WALKING ADVERTISEMENTS

The one thing I would stress is this: your public behaviour must match up to the gospel of the king. [Philippians 1:27a (NTE)]

As children of obedience, don’t be squashed into the shape of the passions you used to indulge when you were still in ignorance. Rather, just as the one who called you is holy, so be holy yourselves, in every aspect of behaviour. It is written, you see, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ [1 Peter 1:14-16 (NTE)]

ducks domestic

When I’m riding “shotgun” and we’re moving at snail’s pace in a traffic jam, I often amuse myself by reading the bumper stickers on the cars and trucks surrounding us. People tell us the number of children they have (and how bright they are) and make known their favorite pets, profession, and hobbies along with their stand on a variety of political issues. Bumper stickers certainly give an impression of the driver (or possibly the vehicle’s previous owners). While some stickers indicate the driver might be someone I’d enjoy meeting, I know I’d have little in common with the trucker who said he hated everybody, the one who thanked God he was an atheist, or the driver who told me to test my faith by driving with my eyes closed and avoid hangovers by staying drunk.

With the election coming up, many vehicles now display political ads. I don’t base my vote on bumper stickers, but the sentiments expressed by the other stickers on a vehicle often tell me something about the kind of person who supports the advertised party or cause. When the vehicles with political stickers also sport idiotic, hateful, bigoted or rude messages, their combination gives me pause. If the sort of person who supports that policy, party or politician sees nothing wrong or inappropriate with the rest of his messages, what does that say about his politics? If this driver is a typical supporter, would I want to further that movement?

If we were cars, what sort of messages would we display? Would they be the sort of stickers Jesus would have on His bumper? Or, do we claim to be Christian but preach a different story with words of hate, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, bigotry, or sexism? Are we good spokespersons for the church of Christ or do people look at us and want nothing to do with whatever it is we claim to believe? People judge Jesus by His followers and the world is watching us. What message are we sending with our words and actions?

The world takes its notions of God from the people who say that they belong to God’s family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; they only hear about Jesus Christ. [Alexander MacLaren]

Behave wisely towards outsiders; buy up every opportunity. When you speak, make sure it’s always full of grace, and well flavoured with salt! [Colossians 4:5-6a (NTE)]

Anyone who says, “I abide in him,” ought to behave in the same way that he behaved. [1 John 2:6 (NTE)]

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STILL IN EGYPT

But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 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 4:20-24 (NTE)]

Abiquiu NMBack in 1963, Bob Luman sang “You can take the boy from the country, But you can’t take the country from the boy.” Along the same line, Brookes & Dunn sang that while you could take the girl out of the honkey-tonk, you couldn’t take the honkey-tonk out of the girl. I wonder if Moses thought about singing, “You can take the people out of Egypt, but you can’t take Egypt out of the people!”

When the Israelites departed Egypt, they brought more than their flocks, tents, matzo, possessions, and the Egyptians’ gold and jewelry. Egypt’s influence was still in their hearts and minds. After the ten plagues visited on Egypt clearly demonstrated Yahweh’s supreme power and the impotence of Egypt’s assorted gods, it’s difficult to understand how they still doubted Him. Nevertheless, even though God was guiding them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night, they panicked at the first sign of trouble. Seeing Pharaoh’s army approaching, they complained that slavery in Egypt was preferable to dying in the wilderness.

After they’d safely crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army drowned, they were free physically but not mentally! Within a month after departing Egypt, rather than trusting their powerful God for provision, they again longed for the meat and bread of Egypt. By the time they arrived in the Sinai wilderness the next month, along with the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, God had provided Israel with water, quail, manna, and victory over the Amalekites. Nevertheless, they still carried their 400 years of Egyptian bondage in their hearts and minds.

During the forty days Moses was receiving the Law from God, the people began to fear that he was lost. Remembering the gods of Egypt, they wanted a god with a face: one they could see and touch, one who could lead them on their way. Within forty days of their acceptance of God’s covenant that specifically prohibited idolatry, the Israelites were fashioning an idol of their own. While the choice of a golden calf seems odd to us, it wouldn’t have been to them. There were several bovine deities in Egypt. The Egyptian goddess Hathor, for example, was depicted as a heifer and her powerful son, Apis, as a bull. A golden calf was the obvious choice for people who’d brought their Egyptian bondage with them!

The purpose of all those laws God gave Israel was to take Egypt out of His people—to teach them a new and better way of living. Yet, more than a year later, we again find Israel complaining and craving the “good things” of Egypt. When the scouts returned from exploring Canaan, we see how little they progressed. These were God’s chosen people who had not suffered one defeat during their travels through the wilderness. Yet, with the mind set of slaves still in bondage, they were so afraid to cross the Jordan that they wanted to pick another leader to take them back to Egypt! It took forty years and an entirely new generation before the Israelites finally rid themselves of Egypt and entered the Promised Land.

What about us? When we became Christians, did we leave the old life behind and allow God to transform us into something new or, like the Israelites, are we still in bondage: bondage not to Egypt but to the past’s sins, habits, attitudes, and mistakes? Jesus brought us through the wilderness and set us free from our slavery to sin. Rather than looking in the rear view mirror at what has been and the way we were, let us look ahead to Christ’s promises of what will be!

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. [John 8:34-36 (NLT)]

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. [Romans 6:6 (NLT)]

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MORE THAN HOT AIR

But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:19-20 (NLT)]

hot air balloonBecause we heard the fan running, we didn’t realize the AC wasn’t working until we returned home after being gone most of the day. By then, the inside temperature of 86 told us we were in trouble. A check outside told us the AC compressor wasn’t operating and the blackened grass near it told us why: a lightning strike during the previous night’s storm! Although the fan could still operate, without the power of the compressor, all it did was blow hot air!

Sure there was a lesson somewhere in all of that useless hot air, I thought of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians expressing his concern about eloquence without evidence. Even though some of their teachers were saying the right things, they weren’t living them out. Without God’s power, they were just windbags and, like our fan, full of hot air! Accustomed as they were to great orators, the Greeks were impressed by eloquent speeches but talk is cheap. Paul explained that the Kingdom of God isn’t speaking the right words; it is living them! He promised that, when he came to Corinth, they’d see the real power of God!

When Paul referred to the Kingdom of God, he wasn’t referring to Christ’s future reign but to Christ’s present reign in the hearts of His followers. The Kingdom of God is wherever the King is and His kingdom isn’t powered by words; it’s powered by the Holy Spirit and leads to changed lives.

John Calvin described a Christian’s task this way: “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.” That’s not done with flowery phrases, grandiose sermons, impressive words, or empty promises; it’s done by the way we live. As Paul said to the Corinthians: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” [13:1] The Kingdom is made visible by the evidence that our King rules us in every aspect of our lives: whether at work, school, church, or home; with family, friends, co-workers or strangers; when writing a check, browsing the internet, or posting on social media.

The power enabling our air conditioner to function is in its compressor; the power enabling us to function as citizens of the Kingdom of God is found in the Holy Spirit. If we find ourselves just blowing hot air; it’s time to check the connection!

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. [2 Corinthians 6:6-7 (NLT)]

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ENCOURAGING WORDS

Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. [2 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)]

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day. [Brewster M. Higley]

pronghorn antelope - buffaloWouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where we’d never (at least rarely ever) hear a discouraging word? It shouldn’t be necessary to ride the range in Wyoming for that to happen.

When my eldest child entered adolescence, it frequently seemed like he’d decided his task in life was to annoy his mother as much as humanly possible. Regrettably, during those challenging years, there were lots of discouraging words. One evening, I realized that our communication consisted of me directing him (“Make your bed!”), correcting him (“Do it this way!”), disciplining him (“You’ve lost that privilege!”), criticizing him (“You can’t go out dressed that way!”), or denying him (“I said ‘No’ and that’s final!”). Admittedly, directions, corrections, and criticism are a necessary part of life as are discipline and denial. Nevertheless, realizing there was a room for improvement on my part as well as his, I made a concerted effort to keep my negative comments to a bare minimum.

Seldom speaking (or hearing) a discouraging word was not enough. Where, I wondered, were the words of love? Where were the words of encouragement so necessary for him to thrive and feel good about himself? One doesn’t need to take psychology 101 or even a dog obedience class to know about the importance of positive reinforcement (which is simply a fancy term for encouragement). I had to add positive and heartening comments to our interaction if he was going to flourish and bloom. With God’s guidance and a heavy dose of the Spirit’s patience, we managed to get through those trying years. In spite of my many parental failings, he blossomed into a delightful responsible young man. A wonderful father, he now has to deal with adolescents of his own (which is God’s payback)!

My mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all!” If we all followed that advice, the world would be a much quieter place and we’d never have to watch another campaign commercial! More, however, is needed. The Apostle Paul urged the early Christians to encourage one another and he truly practiced what he preached. Whenever he instructed and directed (even when he disciplined or corrected), Paul always seemed to add encouragement to his words.

Encouragement (or exhortation) is a gift of the Holy Spirit but that doesn’t mean those of us without this gift should fail to encourage! Those gifted with encouragement are the church’s cheerleaders, but the rest of us are the fans in the stands who join in supporting the team! In the Fruit of the Spirit, we find love and kindness (along with patience) which means all Christians are capable of encouraging the people we meet in our daily lives. It’s not enough to seldom speak a discouraging word; we need to speak encouraging ones!

Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know. [H. Jackson Brown]

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. [2 Timothy 4:2 (NLT)]

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)]

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NOT SEEING THE CAMELS FOR THE GNATS

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! [Matthew 23:23-24 (NLT)]

camelJesus criticized the Pharisees for their meticulous tithing of herbs and spices while missing the more important aspects of the law. While both gnats and camels were forbidden food, in a wonderfully graphic hyperbole, He compared the way they poured their wine through a strainer to avoid accidentally swallowing a gnat (the smallest of prohibited “unclean” animals) while actually swallowing a camel (the largest)! Feeling self-righteous over their adherence to minor details, the Pharisees entirely missed the foundational principles of the Law: loving God and loving others.

Although the law demanded the tithing of produce, the Pharisees in Jesus day debated whether that applied to all the herbs and spices. One group determined it didn’t apply to black cumin but, in later years, the tithing of cumin was again required when the tithing of mint wasn’t. While this seems much ado about nothing, I’m not sure we’re that much different from the Pharisees. We’re probably not splitting hairs about herbs or accidentally ingesting a gnat, but it’s easy to become fixated on the details (tithing, attire, drinking, church attendance, rituals, sex, smoking) while missing the bigger issues like materialism, impatience, anger, pride, selfishness, callousness, lust, duplicity, and prejudice as well as justice, mercy, and faith. If we haven’t neglected church attendance, committed adultery, murdered anyone, robbed a bank, pummeled someone with our fists, or watched porn, we feel complacent and self-righteous. Like the Pharisees, we might not be doing the wrong things, but are we putting into practice the right ones?

It is in Christ’s character that we find the Christian virtues: things like humility, wisdom, self-control, courage, perseverance, patience, peace, joy, self-denial, gentleness, compassion, moderation, kindness, mercy, goodness, integrity, faithfulness, and love. Noting that “things will go swimmingly” for the first week, C.S. Lewis suggested making a serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues for at least six weeks. By then, he noted, we’ll have taken “the first step toward true humility” and discovered some rather unpleasant truths about ourselves. “No one knows how bad he is,” said Lewis, “until he has tried very hard to be good.”

It didn’t cost the Pharisees much to strain out a gnat or tithe their herbs and it doesn’t cost us much to obey the letter of the law. Justice, mercy, and faith, however, came at a cost to the Pharisees as the Christian virtues do to us. What good was it for the Pharisee to tithe his dill to the priests but refuse a crumb to the destitute leper begging at the temple steps? What good is it for us to donate ten percent of our money when we won’t give ten minutes of our time to someone in need? Putting into practice Christian virtues is a great deal more difficult than putting ourselves into a pew in a Christian church.

Because they were more concerned about appearing pious than actually being men of virtue and integrity, Jesus continued his denunciation of the Pharisees by comparing them to a cup that is clean on the outside but filthy inside! Like the Pharisees, it’s much easier to avoid scandalous sins – to appear righteous to our neighbors – than to actually be godly people – to be clean both on the outside and inside! Just a week of consciously practicing Christian virtues can be humbling; that’s all it took for me to realize how dirty my cup actually is!

Now is the hour we should humbly prostrate ourselves before God, willing to be convicted afresh of our sins by the Holy Spirit. [Watchman Nee]

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!  You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. [Matthew 23:25-26 (NLT)]

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HIS CLOAK (Part 2 – Mark 10:46-52)

So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. [10:50-52 (NSRV)]

eastern bluebird

There is so much packed into the seven verse story of Bartimaeus that it justifies a closer look. Let’s back up just a few verses in Mark 10 to when, after reminding Jesus that they’d given up everything to follow Him, James and John asked for a favor. When Jesus inquired what they wanted, the disciplines said they desired privileged places in His coming Kingdom. In stark contrast, Bartimaeus didn’t ask a favor; instead he pled for mercy and asked only for his sight. The blind man got his request but the selfish disciples didn’t. If we have unfulfilled prayers, perhaps we should consider what we’re asking—are they favors for our advantage or pleas for God’s mercy?

If we back up a few more verses in Mark’s gospel, we come to when Jesus was just starting his journey toward Jerusalem and a young rich man approached Him. While he was sure he’d kept all the commandments, the man sensed something was missing so he asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow Him, the man’s face fell in disappointment. Treasuring his possessions more than eternal life, he departed.

In another contrast, we have Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who followed Jesus immediately and without question. It’s easy to think the sightless beggar left nothing behind when he followed Jesus but we’d be wrong. Mark adds an interesting detail—when Jesus called to Bartimaeus, the man threw aside his cloak before jumping up and going to Him. That cloak, a wide vest reaching to the ankles, was far more than an outer garment worn during the day. A man’s cloak was so valuable that it could be used as collateral for a loan. Mosaic Law, however, prohibited a lender from keeping it overnight because a cloak often was the only shelter, bed, pillow, or blanket a man had at night. Bartimaeus’ cloak was more than a coat; it was his home. While begging, he would have been sitting on his cloak with its lower part spread out in front of him to collect any coins dropped his way.

Throwing aside his cloak was an act of faith. That piece of clothing (and whatever money may have been on it) was all Bartimaeus had and as valuable to the beggar as all the rich man’s possessions were to him. The moment Bartimaeus threw it aside, the cloak and money were as good as gone—either stolen or kicked aside along the road. Whether blind or sighted, any man would be in dire straits without a cloak, but Bartimaeus did what the rich man couldn’t and left all he had to follow Jesus!

Bartimaeus left his cloak, John and James left their father, Simon Peter and Andrew left their fishing nets, Matthew left a lucrative job as a publican, and Paul left a promising career as a Pharisee but the rich young man wanted to take his old life with him. Thinking that we can keep our old lives while following Jesus is a little like expecting to stay dry when we jump into the pool! It just can’t be done!

When God becomes your only source, you don’t need plan B or C. He is more than enough! [Buky Ojelabi] 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. [Matthew 16:24-25 (NSRV)]

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