CARE FOR THE LAMBS

And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. [Matthew 18:5-6 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtailEarlier this week, the news broke that church leaders in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses have protected more than 300 “predator priests.” More concerned with protecting the church and abusers than helping the more than 1,000 victims or preventing further abuse, they failed to report allegations, discouraged victims from reporting abusers, conducted their own biased and faulty inquiries, pressured law enforcement to delay or close investigations, and spun their own versions of the events. Earlier this summer, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis agreed to a $210 million settlement to 450 victims of clergy sexual abuse there. It’s not just the Roman Catholic Church that has failed in this arena. It was just revealed that Willow Creek, a non-denominational Protestant mega-church, paid $3.25 million to settle two lawsuits over sex abuse by a church volunteer. No amount of money, however, can remove the trauma of abuse.

This is neither a Catholic nor a Protestant problem; it is everyone’s problem and it certainly is not limited to churches. We’ve seen institution after institution put reputation before serving and protecting our children. A growing number of Olympic athletes have joined the U.S. women’s gymnastics team in allegations of sexual abuse in their sports. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that the Chicago Public Schools failed to protect their students from sexual abuse and assault. Among other things, ineffective background checks didn’t protect the children from offenders and abuse was not reported. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the Boy Scouts over sex abuse and they’ve paid out millions of dollars in settlements. Recently, I watched the news in horror as eleven malnourished children (and the remains of a twelfth) were discovered in a New Mexico compound. Earlier this year, a 17-year old escaped from her house of horrors to make the 911 call that rescued her twelve shackled and severely malnourished siblings from their California home. Sadly, these are but a few of the sickening tales of child abuse we find in the news.

If we ever questioned that we live in a fallen world, these horrifying examples leave us no doubt. Child abuse in any form is the work of Satan: the one who came to “steal and kill and destroy.” He is destroying our young people when he steals their innocence, their physical health, their emotional well-being or takes their lives. Made in God’s image, children are not meant to be used and abused; they are meant to be nurtured and loved.

Whether or not we know those who’ve been hurt and abused, they all are our children and this is our problem. As Christ’s body on earth, we must open our eyes to the children around us and never be silent bystanders. As His body, we can’t stand idly by when abuse of any kind is suspected and the church must never hide the ugly truth even when it occurs within our walls. Abuse can’t be swept under the rug nor can we send offenders off to another parish, school, gym, or scout troop with little more than a rap on the knuckles. Moreover, untrained in forensic interview techniques, we are not the ones to conduct internal investigations. Neither judge nor jury, it’s not our job to determine the validity of an accusation; abuse is both a sin and a crime and our job is to report suspected crimes! We have a God-ordained responsibility to protect and preserve all children (not just the ones in our homes).

We all are called to be shepherds. Father in Heaven, show us how to protect your lambs.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. [1 Peter 5:2 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SACRIFICED TO THE GODS

hindu pujaSo then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things through whom we live. [1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (NIV)]

If the multiple gods of Hinduism could be explained in one sentence it is the belief in one supreme being, Krishna, who has appointed many demi-gods with various powers and abilities. I mention this because one of my sons is married to a lovely woman whose heritage is Indian/Hindu. While he and his wife practice neither Christianity nor Hinduism, they try to honor the traditions of both sets of their more religious parents. Saturday, we attended a puja (ritual) to bless their new home. An altar had been placed in front of the fireplace and on it were several statues of Hindu gods and a tray with items like mango leaves, ghee, coconuts, and money. Red threads were tied around wrists and red tilaks applied to the participants’ foreheads, prayers and mantras were chanted in Sanskrit, and Ganesh, Vishnu, and Lakshmi were among the several deities honored. During the puja, things like water, rose petals, milk, uncooked rice, nuts, wheat, fruits, and assorted sweets were offered to all the idols.

My husband and I (as the only two practicing Christians out of thirty in attendance) did not participate in the puja and quietly sat in the back as observers. The ceremony ended with the distribution of prasadam: the remains of the food offerings. When we were handed plates with an assortment of nuts and dried fruits, a beautiful mixture of mango and other fresh fruit, a scoop of cooked wheat, and sweet kaju pista rolls made of cashew and pistachio flour, I began to understand the controversy faced by the early church over food offered to pagan gods. Knowing this was food had been offered to several idols, “What,” I wondered, “would the Apostle Paul say?”

Idols are inanimate and powerless to change food in any way; while they can corrupt hearts, they can’t corrupt food. We weren’t in danger of corrupted hearts and the puja hadn’t tainted the food. Moreover, as ignorant of our faith as we are of theirs, my daughter-in-law’s family wouldn’t judge us as hypocrites for eating the food but they would judge Christianity harshly if we were judgmental or inconsiderate and failed to be respectful of their traditions. This was not the time to evangelize, discuss the first and second commandments, or refuse food offered to us in love. The Apostle Paul wrote of sacrificial meat, eating in pagan temples, not endangering the faith of new Christians, and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles but this seemed to be one of those situations neither clearly addressed nor expressly prohibited in Scripture. It was time to let our consciences guide us.

Christians must accept that people will have different beliefs. We don’t have to accept those beliefs but we must respect their right to have them. Don’t misunderstand; while I joined my extended Hindu family in wishing peace, prosperity, and serenity for my son’s family in their new home, as fascinating as the puja was, I found it distasteful and disturbing. Nevertheless, knowing that we were not endorsing Hinduism or idolatry, we graciously accepted our plates of food.

Were we right? I don’t know. I do know that we let love guide us as we, like many others in today’s multi-cultural world, tried to navigate through a gray area to find a way to honor both God and family.

Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you. [Tim Keller]

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. [Romans 14:17-18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

UP IN FLAMES

In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. [James 3:5-6 (NLT)]

great blue heronRecently, a pastor shared a troubling experience while at the annual conference for his denomination. Along with other ordained ministers, he was to vote as to whether or not candidates for the ministry would be ordained. While usually a gratifying experience as this ministerial board accepts people into their vocation, on occasion the vote can be heartbreaking. If a candidate receives a negative recommendation from his supervisor, he or she is permitted to offer a defense before the vote is taken. At the last conference, such an instance occurred and, sadly, one individual did not receive an affirmative vote for ordination.

In their deliberations of the ministerial candidates, the board considers qualities of faith including evidence of God’s grace in the candidates’ lives, their ability to communicate the Christian faith, their worthiness of people’s faith and confidence, and their accountability to the church, its standards, authority and discipline. Candidates are expected to take responsibility for their actions and exercise self-control, emotional maturity and social responsibility. Unfortunately, this candidate had responded to an unfavorable assessment by a superior with a social media diatribe and Facebook rant. Foolishly, he took a private evaluation into a public forum and launched an attack; as a result, his several years spent in university, seminary and the ministry went up in flames.

In the days before social media (or as this pastor calls it—“unsocial media”), James wrote of how an untamed tongue can set our world on fire. Nowadays, that applies to untamed fingers flying across a keyboard, as well. The pastor who shared this story of a future turned upside down added that he asks his staff to wait a full twenty-four hours before responding to negative comments and always to lead their response with an expression of appreciation for the other person’s words. He also admitted to not always following his own advice!

It’s not just potential candidates for the ministry, pastors, and their staff who should maintain high standards of holy living in the world—we all are called to do just that. Those in the ministry may lose their careers with untamed tongues, but we all can lose relationships, respect, reputations, and our ability to be effective witnesses for Christ. Simply put, if we can’t control the words we use and the way we use them, it appears that other areas in our lives are equally out of control. But, when we allow the Holy Spirit to control our behavior, we have no need to worry about seeing our hopes and dreams go up in flames.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. … If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. [James 1:19-20 (NLT)]

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

TALISMANS

You may worship no other god than me. You shall not make yourselves any idols: no images of animals, birds, or fish. You must never bow or worship it in any way; for I, the Lord your God, am very possessive. I will not share your affection with any other god! [Exodus 20:3-6 (TLB)]

blue birdIn the days of the judges, the Israelites were at war with the Philistines. Following the loss of 4,000 men, the elders wondered why God had allowed their defeat. Rather than pray, however, they decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle. Perhaps they remembered when priests carried the Ark around the city of Jericho. Unfortunately, they forgot that God had specifically commanded Joshua to do just that. Ignoring the law that the Ark was to remain in the Tabernacle, they brought it thirty miles from Shiloh to their camp in Ebenezer. Cheering upon the Ark’s arrival, they acted as if the Ark rather than God would save them and treated it like a good luck charm or an idol rather than the sacred box it was. I wonder if the Israelites blamed the Ark rather than their sacrilege when the Philistines defeated them, captured the Ark, and took it into their territory.

Treating it like a trophy or a spoil of war, the Philistines placed the Ark in the temple of their deity Dagon. Believing the Israelite’s god was in the box, they were pleased to have another god on their side until things went from bad to worse for them. After twice finding the idol Dagon vandalized, they suffered from a deadly plague of tumors. Realizing the Ark was not a lucky talisman, they returned it seven months later.

Upon its return, the men of Beth Shemesh still didn’t understand the sanctity of the Ark and violated Mosaic law by looking inside it. When seventy men were struck down for that sacrilege, like the Philistines, they also wanted to get rid of it. The men of Kiriath-jearim came for the Ark and took it to the home of Abinadab where it was unceremoniously stored for twenty years. Scripture tells us that during that time, “all Israel mourned because it seemed that the Lord had abandoned them.” [1 Samuel 7:2] God, however, had never abandoned them; they had abandoned Him for pagan idols and practices.

A picture of the good shepherd Jesus, a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, the olivewood cross in your pocket, a fish symbol on the trunk, St. Christopher on the dash, a pendant with a Bible verse, an angel pin on the jacket, or even a cross made from Palm Sunday’s palms can all serve as visual reminders of our powerful God. Nevertheless, they are powerless symbols. We must never make the mistake of treating any religious object as a lucky charm or worshiping it as if it had power. Protection and victory come from God alone, not from pictures, jewelry, talismans or even the Ark. There is a fine line between revering an object and idolatry. Philistine and Israelite alike crossed that line; let’s be sure we never do.

The heathen worship idols of gold and silver made by men—idols with speechless mouths, sightless eyes, and ears that cannot hear; they cannot even breathe. Those who make them become like them! And so do all who trust in them! [Psalm 135:15-18 (TLB)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

THE HACKER

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. [1 Peter 5:8-9b (NLT)]

red shouldered hawkAfter asking us how we protect our personal safety, the cyber-security specialist asked how we protect ourselves from cyber attacks. One woman proudly told how Microsoft had recently saved her from a hacking attempt. After a message popped up telling her to call them, she gave them remote access to her computer. The necessary patch and technical advice only cost $700 and now her computer was secure. Until the speaker told her, she didn’t know the hack was the $700 she’d spent, access to her credit card, and possible malware now active on her computer. While she never would have allowed a complete stranger into her home, she unwittingly opened the door to a criminal and welcomed him into her life.

Following the seminar, I couldn’t help but think about Satan. Scripture describes him as a serpent, lion, liar, thief, and tempter with adjectives like prowling, cunning and crafty. Those same words describe a hacker rather well. Both Satan and the hacker want to take over our lives and they can do it without our even realizing it’s been done. The weakest link in both cases is the user—us. Outside consultants regularly try to hack into our bank and the good news is that their security software works. Unfortunately, in every test, someone (who clearly knows better) was conned into replying, hyperlinking, or opening an attachment. When Satan comes trolling, how often do we err by ignoring God’s guidelines, not examining the source of the message, going somewhere we shouldn’t, or letting curiosity get the best of us?

Our speaker spoke of maintaining the security of the devices and networks we use. Since new hacking techniques are developed continually, once secured doesn’t mean forever secure; software must be updated to stay current with new threats. Once saved doesn’t mean forever safe, either. We must keep updating our soul’s software with regular prayer, Bible study, and church. Where we use our devices and the sort of data we transmit and receive affects their safety and where we go and what we put into our minds affects our souls. We don’t hang around dangerous neighborhoods but, sometimes, that’s exactly what we do with our computers and phones or our friends and media choices! When the considering the importance of backing up data, I thought of the value of Christian friends who have our backs and both encourage and support us in times of trouble—times when we’re most vulnerable to Satan’s attack.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) was another security feature discussed. Although a website can use 2FA to make sure it is us, we should use 2FA to make sure those great ideas we get have come from God rather than the enemy. A little two-factor authentication in the way of seeing whether those thoughts match up with God’s word and Jesus’s actions could keep us out of a lot of trouble.

Good cyber-security habits include malware protection, virtual private networks, cloud storage, secure routers, password protection, 2FA, and common sense. None of those, however, will protect us if we fail to use them. The same goes for the armor of God. We’ve been given the best protection money can’t buy but God’s armor won’t defend us from the enemy if we don’t put it on!

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE GATEWAY SIN

You must not covet your neighbor’s wife. You must not covet your neighbor’s house or land, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. [Deuteronomy 5:21 (NLT)]

roseIn spite of many states having legalized its use, countless studies suggest that marijuana is a “gateway drug” meaning that it may lead to the use of other stronger more addictive drugs. I’m not going to enter into that argument but I’d like to use the word “gateway” as it regards to sin. Just like marijuana (when compared to heroin or cocaine) seems innocuous, coveting (when compared to murder or stealing) seems like an insignificant sin. After all, who does it harm? No sin, however, is insignificant and every sin is an offense to God

While desiring God, wisdom, right living, and faith is good, the tenth commandment’s coveting is desiring what God doesn’t want us to have or what rightfully belongs to another. Masquerading as envy, jealousy, resentfulness, lust, longing, selfishness, greed, materialism, desire, craving, bitterness, and even wishful thinking, it is one of the easiest commandments to break. Just as a rose by any other name is still a rose, coveting (no matter what you call it) is still coveting and easily can lead to more sin. Coveting is a “gateway” sin because it can lead us deeper into the enemy’s darkness.

Consider Achan who disobeyed God’s direct command to take none of Jericho’s plunder for himself. Coveting the spoils of war, he stole a beautiful robe, 200 silver coins and more than a pound of gold. His coveting led not just to stealing but also to murder when 36 of his countrymen died in battle and his family was killed in punishment for his sin. David coveted his neighbor’s wife and then committed both adultery and murder to have her. Coveting Esau’s rightful blessing, Jacob stole it from his brother and failed to honor his father. King Ahab coveted the field of Naboth; when Naboth refused to sell it, Ahab’s covetous heart made him so sullen and angry that he refused to eat. His wife Jezebel then hatched a scheme in which two of her minions falsely accused Naboth of cursing both God and king; the man was stoned to death and Ahab claimed his field. Ahab’s coveting led to breaking the commandments about false witness, murder and misusing the name of the Lord. It would seem that when we want something that isn’t ours to have, we’re likely to break several other commandments to get it!

Indeed, coveting is a gateway sin!

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. [1 Timothy 6:6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.