EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE

I have a special appeal which goes jointly to Euodia and Syntyche: please, please, come to a common mind in the Lord. [Philippians 4:2 (NTE)]

sandhill cranes
These words from Philippians are the only mention of Euodia and Syntyche in the New Testament. Personally, if someone is going to read about me 2,000 years from now, I would prefer something about how easy it was to get along with me rather than about any arguments I had. Because Paul urges the women to settle their disagreement, it seems that their dispute was personal rather than doctrinal. Had the issue been one of doctrine, Paul would have stepped in and corrected the error as he did in many of his letters to the early churches.

Bible scholars have a sense of humor and it’s been suggested that better names for these women would be “Odious” and “Soon Touchy.” Perhaps Euodia really was disagreeable and unpleasant and Syntyche was thin-skinned and quick-tempered. Then again, maybe they were just like the rest of us at our less than best—stubborn, indignant, tactless, resentful, short-tempered, uncompromising, or easily offended. We don’t know what their problem was nor do we know who was “right” and who was “wrong.” In this case, by holding a grudge, they both were in error!

Because people in conflict usually expect others to take sides, conflict affects more than those directly involved. The women’s behavior was threatening the existence of the church at Philippi and their dispute was hindering God’s work. To save the church, Paul didn’t tell them they had to become best friends or even agree with each other, just to be of the same mind as the Lord. For the sake of the church, he wanted them to find a way to live in harmony.

The letter to the Philippians was written to “all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.” [1:1] In the early church, Paul’s apostolic letters were meant to be read aloud to the entire congregation. Less than 15% of men were literate and that number was less for women. The congregation sat in a circle or semi-circle around the reader so that everyone saw the speaker. This arrangement meant they also saw one another and their reaction to the words spoken. Can you imagine Euodia and Syntyche (and those who may have taken sides in their conflict) as they heard the apostle’s words? There probably was a fair amount of squirming in the seats that day!

Like churches, families can suffer because of quarrels. My friend Wendy’s two sisters have a long-standing feud and refuse to speak with one another. Whenever she returned to her hometown, each sister expected Wendy to spend time with her but got irate and offended if she spent time with the other sibling. Even though Wendy refused to be caught up in their animosity, she was in a no-win situation. Eventually, it became easier to step away from the drama altogether and not return home at all. The sisters’ vendetta impacted more than just Wendy; ten cousins were affected as were the women’s parents when they were alive.

Heavenly Father, knowing that we can’t agree with everybody all of the time, show us how to get along with them. Give us loving, forgiving, and understanding hearts. Toughen our hides so that we don’t take offense so easily. Show us how to have harmony in all of our relationships. Help us to acknowledge other people’s points of view and guide us to respectfully agree to disagree with one another when necessary.

Until the day that you become perfect, don’t expect others to be. [From “Hugs – Daily Inspirations for Grandmas” (Howard Books)]

So, my dear brothers and sisters, get this straight. Every person should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Human anger, you see, doesn’t produce God’s justice! So put away everything that is sordid, all that overflowing malice, and humbly receive the word which has been planted within you and which has the power to rescue your lives. [James 1:19-21 (NTE)]

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VAMPIRES

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. [2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)]

halloweenAs a Christian, I don’t believe in creatures like hobgoblins, witches, ghouls, zombies, or ghosts. I do, however, believe in vampires, just not the fictional undead who live in coffins, shape-shift into bats, have fangs but no reflection, and suck blood from the necks of the unsuspecting. The ones I’ve met are people whose behavior can suck the life right out of us faster than a swarm of mosquitoes!

Saturday Night Live calls one species of vampire “Debbie Downer”. She (or he) sucks the joy out of a room faster than a Miele or Dyson can vacuum up cookie crumbs. Consummate pessimists, they carry a dark cloud of doom with them and continually rain on your parade with tales of tragedy and catastrophe. Then there are the Narcissists—the uncaring, selfish, and self-centered “me first” kind of people. Takers, they neither share nor give (unless it directly benefits them). Closely related are the Talkers—the “listen to me” people. Convinced they know everything, they drone on and on, never let anyone get a word in edgewise, and their ears are mere ornaments on the side of the heads. Then, we have the Martyrs—the suffering victims with their “poor me” complaints. Determined to remain miserable, “yes, but…” is their response to any helpful suggestion. The Bullies are the “my way or the highway” kind of vampires who dictate and demean, intimidate and insult, command and criticize, and browbeat and badger their way through life. Finally, there are the Drama Queens and Kings for whom everything (both big and little) creates a crisis of massive proportions. Worse, they are determined to entangle us in their melodrama, quarrels, and vendettas. Real vampires like these are some of the weapons Satan frequently uses against us.

But, before pridefully pointing fingers at people we know who might fit these descriptions, we should take a hard look at ourselves to make sure we’re not one of them! I suspect that, at one time or another, each of us have been a little like them all!

Legend has it that vampires can’t enter your home unless you invite them in. I don’t know about Dracula, but that holds true for these vampires. While God call us to love, pray for, forgive and, as much as possible, “live peaceably with all” [Romans 12:8], He never tells us we must welcome these vampires into our lives, willingly open our collars, bare our necks, and submit to their torture! Granted, some of them may be unavoidable and could be in our families. Nevertheless, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul assures us that a means of escape comes with every temptation! These vampires only can suck the joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and love out of us if we allow them to do so.

As I recall, exposure to the sun or a crucifix was the way to finish off a vampire in the old movies. The power of the Son and cross continue to defeat the life-sucking vampires we face today. While some of them are unavoidable, we can limit our exposure to them and, with the power of Jesus, we can keep them from sucking the life out of us. We can stand up for ourselves, control our reactions to challenging people and situations, set healthy boundaries, and choose God’s truth and way. As children of God, we are valuable, loved, and forgiven. Nothing and no one should be allowed to rob us of His joy and peace. With the power of the Son and the cross of Christ, we can defeat vampires, ghosts, and anything else that goes bump in the night!

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)]

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NO GUILT

For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. [Matthew 5:45 (NLT)]

peony
50 years ago, mothers spent several days in the hospital before going home with their newborns. While sharing my hospital room with a young woman who’d given birth to her first child, I overheard the pediatrician explain that her baby had Down’s syndrome, was being examined by a pediatric cardiologist, and likely needed immediate surgery. Although my heart broke for that mother, I also felt a sense of relief his news wasn’t for me. Statistically, as the older woman with three children, I was the mother more likely to hear that diagnosis. Knowing I was no more deserving of a healthy child than was she, I felt a tinge of guilt for the healthy infant nursing at my breast.

Have you ever felt guilty for receiving blessings when others weren’t so blessed, for reaping a harvest of blessings that you didn’t sow, for catching “lucky breaks” that come from God’s hand, or for having the equivalent of manna from heaven when others go hungry? We’re no more deserving than anyone else and yet our fertility treatment worked, we beat the odds with the chemo, we survived the crash, a loved one got sober, or our prodigal child returned. While others are not so blessed, we have healthy babies, loving parents, successful children, a financially secure retirement, a booming business, or simply were in the right place at exactly the right time. Yes, we may have prepared well and worked hard, but so have others who never enjoyed those blessings! When hearing the horrific stories told by Ian’s survivors and witnessing the destruction this hurricane left in its wake, I felt guilty admitting that the worst we suffered was lack of cell service, 24-hours without TV, and a few hours of yard and lanai clean-up.

With so many others suffering or in need, I’m probably not alone in feeling some sort of guilt or shame for God’s blessings like better circumstances, answered prayers, and what seems like “dumb luck.” Job asked “Why me?” about his suffering and I can’t help but wonder “Why me, Lord?” about the incredible blessings He’s bestowed on me. But, just as Job never discovered God’s reasoning, neither will I! As the one who controls the universe, God knows exactly what He’s doing even though we don’t. Rather than understand Him, God asks us to trust in His infinite wisdom and love.

God is not sadistic, cruel, neglectful, incompetent, or capricious. He doesn’t scatter blessings and trials impulsively, haphazardly, or accidentally. Knowing the past, present, and future of the entire cosmos, His perspective is far wider than ours ever will be. Although He orchestrates events that frequently seem questionable, needless, tragic, or unjust, we must accept that God is God and we, most definitely are not. We will never know the reasons behind our blessings or tragedies.

As Christ followers, what we do know is that we are recipients of the most undeserved and greatest gift of all—Jesus! As sinful and undeserving as we are, I suspect none of us feel guilty about receiving God’s only son and the salvation and eternal life that He purchased for us! Why then should we feel any guilt for His other blessings (all of which are equally undeserved)?

Let us remember that guilt is a gift from the enemy. If he can’t make us envious of the blessings received by others, he’ll try to make us ashamed of the blessings God gives to us. Rather than questioning God’s reasoning, let us recognize His amazing grace and appreciate his lavish generosity. It’s an insult to the Giver of All Gifts to discount, disregard, squander, or fail to appreciate, enjoy, and use all that we’ve been given. While we should be humble when accepting God’s blessings, we must never be ashamed or embarrassed about them.

If God has bestowed a blessing upon us, it’s because others are in need and we are the means by which He fills those needs. The only reason for guilt or shame is when we’re not good and faithful servants who steward and share His gifts wisely and generously while giving God the glory!

All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors. [John Calvin]

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 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 2:8-10 (NLT)]

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A FEARLESS INVENTORY

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. [1 John 1:8-9 (NLT)]

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. [Step 4 of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous]

great blue heron

Step four in most twelve-step recovery programs requires “a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” However, it’s not just addicts or alcoholics who should take an honest inventory of themselves—we all should. Blindness to our faults can keep us from far more than recovery; it keeps us from a relationship with Jesus. Sin keeps us from being the people God wants us to be because it weighs us down with guilt and shame.

While most of us probably have no problem saying, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and admitting we’ve trespassed, the problem occurs when we’re asked to catalog those trespasses! We’d much rather gloss over our faults than face the unpleasant task of honest self-examination. Real confession, however, requires more than just admitting we’re sinners; it requires taking a good hard look at ourselves to determine how we sinned. Since self-examination can be unpleasant, we tend to generalize or even avoid confession altogether in our prayers; but, we can’t grow spiritually if we’re discounting or ignoring our sins.

It’s easy to spot what’s wrong in the world or in the lives of others but much harder with ourselves. If we’re innocent of the obvious sins—murder, bribery, fraud, assault, worshiping graven images, stealing, and blasphemy—we feel pretty good about our behavior. But even the best Christian, when making a searching and fearless inventory, is likely to find some hypocrisy, bitterness, jealousy, pride, selfishness, greed, prejudice, worry, and/or materialism. Upon further examination, we’ll probably find a list of failures, as well—failure to forgive, show patience, love God with our whole being, love our neighbor as ourselves, have a grateful heart, pray for our enemies, read God’s word, further His kingdom, bear the Fruit of the Spirit, do what we know is right, or give the glory to God.

We don’t need to confess our sins to receive forgiveness. Our sins—past, present, and future—were cancelled when Jesus was nailed to the cross. He paid the debt with His life and anyone who believes in Him receives that forgiveness. The assurance of our forgiveness, however, doesn’t give us carte blanche to keep on sinning.

As Jesus’ followers, we are expected to make war on our sins—to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within” us. How can we go to war if we don’t know what it is we’re battling? Our omniscient God doesn’t need our confession to know our sins—He knows them all. Confession is for us! Simply saying, “forgive us our trespasses” is little more than lip service; admitting lack of forgiveness regarding the ex, surfing for porn, deceit on your resume, or gossiping about your neighbor is taking up arms and engaging in combat against that sin!

Confession makes us open up the junk drawer of our lives, scrutinize it carefully, and toss out the trash that we’ve accumulated. That searching and fearless inventory makes no excuses—it focuses on the truth and accepts full responsibility for the actions. Recognizing that our sins are offensive to God, we repent and forsake our sins, admit our need of God’s saving grace, and commit to walking in Jesus’ footsteps.

Children of God should not make a general confession by acknowledging their innumerable sins in a vague manner, because such confession does not provide conscience opportunity to do its perfect work. They ought to allow the Holy Spirit through their conscience to point out their sins one by one. Christians must accept its reproach and be willing, according to the mind of the Spirit, to eliminate everything which is contrary to God. [Watchman Nee]

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. [Colossians 3:5 (NLT)]

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IN ENEMY TERRITORY

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. [1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)]

anhingaAnhingas are among my favorites of our lake’s birds. Unlike most birds, their bones are heavy and dense and, rather than waders like the herons and egrets or paddlers like the ducks, they are deep-diving swimmers. Lacking the oil glands that waterproof the feathers of other water birds, anhingas (and their cormorant cousins) become water-logged in the water. While making it difficult to remain afloat, that allows them to dive up to sixty feet deep, swim underwater for several hundred feet, and stay underwater for more than a minute. Eventually, however, the birds become so heavy they will sink unless they return to land to dry their feathers.

Every morning I find anhingas resting along the lake’s shoreline and spreading their wings to dry. The wettest ones get barely out of the water but, as they dry, they waddle further back until dry enough to get up onto a rock, bench, or low hanging branch. As their feathers continue to dry, they move higher up in the trees until they are dry and light enough to take flight.

Unlike the lake’s ducks who nest and sleep in the vegetation along the shoreline, anhingas remain on land only out of necessity. Vulnerable to predators, a soaking wet anhinga is like a “sitting duck.” With its stubby legs and large webbed feet, it can’t run; water-logged, the water isn’t a good option and yet it’s too wet to fly up to safety. While hissing, grunting, and trying to look intimidating by ruffling its feathers, raising its tail, lengthening and waving its long neck, and pointing its spear-like beak may deter some birds of prey, that behavior probably won’t dissuade hungry alligators or crocodiles.

Just as being vulnerable to a predator’s attack is part and parcel of being an anhinga, being vulnerable to our enemy’s attack is an inevitable part of being human in our fallen world. Rather than gators and crocs, that enemy is Satan and he can sneak up on us even more adeptly than the wiliest reptile in the Everglades. Rather than the weight of soaking wet feathers, it is the weight of things like pain, illness, betrayal, weariness, conflict, loneliness, loss, disappointment (and even hurricanes) that make us especially vulnerable to attack. The enemy will use every weapon in his armory including lies, half-truths, fear, despair, hopelessness, and (his favorite) doubt to assault our belief in the goodness of God. Fortunately, in His wisdom, God armed us for battle with more than the saber-sharp beak and intimidating appearance of the anhinga. We wage war with the weapons of our faith: God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

An anhinga, aware of its vulnerability when wet, only enters the water to hunt or bathe. With neck extended and eyes wide open, it remains watchful when drying along the shoreline and never dawdles there once dry. Like the anhinga, we must be alert to our vulnerability in our fallen world. Unlike the anhinga, however, we often act as if we’re not sitting smack dab in the middle of the enemy’s territory! A. W. Tozer warns us about thinking of the world as a “playground instead of a battleground.” May we never forget that we live in the enemy’s territory and he is as dangerous as a prowling lion or a hungry alligator!

Anyone who serves the Lord is going to be the target of Satan’s attacks. [Zac Poonen]

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIV)]

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OUR VOWS

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. [Isaiah 54:5 (NLT)]

But you have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel! You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband. I, the Lord, have spoken. [Jeremiah 3:20 (NLT)]


Throughout the Bible, marriage is often used as a metaphor for man’s relationship with God. His covenant with Israel is seen as a form of marriage, their unfaithfulness as adultery, and their alienation from God as divorce. The book of Hosea is a story of a prophet with an unfaithful wife that parallels God’s relationship with his unfaithful people. Some scholars say the entire Song of Songs is an allegory of God’s love for Israel or the church. In the New Testament, John the Baptist describes the Messiah as a bridegroom and Jesus refers to himself as the groom in wedding parables. Marriage was ordained by God and the marital bond illustrates God’s relationship with His people.

55 years ago, I promised to love, comfort, and honor my husband and to forsake all others, keeping myself only for him as long as I lived. I took him for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and to love and cherish until we were parted by death. In light of the many Biblical references to our spiritual marriage, I started to evaluate how I’ve done keeping those same vows with God.

Although I’ve done a pretty good job of doing all that I promised to my husband, I’ve not done as well with God. In times of health, wealth and contentment, I often forgot who made those good times possible. Moreover, I often was doubtful, distant, or angry with God in the times of sickness, scarcity, and sorrow. Since I frequently followed my peers, took the easy rather than right route, and listened to the enemy when I should have listened to Him, I’m not sure I even forsook all others for the Lord. Like a mistress or prostitute, I seemed to love Him for his gifts and often came to Him only because I wanted something more. While I can’t comfort our Almighty God, I’ve probably caused Him a fair amount of discomfort and grief. Fortunately, there was nothing about obedience in my wedding vows because obedience certainly hasn’t been my strong suit with the Lord. While I haven’t failed completely as a spiritual wife, I certainly haven’t kept our covenant relationship as well as I should have done.

On God’s part, like the perfect husband, He has been faithful and loved me in all circumstances. In spite of seeing me at my worst and knowing my every fault, God continued to love me. When I stopped believing in Him, He never stopped believing in me and, when I rejected him, He never rejected me. No matter how unfaithful I have been, God has remained faithful to me. He’s been loving and true to me at my sickest, poorest, and most contemptible. He gave me unconditional love when my love for Him seemed to depend on circumstances. Just as God told Hosea to redeem and love his adulterous wife, God has redeemed and loved me! The gift of His only Son to save my sorry soul is evidence of that.

At landmark anniversaries, people often remake their wedding vows. Our vows to God need to be retaken not just every ten years but every day. Merciful God, thank you for your unconditional and lavish love. Forgive us for being less than you deserve and thank you for giving us more than we could ever desire. In all circumstances, may we love, honor, cherish, and obey you, now and forever.

Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. [Isaiah 62:4-5 (NLT)]

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