UNFAIR

And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. [Numbers 32:13 (ESV)]

Begonia - Binos soft pink

Although my high school grand lives in a state where COVID-19 has necessitated remote schooling, I was pleased to learn that her school found a safe way for their students to take the SAT this week. On-line school would be cancelled that day, the school building would open, volunteer teachers would serve as proctors and monitors, desks would be safely spaced, and only ten students would be in any room. It seemed like a perfect solution. The reckless actions of my grand’s fellow students, however, changed all that when over 100 classmates attended an unsupervised house party over the weekend. Unfortunately, that massive gathering of teens created both a police situation and a public health nightmare. Since many of those attending were signed up for this week’s SAT, the test was cancelled. The school principal wasn’t going to put volunteer teachers and other students at risk because of the foolhardy and selfish actions of a few. Because several of those attending the party also were athletes, all sport team practices were cancelled for the next two weeks, as well.

Complaining that it’s unfair, many parents are angry at the police, school, health department, and governor when they should be mad at the thoughtless teens and careless parents who allowed such behavior. This took place in a state where COVID cases have more than doubled this week and the state is facing a public health crisis. Sadly, the students who followed the rules, abided by the protocols, and accepted the restrictions are suffering. Yes, it seems terribly unfair but it’s what had to be done.

When my daughter talked with her teen about this situation, I wonder if she mentioned Joshua and Caleb. They didn’t deserve any punishment when they returned from scouting Canaan. The two men pled with the Israelites to trust God and go forward into the Promised Land but the people rebelled and refused. As a result, the Israelites were sentenced to years of wandering the desert until the last of the rebellious adults died. Even though Caleb and Joshua weren’t sentenced to die from the plague as were the scouts whose words caused the people’s rebellion, having to wait so long when they were so close (and did nothing wrong) must have seemed incredibly unfair. Did the two men wonder why they and their families should be punished for the sins of everyone else? There’s no record of Joshua and Caleb arguing with God: “Hey, don’t punish us; we didn’t do anything wrong!” They didn’t question God saying, “Hey, what if we die in the meantime? Where’s our reward then?” They simply accepted God’s decision. Even though they were punished for the sins of others, they eventually got to the Promised Land.

Of course, Caleb and Joshua weren’t the only ones in the Bible to be unfairly punished. Think of Jesus! Completely sinless, He endured the punishment for our sins without complaint! He didn’t just miss the SAT and volleyball practice or spend forty years in the wilderness. He suffered on the cross, died and was buried for our sins. He didn’t endure that punishment so He could enter the Promised Land; Jesus did it so we could!

There was nothing fair about Jesus taking our punishment and us getting the reward! He was, however, God’s love and grace in flesh and blood. Jesus didn’t die to appease an angry God but to reveal a God who loves us enough to suffer for us. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for taking our punishment and giving us the gift of salvation and everlasting life in return.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. [1 Peter 2:24-25 (ESV)]

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:6-8 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NO PITY PARTIES (Elijah – Part 3)

But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” [1 Kings 19:9b-10 (NLT)]

paper kite butterflyWhen God asked Elijah what he was doing, the prophet’s answer should have been, “I’m having a pity party!” Having experienced the high point of life on Mt. Carmel, the prophet now found himself at an all-time low. Feeling abandoned, Elijah was bitter that, after serving God so zealously, he’d been rejected by Ahab and was running for his life.

Elijah was underestimating the power of God and over-estimating the power of his enemy; as long as God had work for him to accomplish, the prophet was invulnerable to Jezebel’s attacks. Moreover, when Elijah complained that he was the only faithful person remaining, he wasn’t. In his self-pity, he’d forgotten about meeting Obadiah, the man who’d hidden and protected 100 of God’s faithful and God told him that 7,000 others in Israel had not bowed to Baal.

Deep valleys of testing often follow our mountaintop experiences as they did with Elijah.  When life throws a curve ball like a pandemic or when it hits us directly with a bean ball like stage-4 cancer or paralysis, our first response often is a pity party like Elijah’s. He seemed to think the world revolved around him and that he was the only one encountering difficulty; we tend to do the same thing. Elijah wasn’t alone and neither are we.

Like Elijah, we don’t think we deserve our troubles, but we’re no more deserving or undeserving than the next guy. Difficulty, disappointment, adversity and disaster are inevitable in our fallen world. Despair, pessimism, gloom, and complaint, however, are not; they are a choice.

Elijah’s faith in and service to God did not protect him from hardship nor will ours. Living for Jesus will have both peaks and valleys. Let us remember: everything that touches us, whether we’re having a mountain top experience or trudging through a dark valley, has passed through God’s hands first and has a purpose. It’s only when we stop wallowing in self-pity, however, that we’ll find His purpose.

God told Elijah to get up and get to work. He was to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Aram, Jehu to be the next king of Israel, and Elisha to be his successor. Elijah had a purpose and so do we. When God asks us what we’re doing, as He did with Elijah, our response should not be one of complaint and self-pity. It should one of acceptance and joy that we are serving God and doing His work!

I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him…. Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world. [Oswald Chambers]

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHO’S THE BOSS?

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. [Galatians 1:10 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronThe motto “The customer is always right” was coined in the early 1900s by retail pioneers Marshall Field, Harry Selfridge, and John Wanamaker. A variation commonly heard in business is, “The boss is always right!” But, because they’re human, we know that neither customers nor bosses are always right. Nevertheless, even when the boss clearly is in error, he remains the boss. We may lose a customer if we fail to please him but we can lose a job when we fail to please the boss! Since one’s livelihood depends on a paycheck, an employee faces a dilemma when the boss clearly is wrong.

Rather than pleasing customers, bosses, or anyone else, the Apostle Paul pointed out that his purpose was to please God. This morning, as I read his words to the Galatians, I thought of a friend who had to choose between the unprincipled man who signed her paycheck and the King who ruled her life. When her employer gloated that she couldn’t afford to quit over a question of principles, she had the boldness of heart to reply that she didn’t work for him; she worked for God! It wasn’t easy to leave a sizeable paycheck behind but she did. She was Christ’s servant and, as her boss, He was the One she served. With her heartfelt commitment to God, the only approval she sought was His!

Hopefully, we won’t find ourselves in my friend’s position where choosing between pleasing God and our employer means leaving a job. Nevertheless, we must always remember who our true boss is! When we seek people’s approval, we accept their standards rather than God’s. Along with tempting us to turn a blind eye to injustice, compromise our ethics, or be complicit in wrong-doing, trying to please people can lead to over-commitment, flattery rather than honest assessment, exaggerating our stories, embellishing our lives on social media, spending more than we should, or becoming obsessive about our appearance. The only approval we should seek is that of God!

Seeking man’s approval rather than God’s never ends well. When Aaron sought the Israelites’ approval, a golden calf (and plague) were the result. Seeking the approval of the nations surrounding them, the people of Israel wanted a king; they rejected God and got Saul. Hoping to please the people, Pilate handed over the innocent Jesus and released the guilty Barabbas. In an effort to please the Jews, Herod persecuted Christians and killed James. Fearing people’s disapproval and excommunication from the synagogue, John tells us many Jews who believed in Jesus refused to follow Him because “they loved human praise more than the praise of God.” [12:43] Our desire to please God always must outweigh our desire to please people.

Whether we’re seeking the approval of a customer, boss, or anyone else, our value and worth do not come from people, paychecks, or accomplishments; they come from the Lord. We must never please others (or ourselves) at the cost of pleasing Him! Rather than seeking man’s approval, Jesus told us to seek the kingdom of God above all else. He promised that, if we live righteously, He will give us everything we need. [Matthew 6:33] We are, indeed, God’s servant and He is our boss!

If you please God, it does not matter whom you displease. And if you displease Him, it does not matter whom you please. [Steven J. Lawson]

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. [1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NLT)]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BEING A CHRISTIAN

If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” [Romans 10:9-11 (GW)]

Then Jesus called the crowd to himself along with his disciples. He said to them, “Those who want to follow me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses, and follow me. Those who want to save their lives will lose them. But those who lose their lives for me and for the Good News will save them. [Mark 8:34-35(GW)]

Becoming a Christian is the most important step we will ever take in our lives and has longer reaching consequences that our choice of career or spouse. Fortunately, it is relatively easy: admit our sinfulness and turn away from sin, believe that Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin and to give us eternal life, and declare our faith in Jesus Christ. Repenting, accepting and confessing one’s faith—that’s the easy part.

Being a Christian—now, that’s where it gets difficult. Being a Christian is so much more than going to church, knowing Bible verses or saying prayers. It certainly is more than tithing, being baptized, confirmed, or even partaking in Holy Communion. Being a Christian isn’t a one-time event or an occasional action; it is a day-to-day process. By accepting Christ, we’ve become a new person. Unfortunately, that old sinful self is still there, relentlessly trying to assert itself. Being a Christian is a continual process of repentance and forgiveness and poses the daily challenge of giving our heart, minds and bodies to Him. It is allowing the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—to become evident and grow in our lives. Being a Christian isn’t knowing about Jesus; it’s actually knowing Him and having a relationship with Him. It is hearing and heeding His voice; it is loving Him and being loved by Him; it is devoting ourselves to Him, doing for Him, being His disciple, and spreading the gospel message.

I became a Christian years ago; being a Christian—well, I’m still working on that! Right now, I’m just a work in progress.

I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian. [Saint Ignatius]

Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ. [Billy Graham]

Examine yourselves to see whether you are still in the Christian faith. Test yourselves! Don’t you recognize that you are people in whom Jesus Christ lives? Could it be that you’re failing the test? [2 Corinthians 13:5 (GW)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SUBMITTING – Part 2

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. [Ephesians 5:22 (NIV)]

I’m not quite ready to put to rest Paul’s use of the word “submit.” With one in three women having experienced some form of domestic violence, the word “submit” makes us bristle as we think of passivity in the face of abuse. Throughout the ages, women have been mistreated, exploited, demeaned, and discounted. We’ve had the vote for just a century and it wasn’t that long ago when our career choices were pretty much limited to teaching or nursing. Today, women continue to earn only about 80% of what men make and professional women still bump their heads on the glass ceiling. Wanting independence and empowerment, submitting sounds too much like surrendering whatever power we have, buckling under to unfairness, and servitude.

Paul’s words regarding submission, however, deserve more than a quick dismissal as being outdated or politically incorrect. In actuality, we voluntarily submit to people all the time simply because submission is a vital part of living in a community. We yield at intersections, move to the side so someone can pass, hold a door, wait our turn in line, yield the floor so someone else can speak, remain silent during a concert, or let the kids pick the night’s movie. We submit to one another because we’re in this crazy world together and surviving it takes a cooperative effort.

Submission isn’t the same as obedience. Obedience responds to rules and is imposed but submission responds to reason and is freely given. Obedience doesn’t require a relationship; submission does. When we, as Christians, bear one another’s burdens, we are submitting. When we don’t dominate, we are submitting. When we are humble, we submit. When we respond to one another’s needs, we submit. Submission is a sign of strength, not weakness. It doesn’t elevate one person above the other or cancel their equality. Moreover, it has nothing to do with allowing abuse of any kind.

Submission is what happens when there is a collaborative effort and any relationship worth having is worth making that kind of effort. I regularly submit to my husband out of respect, affection, or persuasion (but I usually don’t call it submitting). In the same way, he often defers (or submits) to me. That’s how we’ve lasted 53 years! While we recognize one another’s rights, we also recognize our obligation to put aside our own personal agenda to serve one another.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)]

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [James 4:7 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR CHRISTIAN HOUSEHOLDS – Part 1

1909 Milwaukee Pfeiffer familyWives, submit yourselves to your husbands…. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything…. Fathers, do not embitter your children…. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything…. Work at it with all your heart…. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair…. [Colossians 3:18-23,4:1 (NIV)]

In a Christian household, the Apostle Paul instructs wives to submit, husbands to love and be gentle, children to obey, fathers to encourage, slaves to obey and work honestly, and masters to provide and do what is right. People often find these verses troubling for a variety of reasons. The word “submit” is a stumbling block for many and the mention of slavery is disturbing to us all. Unfortunately, slavery was a way of life in the 1st Century and quite different from the slavery found in our American history books. While not right, it was a part of the economy and social structure of the time so Paul addressed it. At the end of these instructions, Paul reminded the Colossians that God has no favorites and their Master was in heaven. In God’s eyes, slave, master, wife, husband, and child were all the same and it was to Him they all were accountable.

These verses, however, are not all-inclusive. While every action Paul mentions should be taken, he never said they were the only things people should do for one another. The Bible is the sum of its parts, not just a few select verses. Paul eloquently explained love in 1 Corinthians 13 and further defined a Christian household in Ephesians 5 and 6. After telling people to submit to one another and wives to submit to their husbands, he adds that men should love their wives as much as Christ loved the church. He tells children to honor their parents as well as obey them, fathers to discipline (not provoke) their children, slaves to respect their masters and masters not to threaten their slaves. In both family and work relationships, Paul makes it clear that we have a mutual responsibility involving submission, love, gentleness, honor, obedience, discipline, encouragement, respect, diligent and honest labor, fairness, and respect.

In Colossians, Paul doesn’t ask us to do anything in our lives and relationships that Jesus didn’t do or that Paul, who called himself a “slave of God” wasn’t willing to do. Did Jesus submit? He submitted to his disciples when He humbly knelt and washed their feet and to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. The one who raised the dead, stilled the sea, and healed the sick certainly could have struck down the guards mocking and beating him, but He didn’t. Instead, Jesus submitted willingly.

Did Jesus love? He loved us enough to lay down His life for us—people he didn’t even know and who were totally unworthy of such a sacrifice. He loved enough to suffer as a man although He was God and to ask forgiveness for those who crucified Him. As for obedience, Jesus was obedient to His earthly parents, Jewish law, and even paid the temple tax! He remained obedient to God’s word when tempted by Satan and was obedient to His Heavenly Father’s will all the way to the cross.

Rather than disparaging or demeaning the people He met, Jesus loved and encouraged them. He took every opportunity to tell his disciples not to worry, be anxious, or afraid. Rather than criticizing and shaming the adulterous woman, he forgave her and encouraged her to sin no more. From the time He was a boy in the temple, he went about His Heavenly Father’s business by learning, teaching, preaching, healing and miracle making. He neither ignored the needs of the people around him nor neglected the work God gave Him to do. He worked without complaint or resentment. Even though He wasn’t a slave, Jesus took on the role of one and did His work with sincerity of heart and reverence for His Lord.

Did Jesus provide? From wine at a wedding feast and food for a multitude to the gifts of salvation and the Holy Spirit, Jesus provided generously for his servants. We are called to follow the example of Jesus. To do that, we must conduct our lives the way Jesus did: by submitting, loving, obeying, encouraging, working for our Master and providing for His people.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Romans 15:5-6 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.