WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. [James 1:13-15 (NLT)]

Super Ghost Orchid (by R.J. Wiley)

Once they start collecting orchids, many seemingly normal people become obsessed with them—something the Victorians called orchidelirium. In spite of the threat of federal and state prosecution, some collectors cannot resist the temptation to possess one of the rare orchids found at Corkscrew Swamp and other Florida parks. Because it’s located 50 feet up on a cypress tree, Corkscrew’s super ghost orchid seems safe from poachers but many of Florida’s exotic orchids are stolen from parks, preserves, and homes every year! This summer, a woman was arrested for stealing $4,000 worth of orchids from homes in a town not far from us. As much as I enjoy flowers, it would take far more than an exotic orchid to make me steal from a neighbor’s yard or trudge through the snake and alligator infested waters of a swamp. But, if not an orchid, what would entice me to do such a thing—to do what I clearly know is wrong?

I thought of the old joke in which a man in a bar asks an attractive woman if she’d have sex with him for a million dollars. After she accepts his offer, He then asks if she’d consider it for ten dollars. “What do you take me for?” she asks indignantly. “My dear,” the man replies, “We’ve already established what you are with your first answer. Now we’re just trying to negotiate the price!” What does it take to tempt any of us to step into sin?

At Corkscrew, the Audubon Society has built a boardwalk to keep visitors where they belong. While it helps protect the park’s flora and fauna, its true purpose is to protect the people from the dangers of the swamp. It is, however, a matter of choice as the whether or not a visitor stays on the trail (and not all of them do). In our daily lives, the Bible tells us how to behave and shows us the way we should go. God’s word isn’t there to keep us from enjoying ourselves—it’s there to keep us on the path of righteousness and protect us from sinking in the swamp of sin. But, just like the orchid hunters, we can choose to succumb to temptation, climb over the railings, and walk where we shouldn’t.

“What would you do for a Klondike bar?” was the question asked in the old commercials for the ice cream treat. Their ad campaign was re-launched last year when actress Anna Faris went undercover as a marketing director. She asked a group of expecting couples if any would sign over the naming rights to their baby for a lifetime supply of Klondike bars. For most of us, it would take more than the promise of a rare orchid or an endless supply of ice cream to succumb to Satan and step off God’s path. Satan, however, is no fool; he knows exactly what would tempt us each and every one of us. The question isn’t what we’d do for a rare flower or a frozen treat, but we better know our answer if we were asked what we’d be willing to do for things like wealth, happiness, beauty, fame, youth, health, security, love, or position.

Satan, like a fisher, baits his hook according to the appetite of the fish. [Thomas Adams]

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. [Romans 8:5-6,9 (NLT)]

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LIKE A CANCER

So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. … Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord [Romans 7:17-20,24-25 (NLT)]

Sin is like a cancer that destroys step by step, sometimes so slowly we don’t realize what’s happening to us. [David Jeremiah]

cormorantA suspicious spot was removed at my annual dermatology appointment. When the biopsy indicated cancer, I had Mohs surgery to remove it. In Mohs, the tissue is sliced off in stages and examined by the pathologist to determine if (and where) any cancerous tissue remains. If it does, the surgeon removes the next layer of tissue, the pathologist examines it, and the process continues until no cancer cells remain. While it’s a time-consuming process, Mohs spares healthy tissue while eradicating all of the cancer.

I had a fair amount of time between slicing sessions to ponder how sin is like cancer. Although I look at my face every day, I didn’t recognize that little spot as anything dangerous and I think we’re like that with sin. A large raised red patch would have been easy to notice—the same way a big sin like murder or armed robbery is easily spotted. Small cancers like mine are not so obvious to the naked eye just like a spot of envy, smidgen of gossip, slight stretch of truth, or speck of flirtation can easily be ignored. Moreover, both skin cancer and sin look quite different from one person to another and it seems we’re more likely to notice defects in others than in ourselves!

Unlike skin cancer, which some people get while others never do, none of us truly can avoid contact with sin! Like cancer, sin is opportunistic; it’s just waiting for a chance to invade healthy tissue (and lives). Just as a little spot of unnoticed cancer can grow both deeper and wider so can a little overlooked sin. Fortunately, both cancer and sin are treatable when discovered early enough; they both can be deadly when not.

Although my physician kept my medical record, biopsy reports, and before and after photos, once our sins are forgiven God does not remember them. Being saved means that our confessed and repented sins are forgiven and the slate is wiped clean. Being saved, however, doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to struggle with our propensity to sin any more than having that one spot of cancer removed means I’ll never have another. Just as using sun block with a high SPF is no guarantee against skin cancer, being saved does not guarantee a sin-free life. While sin no longer reigns, like a stray cancer cell, it manages to survive and will try to destroy us.

A dermatologist and pathologist were needed to diagnose my cancer but a little prayerful reflection is all we need to find the sin in our lives. When we ask God to point out anything He finds offensive in us, we can be sure the Holy Spirit will make His voice heard. We go to a doctor to eradicate cancer but, to free us from sin, we go to the Great Physician: Jesus Christ! When a cancerous growth is excised, the doctors and nurses do all of the work but the work of cutting out the sin in our lives requires our effort. Granted, we’ll be empowered by the Spirit but it’s up to us to yield to God’s will and obey His word. While the Holy Spirit enables us to overcome sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions, it’s up to us to say “No!”

Christ is the good physician. There is no disease he cannot heal; no sin he cannot remove; no trouble he cannot help. He is the Balm of Gilead, the Great Physician who has never yet failed to heal all the spiritual maladies of every soul that has come unto him in faith and prayer. [James H. Aughey]

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [Romans 8:11-13]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LOOKS ARE DECEIVING!

tussock mother caterpillar

Stay in control of yourselves; stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is stalking around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. [1 Peter 5:8 (NTE)]

When we took a photo safari in Tanzania several years ago, bathrooms were in short supply and the gentlemen occasionally would step out of the Land Rovers to “check the tires.”  The guides, however, always cautiously chose the “tire-checking” locations and only stopped in the middle of the road in open areas. While there was little privacy, predators had no place in which to hide and any that approached could be seen from a distance. After all, no one wanted to be surprised by a lion while answering nature’s call. Since Satan sometimes skulks around like a hungry lion, it is wise to remember the guides’ advice: never linger where lions (or other predators) may be lurking.

Satan, however, isn’t always as obvious as a prowling lion. Sometimes, he’s more like a snake hidden in the grass waiting for us to approach. Since deceit is the most powerful weapon in his arsenal, we can be sure he won’t be wearing a sign that says, “Danger – Don’t touch!”  In fact, unlike a lion or snake, he may look innocent and rather appealing, like the harmless looking caterpillar I saw while walking in the swamp. Bearing a slight resemblance to a piece of novelty or “eyelash” yarn, it was a pretty little creepy-crawly with delicate tufts of hair. Looking so soft, I was tempted to lightly bush my finger over it. Fortunately, I’d just seen a sign warning of poisonous caterpillars and, suspecting that little guy was not as innocent as it seemed, I kept my hands to myself. The cute critter tuned out to be a tussock moth caterpillar and even a light touch of its soft looking bristles will feel like being pricked by fiberglass! In fact, some species can leave a persistent and painful rash.

We must never forget that Satan is cunning, powerful, resourceful and persistent. Sometimes, like a hungry lion, he actively hunts and we can see him coming from a distance. On the other hand, like a poison caterpillar that looks inviting and innocent, he sometimes lays in wait for us where we’d least expect to find trouble. Either way, we need to be constantly alert. While it may announce itself with a roar, more often than not, temptation looks as harmless as a fuzzy caterpillar. Don’t venture too close!

There is a precipice near every man’s foot, and a snare in every man’s path. … There is a lure for every bird, a bait for every fish. … Watch constantly against those things which are thought to be no temptations. The most poisonous serpents are found where the sweetest flowers grow. [Charles Spurgeon]

Rather, each person is tested when they are dragged off and enticed by their own desires. [James 1:14 (NTE)]

Watch and pray so that you don’t get pulled down into the time of testing. The spirit is eager, but the body is weak. [Matthew 26:41 (NTE)]

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WHAT IS ENOUGH?

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. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.  [1 Timothy 6:7-9 (NLT)]

squirrel

The Bible is filled with stories of God’s provision for his people’s needs. In spite of their complaints about God’s provision, the Israelites never went hungry during their forty year journey. When Elijah was hiding from Jezebel during a time of drought and famine, he was fed by ravens. In Zarephath, God provided Elijah, the widow and her son with enough flour and oil to feed the three of them for three years! Later, God provided Elijah with food enough to sustain him during a forty day journey to Mt. Sinai. Sometimes, God even blesses us with even more than enough, as He did when thousands were fed with a boy’s lunch and several baskets of leftovers remained.

While we may receive more than we need, God doesn’t promise a surplus. Elijah and the widow didn’t have excess flour and oil with which to open a bakery and, if the Israelites tried to squirrel away their manna for anything but the Sabbath, it spoiled and got maggots. Just enough was exactly what God wanted them to have and what He gave them—no more and no less.

The problem for us is that mankind’s concept of “enough” isn’t the same as God’s; David is a perfect example of that weakness. Most of us would think David, the shepherd boy who became a hero and king, had more than enough. He possessed Saul’s entire kingdom and wealth, lived in a palace, and had seven wives along with an unknown number of concubines. Enough was no longer enough, however, once David laid eyes on Bathsheba. Solomon, with his 700 wives and 300 concubines and 25 tons of gold a year, never seemed to think he had enough either!

When is enough enough? God knows, but we don’t. Adam and Eve had all of Eden with the exception of the fruit of one tree, but that wasn’t enough for them! Whether it’s money, friends, time, status, opportunities, jewelry, health, strength, wisdom, or faith—we probably think we don’t have quite enough of something. Whatever it is, we’re sure that if God would just give us a smidgen more of it, then we’d be satisfied. Of course, we wouldn’t because, like Solomon, David, Adam and Eve, we’d want more than enough!

If we’re seeking the Kingdom of God and following God’s plan, He will make sure we have enough and all the resources we need. We may not see it but, if we dig deep enough, we’ll find that God has given us exactly what we need to do His work. If we’re seeking the Kingdom of Self, however, we’ll never be satisfied that we have enough.

Do you have enough?

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (NLT)]

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:33 (NLT)]

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HOLIDAY GATHERINGS

zebras - serengettiAvoid foolish controversies, arguments about genealogies, quarrels, and fights about Moses’ Teachings. This is useless and worthless. [Titus 3:9 (GW)]

Four years ago, our Thanksgiving weekend was a busy one, in large part to the celebration of my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday. While the results of the presidential election weren’t disputed four years ago, the political mood that November was just as divisive as it is today, making for some awkward and challenging gatherings. Today’s contentious political climate can be problematic at holiday get-togethers this year, as well. With the rhetoric even more heated, conspiracy theories running wild, and the prevalence of vicious postings on social media, even Zoom calls with family could be challenging!

Recognizing that the next several weeks will require diplomacy, tact, restraint, and a great deal of love, I thought I’d repeat the following devotion that was first published on Thanksgiving eve, 2016.

“Our days are few, and far better spent in doing good than in disputing over matters which are, at best, of minor importance,” were the words in my morning’s devotion by Charles Spurgeon. Although they were in reference to Paul’s words to Titus regarding divisive arguments in the early church, they are words to remember as we gather with family and friends at our tables tomorrow. Let’s face it, for the next several weeks, we’ll be thrown together with a wide assortment of people, all of whom will have at least one opinion that differs from ours. Moreover, while we share genealogy and genes with family members, we often have little else in common. Some people say Thanksgiving dinner without an argument or two is like turkey with no stuffing or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade without helium balloons. Nevertheless, I’m not so sure acrimony has to ruin our day of national thanks. Remembering Paul’s words to Titus can help us through tomorrow and the rest of the holiday season.

All of us have dropped our anchors on certain issues and we’re not about to change our opinions on those. Let’s honor the rights of others to drop anchor on their beliefs, as well. There are, however, far more issues where, rather than dropping anchor, we could tie up to the pier and quietly listen to the person berthed across the dock; we just might have more in common than we realize. Fearless listening occurs when we’re not afraid to truly hear another person’s point of view.

Keep in mind that holiday get-togethers are not debate stages or battle grounds and a friendly discussion should remain amicable. Although a friendly discussion is never about winning, I have one friend who actually prepares for disputes by packing news articles supporting her viewpoints in her purse and suitcase. Although out-of-tune pianos can be tuned, some minds can’t be changed and it is foolish to even try. Moreover, even when people have well-founded opinions, many differences will never be reconciled. Wisdom is knowing when to stop a discussion and true wisdom is knowing enough not to start!

We will gather with twenty-eight people tomorrow and seventy-five the following day. In spite of the old saying never to talk about religion or politics, considering the recent election, there is sure to be discussion of at least one of those topics. In addition to people with diverse (and strong) opinions, any holiday gathering has its share of conspiracy theorists, whiners, complainers, nitpickers, and over-indulgers. Getting through a holiday dinner can be like traversing a mine field!

Being a vegetarian, I’m used to politely saying, “Thank you, no,” when the shrimp, turkey, gravy and sausage stuffing are urged on me. Being a follower of Christ, I’ll silently say, “Thank you, no!” every time an opportunity for dissension, anger, criticism, pettiness, or insult comes passing my way. I’ll also pray a lot! Personally, I’ve found, “Please, God, put your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth!” to serve me well.

Blessings, peace, and joy to you tomorrow!

Our business is neither to ask nor answer foolish questions, but to avoid them altogether. [Charles Spurgeon]

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments. You know they cause quarrels. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel. Instead, he must be kind to everyone. He must be a good teacher. He must be willing to suffer wrong. [2 Timothy 2:23-24 (GW)]

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RULES

This is what the Lord has commanded: A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do. [Numbers 30:1-2 (NLT)]

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. …For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’” [Matthew 23, 15-16 (NLT)

water lily

As any parent of a teenager knows, it’s impossible to have enough rules to cover all the ways your child can err. Schemers that they are, they’ll always find a way around restrictions. When I attended boarding school, for example, several of us girls had our ears pierced by a fellow student (an aspiring physician). We knew that neither school nor parents would endorse numbing our ears with icicles and piercing them with a sewing needle and dental floss but, without a specific rule against it, we pierced them anyway. Because it was the school’s second year, the administration hadn’t anticipated all the ways we teens could misbehave and our student handbook was only one page. Now, 57 years later, that handbook is 33 pages long and covers such things as body piercings and tattoos, drones, room searches, recording devices, prohibited clothing, subwoofers, a roommate’s rights, and unauthorized access to the school’s computer system. I imagine next year’s handbook will be even longer and reflect yet another way its students have managed to flout authority.

Of course, it’s not just teenagers who assume that, if something isn’t specifically prohibited, it must be allowed. No matter their age, people will try to find a way around every inconvenient or bothersome rule. For example, God made it clear that a vow made before Him was binding. Keeping promises, however, can prove problematic and, through a convoluted re-interpretation of the law, the Pharisees of Jesus’ time created a loophole. If one swore by the gold on the altar, the promise was binding. But, if one swore only by the altar or temple, it was like crossing your fingers and the promise could be broken with impunity: a promise was only a promise if it was expedient.

We girls knew we shouldn’t have pierced our ears that way, the Pharisees knew that God meant for all promises to be kept, and today’s students shouldn’t need a specific rule stating that roommates must be spoken to in a respectful manner. While there were plenty of laws in the Old Testament, Jesus boiled them all down to two simple ones: love God and love our neighbor. In a perfect world these would be the only laws necessary. The world, however, isn’t perfect which is why we still have regulations and school handbooks.

Just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily make it right and just because something isn’t specifically prohibited doesn’t mean it should be done. Jesus lived by one law: the law of love. Regardless of the rules, like Him, we must let the two-fold commandment of loving God and loving our neighbor guide us in everything we do.

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. [Romans 13:8-10 (NLT)]

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