LIKE A CHILD

“I’m telling you the truth,” he said. “Unless you turn inside out and become like children, you will never, ever, get into the kingdom of heaven. So if any of you make yourselves humble like this child, you will be great in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:3-4 (NTE)]

kiboni school - arusha - tanzaniaI used the NTE version of today’s verse because it better captures the original meaning with the words “turn inside out.” Usually translated as change, turn, or convert, the original Greek was strephō which meant more than a slight change of direction. It meant being turned (even from one thing into another) which requires submission. Far more than a mental acknowledgment or intellectual assent to certain ideas, it’s a turning of one’s whole life and person toward God. The kind of conversion or turning meant in strephō is like having one’s life turned inside out.

When Jesus said to become like children, He wasn’t telling us to act childish but to come to Him as would a child. When thinking of some of today’s often spoiled and demanding children, it’s easy to question His words. Children in His day, however, were far less presumptuous, self-sufficient, disrespectful or defiant than today’s youngsters. They were more like a little girl I encountered in Tanzania. She walked across the schoolyard, stopped, looked up at me and, with a shy smile, presented me with her foot. Her shoe needed tying and, as I knelt down in the dust to tie it, she was a perfect example of Jesus words. Knowing she wasn’t self-sufficient, she openly and humbly depended upon someone older and wiser. Trusting and unpretentious, this beautiful child came to me with a faith and simplicity that we adults don’t seem to have.

A child knows when he or she needs help and will freely ask and accept it. Adults, on the other hand, rarely admit their needs or weakness for fear of appearing vulnerable. We want to be in control but, if we’re ever going to enter into God’s Kingdom and enjoy His peace, we have to turn ourselves inside out, cede control and admit our powerlessness.

Any 12-step recovery program begins with admitting our helplessness but we don’t need to have an addiction or compulsive behavior to have our lives spin out of control. Without Jesus, we are broken beings separated from God and powerless over sin. We may be incapable of saving ourselves, but Jesus is not. What He won’t do, however, is force Himself upon us or chase after every loosened shoelace to tie it. It’s up to us to admit our need and turn to Him, as that child did to me.

I will always remember that brief encounter with a little girl who showed me what it means to turn and be like a child: with humility, trust, openness and a lack of self-sufficiency. The kingdom of God is not earned by human effort but is received in childlike trust as a gift through the mercy and grace of God.

With time, that little girl will become more self-sufficient and won’t need someone to tie her shoes. I pray, however, that she always will be willing to acknowledge her weakness and needs to God.

And this is what he said to me: “My grace is enough for you; my power comes to perfection in weakness.” So I will be all the more pleased to boast of my weaknesses, so that the Messiah’s power may rest upon me. [2 Corinthians 12:9 (NTE)]

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PERPETUAL

I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. [John 5:24 (NLT)]

monarch - caterpillar - butterflyDeath is the consequence of sin—of living in a fallen world—but Jesus promised that all believers have eternal life. In the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm our belief in this “life everlasting.” Eternal life, life in perpetuity, life forever and ever: how can that be? For centuries thousands of inventors have attempted to make a perpetual motion machine that will run indefinitely with no input of energy and have failed every time. Apparently perpetual motion violates the first and second laws of thermodynamics. If perpetual motion is an impossibility, perpetual life seems improbable, as well. It seems to violate all sorts of natural laws let alone human logic. God, however, isn’t limited by thermodynamics, any other law of nature, or human understanding; after all, He’s the author of them all!

The Greek word translated as “eternal” is aiónios which means eternal, forever, everlasting or perpetual. When combined with the Greek zoe (meaning life), it focuses not just on quantity of time but also on the quality of that time! The eternal life promised in the gospel isn’t just about the number of years; it is about the fullness of that unending life. Independent of time as we know it, eternal life is not something for which we need to hope. Jesus didn’t promise eternal life at some point in the future. Using the present tense, He said that “anyone who believes has eternal life” [John 6:47] For Christians, eternal life starts when we first believe in Christ. It has begun!

When our heart stops beating, our brain ceases functioning, and life has ebbed out of our body, we won’t stop existing. We will, however, change form. The caterpillar that wriggles along leaves and branches with its sixteen legs looks nothing like the butterfly whose beautiful wings enable it to flit from flower to flower. Nevertheless, they are the same creature with the same DNA. It will be much like that for us when we leave this dimension and enter into the next. While our bodies as we knew them will cease to exist in this world, our spirit or soul will continue into the next and (unlike a butterfly) last forever!

As a believer who is closer to the end of her years than the beginning, I find comfort in knowing that Jesus has already made good on His promise of eternal life. It’s mine already! When the time comes for my last breath, it simply will be like going to sleep as a caterpillar and awakening as a perpetual butterfly.

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. [1 Peter 1:23 (NLT)]

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GOOD SOIL (Soil – Part 4)

Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted! … And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. [Luke 8:8a,15 (NLT)]

strawberriesIn Jesus’ parable of the four soils, the farmer’s seed finally falls on fertile soil: the people who do more than just hear the Word. Receiving it into their hearts, the Word takes root, grows, and eventually bears fruit. This is the kind of soil we’d all like to think describes us!

The very same seed was sown in what we think of as four different soils but, in actuality, it was the same kind of dirt in four different conditions: hard packed, shallow and rocky, filled with weeds, and fertile. All of that soil had the potential to receive the word—but only if it yielded to the plow! Sadly, at various times in our lives, our hearts can grow hard, become shallow, or be overwhelmed by life’s weeds. If we are willing to yield to God’s plow and accept His seed, even the hardest soil can be farmed.

We often think of the heart only in terms of emotions but, in the Bible, the heart is more than the core of our feelings. The center and source of our belief and faith, the heart is the seat of our thinking: our imagination, ideas, interests, intentions, purposes, and understanding. Fertile soil is the honest and good heart that receives the word eagerly and with good intentions. Moreover, such hearts don’t stop at hearing the word (receiving the seed); they retain it, let it shape their lives and, with perseverance, yield a large harvest.

In this parable, we are both the soil—the hearer of the Word—and the farmer—the one who spreads the Word. The fertile soil of a receptive heart allows us to see, hear, understand and apply God’s Word so that we bring forth an abundant harvest of good fruit. To bring forth that harvest, however, the cycle must continue as we become the farmer in the parable and sow God’s word far and wide. It is our responsibility to spread the seed; whether or not it takes root, however, is between God and the soil!

The quality of the soil determines the future of the seed. [Mike Murdock]

I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.” [Hosea 10:12 (NLT)]

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. [Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NLT)]

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HE HAS FAITH IN US!

And I’ve got something to tell you, too: you are Peter, the rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t overpower it. [Matthew 16:18 (NTE)]

Kandersteg - SwitzerlandAfter Simon Peter professed his belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord declared that he would be known from then on as Peter (Petros) meaning rock (petra). Yet, a short time later, the Rock became a stumbling block when he resisted all that being the Messiah required: Jesus’ suffering and death. When studying the man our Lord chose to lead His church, we find Peter had enough faith to climb out of the boat but not enough faith to trust Jesus when the wind started to blow. Impetuous, Peter immediately wanted to memorialize the Transfiguration rather than learn from it. Presumptuous, he hastily spoke for Jesus regarding paying tax to Caesar. Rash, he used his sword to wound the high priest’s slave. He resisted Jesus when the Lord knelt with a wash pan at his feet and, after boldly declaring his commitment to Jesus, denied him three times within a few hours! Yet, it was to this man that Jesus entrusted the job of shepherd and the task of feeding His sheep!

The rest of the disciples were no better. Along with Peter, they thought Jesus was talking about bread when He warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees, argued with one another about who among them was the greatest, fell asleep when asked to pray, abandoned Jesus following His arrest, and returned to fishing after the crucifixion.

Not a one was a scholar, aristocrat, or priest. Yet, it was to these common ordinary men, men who had sinned and who were likely to sin again, men who had failed Jesus while He was flesh and blood, to whom Jesus entrusted His church! Although the only thing extraordinary about the disciples was their faith in Jesus, He charged them with the Great Commission: the future of His church. Have you ever wondered at the tremendous faith Jesus showed in the disciples 2,000 years ago? Legions of angels could have spread the Good News wider and faster than any mortal and yet Jesus had faith that His band of ordinary men would obey His command and succeed!

Christ’s followers continue to be as unremarkable and flawed as were Peter, John and the rest of the disciples. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to have faith in us. It is through the power of His Holy Spirit that we carry on the good work begun by those first believers. Let us continue to have faith in the God who has such great faith in us!

A dozen ignorant peasants proclaiming a crucified Jew as the founder of a new faith; bearing as the symbol of their worship an instrument which was the sign of ignominy, slavery and crime; preaching what must have seemed an absurd doctrine of humility, patient suffering and love to enemies – graces undreamed of before; demanding what must have seemed an absurd worship for one who had died like a malefactor and a slave, and making what must have seemed an absurd promise of everlasting life through one who had himself died, and that between two thieves. [“The Divine Origin of the Bible” by B.B. Warfield]

Jesus came towards them and addressed them. “All authority in heaven and on earth,” he said, “has been given to me! So you must go and make all the nations into disciples. Baptize them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit. Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. And look: I am with you, every single day, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NTE)]

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REFLECTING HIS LIGHT

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)] 

super moonDid you happen to see the full moon last week? It was considered a super moon because it came within 90% of the moon’s closest approach to earth. Its nearness (221,772 miles) made it appear about 7% larger and much brighter than a typical full moon. When I saw its brilliance through the window, I stepped out on the lanai to view the glowing orb in the sky. Don’t be disappointed if you missed it, there will be another one, nearly as bright, on May 7!

Saying I saw the moon’s bright light is misleading—the moon itself has no light and doesn’t glow. It simply borrows its light from the sun and reflects it down to us as would a mirror. With the moon’s dark grey surface and bumpy landscape, it’s a poor mirror and only reflects between three and twelve percent of the sun’s light. Even that little bit, however, was enough to brightly light our lanai that night.

Even if the moon were perfectly white, it still wouldn’t appear as bright as the sun because the light would reflect off in all directions instead of straight back to us. Astronomer Roger Sinnott of Sky & Telescope theorizes that, in order to appear as bright as the sun, the moon would need a 2,160 mile-wide flat mirror to directly reflect the sun’s light back toward us on earth.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to let our lights shine so that people see our good deeds. Even if we shine as brightly as the full moon, like the moon, that light isn’t ours; it is God’s Holy Spirit within us and we’re not the ones who should get the credit. Let us never forget that our good deeds are done not to enhance our reputations but rather to glorify our Father in Heaven. It’s His light that is seen and not ours. When people experience our love, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, joy, peace, patience, thoughtfulness, integrity, faithfulness, and self-control, they see God’s beautiful light.

As Christ’s followers, we are to let God’s glory reflect through us. We may not be able to light up a lanai like the moon but we can bring His light to the world around us. Moreover, even without an enormous flat mirror, I think we could do better than the moon’s paltry three to twelve percent when it comes to reflecting God’s glory in our lives!

Poor world! What a faint light it receives from most Christians! The lighthouse, if its light is not burning is a peril instead of a safeguard. [Matthew Henry]

Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” [Luke 11:35-36 (NLT)]

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HE DIDN’T HAVE TO TAKE IT! – Easter Monday

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. [Luke 4:13 (NLT)]

penitente morada Abiquiui NMWhen asked about the temptation of Christ, we probably think of Satan’s three temptations in the wilderness. Since the gospels don’t mention other specific temptations, it’s easy to think that Jesus, unlike the rest of us, was only tempted three times. “He left him until the next opportunity came,” wrote Luke and, while reading the four gospel accounts of the crucifixion during Holy Week, I know He had to have been sorely tempted that awful last day. Right up to the end, Satan must have been at His side, whispering into his ear and reminding Him that He didn’t have to take the abuse—after all, He was God!

Satan just was warming up with his temptations during Christ’s forty days in the wilderness. When Jesus prayed so hard He sweat blood in Gethsemane, that wasn’t because He was afraid to suffer and die. That was Jesus resisting Satan as the enemy made false promises, cast doubt on His mission, and tried to keep Him from the cross.

I can’t believe Satan went down without a fight and it was in the hours following Jesus’s arrest that he must have made a determined last ditch effort to thwart God’s plan of salvation. It may have been a man’s body suffering the unspeakable abuse that horrifying Friday but, inside the bruised and bloody flesh, it was God! He’d fed a multitude with a few scraps, turned water into wine, cast out demons, healed lepers, and stilled a storm. Jesus didn’t lose His power when He was arrested; He deliberately chose not to use it!

When Jesus was wrongly accused and false witnesses testified before the high court, when the people who’d hailed Him just a few days earlier called to crucify him, or when the crowd ridiculed Him as His tortured body hung on the cross, could the One capable of giving hearing to the deaf been tempted to strike them all mute? Jesus was there when an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers outside of Jerusalem’s walls. As He was being spit on, slapped, beaten with fists, hit on the head with a reed stick, flogged with a lead-tipped whip, and mocked with a crown of sharp thorns, surely Satan invited Jesus to do something similar to His taunters and abusers. Could the One who gave sight to the blind have been tempted to take away the sight of the soldiers as they gambled for his robe or knelt in mock worship? As they nailed His hands to the cross, could the One who’d cast demons into swine been tempted to kill the men who were torturing Him? Jesus was God. He existed before time, space, matter and energy began and, up to His very last breath, the One who could walk on water could have freed Himself, stepped off that cross, healed his wounds, and destroyed every last one of the soldiers and onlookers with just a thought. But, He didn’t!

Perhaps it was my familiarity with the crucifixion story (and the fact that I know the good news that follows) but I don’t think I truly grasped the anguish of Christ until I read all four gospel accounts in one sitting. I knew He suffered a gruesome tortuous death but I didn’t see how tempting it would have been for Him not to do so! Perhaps resisting the temptation to quit and punish His abusers was even harder than enduring the pain of the cross.

How long would you hold your hand over a burning flame when all you had to do was pull it out of the fire? Would you do it for people who reviled and berated you? Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die for us; He chose to do so out of love. I, for one, can’t comprehend a love that great! Thank you, Jesus!

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)]

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:7-8 (NLT)]

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