THORNS AND THISTLES (Soil – Part 3)

Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. [Mark 4:7]

nodding - musk thistleSome of the farmer’s seeds fell among the thorns (probably what we’d call thistles). Prolific seed producers, thorny plants like thistles can grow in the harshest environment. While they may have been cut down and no longer were visible to the farmer, their seeds and roots remained. With their deep roots, thistles are masters of survival and can flourish in adverse conditions. Stealing the moisture and sunlight from the plants around them, they stunt their growth and, if allowed to grow, can overtake a field.

The farmer’s seed was good, it took root, and started to grow but, because of the thistles, it never developed into maturity. The thistles represent the material concerns of the world—the cares, riches and pleasures that distract us from God’s word and, like a thistle’s roots, are deeply seated in our hearts. Rather than robbing us of water, sunlight, and nutrients, they stunt our growth by keeping us from God’s living water, the light of Christ, and the nourishment of His church. The busyness, distractions, and cares of life; the challenges of work and tending a family; the pursuit of wealth; the desire for possessions, status, amusement, contentment, and even revenge: all of these distract us from letting God’s Word bear fruit in our lives.

The faith of Judas was like a field with thistles. He heard the word and followed Jesus as a faithful disciple and yet he betrayed our Lord. We never know exactly why. Perhaps, it was simply for riches. John tells us he was a thief who stole from the disciples’ purse and we know he received money for his betrayal. Judas also may have been distracted by politics and a desire to be among the elite when Jesus defeated the Romans. Disillusionment may have set in when he realized that wouldn’t happen. Whatever it was, like a field of thistles, those distractions allowed Satan to enter him

In God’s perfect plan, there were no weeds and He didn’t mean for thorns or thistles to be in hearts, either. Weeds and sin both came with the fall. Ridding a field of thistles and other weeds is nearly impossible but, with diligence and hard work, it can be done. It takes continual inspection of the field and, once spotted, the weeds must be eradicated. The questions we must ask are simple ones. What are the thistles or thorns in my life? What is holding me back? What is keeping me from bearing His fruit? Is my faith genuine?

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. [2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)]

When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it. [Hebrews 6:7-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ALLELON – ONE ANOTHER

So if our shared life in the king brings you any comfort; if love still has the power to make you cheerful; if we really do have a partnership in the spirit; if your hearts are at all moved with affection and sympathy – then make my joy complete! Bring your thinking into line with one another. Here’s how to do it. Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object. Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:1-4 (NTE)]

gulls - clam passYesterday, I wrote about koinonia or what I called the art of Christian community. Writing about Christian fellowship, however, can be easier than actually living in it. Just as a family has a vast array of different personalities, temperaments, and gifts, so does the church. In fact, with our sheltering in place, social distancing, working from home, having children home all day, and parks, playgrounds, gyms, and beaches all closed, some of us might be having more difficulty maintaining a spirit of fellowship with one another in our own homes than in our churches!

The Greek word used for “one another” was allelon, meaning reciprocally or mutually. Often translated as “one another,” “themselves,” “mutually,” “yourselves together,” or “each other,” allelon is used 101 times in the New Testament. 59 of those occurrences are found in specific commands teaching us how we are to relate (or not to relate) to one another. It is in those 59 commands that we learn how to have true koinonia in both church and home.

Sixteen of those allelon commands are to love one another which, at times, can be easier said than done. The other forty-three allelon commands show us what that Christian love looks like. Many have to do with empathy, compassion, and understanding. While rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep isn’t technically a “one another” command, it is followed by one that tells us to be like minded with one another. Often translated as “live in harmony,” Paul isn’t saying we all have to agree on everything; he’s telling us to adjust to one another. While we don’t have to sing the same note everyone else is singing, our song should harmonize with theirs! Along this same line, we’re told to care for and encourage one another, be kind and tender-hearted, and bear one another’s burdens.

Several allelon commands have to do with controlling our emotions. We’re told to be patient with one another, bind ourselves together in peace, warned not to grumble about one another, and cautioned to beware of destroying one another. Of course, to do that we need to overlook what we don’t like and focus on what we do. Cautioning us not to pass judgment, we’re told to bear with one another, which means treating one another with kindness and grace. Rather than demanding perfection, we are to endure the quirks and peculiarities of others. Along with the many commands about forgiving, we are told to be humble, serve one another, take delight in honoring each other, and clothe ourselves with humility. While most of us find it easy to pray for one another, confessing to one another is a bit harder; none of us want to admit being wrong and yet we often are!

“We are not strictly bound to ‘like’ one another,” wrote Thomas Merton, but he prefaced that statement with the words, “We are obliged to love one another.” Whether it’s getting along with our church family or our own family, we may not like everyone, but we can love them and seek the best for them. Rather than a warm fuzzy feeling, the love we have for one another is a lifestyle and a choice. It comes down to what Jesus said was the essence of the Law and the Prophets: loving God and loving one another. Try as we may, we can’t do it on our own strength—only through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is when we are secure in God’s love that we can share it with one another. In the spirit of true Christian fellowship, let us love one another!

What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they have all been loved by Jesus himself. They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. [D.A. Carson]

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the sacrifice that would atone for our sins. Beloved, if that’s how God loved us, we ought to love one another in the same way. Nobody has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is completed in us. [1 John 4:10-12 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

CRUCIFIED WITH HIM

I have been crucified with the Anointed One—I am no longer alive—but the Anointed is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me. [Galatians 5:20 (VOICE)]

Our Lady Cathedral - Antwerp

The Apostle Paul wrote that he joined Christ in both death and resurrection. His old sinful life had been crucified with Christ and he now shared in Christ’s resurrected life. When Jesus came to live in him, Paul didn’t become a mindless automaton and their spiritual union didn’t cause the tent-maker to lose his uniqueness or personality. He was still Paul. By dying to sin and adding the characteristics of Christ to his heart and mind, however, the Apostle was a new and far better version of himself. He was still the same brilliant and well-educated man, skilled in making an argument or proving a point, who had set out for Damascus. But, by joining Christ in His resurrection, this single-minded Pharisee became entirely devoted to Jesus. Undeterred by persecution, he was faithful, patient, humble, courageous, filled with the Fruit of the Spirit, and passionate about passing along the gospel message. Indeed, Christ lived in him.

When Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, He changed Paul from a persecutor of Christians into a lover of Christ and His followers. While we probably didn’t experience a conversion as dramatic as Paul’s, when we accepted Christ, we also died to our old selves. Have we experienced that same spiritual death and resurrection described by the Apostle? Does Christ live in us or is He just an occasional guest, invited only on special occasions or when we feel like having company? Does He live in us or is He simply the cleaning service we call when there’s a mess we can’t clean by ourselves? Does He live in us or is He like a salesman who needs an appointment before calling? Does He live in us or is He just a kind-hearted acquaintance, welcome only when He has something we need or want?  Does He live in us or is He a renter whose lease will be terminated the moment we feel inconvenienced? If we say Christ lives in us, can anyone see Him there or do we hide Him behind a wall of self-righteousness? Are our words the words Christ would say? Are our actions His actions? Are our thoughts His thoughts? Can we honestly echo the Apostle Paul’s words?

Last Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ. Have we been resurrected with Him? Does He truly live in us? If not, then we haven’t yet been crucified with Him.

Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (VOICE)]

Those of us who belong to the Anointed One have crucified our old lives and put to death the flesh and all the lusts and desires that plague us. Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let’s keep each step in perfect sync with God’s Spirit. This will happen when we set aside our self-interests and work together to create true community instead of a culture consumed by provocation, pride, and envy. [Galatians 5:24-26 (VOICE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE MAUNDATUM – Maundy Thursday

oxeye daisyIf any of you wants to be great, he must be your servant. If any of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. That’s how it is with the son of man: he didn’t come to have servants obey him, but to be a servant – and to give his life as “a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:26b-28 (NTE)]

When my coed grand arrived in Florida last December, she wanted to celebrate going from boots to sandals with a pedicure. Although I enjoyed the comfy chair with its rolling massage, the warm whirlpool bathing my feet, the technician massaging the knots in my feet and calves, the exfoliating and buffing, and having someone else clip and paint my nails, I was incredibly uncomfortable with the whole thing (which is why I usually do my own pedicures). Even though I’d scrubbed my feet before arriving, was paying for the service, and liked being pampered, having someone wash my feet and tend to my toes seemed too intimate for me. I felt awkward being served in such a personal way.

My discomfort brought to mind that of the disciples on that Thursday evening so long ago when Jesus washed their feet in the upper room. Unlike mine, the men’s feet were filthy from walking sockless in sandals along unpaved dirt roads littered with animal waste, garbage, and the contents of people’s chamber pots. While the washing of feet was usually the job of the lowest servant, if no servant was present, people usually washed their own feet. Luke tells us the disciples argued that night about who would have the most prestige in the Kingdom. Perhaps it was then that Jesus, their rabbi, the guest of honor, and truly the greatest among them, removed his robe and, dressed like a slave, took on the menial task of washing their filthy feet—a task none of them were doing for themselves, one another, or Him.

If I’m uncomfortable with a pedicure, I can only imagine the discomfort of the disciples as their teacher humbly knelt before them, bathed their filthy calloused feet in the basin, and dried them with the towel at his waist. Not wanting to see his teacher perform such a menial task, Peter even objected and then, in typical Peter manner, told Jesus to wash his hands and head as well!

Today is Maundy Thursday, a day Christians throughout the world remember Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, the breaking of bread and drinking of wine during their Passover supper, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane, His arrest in the garden, and Peter’s betrayal. While many Christians observe this day with the sacrament of Holy Communion, most have no idea how this day got its name. “Maundy” comes from the Latin maundatum for commandment; after being translated into the French mande it was anglicized into “maundy.” This day is named for the mandate or command Jesus gave to his disciples after performing His extraordinary act of humility by washing the men’s feet. This new commandment (maundatum novarum ) was to love one another as Jesus loved them.

Maundy Thursday is a day for more than remembering the Last Supper. It is a day to remember Jesus’ lesson that we must serve others in the same way He did: as a lowly servant who willingly served with humility and love. As He loved us, so we must love one another, not just today but every day.

Love consecrates the humblest act
and haloes mercy’s deeds;
it sheds a benediction sweet
and hallows human needs.
Love serves and willing stoops to serve;
what Christ in love so true
has freely done for one and all,
let us now gladly do!
[“Love Consecrates the Humblest Act” (Silas B. McManus)]

Well, then: if I, as your master and teacher, washed your feet just now, you should wash each other’s feet. I’ve given you a pattern, so that you can do things in the same way that I did to you. … I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. [John 13:14-15,34-35 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIM – Maundy Thursday

When the time came, Jesus sat down at table, and the apostles with him. ‘I have been so much looking forward to eating this Passover with you before I have to suffer,’ he said to them. [Luke 22:14-15 (NTE)]

butterflyChristians call it the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Table, the Sacrament, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist; some denominations consider it a “sacrament” while others call it an “ordinance.”  While they may not agree on what to call it, they do agree that, during that last supper with His disciples, Jesus instituted or ordained its practice when He shared bread and wine, said the elements were His body and blood, and instructed the disciples to repeat the ceremony in remembrance of Him.

That was a Passover dinner and, on any other Passover, Jesus may have held up the matzo symbolizing Israel’s suffering, slavery, and privation in Egypt and said, “This is the bread of affliction our fathers ate in Egypt.” The night he was betrayed, however, Jesus held up the bread and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” On any other Passover, Jesus might have raised the Passover cup and said, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” That night, however, He lifted the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.”

What Jesus didn’t do that night was give step-by-step instructions regarding this rite of remembrance and there is disagreement across the denominations about the exact meaning of the elements and the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and hows of doing communion. Whether we agree or disagree over the theological details, we all probably agree that we miss coming together at the Lord’s Table during this time of social distancing. Sheltering in place, however, shouldn’t keep us from partaking in the Eucharist; it just means that we have to do it differently.

As we struggle to worship in a world where we can’t gather as a church, let us remember that the church is not a building. Altars, altar rails, chalices, patens, and specific wafers weren’t mentioned by Jesus the night he was betrayed. He didn’t say that priests or ministers were required nor did he specify songs, prayers, or method of receiving the elements. Read the gospel accounts. Jesus was at a table eating the Passover meal dinner with His friends when, with just a few well-chosen words, He instituted the Eucharist as a way of remembering Him!

Palm Sunday, while watching the on-line service, our church had Holy Communion. Using whatever we had in our kitchens, people gathered in front of their computers, tablets, and smartphones, prayed over the elements, and partook of this holy and blessed sacrament in remembrance of Him. The bread we used ranged from Triscuits, Ritz crackers, and saltines to pita, sour dough rolls, or Wonder Bread. For wine, we used whatever we had; for some, that was wine or grape juice and, for others, it could have been lemonade or water. Our purpose was to remember Jesus and we remembered Him with what we had!

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, the day Christians throughout the world commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of Communion. Even without an official service, my husband and I will partake of this sacrament in much the same way the early church did: in the context of a meal with a little bread and wine. We will remember Jesus, not just for what He did on the cross, but for who He was and is: our friend, Savior, Lord, and King! Won’t you join us? No matter how far apart we may be from each another, the body of Christ is one in Spirit!

We offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him. [The Book of Common Prayer (1979)]

On the night when the Lord Jesus was betrayed, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body; it’s for you! Do this as a memorial of me.’  He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes. [1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14b (NLT)]

balloon over serengettiAlthough the book of Esther never mentions God by name, His fingerprints are found throughout the story as it illustrates God’s providence in human affairs. The Jews were in captivity in Persia and the Persian King had banished the queen. Along with all the other beautiful virgins in the land, the young Jewess Esther is taken to the King’s harem. She finds favor with the king and is declared queen while the evil Haman plots the massacre of every Jew. When Esther’s cousin Mordecai requests her help in begging for the king’s mercy, she hesitates out of fear. Reminding Esther that she isn’t exempt from Haman’s evil plot, Mordecai asks, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

I thought of Haman’s question as churches around the world struggle to provide worship and study opportunities during this crisis. By the time our church, Coastal Fellowship Church, was a year old, we’d developed a free App providing more than calendar, prayer requests, devotions and online giving. Through strategic partnerships, it provided preschool video Bible adventures and material from the Bible Project that now includes videos on reading Scripture, the Bible’s books from Genesis through Revelation, wisdom topics, and a word study. More recent offerings include a number of short videos showing where sports and faith connect and two series from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

At the time, I’m sure people wondered why a church like ours – brand new, without a building, with minimal financial support, and a small congregation of mostly senior citizens (some of whom still use flip phones) – became so committed to 21st century technology and developing an App. Our pastor felt God’s call to do an App and, as he led, the congregation, without clearly understanding its importance, followed in obedience to God’s urging. If anyone wondered why we did it, the last few weeks gave us the answer. Rephrasing Mordecai’s words, “Who knows if the App was developed for just such a time as this!”

We didn’t know over a year ago that online resources and platforms would be essential to serving the Church during this global pandemic. Distanced geographically, we remain connected by faith. We are a global church serving a global God and the App allows us to do just that!

The technical expertise acquired while creating the App enabled us to stream services within a few days’ time and develop a permanent platform for services and Bible study by the second week. Because the App received 30 awards for everything from logo to video and animation, it’s had international exposure; available on several platforms, there have been 40,000 downloads from all over the world. The strategic partnerships that started with the App led to more partnerships, including one with N. T. Wright, and expanded our offerings to better serve the global community. Our first Sunday service was viewed by people throughout the world with 2,182 viewings in the first week! What’s really important is that 88% of those viewers watched the entire service! (I’m not sure 88% of a congregation stays awake during a live sermon!)

As mortals, we don’t know God’s long range plans; even if we did, we wouldn’t understand them. Joseph didn’t understand why he ended up a slave in Egypt until he saved his entire family from famine. Moses didn’t know why he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter until God spoke to him from a burning bush. David didn’t know why he kept doing target practice with his sling until he came face to face with Goliath. Esther didn’t understand why she became queen until she saved an entire nation and I never knew that sending a daily Bible verse to a few women would morph into a daily devotional. Even though we don’t see God’s vision, like Abraham, we follow His lead. Once we get wherever God has taken us, we’ll know why we’re there. God will tell us, “For just such a time as this!”

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. [Hebrews 11:18 (NLT)]

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.