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)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT’S YOUR GIFT

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. [1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NLT)]
barred owl - painted bunting - penguin

When I was writing about the peacock’s unpleasant scream yesterday, I pictured him complaining to the owl that the wren has a nicer voice. The wren chirped back her complaint that, unlike the peacock, she was small and nondescript. Hearing them, the penguin complained about his plain black and white feathers but the colorful painted bunting countered that she was unable to swim. The pelican joined the grumbling and whined that he couldn’t flit from flower to flower like the hummingbird who then expressed jealously over the pelican’s large bill. When the bald eagle protested not having long legs like the ostrich and the ostrich expressed envy at the eagle’s ability to soar high in the sky, the wise owl hooted at them all to be quiet.

Unlike the other birds, the owl did not grumble about what many would consider his shortcomings: his dull color, asymmetrical ears, and farsightedness. Explaining that his dull color gives him camouflage, the lopsided ears allow him to locate prey at night, and his farsightedness makes him an excellent hunter, he told the other birds to be thankful for their gifts. He reminded each bird of what made it special: the peacock’s beautiful tail, the wren’s ability to sing and trill, the penguin’s powerful flippers and streamlined body, the bunting’s unique coloring, the pelican’s skill at diving from heights of 30-feet, the hummingbird’s capability of flying backwards, the eagle’s eyes that can spot a rabbit two miles away, and the ostrich’s gift of running faster than any other bird. Rather than complaining about what they didn’t have, they should appreciate their own unique God-given gifts and use what they were given with wisdom, joy and thanksgiving.

Like the birds, we too have gifts: both the talents we were given at birth and the spiritual gifts we received from the Holy Spirit. Those talents and gifts are as unique as a peacock’s tail or the wren’s song. Some gifts, like the strong legs of an ostrich or a pastor’s inspired preaching are rather obvious. Others, like the owl’s lopsided ears or the healing embrace of someone gifted with empathy are less apparent. Rather than complain, as did the birds, we should take inventory of our many gifts and talents, appreciate and develop them, and use them enthusiastically and wisely to glorify God. Let’s appreciate what we have and accept that there will always be some things, like singing or soaring, that are best left to others.

Our purpose should be to discover the gifts He has given us and to use those gifts faithfully and joyfully in His service, without either envying or disparaging the gifts we do not have. [John MacArthur]

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. … It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. [1 Corinthians 12:7,11 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

PARTNERS

Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. [Philippians 1:4-6 (NLT)]

snowy egret - glossy ibisSeveral years ago, my husband came upon a wonderful opportunity to buy a business in another state. He also knew a talented young man capable of running it there. Rather than simply buying the business and hiring the fellow as CEO, my husband loaned him money so that he could buy a share in the business. A firm believer in having what he calls, “skin in the game,” my husband found that partners in a business care about its success far more than any employee ever will. When he and his partner retired, they sold the business to the employees through an ESOP program—now everyone working there is a partner and has “skin in the game.”

Just as there’s a difference between being an employee and a partner, there is a difference between being a member of an organization and being a partner in it. In our northern community, we have 52 members in our home owners’ association. By virtue of moving here and paying their association fees, a resident is a member yet many have little commitment to the welfare of the community and the only time they’re heard from is if they have a complaint. The partners in our community, however, are the ones who attend the meetings, respond to surveys, serve on committees, volunteer on work days, pick up loose trash or broken branches, and show concern for their neighbors. Caring about more than their property, they have invested in their community.

We find a difference between membership and partnership in our churches, as well. Members are names on a roster; partners have a place in the church community. Members are passive but partners are active. Members take and use but partners invest and share. Members complain and criticize but partners build, encourage, and work to correct problems. Members walk away in difficult times but partners stay and try to improve the situation. Members attend church but partners are the church. Reflecting this subtle difference, when people join our old mountain church, rather than becoming members, they now become partners. As partners, they have a vested interest in the success of the church and the welfare of its members.

The church being a partnership is Biblical. There may have been only twelve Apostles and seven elders in the first church but they all were partners in Christ. Luke tells us the believers dedicated themselves to learning about Jesus and their responsibilities as His followers. They worshipped and fellowshipped with one another, shared their resources, and prayed, ate, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. People were partners with one another in their common belief and mission and churches partnered with one another by welcoming Christian travelers into their homes, sending relief to those in need, planting new churches, and sharing doctrine, teachers, and resources.

We continue to share a common belief and mission in today’s church but church attendance is only the beginning of achieving that mission. By partnering with the pastor, church staff, and the rest of the congregation, we can bring our unique abilities and gifts together to work toward a common vision and goal: to be God’s hands, mouth and feet.

Member or partner—which one are you?

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE OTHER SIX

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work… [Exodus 20:8-9 (ESV)]

naples botanic gardenUpon retirement, many people consider their productive years over. Having been a CEO in a major corporation, a friend’s father felt worthless without his corporate identity. Prior to retirement, he could call any number of powerful people and get a meeting simply because of his position but, without his title, he felt like a nonentity. His previous business triumphs couldn’t sustain him and he saw no victories in the future. Unfortunately, many seniors who found their identity in their career, corporate title or paycheck are at loose ends when retirement comes along. Some of my friends who were homemakers aren’t much different from those in the business world. It’s just that they found their identity in motherhood and their self-esteem in their children’s achievements. Now, with an empty nest and adult children living their own lives far away, they feel unnecessary. Like my friend’s father, they are looking back at who and what they’ve been rather than forward to who and what they can be.

A quick glance around the room at my noon women’s Bible study tells me that most of us qualify for senior discounts. When discussing keeping the fourth commandment, our pastor told us to read all of the words. While we should observe the Sabbath, she reminded us that those other six days of the week are meant for productive work. A few of the women attending are still employed and others are caregivers for ailing spouses or handicapped children. Like me, however, the majority of the sixty women present are happily unemployed and our time is our own. The pastor’s words clearly were meant for us.

Well into her 70s, this pastor lives her advice. After reaching the mandatory retirement age in this church, she stopped getting a paycheck but continued in her mission. She still teaches at least two Bible studies a week, oversees the women’s organization, conducts both the weekly preschool chapel and the Saturday evening worship services, and, during Lent, added a daily 7:00 AM communion service to her schedule. She did not give up her purpose when she stopped getting a paycheck!

Our work schedule after retirement doesn’t need to be as rigorous as this pastor’s, but it seems that God wants more for us than days in front of the TV, at the beach, shopping, Facebooking, or playing bridge, mah jongg, golf, bocce, or tennis. Yes, daily activities like cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, and making repairs qualify as “work” but the people I know who truly enjoy their golden years are the ones who regularly devote some part of their week to service and learning. One friend has parlayed her HR experience into a volunteer job helping seniors navigate insurance and another uses her love of animals as a zoo docent. A former teacher tutors the disadvantaged, a retired nurse does blood pressure screening, and a neighbor uses his marine skills as a boat driver for the Conservancy. Former CEOs help stock shelves at the food pantry, advise new businesses or build houses for Habitat.

God gave us the gift of the Sabbath but, before He gave us the Sabbath, He gave us the gift of work. No matter our age, let’s use those other six days both wisely and productively.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [Genesis 2:15 (NLT)]

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! [Psalm 90:17 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHY THEM?

mallardsNow at this time Jesus went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came, He called His disciples and selected twelve of them, whom He also named apostles (special messengers, personally chosen representatives): Simon, whom He also named Peter, and his brother Andrew; and [the brothers] James and John; and Philip, and Bartholomew [also called Nathanael]; and Matthew (Levi, the tax collector) and Thomas; and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas [also called Thaddaeus] the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor [to the Lord]. [Luke 6:12-16 (AMP)]

We know Jesus prayed all night before choosing His inner circle. He had plenty of other followers; what made Him choose those twelve men? I can understand Andrew and John; they’d been followers of John the Baptist and were primed for the arrival of the Messiah. As for John’s brother James—the brothers were known as the “Sons of Thunder,” probably because they were passionate, impetuous, and quick to anger. Why James and not someone calm and even-tempered? For that matter, why fishermen? What special skills did they bring with them? You don’t have to know how to cast a net to go fishing for people! What about Simon the zealot? Zealots were agitators who wanted to overthrow the Roman government. Did Jesus need a radical activist in His entourage? Along with the rebellious zealot, Jesus chose Matthew, a shady collaborator. As a tax man, he may have smelled better than the fishermen but he carried the odor of corruption. The publican who was forbidden to testify in court was called to testify for Christ! While Matthew’s integrity may have been questionable, Jesus’ choice of Bartholomew (also called Nathanael) made more sense; Jesus called him “a man of integrity” when they first met. Since no mention is made of the other men’s backgrounds, we can only assume that they, too, were quite ordinary.

Why did Jesus call this odd assortment of men to be his apostles? As far as we know, none were theologians or scholars and, other than Matthew’s record keeping skills, it’s hard to see anything special they brought to the table. Why these nobodies rather than someone noteworthy or well-known? Why did Jesus choose these men to be the core of the new church?

Twelve men, remarkably unexceptional—twelve men just like you and me. Jesus wasn’t looking for accomplishments; He was looking for possibility. He didn’t care who they’d been or what they’d done in the past; what mattered was who they could become and what they could do in the future. Jesus provided them with all they needed to become the people they needed to be.

They didn’t have funding, organization, church buildings, choir, websites, apps, hymnals, or even the New Testament and yet, that first Pentecost, the remaining eleven and Matthias (who replaced Judas) brought 3,000 into the new church through the power of the Holy Spirit. Twelve ordinary men accomplished the extraordinary through the power of the Holy Spirit. Just think what we could do if only we would try!

Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority (all power of absolute rule) in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion], even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (AMP)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

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.