LUKEWARM

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

I’ve learned something about my housekeeping habits during this pandemic. Like many, when it first began, I took my pent up energy and enthusiastically cleaned, arranged, sorted and scrubbed. Cupboards and baseboards were wiped, windows were washed, furniture moved, fan blades dusted, files sorted, and every closet, cupboard, and drawer organized. That, however, was many months ago. I now realize that hospitality was my real reason for cleaning house. Pre-pandemic, we frequently entertained, neighbors regularly stopped over, and houseguests often occupied one of the bedrooms. Being ready for visitors at a moment’s notice was my incentive for keeping the house spic-and-span. Guests, however, are a thing of the past and only repairmen get beyond the front door! While our house is still presentable, it’s not the way it used to be. With just the two of us, I’ve lost my motivation and become far more tolerant of things like dust, disorder, and dirty windows!

The image of Jesus knocking at the door to an unbeliever’s heart has been used by evangelists for decades but the unbeliever’s heart is not the best understanding of Revelation 3:20. Jesus wasn’t speaking to a non-believer; He was speaking to the believers in the church of Laodicea. Like the tepid water supply of their city, they were neither hot like the healing waters of the nearby hot springs nor cold like the refreshing springs in Colossae. They were a church that had become lukewarm and indifferent to Jesus. Their self-satisfaction and apathy had led to idleness and lethargy. Jesus had some harsh words for them as He stood knocking at the door of a church that didn’t even know He’d left the house!

The church at Laodicea had grown as lax in their faith as I have in my housekeeping. Their initial fervor for Jesus waned just as my early enthusiasm about cleaning did. They’d become satisfied with superficial religion rather than growing deeper in faith and I’ve become satisfied with surface cleaning rather than getting deep into the corners. The church at Laodicea, having grown content with their wealth and easy life, were cutting corners. Having grown content with sheltering in place, I’m taking short cuts, as well. While making these comparisons, I realize that the Lord’s words of censure are not limited to Laodicea. Just as I slipped into indifference about housework, like the Laodiceans, we easily can slide into a half-hearted perfunctory faith.

Indifference leads to idleness but I’m sure my zeal for housekeeping will return when I again welcome people into our home. Sheltering in place, however, doesn’t keep Jesus from knocking at our doors. Have we become too complacent, self-satisfied, or apathetic to hear Him knocking? Open the door, invite Him in, and share a meal as friends! He’s far more interested in our hearts than the cleanliness of our homes! Let us never become indifferent to Him or spiritually lukewarm!

I do not think the devil cares how many churches you build, if only you have lukewarm preachers and people in them. [Charles Spurgeon]

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!… I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. … Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. [Revelation 3:15-16,19,22 (NLT)]

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ATTENDING TO THE PRESENT

dawnYet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

C.S. Lewis’ religious satire The Screwtape Letters consists of 31 letters written by the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of acquiring the soul of a young man. Screwtape’s suggestions of ways to cause the fellow’s damnation could be described as a self-help book in reverse. As the diabolical demon advises Wormwood in methods of temptation, the reader learns Satan’s assorted strategies and ruses and what not to let happen. While walking the other morning, I thought of Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood regarding the young man’s focus of attention.

To beat the heat of Southwest Florida, I start my walk while it still is dark. When crossing one of our bridges, the previous night’s full moon was on my left and the coming day’s sunrise on the right. Caught between the day that was and the day yet to come, I thought of Screwtape’s words that God prefers man to be concerned with either the present or eternity rather than yesterday or tomorrow. When in the moment, he is “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, [or] giving thanks for the present pleasure.”  When considering eternity, he is meditating on God. Wanting neither of those things, Screwtape advises Wormwood to get the young man to live in the frozen past or the unknown future.

Of the two methods, Screwtape prefers getting him to live in the future: either in perpetual anticipation of the rainbow’s end or in constant fear of the horrors tomorrow may bring. Clarifying his point about the future, Screwtape explains that God expects man to make plans but planning for tomorrow’s work actually is today’s duty. God, however, doesn’t want man to place his expectations in the future. Naïve optimism and unrealistic expectations inevitably end in disappointment while anxiety and distress rob the present of joy. Unlike God, the demons want man to be “hagridden by the future” and so obsessed by images of either a surefire windfall or a pending catastrophe that he will be willing to do anything to attain his pipe dream or prevent the disaster. If there ever were a time we’re tempted to live in a pre-pandemic yesterday, ignore reality and view tomorrow with rose-colored glasses, or be so fearful of the future we can’t face it, that time is now. When we focus on yesterday or tomorrow, we’re playing right into our enemy’s hands.

Standing on the bridge, I knew God wanted me to attend to the present—to leave yesterday behind and accept with faith what tomorrow brings. As I walked forward, however, I remembered that He also wants me to attend to eternity—to look beyond time to Him: the Eternal One who holds yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity in His loving hands.

God has set Eternity in our heart, and man’s infinite capacity cannot be filled or satisfied with the things of time and sense. [F.B. Meyer]

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE MILLSTONE

These people are as useless as dried-up springs or as mist blown away by the wind. They are doomed to blackest darkness. They brag about themselves with empty, foolish boasting. With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. [2 Peter 2:17-18 (NLT)]

zion parkAround 67 AD, Peter wrote to the church at large to warn them about the danger of false teachers. In a stark contrast to the Messiah’s living water, they were likened to wells without water and Peter warned that they were dangerous, especially to those new to Jesus.  The Apostle’s words reminded me of Jesus’ caution to the disciples about causing one of His “little ones” to fall into sin. “What sorrow awaits the one who does the tempting,” He warned while mentioning a fate involving a millstone. It’s bad enough when we sin but even worse if we drag others down with us. We can do that by preaching a false message, inviting them to share in our sinful behavior or, in a far more subtle way, by causing them to distrust the gospel message or turn from their faith.

The Greek word translated as “cause to sin” is skandalizō, meaning “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way upon which another may trip and fall.” In the New Testament, it meant “to entice to sin.” If skandalizō  sounds familiar, it should. It’s the source of a word we see far too frequently nowadays: scandal. Yet another well-known name has been added to a long list of church leaders brought down by scandal and I think of the stumbling block of scandal. The worst thing about any scandal in the church is what it does to those left in its wake: the “little ones,” the spiritually immature, the “baby Christians” in our midst. They are the people who may be tempted to reject the gospel message because of the sinful behavior of those who supposedly represent Jesus and His followers!

While it’s easy to point a finger at fallen evangelists, let’s remember that three fingers point back at us. Our failings may not be as well-publicized or as blatant as theirs but they easily can be stumbling-blocks to someone’s faith. Our transgressions do not invalidate the message of Jesus but they certainly undermine our witness. When we fall, we wound more than ourselves. If we don’t shake people’s faith in Christ, we do shake their faith in His followers.

Granted, the non-believer will not be able to excuse his lack of faith or sins because of our failings. Nevertheless, if we’ve harmed or lost a soul because of our behavior, we’ll be held accountable. That millstone of which Jesus spoke? A stone used to grind grain, it was so large and heavy that it had to be turned by a donkey. Drowning with a millstone around one’s neck actually was a form of execution used by the Romans for particularly heinous crimes and Jews found this method especially repulsive and inhumane. Jesus’ reference to the horrific fate of those who cause others to fall into sin was not lost on them. Let it not be lost on us!

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. What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. [Matthew 18:6-7 (NLT)]

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. [Romans 14:13 (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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ASSERT ONLY LOVE

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Ephesians 5:21 (NLT)]

 

While being in lockdown for months may have given some couples a chance to reconnect, that connection wasn’t welcomed by all. Once their mandatory 10-week lockdown was lifted, Italian lawyers reported a 30% surge in couples starting divorce proceedings and both China and Saudi Arabia showed a similar rise when couples emerged from quarantine. For some couples, 24/7 togetherness for weeks on end exacerbated typical martial issues like money, housework, drinking, child care, screen and phone time, and dirty dishes in the sink. With the additional stressors of homeschooling, job loss or working at home, apprehension about the future, and trying to navigate safely in a COVID-19 world, even the best marriages have been tested.

We may have married our spouses for better and worse, in sickness and health, but none of us expected this much togetherness for such an extended time. Before we complain, let’s remember our friends who live alone. With the exception of the pizza delivery man or the cashier behind a plastic shield at Walgreen’s, their contact with the outside world has been from a 6-foot distance. FaceTime or Zoom replaced visits from friends and family and it’s been months since they’ve gotten hugs from anyone. Their isolation puts our petty spousal complaints in perspective!

There always will be disputes in any relationship but, in a good relationship, both parties understand the importance of negotiation and concession. Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly polarized society and the world’s divisiveness seems to have crept into our homes. Lines get drawn in indelible marker (or even cement) and people often think of compromise, trade-offs, finding the middle ground and deference as signs of weakness.

Today, my husband and I celebrate our anniversary. Rather than the traditional romantic dinner, weekend getaway, or family party, we’ll celebrate with a Chicago-style pizza our children sent us and a feel good movie on Netflix. The one tradition we’ll keep, however, is reading 1 Corinthians 13: the same words that were read at our wedding 53 years ago. Paul wasn’t writing about romantic or eros love. As delightful as romantic love is, that’s not what gets people through cancer, job loss, financial worry, Parkinson’s, a disabled spouse, an addicted child, or months of sheltering in place. Paul was writing of agape love—sacrificial unconditional love: the kind of love that carries people through pandemics (and decades of marriage)!

We’re often told to assert ourselves. What if, instead of asserting ourselves, we asserted our love? What if we remembered (and followed) Paul’s words: “love does not demand its own way.” Our love for one another is far more important than almost anything about which we disagree. When faced with disputes, let’s allow love and God to be our guides.

 What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility. [Leo Tolstoy]

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. [1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE RIGHT PATH

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That’s right—you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set. [Psalm 119:1-3 (MSG)]

You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; Then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel. [Psalm 119:4-5 (MSG)]

hiking Steamboat SpringsIn an article about how our post-pandemic new normal will evolve, the author suggested a process for businesses to identify what needs changing in their post COVID-19 world. As a way of illustrating their method, there was an aerial photograph of a college campus quad.  Before designing the walkways for this large green area surrounded on four sides by university buildings, the landscape architects simply sodded the field and observed how the students used the grassy expanse. After a while, the beaten down grass indicated the students’ preferred traffic patterns and it was on those favored paths that they finally placed paved walkways. At first glance, the asymmetric sidewalks seemed random but, once the process was explained, the strange arrangement of paths made sense. It was easy to see how they accommodated people’s tendency to take shortcuts and cut across corners.

While observing emerging patterns of behavior and then accommodating those patterns worked for that quad’s design and may be a good model for business, God doesn’t work that way. He’s not running a business, seeking to improve employee output, or trying to accommodate customers or students rushing to class. God is both perfect and immutable—unchallengeable and unchanging—and He has not designed the world or our lives to accommodate our preferences for ease, efficiency or profit. Instead, we are to adjust our lives to accommodate His desires!

The landscape architects accommodated the students’ tendency to take shortcuts and cut corners. Hoping to keep us from walking on the grass, God doesn’t place the sidewalks where we want them. Instead, He puts the walkways exactly where He wants them and posts signs saying, “Keep off the grass!” Cutting corners and taking shortcuts in life usually involve far more than walking on the grass and God is not about to pave the wrong way for us.

The path God chooses for us isn’t always the easy one. More often than not, it is pretty much guaranteed to be the hard way, one that is often rocky and steep. Nevertheless, since it is God’s way, it is the right way and only path to take.

Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. … What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. [Matthew 7:13-14,21 (MSG)]

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