OUTSIDE THE LINES

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

flower bouquetSeveral years ago, I purchased a beautifully drawn coloring book that featured scenes from our Colorado mountain town. A gift for one of my grands, I asked the artist to sign it. Along with her signature, she added the words, “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!” Excellent advice, I thought.

Rather than coloring outside the lines, the unconventional John the Baptist lived outside the lines. Nevertheless, in spite of his odd attire, strange diet, and extraordinary message, he fulfilled God’s purpose. His was the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. Elisha lived outside the lines when he left his prosperous farm and teams of oxen to become Elijah’s successor—an odd choice his family and neighbors probably didn’t understand. The young shepherd boy David stepped outside the lines when he dared to take on Goliath—something none of Saul’s seasoned soldiers had attempted. Even Joseph went outside the lines when he remained with the pregnant Mary rather than breaking their engagement. Abigail crossed the lines when she kept David from taking vengeance on her foolish husband as did Rahab when she helped the Israelites. Mary of Bethany went outside the lines both when she sat with the men rather than help in the kitchen and extravagantly anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. Eric Liddle lived outside the lines by refusing to race on Sundays and becoming a missionary rather than parlaying his Olympic medals into fame and fortune. Instead of following his father into medicine or pursuing his interest in music, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went outside the lines when he became a pastor. Then, rather than fleeing the Nazis, he remained in Germany and resisted their evil. These men and women may have defied the status quo but they didn’t defy God! They answered His call by living outside the lines.

Living outside the lines is what we do when we allow God to take control of our lives; it’s taking that first step out of the boat as did Peter when Jesus called to him. Staying in the lines is what happens when, like Peter, we take our eyes off God, see the wave, feel the wind, and start to doubt. Staying inside the lines is not trusting God enough to answer His call or follow His lead. When we become more concerned about what others think than what God says, when how we look becomes more important than who we are, we are staying within the lines. Living outside the lines is refusing to compromise our faith; it is defying the system and obeying God. Those lines on the page were drawn by people. The blank page is given to us by God and He means for us to use all of it.

The artist’s advice to my grandchild applies to us all: “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!” Let’s not be afraid to live outside the lines—honestly, boldly, creatively and joyfully—fulfilling God’s purpose and trusting in His promises.

Our focus must be on God above and not on those among whom we live. [Oswald Chambers]

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5b-6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHY JOIN?

The community continually committed themselves to learning what the apostles taught them, gathering for fellowship, breaking bread, and praying. Everyone felt a sense of awe because the apostles were doing many signs and wonders among them. There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust. [Acts 2:42-44 (VOICE)]

Locarno-Madonna del SassoWe’ve left our old church and have been house-of-worship hunting. At first, it was like trying various hotels once a week to discover one of good quality with the right character, location and features for us. Having found a good prospect, we returned several times, signed up for a community service opportunity, and joined a Bible study. Now, it’s more like we’re renting a house; we’re meeting the neighbors, becoming familiar with the community and getting an idea of what a long-term stay would be like. Nevertheless, we’re still just temporary residents and have no ties. As we settle into this new church, however, our prayer is that it will feel enough like home that we’ll want to join it, which is a commitment somewhat like buying a house (but without the mortgage and closing costs.)

Why should we bother to join a church? Couldn’t we continue as Christians-at-large and just visit churches? There are over 85 Christian churches in our town alone, so we’d have plenty from which to choose. Why not remain a renter and just drop our tithe into whatever basket is passed that morning?

There’s a big difference, however, between renting something and living in a home we own. In a nightly rental, we really don’t care about the mud we’ve tracked into the room, the burnt out light bulb, the coffee stain on the rug, or the people in the next room. Even when renting a house, as long as everything works, we aren’t concerned about the aging appliances, the armadillo digging under the deck, or the grubs in the grass; we can always move on elsewhere. It’s only when we buy the house that we become committed to it, our neighbors, and the well-being of our community. Because the house’s future is tied to ours, we invest our time, love and money; we look not just to today but also to tomorrow.

Church membership, like owning a house, is a commitment and one that means far more than maintaining a building. It’s a commitment to worship regularly, serve one another, spread God’s word, study, fellowship, pray for each other, uphold doctrine, be held accountable, and ensure its future for the next generation. Commitment is what keeps us caring for the homes we own and it’s what keeps a church functioning.

When we buy a house, we get a building but, when we join a church, we get much more than that. We get a ready-made family—a group of people who share the same foundation and love of Christ. And that, more than anything else, is why we’ll join the church that’s right for us once it’s found.

Why should you join a church? Because by committing yourself in that way you will help to fulfill your purpose as a Christian. It seems pretty obvious from biblical metaphors of building stones and body parts that the Christian life was not meant to be lived alone. You, as a Christian, were designed and created by God, not for a life of individuality and self-will, but to fill a niche in the spiritual building called the church. [Jim Elliff]

They were unified as they worshiped at the temple day after day. In homes, they broke bread and shared meals with glad and generous hearts. The new disciples praised God, and they enjoyed the goodwill of all the people of the city. Day after day the Lord added to their number everyone who was experiencing liberation. [Acts 2:46-47 (VOICE)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE ENEMY – FEAR

Laudermilk Park Naples FLWe, therefore, can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ [Hebrews 13:6 (PHILLIPS)]

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address. It was 1933 and the nation was in the dark days of the Great Depression. Although the reason for our nation’s darkness differs, his words still hold true.

Like many others, our church spent last week discussing and implementing security measures. How can a house of worship—a place that welcomes the lost and the least, the weary and the burdened—protect itself from the violence that increasingly surrounds us? As so many schools do, should we require everyone to have laminated ID cards for entrance through our doors? Do we pat down people or pass them through metal detectors? Should we carry guns in shoulder holsters and purses? Do we cease welcoming strangers? Will we refuse entry to anyone involved in a domestic dispute lest their angry spouse chooses to vent his anger on our doorstep?

Will we allow fear to stop us from attending church? If we do, we might as well stop going to concerts, schools, theaters, shopping centers, street festivals, airports, parades, marathons, or sporting events—all of which are perfect targets for both terrorists and the mentally ill. No place is entirely safe, especially when cars and trucks can become weapons with just a turn of the wheel and a little pressure on the gas pedal.

I admit to being more cautious nowadays. I look for exits and avoid confrontations but that’s being sensible rather than afraid. Told to say something if we see something, I am attentive to my surroundings but for what are we supposed to look? The concert goers in Las Vegas never saw the shooter and, by the time the parishioners in Texas saw the gunman, it was too late. Once it was easy to identify the deranged—they were the ones talking or screaming to themselves, gesturing wildly, or dancing to their own inner music. Now, because of cell phones, blue tooth, and iPods, many on the street seem unbalanced when they aren’t and terrorists don’t wear t-shirts announcing their hateful plans.

Admittedly, we live in a world of random violence but it’s not nearly as violent as we think it is. The odds of dying of either heart disease or cancer are more than 30,000 times greater than dying at the hands of a terrorist. While those odds are of no comfort to the families who have lost loved ones to terror, they tell us to be watchful rather than afraid.

There is more to FDR’s quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to turn retreat into advance.” When we allow fear to keep us from our daily routine, when fear keeps us from attending  our children’s football games or  flying on a plane, when we become too afraid to go the beach or even to church, we are retreating from the real enemy—Satan. Rather than arming ourselves with weapons, let’s put on the armor of God and, as Christ’s soldiers, bravely advance onward into battle.

Never be afraid of those who can kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction! [Matthew 10:28 (PHILLIPS)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WITH FEET OF CLAY

It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. [Ephesians 2:4-6 (MSG)]

The same Jesus who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family, and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation. [Adrian Rogers]

TIGER SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY - WILD BERGAMOTIn the Sunday school stories we learned as children, the Bible’s heroes were larger than life. When we read about them as adults, however, we read the parts skipped in Sunday school and realize they were real people with feet of clay. Yet, it’s their sins and weaknesses that make their lives as relevant today as they were centuries ago. No matter how great, all except Jesus were flawed. Peter denied knowing Jesus, Matthew was a dishonest tax collector, Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection, Noah and Lot got drunk, Abraham lied to protect himself, David was an adulterer and murderer, Rahab was a prostitute, Jacob deceived his father, Jonah refused and fled, Sarah doubted and grew impatient, Samson allowed lust to lead him, Paul persecuted Christians, Elijah got so depressed he wanted to die, Gideon dared to question God, and, in spite of his great wisdom, Solomon disobeyed Him. The disciples argued amongst themselves and deserted Jesus, Isaac played favorites with his sons, and both Eli and Samuel tolerated the shameful behavior of their boys. Nevertheless, flawed as they all were, there is much to learn from their stories. We see the possibility of transformation and redemption. The prostitute was instrumental in an Israelite victory and became one of Jesus’ ancestors. The corrupt taxman became a disciple and turned his record keeping skills into gospel writing. The Pharisee became Christ’s messenger throughout the Roman Empire and the fisherman who denied Christ became the leader of the disciples. In spite of their faults, all of them were saints of God.

Like us, the Bible’s heroes disobeyed and doubted, erred and strayed, lied and cheated, quarreled and despaired. Their sins illustrate God’s mercy; we truly do have a God who can forgive seventy times seven and more. Moreover, when we see that such flawed people can achieve great things, we see examples of God’s power. When He touches a life, great things happen. In each of the Bible’s heroes, we see God’s transforming power. He doesn’t just turn water into wine, He turns sinners into saints!

No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. [Ephesians 2:9-10 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. [Ephesians 5:1-2a (NLT)]

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. [1 Corinthians 10:31b (NLT)]

snowy egret - corkscrewAs he took us to the car rental agency, the van’s driver welcomed us to Cleveland, explained where to get gas before returning our cars, and reminded us not to text and drive. After asking if there were any other questions, a voice from the back asked, “What is the purpose of life?” The driver quickly replied, “Finding comfortable shoes!” While we might rank finding comfy shoes high on our life list, that’s not the purpose of life.

In a Ziggy comic (written by Tom Wilson), the bald headed underdog arrives on a mountaintop in a quest to find life’s purpose. The wise sage replies, “If you have to ask the meaning of life…You can’t afford it!” Apparently, the meaning of life isn’t as expensive as the cartoonist thought. In 2000, someone claiming to have discovered “the reason for our existence” offered that knowledge to the highest bidder on eBay. Evidently, this wisdom had little value; the starting price was a penny and the winning bidder got the information for a mere $3.26.

Of course, the easy answer is that the purpose of life is to have a life of purpose but, like most pat answers, that’s inadequate and disappointing. According to the Bible, the reason we are here is to glorify God, enjoy fellowship with him, love our neighbors and be good stewards of God’s creation. In short, we’re here to honor God in all we do and we do that by being more like Christ.

Within that general purpose of glorifying God and being more like Christ, we each have a distinctive purpose and a unique role to play in God’s plan. While it’s easy to know what our purpose isn’t—sin, self-indulgence, power, riches, fame, popularity, pleasure, success, or status—it’s harder to know what our unique purpose is. I know this much—if we’re dissatisfied, we haven’t found it. It won’t take a flight to Cleveland, a trek to a mountaintop guru or a winning bid on eBay to find our purpose. We just need to ask God and listen to our satisfaction, inner convictions, gifts, and passions. God wants us to find the purpose of life more than we do. After all, He’s got big plans for us!

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT DO WE BRING TO THE TABLE?

 

Galena farmhouseI encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect. … God in his kindness gave each of us different gifts. [Romans 12:1b-2,6a (GW)]

 When told that the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us are unique for our specific ministries, we get nervous. We already have a career, didn’t sign up for seminary, and aren’t interested in being ministers. Thanks for the offer, but we don’t see the need for a gift! Being a minister is a vocation; the ministry, however, is the work of every Christian. No matter what our professions, we are all called to minister and that doesn’t necessarily mean pastoring a church. It means serving God and His people in Jesus’ name, which is where those spiritual gifts come in. God is not about to send us off empty-handed.

In job interviews, applicants often are asked, “What do you bring to the table?” With God, however, it’s a little different. When we come to him, He doesn’t care about our resume, how much or little we know, or how many assets we bring to Him. When we come to His table, we receive our own personal coach in the way of the Holy Spirit who provides us with at least one spiritual asset personally designed for us.

In Matthew 9, Jesus spoke of the harvest being plentiful but the laborers being few. I wonder—is it the labor pool that is lacking or is it the willingness of the laborers to do His work that is missing? As Christians, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit and yet we seem to be empty of His gifts. Do we not recognize our gifts or are we simply unwilling to use them? Last Sunday, while kneeling at the Communion rail with others in our congregation, I wondered what gifts we each brought to God’s holy table and how many of those unused gifts we were taking back home with us.

It would seem that there are enough laborers, but they’re just waiting for the ideal job, the perfect opportunity, or the ideal situation to arise. I know plenty of people who have remained unemployed for years because of that attitude and there should be no unemployment line in God’s kingdom. We forget that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness; He not only equips us but He also offers on-the-job training!

I’ve taken assorted Spiritual Gift inventories and, while they can be helpful, I doubt their necessity. In actuality, all we have to do is look at the harvesting needs around us and show up for work. We’ll soon figure out if driving the combine, baling the hay, swinging the scythe, hand-picking the berries, cleaning the tools, transferring the grain to the silo, managing the logistics, marketing the wheat, bringing water to the thirsty or feeding the workers is the job for which we’ve been designed. The important thing is to show up for the harvest; in God’s Kingdom, there should be no shortage of workers!

When he saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them. They qwere troubled and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord who gives this harvest to send workers to harvest his crops.” [Matthew 9:36-38 (GW)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.