THE NEXT STEP

Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. … This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5: 14b-15,17 (NLT)]

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. [Westminster Shorter Catechism]

waterfallIn writing about the Sinner’s Prayer yesterday, I wondered if, by saying it, a new believer gets the false impression that his responsibility ends with a prayer when, in fact, it has just begun! Justification takes only a moment but sanctification takes a lifetime. Addressing the guilt of our sins, justification is when, by the grace of God, we are made righteous through God’s grace and our faith. It’s as if we’re guilty criminals, standing in God’s courtroom, and God pardons us. Telling us our debt to society has been paid, He sets us free. While it’s easy to walk out of the courthouse, it’s not so easy to alter the behavior that led to our life of crime. Like any felon, we need to change our ways, which is where sanctification comes in. Rather than the reformation of a criminal, it is the transformation of a sinner.

Powered by our faith and the Holy Spirit, sanctification transforms our sinful character so we grow more and more like Christ. Focusing on the destructive power of sin in our lives, it gradually shapes our hearts, minds, and desires to those of God. Sanctification is the work part of our salvation and requires diligence in study, prayer, fellowship, witness and service. It’s coming to know Jesus, loving and obeying God, and letting both His word and the Holy Spirit convict us when we sin. It’s allowing God to work in and through us, not as a way to earn His blessings and favor, but because we delight in His will.

While holiness is the goal of sanctification, I don’t think any mortal can live a life completely free from sin in this world. Nevertheless, even though we can’t attain sinless perfection, like the Apostle Paul, we will continue to struggle against sin and temptation as long as we’re on this side of the grass. We persevere and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, continue to grow more and more like Christ every day.

The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are coworkers with God. We have the promise of God’s assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not annul our responsibility to work. [R.C. Sproul]

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. [Philippians 2:12b-13 (NLT)]

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)]

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A HEAVY LOAD

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)]

When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. [James 1:3b-3 (NLT)]

viceroy butterfly“He will deliver us from our troubles or carry us through them. Either way, we will be free of them eventually.” How easily these words can be uttered until, of course, those troubles apply to us. Had Job’s friends been Christian and said those words, I don’t think they would have been any more comforting than what was said. While true, they won’t bring back the amputated limb or cancerous breast, pay the staggering medical bills, tuck the motherless child in bed at night, change the diagnosis of Parkinson’s or schizophrenia, or bring back an abused child’s innocence. While true, those words can’t wipe the tears of a mother holding her stillborn baby, the husband watching his wife vanish into dementia, or the man whose body is in mutiny because of ALS.

The valleys I have traversed have been neither as deep nor as dark as those others are traveling. I’ve never climbed mountains as steep as the mountains they face daily. The storms that battered my soul pale in comparison to the tempests others endure. They grow weary from carrying burdens heavier that I can imagine. It’s not just the victims of life’s afflictions and misfortune that bear a burden. Everyone who loves and cares for them becomes part of their arduous journey; they shoulder heavy loads, as well. I cannot fathom the emotional and physical weight they carry nor the exhaustion they must experience on a daily basis.

I know enough not to say, “I know what you’re going through,” because I truly don’t. Even with the same diagnosis, no two people share the same circumstances. Reminding someone that God works all things for good or that we grow through suffering may be of little comfort to those who are in anguish and pain. Suffering isn’t a riddle that needs to be solved and it won’t end once we know what it is God is teaching us or what good will come from it. No matter how well meant our words may be, they can sound trite and hollow.

The kindest thing Job’s friends did was sit quietly with him for seven days; perhaps, we should follow their example. Rather than words, we can offer love: our presence, support, sympathy, compassion, patience, encouragement, ears, or even food. Rather than telling people to rejoice in all circumstances, we could find ways to bring joy into their lives. Most of all, we can offer our faithful and heartfelt prayers.

Lord, we offer prayers for the ill and infirm, the troubled, weak and helpless and for those brave souls who love, comfort and care for them. Reassure them of your loving presence. Endow them with courage and faith as they pass through dark valleys, scale steep mountains, and endure powerful squalls. Strengthen them and give them hope. Give us wisdom and show us how to lighten their burdens, lift their spirits, relieve their pain, and ease their fears. Let us know when to remain silent and what to say when we should speak.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. [Henri Nouwen]

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2 (NLT)]

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. [1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)]

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OTHER DEMONS

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 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 8:37-39 (NLT)]
Halloween ghost

Yesterday, I wrote of the emotional vampires that can plague us but there are other demons even harder to spot than those two-legged ones. Invisible, they go by the names of guilt, anger, doubt, resentment, shame, regret, fear, and worry. They haunt us with “if only,” “what if,” “should have,” and “could have” and leave us discontented, sullen, resentful, fearful or worried. They are the hobgoblins that whisper lies and half-truths in our ears: we’re unlovable, contemptible, unforgiven, helpless, inadequate, or worthless. Like vampires, these monsters also can suck the life out of us. Friends of the enemy, they keep us from living boldly, stepping out in faith, and leading the fulfilling and joyful life Jesus promised.

It’s time to declare war on these monsters; they have no place in our lives. In the old movies, evil was repelled by the crucifix—a mere religious symbol. In real life, however, it is the power of Jesus that defeats the enemy! Through His power, we can banish those demons that steal our joy and suck the life from us. We can face our secrets, shed our shame, forgive others (and ourselves), know we are loved, release our anxiety and fear, trust God and choose His truth. The voice we hear can be that of the Holy Spirit rather than the unsettling voice of the enemy. With the power of the cross, we will be able to step out of the haunted house of our lives not in fear, but in faith—not in darkness, but in light.

Heavenly Father, help us look into the dark corners of our lives and, through your power, banish the demons that keep us from the abundant life you promised.

The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls. [Edgar Allen Poe]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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VAMPIRES

vampires and ghoulsBut the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! [Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)]

Tonight, we’ll probably see people costumed as skeletons, pirates, Disney princesses, super heroes, and Harry Potter characters. Although some people may dress as Dracula, no one ever dresses up as an emotional vampire. Unlike fiction’s vampires with their deathly white skin, blood red lips, high collared black capes and fangs, emotional vampires look just like everyone else. Instead of sucking our blood, they suck the life out of us with their self-absorption, selfishness, sense of entitlement, unending drama, defensiveness, lack of boundaries, and other toxic qualities. Once attacked, we’re drained: emotionally exhausted, anxious, depressed, and feeling used and abused.

Unfortunately, being Christians (people filled with the fruit of the Spirit) makes us excellent targets for these predators. Loving God and loving others as ourselves, however, does not mean we have to allow anyone to inject his or her poison into our lives. Turning the other cheek does not mean lying down and getting walked over or enduring unhealthy relationships.

In the old vampire movies, the victim had to invite the vampire inside and we must be wary of doing the same thing with emotional vampires. Jesus’s life was not taken from Him—it was His choice and He willingly gave it up for us. While we can choose to be martyrs for Jesus, we must never allow someone to turn us into martyrs for them. The cross we are asked to carry is ours alone; emotional vampires, however, want us to carry theirs, as well!

Although emotional vampires don’t recognize boundaries, it’s important for us to know and keep ours. Jesus did that when He refused to settle a legal dispute between a man and his brother. [Luke 12:13-14] Like Jesus, we need to know when a mess isn’t ours to fix, the responsibility isn’t ours to take, we’re not the ones at fault, or the demand on us is unreasonable. It’s not easy to deny these bloodsuckers but we must remember that carrying one another’s burdens does not mean taking the blame, getting taken advantage of or being victimized. While enabling people often seems easier in the short run, it is never kinder or wiser. As loving as Jesus was, His exchanges with the scribes and Pharisees tell us He didn’t tolerate or enable bad behavior; neither should we!

We can hand candy to the vampires that knock in our doors tonight but we must never hand our lives to emotional vampires. The only one to whom we are to surrender our lives is Jesus! The Apostle Paul told us, “For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” [Galatians 6:5] That also means we are not responsible for anyone else’s conduct. Rather than using garlic, silver bullets, or wooden stakes, we must remember that walking in love never means getting walked on like a doormat!

No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded. [John 10:18 (NLT)]

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? [Matthew 16:24-26 (NLT)]

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RATINGS

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)]

passion glower - pasqueflower“Over 1 million served,” was the sign Ray Kroc posted at his first McDonald’s franchise in 1955. That number became 100 million in 1958 and was 1 billion in 1963. When the number of burgers served surpassed the 99 billion mark in 1994, operators were told to change their signs to “Billions and Billions Served!” Executives at McDonald’s claim they no longer keep track of how many are served but I don’t believe it! Someone there knows exactly how many of those hamburgers have been sold, along with the number of Egg McMuffins and chocolate shakes.

People gauge their success with numbers and I’m no different. Before quitting my work for the day, I often check the stats for my web site. How many people visited and how many views did they take? Did I get any new subscribers? Worse, did I lose any? I doubt that I’m alone in checking stats; we all seek approval and use some sort of yardstick to measure our success. The restaurant measures sales, the YouTuber his subscribers, the author his place on the best seller list, the student his class rank, and the blogger her followers. We live our lives measuring and comparing: how many likes on the posting, hits on the website, orders taken, compliments on the outfit, friends on Facebook, or Christmas cards received.

Granted, publishing a blog is a little like speaking into a radio station microphone and not knowing if anyone is listening. Nevertheless, I had to ask myself, “Whose approval do I seek?” Like most people, I tend to seek tangible approval from people when the only approval that matters is that from God. It’s not who or how many people follow me; the only thing of importance is that I follow Him!

Our pastor shared the story of a successful evangelist who literally lost his voice. No longer able to preach, he asked God, “Don’t you care about my ministry?” The answer clearly given to him was, “No! I care about you!” I think of his story whenever I struggle with my writing ministry—when the words don’t come or I feel like I’m speaking to an empty auditorium. God cares about us—not about our triumphs and certainly not about how many people hear our voices or read our words. That pastor’s voice returned when he understood that God loved him rather than his accomplishments. Consider the Old Testament prophets: with Haggai (at whose urging the temple finally was rebuilt) being the exception, most of the prophets’ messages fell on deaf ears. Misunderstood, persecuted, ridiculed and ignored, by human standards they were failures. God, however, uses an entirely different kind of measuring stick. The prophets’ lives tell us that the success of our endeavors is not what matters; what matters is our obedience to God’s word and the doing of His will. It’s not about our glory; it’s about our bringing glory to God!

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. [1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)]

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FILL ME UP

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. [John 6:35 (NLT)]

moon at dawnSince he had a business meeting in Switzerland later in the week, my son went to London over the weekend to see his daughter who is in college there. Nearly every photo texted back to us showed my grand eating. Admittedly, she is a starving college student, living on a tight budget, who has grown tired of eating peanut butter, hummus with veggies, Raman noodles, and pasta in her apartment, so she took advantage of having access to her father and his credit card. With Dad paying the bill, she could again eat steak and lamb chops, indulge in gelato, and stock her pantry with fruit, meat, and cheese from Borough Market. As much as this starving coed needed food, what she really needed was a visit from home. Hugs from her father probably offered more nourishment than any amount of food. His visit did more than replenish her cupboards; it recharged her emotional batteries.

Sometimes, we have a hunger that won’t be satisfied by a trip to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Olive Garden; no amount of food can satisfy spiritual hunger. Rather than having our father visit, take us out to dinner, and fill our grocery bags, we need time with our Heavenly Father so He can fill our hearts and souls.

Last week, early in the morning, my husband asked if I had time for a walk at the beach. “No way!” was my first thought. Having spent several days in preparation for presenting a Bible study that evening, I was way behind in my writing, the bed linens needed changing, the laundry basket was full, and there were enough crumbs on the floor that you literally could eat off it! But, knowing how overwhelmed and spiritually empty I felt, I agreed. Being early risers, we arrived shortly before dawn and the full harvest moon in the west watched over us as the sun rose in the east. Feeling like I had yesterday, today, and tomorrow in the palm of my hand, I was reminded that God really does. In awe, as the moon’s light shimmered on the water while the sky grew pink with the sunrise, I walked in the beauty of God’s creation and felt His peace descend on me. Filled with His grace, I was renewed, refreshed, and restored. Remembering a lovely praise song, I silently sang: “Fill me up, God. Fill me up, God…” As the aroma of bacon wafted from a beach-side restaurant, my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast. Nevertheless, that quiet time with my Heavenly Father sated my spiritual hunger and filled me up in a way that bacon, eggs, and toast never could.

God gave us a weekly Sabbath to rest, relax, restore, and replenish. The Hebrew word sabbat, which we know as Sabbath, comes from the verb sabat which means to stop or cease. The observance of the Sabbath every week was central to the Israelite’s life (and should be to ours) but, sometimes, in our fast-paced world, one day a week is not pause enough. There are times, like that Thursday morning, when we need what Terry Hershey calls a “Sabbath Moment” — a temporary cease-fire from the assault of busyness that so often bombards our lives. It’s a brief turning away from the day’s hustle and bustle to spend time with our Heavenly Father. The Sabbath moment does for us what her father’s visit did for my grand: it feeds and restores us. It fills us up!

More of your spirit is what we need,
More of your annointing,
More of your glory, fill me.
Fill me up God (fill me up God),
Fill me up God (fill me up God),
Fill me (that’s what I really want). [Will Reagan]

Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. [Psalm 107:8-9 (NLT)]

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