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.

TAG LINES AND CATCHPHRASES

sunset-naples FLThe heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. [Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)]

In 1929, the Coca-Cola Company coined their famous catchphrase, “The pause that refreshes.” That also would be a great slogan to advertise the power of prayer. Just imagine what would have happened if God, like Coca-Cola, had used heavenly copywriters instead of prophets and disciples to publicize His word. Maybe Lazarus or Zacchaeus could have been hired for celebrity endorsements. If Moses had been given the slogan, “He’s the real thing!” along with those Ten Commandments, maybe the Israelites wouldn’t have worshiped Baal or erected Asherah poles. While dentists and dietitians probably disagree about things going better with Coke, Christians wouldn’t disagree if God’s ad men promoted our Lord with, “Things go better with Jesus!” If heaven’s version of Madison Avenue got to work, we’d be in good hands with God instead of Allstate, the Holy Spirit (and not gas) would be the tiger in our tanks, and we’d spell relief as “J-E-S-U-S.” The NY Times slogan, “All the news that’s fit to print,” would work perfectly to promote the Bible and, instead of a diamond, it would be salvation that is forever. Other possibilities include, “Like a good neighbor, Jesus is there,” and, “With a name like Jesus, it has to be good!” Rather than Alka Seltzer, “Try it! You’ll like it!” would promote Christianity and Visa’s slogan could be reworked as, “God’s everywhere you want to be.” To publicize heaven, the ad men could borrow Johnson & Johnson’s, “No more tears!” and revise Disney’s slogan to, ”The happiest place not on earth.” The one tag line that would never fly in God’s board room, however, is Burger King’s “Have it your way!” It will always be God’s way!

The thing is, God isn’t interested in pithy sayings and I’m not so sure He wants our complex relationship with him to depend on a couple of witty words or catchy phrases. Tag lines might catch our attention but God wants our hearts and souls. Moreover, unlike Madison Avenue’s copywriters, God won’t deceive or mislead, even to convince us to follow Him. Unlike those ads for drugs that insert the side effects in impossibly small print or speed through them at the end of the commercial, Jesus was explicit when he told his followers that life would not be easy. God has never sugar-coated the truth.

Unlike businesses, God doesn’t need to hire ad men or ask for anyone’s endorsement. One of his best advertisements is far better than the best ad campaign and is obvious to all—His spectacular and fantastic creation. Moreover, His word as revealed in the Bible tells us all we need to know and is far more meaningful than even the best catchphrase. “The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need,” and “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal Life,” pretty much say it all! And, let’s never forget that our Heavenly Father really did care enough to send the very best!

You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope. … The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand. [Psalm 119:114,130 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FAVORITE COLORS – MOTHER’S DAY 2017

tropical water lilies
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

“Who has been the most influential woman in your life? Who encouraged you to be the best version of you?” was the question asked in a Mother’s Day devotion I received last week. Typically, one would reply his or her mother. My mother, however, died when I was fifteen. She certainly got me started in the right direction but, in the fifty-five years since her passing, many women added to what she left undone.

I remember the camp counselor who gave me some tough (and much needed) words of correction, the widowed aunt who demonstrated that a woman alone can do anything, the acquaintance who shared her story of molestation when she recognized the signs of mine; the college roommate who proved one could be both godly, virtuous and popular; my husband’s aunt who embraced her difficult circumstances without complaint and lived her life with joy; my mother-in-law who taught me what it means to be a wife; and my daughter who has shown true grace under pressure. I remember the many women who generously and patiently taught me new skills, those who challenged me to reach far beyond where I thought I could, and those who encouraged me when I thought I could go no further. I’ve been made better by women who remained calm in chaos and whose faith endured in overwhelming storms. I’ve been deepened by women who stumbled and got back up, who cried and smiled again, who gave when they had little to give, who loved the unlovable, forgave the unforgiveable and laughed in the face of tragedy. Out of all the women who have touched my life in such positive ways, who would I pick?

The women who have improved me are a bit like a fabulous collection of crayons. I can’t select a favorite from among the 120 colors Crayola offers, so how could I pick just one woman among the many who have made me who I am? Each woman colored the canvas of my life in her own unique way. While my canvas may have a preponderance of colors like Mountain Meadow, Turquoise Blue and Cornflower (with a touch of my mother’s Granny Smith Apple and sister’s Bittersweet), I have been enhanced by the Razzmatazz, Shocking Pink, Unmellow Yellow, Vivid Tangerine, Cotton Candy, Wild Strawberry, Razzle Dazzle Rose and Outrageous Orange added by other women who have blessed my life. I’m nowhere near complete and colors keep being added that will make me a better version of myself.

While all of the women who’ve helped color me are unique, like crayons that share the same box, they have something in common; they have all been women of faith—women who believed in the power of Jesus Christ. They saw His light and knew the truth of His words. There is, however, a huge difference between those who just see the light and those who become His light. Those who merely see the light may know the truth but don’t leave their mark; those who become His light, live the truth and color the world with their beauty. They are the ones who help make us the best possible versions of ourselves.

Thank you, God, for the women (and men) who shed your light on us and color us with their love, concern. faith, and good examples. They help make us all that You mean for us to be.

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)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.