FREE WON’T

Live like free people, but don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Live as those who are serving God. [1 Peter 2:16 (ERV)]

red-bellied woodpecker“Get Fuzzy,” a comic strip drawn by Darby Conley, chronicles the life of Rob and his somewhat eccentric pets: Bucky Katt, a temperamental feline with “cat-attitude,” and the gentle Satchel Pooch who frequently is the butt of Bucky’s jokes and the target of his bullying. In one comic, Satchel pondered the concept of free will. “Having free will means you also have the freedom to not,” says the dog, who then resolves, “I choose to exercise free won’t and not get mad.”

In studying the human brain, neuroscientists have discovered that there is a brief instant between when the brain tells the body to get ready to act and the action itself. That nanosecond is when our mind can implement its veto power—when it truly can exercise “free won‘t”!

We are usually so busy touting all of the things we’re free to do, that it is refreshing to consider the things we’re free not to do. Unfortunately, we don’t exercise that freedom nearly enough. Eve and Adam tasted the forbidden fruit, the Israelites worshipped a golden calf, David pursued Bathsheba, Jacob stole his inheritance, Judas betrayed Jesus, and Lot’s wife took a last look. Sadly, they didn’t exercise their freedom to say “No!” Admittedly, I frequently fail at implementing my “free won’t.”

The ability to not choose a thought or action is as important as the ability to choose them. We don’t have to indulge our every notion or whim. Remembering that we can veto as easily as we can approve, all of our choices should be conscious ones—ones where we deliberately choose between will or won’t.

Unfortunately, by the end of the comic strip, Satchel, who had been sorely vexed by Bucky, exclaims that, “I’m starting to get a little free maybe-the-*@#!-I-will after all!” His frustration sounds a bit like us when we try to exercise self-control solely on our own. Fortunately, unlike Satchel, we have a secret weapon: the Holy Spirit. Through God’s power, when tempted, we can exercise the freedom to not respond and make our free will become free won’t!

So, my brothers and sisters, we must not be ruled by our sinful selves. We must not live the way our sinful selves want. If you use your lives to do what your sinful selves want, you will die spiritually. But if you use the Spirit’s help to stop doing the wrong things you do with your body, you will have true life. The true children of God are those who let God’s Spirit lead them. [Romans 8:12-14 (ERV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

INADEQUATE AND UNQUALIFIED

I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. [1 Corinthians 2:3-4 (NLT)]

buttercupWhen I sit in front of my computer to start writing, I often wonder what makes me think I am qualified to spread the good news of the Gospel. I take comfort in the Apostle Paul’s similar feelings of inadequacy. Of all the people we meet in Scripture, Paul’s credentials (other than those of Jesus) seem to be the most impressive. Fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, from the tribe of Benjamin, and a second-generation Pharisee who had studied and trained under the respected Gamaliel, Paul was well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and passionate for Jesus. Yet, we know that even he sometimes felt inadequate to the task. Although extremely knowledgeable, by his own admission, his preaching ability left much to be desired.

Then again, an 80-year old man who stammered was called to lead his people out of slavery, a shepherd boy was called to be a king, and a housewife was called to be a prophetess and judge. Samuel was just a boy when he first prophesized, Jeremiah little more than a teen when God called him, and the disciples were just ordinary people like you and me. None of them had impressive resumes. Yet God, knowing exactly who they were, their ages, skills, capabilities, and shortcomings, called them! And He calls us!

In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that, rather than calling the qualified, God choses to qualify those he calls: “God chose the things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.” [1:27] Paul reassured the Corinthians in a later letter that, “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” [2 Corinthians 9:8] While the Apostle was referring to material gifts for the believers in Jerusalem, his words hold true for the other gifts with which God has blessed us. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have those gifts until God calls us to use them!

Whether God calls us to lead two million across the desert or lead a small group, to compose letters to the new church or write a blog, to speak to kings or a troubled teen, to build a temple or the set for the Christmas pageant, none of us can do it alone; we must depend on God and believe his promises. We continually underrate ourselves because we’re thinking small; we think we have to go it alone, under our own power, but we don’t. When God called the young Jeremiah to be His prophet, He didn’t promise that it would be easy or that he’d never get discouraged or frustrated. What God promised was His protection, provision, and supervision. Those promises apply to us, as well. God is the source of our ability and it is His power that will enable us to do His work. We are merely God’s tools; He is the builder and we must let Him use us to build His Kingdom.

Loving God, His word, and His children hardly qualifies me to write and yet, with over 1,800 devotions written, as unqualified as I am, through God’s power, it’s been done. He has, indeed, generously provided. We must trust the God who calls us to reach beyond where we think we can grasp, to climb higher than we’ve ever been, or to dig deeper than we thought possible. He will enable us to do whatever He asks us to do. While we may not do it perfectly, all God asks is that we answer Him, obey His call to the best of our ability, and trust in His provision. The outcome is His responsibility!

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. [2 Corinthians 3:4-6a (NLT)]

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LIKE A CHILD

He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. [Mark 10:14b-16 (NLT)]

riding Irish MailThe thing I’ll miss most when we move to southwest Florida permanently is easy access to my grandchildren. This summer I’ve relished watching the little guys frolic in the sprinkler, race their scooters down the sidewalk, climb the monkey bars, decorate the driveway with colored chalk, and play bags with their cousins. They insisted on helping in the kitchen, offered to set the table, listened intently to every story read to them, and never tired of endless games of Crazy-Eights and Kings’ Corners. Their squeals of delight at the holiday fireworks and when they mastered riding the Irish Mail (where they pumped with their arms and steered with their feet) were music to my ears. They asked endless questions and pondered every answer. Wanting to please us, they even were obedient. Seeing their unbridled enthusiasm, energy, and desire both to learn and please, I wondered why I wasn’t like that. After all, God wants us to be like children.

We’re mistaken if we think Jesus’s words about receiving the Kingdom like a child mean that we should be unquestioning and unthinking. Anyone who has experienced the never-ending queries of children knows how inquisitive and persistent they are. As soon as one question is answered, another will be asked. If a child wonders where the sun goes at night, the next question will be where the moon goes during the day, followed by a raft of other questions that strain our limited astronomical knowledge. While children’s inquiring minds inundate us with questions, they differ from adults because they actually care about understanding the answer. We adults, on the other hand, are rarely as anxious to learn something new since we’re sure we already know most anything worth knowing. God doesn’t mind our asking questions but He does want us to listen and learn from His answers as would a child.

Youngsters are also brutally honest (if a bit tactless), unreservedly enthusiastic, and genuine. They love freely, don’t try to impress, rarely judge and, for the most part, want to please their parents. They may carry a blanket or stuffed animal with them, but they never cart around guilt. Their parents, however, are often afraid to love, frequently less than honest, sometimes hypocritical, tend to be judgmental, and often haul a suitcase of guilt and regret wherever they go. While children are drawn to kindness and gentleness, their parents usually are more impressed by power and riches. We adults tend to rebel rather than obey and, rather than God, the one we most want to please usually is ourself.

I’ve never once heard a child say, “You shouldn’t have!” when offered a gift. My little guys certainly didn’t say they weren’t worthy or deserving of their ice cream cones, the trip to the lake, or the boat ride to watch the fireworks. Why then is it so difficult for adults to accept God’s gift of grace? Of course, we don’t deserve it and haven’t earned it, but it is ours for the taking. Like little children, we need to grab hold of this precious gift and relish it; only then will we enter the Kingdom of God.

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. [Matthew 18:2-4 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. [Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)]

hempvineThe book of Genesis is filled with thoughtless decisions that led to trouble. Although Eve knew the forbidden fruit would give her the knowledge of good and evil, I doubt she asked herself why she wanted it, what she’d do with it, or how God would react to her disobedience when she ate it. Look at Sarah with her bright idea to give Hagar to Abraham to make a baby. Did she pause and consider how she’d feel about sharing her husband with her maid or that Hagar and the child would be a constant reminder of her own infertility? Did Lot’s wife think to ask herself why she’d been told neither to stop nor look back at Sodom before she took that fatal last look?

What about Rebekah? When she helped Jacob steal Esau’s blessing, did she give thought to the ramifications of such deception? Did she think Esau wouldn’t be angry? She ended up losing both of her boys that day—one to safety in Haran and the other to anger and his desire for revenge. After Isaac discovered her part in the ruse, their marriage probably suffered as well.

Did Reuben pause to consider the consequences of sleeping with his father’s concubine? It was at his father’s deathbed that he learned his recklessness cost him his birthright blessing. His brother Simeon and Levi paid even more heavily for their deceit and violence against the people of Shechem when Jacob cursed rather than blessed them. Because of the brothers’ rash behavior, their people would be scattered throughout the land and without inheritance rights. And that’s just in Genesis! It goes downhill from there.

Every time I read through the Bible and see the consequences of people’s impulsive behavior, I ask, “What were they thinking?” What if David had taken five minutes to ask God about moving the Ark or summoning Bathsheba? What was Solomon thinking when he directly violated God’s law by accumulating 700 wives and 300 concubines and then worshipping idols? And he was supposed to be the wise one! What if Rehoboam had consulted God instead of his cronies when deciding whether or not to lighten the burden on his people? It’s bad enough that none of these people bothered to think through the effects of their rash decisions but, worse, they never bothered to consult with God about them. Unlike the people in Genesis, they even had the Torah to guide them!

Some people make their decisions by weighing alternatives and looking beyond the immediate results to the long-term effects, possible precedents, and potential complications. Other people are more gut-feeling emotion-driven choice makers. Most of us probably fall somewhere in-between. No matter how we approach a decision, however, we always want to stay in God’s will. While prayer is a good place to start, God is often silent as to our exact plan of action. Perhaps that’s because He’s already revealed His will in Scripture. It is in God’s Word that we find the wisdom and principles that should guide us in making our decisions: repent, believe, obey, forgive, love, be truthful, work hard, share, serve, trust in Him, and glorify Him in all we do. If we always do that, it’s unlikely someone will ask in disbelief, “What were they thinking?”

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SHUT THE DOOR (Elisha – 5)

And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled. [2 Kings 4:3-4 (NLT)]

naples doorwayHer neighbors probably thought she’d lost her mind when she sent her boys out to ask for empty containers. Shutting the door certainly kept out the creditors, naysayers, and doubters along with any talk of unbelief that could hinder the widow’s faith. That closed door shut out interruptions, distractions, anxieties, and whatever else that might have kept the widow from focusing on God. Because that shut door even kept out Elisha, there was no mistaking who was responsible for the flowing oil: God!

Not every miracle is meant to be as public and impressive as the parting of the Red Sea. With the door open, once others saw what was happening, they even may have brought their own jars to cash in on the widow’s seemingly unlimited supply of oil. The closed door meant that, rather than a public display of God’s power, this miracle was to be a private demonstration of God’s mercy and grace. There are many other private miracles throughout Scripture. When Elisha restored the Shunammite woman’s son to life, he did it behind closed doors. Elijah’s resurrection of the widow from Zarephath’s son also was done privately and only Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus’s resurrection of Jairus’s daughter. Many miracles, like Jesus’s healing of the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman or the Roman officer’s servant were done from a distance with no witnesses. While these instances of God’s miraculous provision and healing eventually became known far and wide (we still read of them today), at the time, they were a personal matter of one person’s faith and God’s amazing power.

Because it cut out other options, shutting the door showed the widow’s total trust in God. Leaving the door open would have implied that she wasn’t quite sure about Elisha’s promise. With an open door, once she saw the oil pouring, the woman could have sent her boys out for more jars; something tells me that the oil would have stopped flowing the moment she did. After the door was closed, the number of jars indicated her faith. Shutting the door meant she’d shut the door on other people and other options. Having opened her life to God, she was all in and committed to Him.

Do we truly trust God’s provision? When He calls us to do something, are we all in? Do we ignore the skeptics and pessimists? Do we focus on God or our fears? Do we give God credit for our blessings or do we tend to chalk them up to coincidence or good fortune. Do we trust in God even when what He tells us to do seems impractical or implausible? Do we put all of our faith in God or do we rely on ourselves and keep a backup plan handy? Peter certainly shut the door when (without a life-jacket) he stepped out of that boat onto the water!

I guess it comes right back to Monday’s message, “Any Bridges to Burn?” The widow trusted God enough to shut the door on her neighbors and any other options and Elisha trusted God enough to shut the door by burning his plow and cooking his oxen. Having faith is believing that God will do what He says He will. Do we have enough faith to shut the door?

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. [Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)]

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. [[Jeremiah 17:7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DOES HE OWE US ANYTHING? (Elisha – 3)

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” [2 Kings 4:1 (NIV)]

roseate spoonbillWhen writing about Elisha, the widow, and the oil, I thought the first conversation between the prophet and distraught woman worth a deeper look. From their exchange, it is clear that the prophet either knew or knew of the widow’s husband. One of Elisha’s followers, the widow reminds the prophet of how much her husband revered and feared the Lord.

While Scripture doesn’t name her husband, other sources do. Both the 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus and the Targum (an Aramaic paraphrase and explanation of the Hebrew Bible) identify him as the Obadiah mentioned in 1 Kings 18. Although he was in charge of Ahab’s palace, Obadiah remained faithful to Jehovah and hid 100 of God’s prophets in two caves during the time Jezebel was killing them. Both Josephus and Jewish tradition suggest that Obadiah sustained these men at his own expenses and, when his money was spent, the man borrowed money to continue to feed them. It was because of this debt, incurred in the Lord’s service, that the widow’s sons were to be taken as bondservants. Whether the woman was Obadiah’s widow or the widow of another faithful follower of Jehovah we really don’t know. Nevertheless, the widow appears to think that, because her husband faithfully served the Lord, Elisha should do something about his debt.

Does God owe us anything for our service? If we look at Luke 17, it would seem that Jesus is telling us that, even when we’ve done absolutely everything God commands, we should not expect an earthly reward. We are God’s unworthy servants and have only done our duty. He is our master and His job is not to make our lives easier; our job is to do His work and build His kingdom. Whatever the widow’s husband did for God, Elijah, or Elisha, he did as God’s servant; it was only what he should have done! Our good actions are never a favor for God. Righteousness, worship, generosity, forgiveness, sacrifice, and even suffering aren’t extraordinary; they are expected of us!

Fulfilling our duties and obligation to God is not a business transaction. God owes us nothing but we owe Him everything. We are to serve the Lord with gladness, out of love and gratitude. What He may or may not give us is from His grace; it is neither payment nor reward. While we’re on this side of the grass, we should never expect to profit or gain from serving Him. As God did with the widow, He may choose to fill our jars with oil but, never forget, He doesn’t owe us even one ounce of it!

Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” [Luke 17:7-10 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.