EXPECT TROUBLE

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT)]

sunset

While talking about discerning God’s plan for us, a friend said she knows she’s chosen the right path when she moves forward in a plan and doesn’t encounter obstacles or challenges. After thinking about it, I beg to disagree.

Three gospels tell of the time Jesus and the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee to escape the crowds. In a fishing boat without sails, the men rowed while Jesus slept. The lake is known for violent squalls that arise suddenly and one such storm did. As the wind blew and the sea surged, the waves broke over the gunwales and the boat began to fill with water. Sure they’d sink and drown, the disciples awoke Jesus. After admonishing the men for their lack of faith, He quickly rebuked the squall and calm was restored. That the wind and waves obeyed Jesus demonstrated His sovereign reign over nature. Scripture made it clear that only God has dominion over the natural world and the men wondered at Jesus’ ability to calm the storm.

While the storm presented an opportunity for Jesus to reveal the source of His power and authority, could there be more to it? Have you ever wondered why the exhausted Jesus wanted to cross over the lake to the Gentile region of Gardara or why the boat was pulled ashore near burial tombs? I suspect that Jesus knew of the two demon-possessed men living in those tombs and that He deliberately went there to exorcise their evil spirits. Rather than a teaching lesson for the disciples, could the storm have been Satan’s way of keeping them from their destination? Satan certainly had a vested interest in keeping Jesus from reaching the other side of the lake and, not wanting to lose those two captive souls, he attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrival with wind and waves. That storm occurred precisely because Jesus was doing God’s work!

When looking through Scripture, we find that encountering rough seas, storms, and obstacles seem to be a part of following God’s will. During the time he followed God’s plan, the Apostle Paul experienced ill-health, defections, beatings, imprisonment, at least three shipwrecks, and eventually martyrdom. Think of the troublemakers, false prophets, fabricated accusations, and persecution faced by the early church (all of which were courtesy of Satan). The enemy has been trying to thwart God’s plan since Eden; he’s not about to stop now!

When we are following God’s plan, we should expect opposition because the enemy does not want us to accomplish what God has purposed for us. Opposition doesn’t mean we should abandon ship; we just need to get on our life jackets and keep rowing! Like the early church, we do that by defending the truth, sharing the Good News, giving our concerns to God, living by faith, and remaining steadfast in our mission. “If you are going to walk with Jesus Christ, you are going to be opposed,” said preacher George Whitefield. That was true when he said it in the 1700s and it remains true today.

The way to thwart the devil is to strengthen the very thing he is trying most to destroy—your faith. [John Piper]

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY

Woe betide you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You’re like whitewashed graves, which look very fine on the outside, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and uncleanness of every kind. That’s like you: on the outside you appear to be virtuous and law-abiding, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. [Matthew 23:27-28 (NTE)]

yellow hawkweedAlong with proclaiming the Word of God, the young Church was committed to ensuring that there were no needy among them. As a result, many of the early believers voluntarily sold their property and shared their wealth with the rest of the church community. Barnabas, for example, sold a field he owned and generously brought the money to the apostles for those in need.

Immediately following the mention of Barnabas in Acts, Luke tells us about Ananias and Sapphira. Like Barnabas, they sold some land and brought the proceeds to the apostles but, unlike him, the couple retained some of the funds. But, wanting to impress everyone with their generosity without actually making a sacrifice, they claimed to have contributed the full amount. Peter, however, knew better and confronted each one about their deceit and they were struck dead in divine judgment.

This is a troubling story when we mistakenly think of it in terms of how much of our money we should give to the church. It’s important to remember that Ananias and Sapphira’s sin wasn’t in keeping some of the money; it was theirs to do with as they wished. The sharing among believers wasn’t compulsory and didn’t originate in the law. It originated in love and was completely voluntary. Rather than the sin of greed, the couple’s sin was that of hypocrisy; they wanted to impress the church into thinking they were something they clearly were not. They lied to the church but, worse, they lied to the Holy Spirit! Luke tells us that “great fear” struck the entire church when the learned what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. It should strike fear in us as well! The message, however, isn’t about money; it’s that God will not tolerate deception in spiritual and personal matters.

None of us manage to fully live up to our ideals and values; we’re flawed human beings who miss the mark in a variety of ways. That we fail to be the person we should be does not make us hypocrites; it’s failing to be the person we claim to be that is hypocrisy! Putting reputation before character, the hypocrite creates a public impression at odds with his or her true self.

The book of Acts relates how the early church was threatened by the world in which they lived: persecution, arrests, imprisonment, and even death. But it also relates how the church faced threats within its own community when the sins of a few (like Ananias and Sapphira) threatened the testimony of the church. Both threats continue today. I can’t help but wonder—if God dealt as severely with deceivers and hypocrites today as He did with Ananias and Sapphira, how many people would be left to fill our pews on Sunday morning?

The hypocrite, certainly, is a secret atheist; for if he did believe there was a God, he durst not be so bold as to deceive Him to His face. [Thomas Adams]

They declare that they know God, but they deny him by what they do. They are detestable and disobedient, and useless for any good work. [Titus 1:16 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OUR ENEMY

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. [1 Peter 5:8-9a (MSG)]

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist and a magician with the same delight. [C. S. Lewis]

tiger

If asked to name your enemies, what would you answer? Unless you are embattled in a bitter lawsuit, you might say China, Russia, North Korea, or your fiercest business competitor. While you might even claim you have no enemies, would you think of mentioning things like discontent, doubt, resentment, discouragement, greed, despair, envy, pride, fear, or bitterness? Would you mention Satan, our greatest enemy—the  one who so generously gives us those unpleasant gifts? Probably not; yet Satan is far more dangerous than any nation, terrorist group, or cyber-criminal. Although his purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy, Satan rarely gets the recognition he deserves. Because we frequently think of him as a cartoonish character with horns and a tail, wearing red tights, and carrying a pitchfork, Satan doesn’t seem real or dangerous—but he is!

Our enemy is thrilled when we picture him as the silly red devil depicted on a can of Underwood deviled ham. If we recognized him as the repugnant fiend he is, we’d immediately flee in terror. Satan and his demons, however, are spirits, not beings, and have no physical likeness. We may not be able to see them, but we can see the destruction they leave behind with one glance at the day’s news.

Satan fell from grace when he opposed God and, as God’s adversary, he opposes God, His people, and His truth. “Satan” is the Hebrew word for adversary or opponent and “devil” is from the Greek diabolos, meaning accuser or slanderer. All that and more, as the father of lies, tempter, and sower of weeds, our enemy will do everything possible to thwart God’s purpose and destroy all that God loves.

Let’s never forget, however, that Satan is not, never was, and never can be God’s equal. Wanting to be God rather than God’s servant, Satan is more like a promising executive who grew proud, discontented, and jealous of his boss (the founder and owner of Heaven, Inc.). After Satan attempted a hostile takeover, the management easily defeated and fired him. Leaving with about a third of the original employees, Satan opened Evil, Inc. in direct competition. In an effort to destroy God’s customer base, Satan lies, cheats, and steals and offers an inferior counterfeit product that appears to be cheaper but costs far more in the long run.

Unfortunately, we seem more wary of the false advertising we see every day in the media than we are of Satan’s empty promises. While we might be able to spot a deal too good to be true in a magazine ad, we’re often oblivious to Satan’s subtle schemes. Even though the best he can offer is an eternity in hell, we keep falling for his lies. Like a good fisherman, he baits his hook according to the appetite of his prey!

A cunning enemy, Satan wants our souls far more than the most persistent telemarketer wants our money. If he can’t take our souls, he’ll use every tactic in his arsenal to hinder our witness and service. Limited in power, Satan is fighting a battle that was lost with Jesus’ resurrection; his final destination is eternal punishment in a lake of fire. That, however, doesn’t keep Satan and his demons from their malicious activities. Knowing how much God loves His children, Satan wants to wreak as much havoc and cause as much collateral damage as possible before the end. Let’s not play into Satan’s hands by failing to take our enemy seriously. It’s a matter of life and death!

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus! [Romans 16:19b-20 (MSG)]

After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways! [2 Corinthians 2:11 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13 (NLT)]

Back in the ‘70s, comedian Flip Wilson coined the phrase, “The devil made me do it!” Actually, Wilson really can’t be credited with its origin. Eve used pretty much the same excuse when she blamed the serpent back in Eden and Adam kept the ball rolling when he blamed Eve! Instead of the devil, Aaron blamed the people for the golden calf, Moses blamed the Israelites for his failure to enter Canaan, and Saul blamed his soldiers for his refusal to follow God’s command. Of course, they all were wrong. The responsibility for all of our actions falls solely on us and yet, like them, we’d prefer blaming our missteps on someone or something else.

Although temptation frequently enters our lives, it never is God who tempts us—that’s Satan’s job. Just as God won’t force us to be obedient, Satan can’t force us be disobedient. Although God give us trials, whether we sin or not in those trials is entirely up to us.

One of Benjamin Franklin’s most famous sayings is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Although Franklin coined the phrase in 1735 when writing to The Pennsylvania Gazette about Boston’s impressive fire prevention methods, that axiom holds true when it comes to preventing sin, as well. It is far easier to prevent something bad from happening than to fix the problem later. Nevertheless, we often put ourselves smack dab in the middle of tempting situations—the man encountering marriage difficulty who meets with an ex for a drink and a little sympathy, the recovering addict who spends time with friends who still use drugs, the compulsive shopper who “walks” in the mall, or even the dieter who regularly stops at the donut shop for coffee.

Neither of my parents were saints but they did their best not to become sinners. My father enjoyed a martini nearly every evening but, after my mother died, he completely abstained from alcohol for several months. The grieving man said he was afraid that he’d end up trying to drown his sorrows in alcohol. Recognizing his vulnerability and not wanting to add to his problems, he used an ounce of prevention by turning away from something that could lead to trouble. That’s what Joseph did with Potiphar’s wife and what David should have done the moment he saw the naked Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop.

It’s never a sin to be tempted; the sin comes in yielding to temptation! In Proverbs, Solomon cautioned, “If a bird sees a trap being set, it knows to stay away.” [1:17] Let’s use the common sense given to us by God and do the same!

We must not count temptation a strange thing. “The disciple is not greater than his master, nor the servant than his lord.” If Satan came to Christ, he will also come to Christians. [J.C. Ryle]

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BURNING COALS (Matthew 5:38-48 – Part 2)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)]

When Paul addressed a Christian’s relationship with his enemies, he said never to return evil for evil and to act honorably so we don’t reflect badly on the Gospel. Paul qualified his direction to live in peace with all by adding, “if possible, so far as it depends on you.” While some people don’t want to live in peace, as Christians, we must refuse to instigate, escalate, or participate in conflict. Since peace-loving people who won’t return evil with more of the same tend to be the sort of people who are taken advantage of, Paul then addresses the issue of revenge. Quoting Deuteronomy 32:25, he makes it clear that we are not to retaliate; vengeance is solely God’s department, not ours.

Telling us not to allow evil to overcome us but to overcome evil by doing good, Paul says our sincere kindness to an enemy is the way to do that. Moreover, by doing so, we’ll “heap burning coals on his head.” While this quote from Proverbs 25:21-22 actually sounds a little vengeful, those burning coals probably refer to an ancient Egyptian practice in which a person’s regret or repentance was demonstrated by carrying a pan filled with burning coals on his head.

In theory, our unexpected and sincere kindness will cause hot coals of shame and guilt in the wrong-doers’ conscience far more effectively than would hostility or spite. What those burning coals aren’t is a back-handed form of revenge—counterfeit kindness used to irritate, manipulate, or publicly humiliate them or a way to get in the last word. They’re certainly not a reason to gloat in self-righteousness. Our genuine kindness is the way to facilitate regret and repentance in the evil doers—whether or not they repent, however, is their choice. Nevertheless, as Christians, we must do our part.

As an illustration of this concept, Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee told a story about two Christian brothers who had a rice paddy located on top of a hill. Each morning, they drew water, climbed up the hill, and irrigated their rice paddy. One morning, they found their paddy dry but the neighbor’s paddy, just downhill from theirs, quite wet. While they were sleeping, he’d dug a hole in their irrigation channel and stolen their water. Rather than retaliate, they filled their paddy again but the same thing happened for several days. When they confided to a church elder that they didn’t have the sense of peace they expected from walking in obedience to God, the brothers were told they hadn’t done enough. The elder told them to fill their neighbor’s paddy with water before filling theirs. Strangely, as they did so, the brothers began to sense the peace they desired and, while continuing to water both paddies, they grew more joyful as they worked. The neighbor who’d stolen their water finally came to them, apologized, and said, “If this is Christianity, I want to hear about it.” Their kindness heaped burning coals on their neighbor’s head and he repented!

Simply not retaliating wasn’t enough for the brothers and it’s not enough for us. When someone slaps us, Jesus expects more from us than just silently walking away; He calls us to love and pray for our enemy. We are to go the extra mile by feeding him when he is hungry, giving him water when he thirsts, and even watering his rice paddy when he’s stolen our water! Admittedly, that’s not always easy; it certainly isn’t our natural response. Can we do it perfectly? Probably not, but we can try!

The world’s philosophy leads people to expect retaliation when they have wronged another. To receive kindness, to see love when it seems uncalled for, can melt the hardest heart. [Expositor’s Bible Commentary]

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [Matthew 5:43-46 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE OTHER CHEEK (Matthew 5:38-48 – Part 1)

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. [Matthew 5:38-39 (NLT)]

catWhen Jesus said to turn the other cheek, was he teaching total nonresistance in every circumstance? Are Christians to be doormats to be walked all over? Was he telling the battered wife to remain a punching bag to her abusive husband, the father not to defend his family in a home invasion, the teacher not to protect his students from a crazed shooter, or the girl being molested not to fight back? Having nothing to do with pacifism, Jesus’ words don’t mean we ever should place ourselves or others in danger nor did He say we shouldn’t resist the forces of evil. Using an easily understood example (at least for a 1st century person in Judah), Jesus made it clear that He was speaking about our reaction to personal insults. Rather than not resisting evil, we are not to resist an evil person by seeking retaliation.

To Jesus’ listeners, a slap on the right cheek wasn’t the start of a physical altercation like a punch in the stomach. Not intended to cause physical harm, a slap on the right cheek was meant to disgrace and humiliate. A challenge to one’s honor, it was the most disrespectful and belittling thing one person could do to another. Most people are right-handed and, normally, would slap someone else’s left cheek. When Jesus specified the “right cheek,” He was describing a back-handed slap which, according to rabbinic law, was twice as offensive as being smacked with a flat hand. It was so insulting that the striker could be taken to court and fined. In actuality, it might have been easier for Jesus’ listeners to ignore a gut punch than this slap of contempt and disrespect! When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, He’s telling us that it’s better to be insulted twice than to retaliate with a return slap or by taking the matter to court!

Since we don’t go around slapping people’s cheeks to insult them, what does this mean to us? Perhaps it’s as simple as refusing to play the petty game of “tit for tat.”  Regretfully, as mean-spirited as it is, we’ve all played it. It’s things like deciding I’m not going to return his call because he didn’t return mine, I’m going to be late today since she kept me waiting last week, I’m unfriending them because they didn’t include me in their plans, my dogs can poop in his yard since his dog pooped on my lawn, I’m turning up my music since the neighbor’s music is too loud, I’m ignoring her birthday to pay her back for forgetting mine, or I’m not going to let the car merge because the driver cut me off!

Whether it’s rudeness, spite, malice, slight, or contempt, when we return like for like, this old nursery rhyme best says what happens next: “Tit for tat, Butter for fat; If you kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat.” We  foolishly think we’re evening the score and punishing the other person, but we’re not. Returning tit for tat simply raises the stakes and escalates the battle. Let us remember that, by refusing to react, the nasty game is over!

In this day and age, people have endless opportunities to degrade, insult, offend, mock, and slight one another. While we have no way to control what other people do or say, the Holy Spirit provides us with the power to control our reaction—to turn the other cheek. As Jesus’ peaceful soldiers, we can claim victory by not fighting at all!

In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior. [Francis Bacon]

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. [1 Peter 3:9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.