to concern ourselves with making deliberate errors to avoid pride. None of can be sinless; that was done only once—by Jesus—so there is no need for any of us to insert a “humility square” into our lives. We’ve made enough errors already and more are yet to come.

Humility, however, is a strange thing—the minute you think you have it, you’ve lost it! As C.S. Lewis aptly said in Mere Christianity, “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” True humility isn’t found in in bead work, weaving, or quilting mistakes; it is found in a deep sense of one’s own sinfulness, limitations, and unworthiness in the sight of God. It is found by looking up at Him—His righteousness and holiness—rather than down at our accomplishments or the errors made by others!

Being human, we won’t hit the mark every time. Nevertheless, even though we fail to live up to God’s perfect standard, like the Apostle Paul, we continue to aim for the bull’s eye. There’s no need to be discouraged; we are all works in progress and are forgiven for our errors. We just need to focus on Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to guide our aim.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SAFETY FEATURES

Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. [1 Thessalonians 5:19 (NLT)]

painted lady butterflySince my 18-year-old grand is a new driver, I was surprised when her parents purchased a new car for her. Remembering the many dings, scrapes, and dents our teens left on their cars, I asked why they’d replaced the 15-year-old car on which she learned to drive with a new one; “safety features” was their simple and logical explanation. This new car offers things like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warnings, lane-keeping assist, backup cameras, active park assist, rear cross traffic alert, and a whole variety of air bags (front, side, seatbelt, knee, foot, and curtain along with rollover sensors to deploy them.) Knowing that accidents happen to even the best drivers, damage to a new car is far more acceptable than any damage done to their daughter!

Although God doesn’t outfit us with safety features to warn and protect us, like any good parent, He wants to safeguard His children. To keep us safe and within His will, He gives us the Holy Spirit as standard equipment once we accept Jesus! Moreover, even though His technology hasn’t changed through the centuries, it remains state of the art.

As much as those various safety features will keep my grand safer, they can’t entirely protect her. Free to ignore their many warnings, she remains vulnerable to her own choices. Whether or not she abides by the speed limit, stops at stop signs, yields the right of way at roundabouts, or signals lane changes is entirely up to her. Like traffic laws, God’s laws set the standard for our behavior and help us know right from wrong. But, just as my grand may be tempted to use her cell phone while driving, our belief in Jesus doesn’t mean we’ll never be tempted to sin. Fallible beings that we are, we’re not capable of perfect obedience. Just as we tend to nudge that speedometer a few miles over the limit, we tend to push the limits when it comes to the rest of our behavior. Moreover, just as my grand may choose to ignore her car’s various warnings, we can choose to turn a deaf ear to the Spirit’s voice. That’s the problem with that pesky thing called free will—we know better but we often do it anyway!

Fortunately, unlike some car safety devices, we can’t disable or turn off the Holy Spirit. As our advocate, comforter, guide, and counselor, He always is present—teaching, guiding, encouraging, warning, and convicting us. Rather than sounding an annoying beep or flashing a warning light, He guides us through our conscience, with that still small voice, and in other subtle ways. His guidance is better than the most sophisticated GPS because He’ll never lead us into sin. May we always remember that true safety isn’t found in car technology or even the absence of danger; it is found in the presence of God!

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. [John 14:26 (NLT)]

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. [Ephesians 4:30a (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.