LOST

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. [Jeremiah 29:13-14a (NLT)]

Trapp family chapel - Vermont
As devout Jews, every year Joseph, Mary, and their family made the seventy-mile trek from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After spending the week in Jerusalem, they gathered with others to make the three-day journey back to Nazareth. It wasn’t until making camp that first night that they discovered Jesus was missing. At first, Joseph and Mary appear to be neglectful and careless parents and little better than the absent-minded McCallisters (of Home Alone) who misplaced their son Kevin not once but twice! After God entrusted His only son to their care, can you imagine Mary and Joseph trying to explain to the Lord how they managed to lose Him?

Mary and Joseph’s error, however, is understandable. Jerusalem normally had a population estimated at 80,000 but, during the Passover, it would have swelled to around 400,000 as people crowded into the city for the festival. Entire villages often travelled together. Traditionally, the women and children would have been in the front of the caravan while the men followed in the rear. Being twelve, Jesus was neither a young child nor a grown man and could have been in either group. As the people gathered for their return trip to Nazareth, each parent probably assumed Jesus was with the other one. Once they discovered His absence, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem the next morning to search for the missing boy and eventually found Him.

While at a mall some 45 years ago, we lost our youngest child in the same way—I thought he was with his father while he thought the boy was with me! Once he and I reconnected and discovered that our child was with neither of us, we spent a frantic ten minutes until we found him enjoying a lollipop at mall security. I can’t imagine waiting days before he was found! No wonder Mary’s anxiety and fear turned into a little scolding when Jesus was discovered!

Bible scholars disagree on how long Jesus actually was missing. Some say it was a total of three days: one day to discover His absence, another day to return to Jerusalem, and the third day to find Him. Other scholars, however, interpret Luke’s words to mean that after the two days of travel, Joseph and Mary searched Jerusalem for three days. Whether three days or five, it appears that the temple was not the first place Mary and Joseph looked. Knowing Jesus as His parents did, shouldn’t it have been the first place they looked? When they finally found Him there, Jesus was surprised by their frantic search. We now understand Jesus’ rather impertinent words to his parents: “‘Why did you need to search?’ he said. ‘Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” [2:49]

Like Joseph and Mary, do we make incorrect assumptions about Jesus’ presence in our lives? Do we expect Him to follow us or us to follow Him? Do we make the Pharisees’ mistake of assuming that being religious is the same as being righteous? Do we assume pardon without any penitence or forgiveness when we won’t forgive? Do we assume we’re saved without having been transformed? Do we assume He’ll answer our prayers without our answering His call? Do we assume we’re living for Him without first having died with Him? Do we take Jesus’ presence for granted? Do we expect him to take our journey or are we taking His? It’s never Jesus who is lost but, without Him, we surely are!

As Joseph and Mary learned, if we discover Jesus is missing, a good place to start looking for Him is in His Father’s house.

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. [1 Chronicles 16:11 (NLT)]

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WOMEN IN THE CHURCH

And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. [Philippians 4:3 (NLT)]

pale purple coneflower
From the beginning of His ministry, women were among the earliest followers of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna accompanied and financially supported Him and Martha and Mary offered their hospitality in Bethany. Women were witnesses to His death, burial, and the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene was the first to view the resurrected Christ! Because women get little mention in the New Testament, however, we tend to overlook the role they played in the early church.

Yesterday, when I wrote about the feud between Euodia and Syntyche, I didn’t mention Paul’s commendation of these same two women for diligently working beside Paul, Clement, and others in spreading the gospel. That Paul was troubled enough by their disagreement to ask a ministry colleague to intervene implies these women had influence in the Philippian church. What role did they and other women play in the early church?

Although Philippi was a Roman colony, Euodia and Syntyche are Greek names. It’s a possibility that, like Lydia (a Greek merchant of purple cloth), they were merchants originally from Greece. The two may have been some of the women who met with Lydia at the riverbank for prayer. [Acts 16] Although Lydia merits just a few sentences in Scripture, the Philippian church began with her baptism and the baptisms of the rest of her household! That Lydia was the only Philippian named by Luke indicates she played an important role in the early church. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stayed at her home while in Philippi.

Along with Lydia, a number of other women served as leaders of the house churches that sprang up in the cities throughout the Roman Empire: among them were Priscilla, Chloe, Apphia, Nympha, Mary (the mother of John Mark), and possibly the woman John addressed as “the chosen lady” in his second epistle. While it is speculation, Euodia and Syntyche, like Lydia, may have led house churches. We know that Priscilla and her husband Aquila travelled with Paul to Ephesus and founded the church there. Both men and women could serve as deacons and Phoebe was a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. In Acts, we learn that Philip’s four daughters were prophetesses.

Paul even entrusted his epistles to be delivered by women and it was Phoebe who carried his letter to the Romans. In Romans 16, Paul specifically greeted Mary “who has worked so hard for your benefit” and a woman name Junia who, along with Andronicus, had been imprisoned for the faith. Among the 29 people he mentioned in this chapter, nine were women. Many of those mentioned, like Priscilla, traveled as missionaries with their husbands or brothers. Whenever Paul referred to someone as a fellow co-worker, he used the same word, synergos, for both women and men!

There is extra-Biblical support of the important role women played in the early church, as well. In the 2nd century, Clement of Alexandria wrote that women accompanied the apostles on their missionary journeys as colleagues. Acting as equals, not subordinates, Clement said they served as “fellow ministers in dealing with housewives…that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused.” When writing about the “crime” of Christianity, Pliny the Younger mentioned torturing two slave women he called ministrae (or deacons) in the Christian community.

Understanding the important role played by women in the early church, it’s easier to understand Paul’s deep concern about the rift between Euodia and Syntyche. Moreover, it tells me that both the early church and Paul (who has unfairly been accused of misogyny by some) truly lived by the words found in Galatians that, in Christ’s family, previous distinctions like nationality, race, status, and sex no longer exist. In Christ’s body, we truly are one!

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NLT)]

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RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES

But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! [1 Peter 4:16 (NLT)]


Before my evening prayers, I often reflect on a prayer from The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers edited by Arthur Bennett. In a recent selection, the prayer’s author asked the Lord to let him know his “need of renovation as well as of forgiveness,” and confessed, “I am often straying, often knowingly opposing thy authority, often abusing thy goodness….” He went on to admit, “Much of my guilt arises from my religious privileges, my low estimation of them, and my failure to use them to my advantage.” His words gave me pause.

Since a privilege is a special right, advantage, benefit, exemption, or legal immunity granted only to a particular person or group, I pondered the “religious privileges” we enjoy as Christians. The obvious is that even though we remain sinners, our belief in Jesus gives us God’s forgiveness; because Jesus paid the price for our sins, we are exempt from an eternity in Hell. That, however, was God who willingly gave up His absolute power and privilege to take on mankind’s limitations and die a criminal’s torturous death for us! Do we truly appreciate what He did or do we take that privilege for granted and fail to do the spiritual renovation necessary to show our appreciation for His sacrifice and blood? Do we thank the Lord each and every day for what He did on the cross?

Aside from a Christian’s destiny of having a home in heaven and sharing in the glory of God, what other religious benefits do we have? As Christ’s followers, we have the advantages of the peace that surpasses all understanding and the ability to find joy in all circumstances. We have the blessings of His continual presence, guidance, and protection from the enemy. We have the privilege of sharing the Gospel message and even that of suffering in His name!

Do we value the privilege of direct access to God and the advantage of two intercessors: the Holy Spirit who intercedes within us and puts our concerns into words along with Jesus Christ who intercedes for us in heaven? The Holy Spirit, however, is more than an intercessor. He corrects, teaches, sanctifies, strengthens, comforts, protects, and enables us to recognize the truth and obey God. He gives us one or more spiritual gifts and produces His fruit in us. Do we fully appreciate and use the many privileges and benefits that only Christ followers can enjoy or do we ignore and possibly abuse them?

A Christian’s “religious privileges” are offered to all but accepted by few. May we never be unappreciative, neglectful, or careless with God’s gifts or favor by disregarding the privilege of being one of His adopted children.

It is our privilege to know that we are saved. [ D.L. Moody]

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.[Romans 5:2 (NLT)]

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JUDGING THE PUDDING 

sheep goatsAnd the King will say, “I tell you [the sheep] the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” … Then he will answer them [the goats] saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [Matthew 25:40,45-46 (ESV)]

“The proof is in the pudding” is the shortened version of the original proverb: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In other words, rather than what something claims to be, it must be judged by trying it yourself or seeing it in action. Regardless of its outward appearance or what the label states, the value, authenticity, and quality of something can only be determined by experiencing it or seeing the results!

Jesus probably never tasted the pudding to which the original proverb refers but we know that He frequently told parables illustrating its point. Rather than talking about a seasoned minced meat and grain dish boiled in a bag, He was telling us that the true evidence of our declaration of faith is not found in our words; it is seen in our actions. In His parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, the King separated the sheep from the goats. After doing so, he said to the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” [25:35] The goats, however, got a vastly different message: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” [25:41]

Since both species are Bovines in the subfamily Caprinae, roughly the same size, have cloven hooves, and chew the cud, the King couldn’t determine their identity with a quick look. Their difference, however, had nothing to do with their appearance: whether they had a groove in their upper lip or wool instead of hair. He wasn’t concerned with the shape of their horns or whether their tails hung down or pointed up.

The King judged the animals’ breed by their actions. While sheep graze and goats browse, their eating habits weren’t what determined their destination because Jesus really wasn’t talking about sheep or goats. He was speaking of the final judgment, specifically of those who claimed to be one of His flock. The parable’s sheep (like true followers of Jesus) fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner—the very people Jesus called “the least of these.” The goats, however, hadn’t. With His parable, the Lord made it abundantly clear that the way we love one another shows the way we love Him and that our actions have eternal significance.

Jesus wasn’t preaching salvation through works; He was telling us that our actions are evidence of the faith we proclaim! It’s not enough to hear or even to profess; we must obey! We can dress up as sheep and claim to be Christians, but, as the old proverb goes: the proof is in the pudding!

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds. You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? [James 2:14-20 (NLT)]

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HEARING

For twenty-three years…the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear. [Jeremiah 25:3a,4a (ESV)]

green heron

As the language of the Scriptures, Jesus spoke and read Hebrew and, as the language of the Roman Empire, He probably spoke some Greek, as well. His everyday spoken language, however, would have been Aramaic. A Semitic language widespread throughout the Middle East by the 7th century BC, Aramaic was adopted by the Jews during their Babylonian exile. By Jesus’ time, Hebrew (considered the “holy tongue”) was reserved for holy matters such as prayer but Aramaic was used for everyday speech. Jesus may have spoken Hebrew in the Temple but, as the common language of people throughout the Middle East, He spoke Aramaic, the rest of the time.

Even though Jesus spoke Aramaic, the words of the New Testament (probably composed between 50 and 100 AD) were written in Greek, the language of scholarship at the time. Since Jewish scholars had already translated much of what we call the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek, it made perfect sense for the New Testament’s authors to write in Greek, as well. As a result, when we read the Bible, we are reading English words translated from Greek but originally written or spoken in Hebrew and Aramaic. As happens with even the best translation, sometimes the nuance of a word is lost in translation.

For example, consider the Greek word akouwhich simply means “to hear, to be endowed with the ability to hear, or to hear something” and usually is translated into English as “hear” or “listen.” This meaning is sufficient when Jesus heard the Centurion express his faith, Herod heard the Magi say the Messiah had come, Jesus heard that John was imprisoned, John heard about the deeds of Jesus, and Peter heard the rooster crow. Akouό, however, is not sufficient when both the prophets and Jesus spoke of having ears that hear. The words they used had the root word shema/shama and the words “hear” or “listen” don’t catch its full meaning.

In Greek and English, hearing or listening are mental activities but the Hebrew/Aramaic word shema/shama meant more than that. It was as much a physical activity as an intellectual one. Along with hearing, it meant to take heed, submit, obey, and do what is asked. We may hear the television but we expect our children to shema/shama us when we tell them to do their homework!

As an observant Jew, Jesus would have said what is known as the Shema every morning and evening. It begins with the word shema: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…”  The Shema continues on to tell the Israelites the rewards of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. Shema/shama is the word prophets used when warning Israel and Jesus used when explaining His parables and the consequences of not “hearing” His words. While hearing is passive, shema/shama most definitely is not. The people of Israel failed to shema God’s words and warnings. Will we make the same mistake?

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. [Matthew 13:40-43 (ESV)]

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HAVING FAITH

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. [Hebrews 11:17-19 (NLT)]
lanceleaf arrowhead - duck potato

Since Sunday school days, we’ve read the story of Isaac and Abraham and we know it has a happy ending. Abraham, however, hadn’t read the end of the chapter when he set out for Mt. Moriah. During the fifty-mile journey, the father had three days during which he must have agonized over God’s command to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Did Abraham ask God, “Why?” Why would God finally provide the promised child and then take the blessing away? Did he ask God, “How?” How, with his son dead, was he going to have those countless descendants God promised? Did he ask God, “What next?” What would he tell Sarah if he returned home without their dear boy? True faith isn’t blind—it knows exactly what can happen but steps forward anyway and Abraham had seventy-two hours to agonize over the possible consequences of his actions. In his distress, he may even have been tempted to turn back home again.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what happens to flesh in a fiery furnace, Daniel knew what hungry lions do to fresh meat, and, after the deaths of Stephen and James, the rest of the apostles knew what happened to Christians when they dared to share the gospel message. None knew whether they’d die or miraculously escape their fates and yet all boldly acted in faith. If we’ve peeked ahead and know the story ends well, we’re simply being obedient and cooperative. It’s faith when we know full well what could happen but not what actually will. Faith trusts God’s promises. It knows that stepping out in obedience to Him means the story will end, not as we would write it, but as God wants it written.

Scripture tells us Abraham thought God might bring Isaac back to life again but God made no such promise and this was centuries before another resurrection would occur. Abraham may not have known the outcome but the father knew his God so he faithfully obeyed. Him. With confidence, he told his servants that both father and son would return after worshipping on the hill and, when Isaac asked why they had no lamb for their offering, Abraham assured him that God would provide. Still, Abraham had no way of knowing if his words would prove true. As Abraham and Isaac built an altar and piled wood on it, there must have been tears in the father’s eyes. How anxious he must have been as he tied up his son and laid him on the altar and what anguish he must have felt as he picked up his knife and brought it to Isaac’s neck. Nevertheless, Abraham continued in faith and demonstrated that he loved God more than his own flesh and blood.

Faith takes steps knowing that a loving God has given the command and trusting that whatever the result, it is God’s plan. I’ve never been asked to exercise the kind of faith shown by Abraham and the rest of the Bible’s heroes and I pray I never have to do so. I wonder how my faith would stand up at the door of a fiery furnace, the mouth of a lion’s den, in front of a soldier’s sword, facing an angry mob of unbelievers, or if told to sacrifice one of my children. Would I trust God with the outcome or would my faith crumble? Father, forgive me, but I just don’t know.

Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right. [Max Lucado]

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

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