GRIEVING HIM

In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years. But they rebelled against him and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he became their enemy and fought against them. [Isaiah 63:9-10 (NLT)]

SQUIRRELMany years ago, my two boys were playing at their grandparents’ house. While Grandpa worked in the garden, the brothers climbed high up the apple tree and started to throw apples at him. A patient man, their grandfather told them to stop and, when more apples came whizzing at him, he offered a sterner warning. After briefly stopping their barrage, the rascals were unable to resist the temptation and chucked more apples at their grandpa. To their surprise, this gentle and loving man turned around, picked up some apples, and returned fire. Having played ball as a boy, Gramps had a strong throwing arm and excellent aim. He didn’t pull any punches as he pitched those apples back at his grandsons. The boys, unable to maneuver easily in the tree, quickly learned the meaning of “as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.” When they called, “Stop, Grandpa, it hurts!” he replied, “Yes, I know it does, but you needed to learn that!” It wasn’t until those hard apples hit their bodies that the boys understood how much their disobedience hurt their grandfather (both physically and emotionally).

This is one of my boys’ favorite stories about their Grandpa. They aren’t mad that he hurled those apples back at them; they’re proud of him for loving them enough to discipline them. They learned a variety of lessons that day and not just that being hit by an apple hurts or never to be caught up a tree. They learned to listen to and obey their grandfather, that disobedience brings reckoning, and that obedience brings rewards (like apple pies). They also learned that their naughtiness grieved their grandfather as much as their punishment hurt them.

We know that Jesus experienced both physical and emotional pain when He walked the earth but what does God the Father experience? As a spirit, without a nervous system, I doubt that He feels physical pain, but what about emotional pain? Does God have feelings? There are two opposing theological schools of thought about this question (the doctrine of impassibility vs. the passibility of God) and a whole lot of middle ground in-between. Not being a theologian, I’m not addressing doctrine. Nevertheless, throughout the Bible, we find examples of God expressing emotions like love, joy, compassion, hate, jealousy, anger and even grief. Like any parent, God’s heart is touched by His children; it seems that He can feel our pain and that we can cause Him pain.

Although Scripture tells us that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love, like the boys’ grandfather, God eventually will get angry. Moreover, Scripture shows us that disobedience aggrieves our heavenly Father as much as an apple on the noggin and my boys’ defiance hurt their grandpa. When we disobey God, disgrace His name, doubt His love, forsake our faith, reject His guidance, choose hate over love or callousness over compassion, we bring sorrow, grief and pain to God. Scripture tells us that God can grieve and the parables of the missing coin, prodigal son, and lost sheep also tell us that God can rejoice. Rather than bringing grief to God, let us always do what pleases Him, for it is in the joy of the Lord that we find strength.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. … Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. [Ephesians 4:30a, 31-23; 5:10 (NLT)]

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THE ALARM

Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. [Romans 2:14-15 (NLT)]

robinLooking back, I realize we’d heard a chirp once or twice earlier that day but had ignored it. Busy running errands, we’d given the odd sound no thought. At 12:22 AM, however, the source became obvious and could no longer be ignored. The bedroom smoke alarm was chirping loudly every minute or so. I looked at my husband with envy—without his hearing aids, he was oblivious to the annoying noise above our heads. Since there was no way I was going to return to slumber, I woke him and we replaced the battery. Two nights later, when the same thing happened with the brand new battery, we simply took it out and went back to bed. I’m embarrassed to admit we had no battery in that alarm for the next several months. Since 60% of home fire deaths occur in properties without a working smoke alarm, we were foolish to ignore the problem.

Rather than replacing the battery, we actually needed to replace our 15-year old smoke alarms. The U.S. Fire Administration (part of FEMA), suggests replacing smoke alarms every ten years. After a decade, alarm sensors are compromised by dust, insects, contaminants and circuitry corrosion and their failure rate is 30%.

The smoke alarm got me thinking about another alarm we have—conscience. Made in the image of God, we all have an innate understanding of right and wrong, good and evil. Like a smoke alarm, however, its sensors can fail to work properly. Rather than dust or spider webs, things like pride, selfishness, prejudice, materialism, envy, and jealousy can corrode its circuits. Fallible, it can be convinced to condone, excuse, or justify the indefensible, inexcusable, and sinful. By themselves, consciences can be as unreliable as thirty year old smoke alarms (nearly all of which fail).

Fortunately, as Christians, we have something in addition to a conscience—the voice of the Holy Spirit. It is His voice that points us to God’s ways. His presence renews and reshapes our conscience into a much bigger and better alarm—one based on God’s word rather than convenience or objectives. While we can manipulate our conscience into seeing things our way, we can’t sway the Holy Spirit; God’s standards don’t change with the situation or our desires. Moreover, the Spirit’s voice doesn’t stop at determining right from wrong; it convicts us of the need for repentance and change. It’s like the new smoke alarms we now have that interconnect, inform us of the type and location of the danger, and tell us to evacuate. Fortunately, instead of a seven year warranty, the Holy Spirit can last a lifetime!

Our new improved Holy Spirit-powered conscience won’t do us much good if we don’t recognize and heed it. Unless we read God’s word, it’s easy to mistake which voice we’re hearing (ours or the Spirit’s). While gentle and loving, the Spirit’s voice can be brutally honest and, like a smoke alarm, it demands action. When the Psalmist asked God to point out anything He found offensive, he had to expect a truthful answer and one that he might not like. Although we can’t remove the Spirit’s batteries, we can ignore His words of conviction. Like those people without functioning smoke alarms, however, we do so at our own risk.

Let us therefore not deceive ourselves. In walking according to the spirit we shall hear the direction of conscience. Do not try to escape any inward reproach; rather, be attentive to its voice. [Watchman Nee]

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. [Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)]

My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. [1 Corinthians 4: 4 (NLT)]

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DEVOTIONAL MOODS

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. [Colossians 4:2 (NLT)]

Ghost Ranch NMIn his classic satire The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives the reader a series of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, advising the novice demon on ways to secure the damnation of his “patient,” an ordinary young man. Warning that the demons are defeated whenever man directs his gaze toward God, Screwtape encourages his nephew to keep the patient (a new Christian) from praying. If prayer can’t be prevented, he advises getting the fellow into a “devotional mood… since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s [God’s] service.” Screwtape reassures Wormwood that “lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.” It won’t be difficult to redirect the patient’s attention, he tells his nephew, since humans aren’t really as desirous of “the real nakedness of the soul in prayer” as they suppose.

We know that Jesus prayed frequently and fervently. Luke, who was a physician, tells us Jesus prayed so hard in Gethsemane that He sweat blood. This rare condition, called hematohidrosis, was reported by both Aristotle and Theophrastus more than 300 years before Christ. Under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress, the tiny blood vessels surrounding the sweat glands can constrict and then dilate to the point of rupture; blood then flows into the sweat glands and a person can literally sweat blood. That night in Gethsemane, as Jesus agonized in the garden, there was nothing superficial or lazy about His prayer.

After reading Screwtape’s counsel to his nephew, I thought about my morning devotional time. By 5:30 AM, I am in a comfy chair, sipping a latte, and surrounded by iPad, Bibles, books, notebook and pen. During the next 90 minutes or so, I read assorted devotions and Bible commentaries, get through a few chapters in the Bible and whatever book I’m studying in small group, journal, and pray. Unfortunately, with prayer being last, it often is least and, while sincere, it can be rather generic and hurried. Screwtape’s devilish words helped me see how easy it is to mistake my “devotional mood” for prayer. Thinking about God, even spending time in His word, is no substitute for talking with the Big Guy Himself! I don’t think God expects us to pray so passionately that we sweat blood; nevertheless, I do think He expects us to bare our souls in His presence.

Establishing and reinforcing our connection with God, prayer is far more than study and reflection or telling God what it is we want. It is a concentrated, purposeful and deliberate time of worship, praise, thanksgiving, self-examination, confession, repentance, acceptance, intercession, and petition. Rather than being in a “devotional mood,” prayer is attending to God and His voice with undivided attention and submitting to His will with an undivided heart.

Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray. [Samuel Chadwick]

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

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FEAR THE LORD

But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away. [1 Samuel 12:24-25 (NLT)]

horicon WisconsinWhile I prefer thinking fear of the Lord means regarding him with reverential awe, when Samuel said “Fear the Lord,” he meant good old fashioned terror and dread. Rather than trust in God, the Israelites had asked for a king and gotten Saul. As long as they and their king walked with God, Samuel said that all would go well for them but, if they rebelled and disobeyed, there would be serious trouble. To make God’s message crystal clear, he prayed for thunder and rain. While a rain storm would seem a blessing to people in an arid land, it was harvest time and rain during harvest would damage the crops and cause them to rot. Not a boon but a disaster, this clear sign of God’s displeasure terrified the people and demonstrated God’s tremendous power over their lives. The same God who brought blessings to them when He parted the Red Sea, made the walls of Jericho fall, rained hailstones on the Amorites, and scattered the Philistines with a thunderstorm, could rain trouble upon them as well. The thunderstorm showed that they could be punished for disobedience as easily as they’d been blessed for obedience. The Israelites were given good reason to fear the Lord.

Unfortunately, Samuel’s warnings (and those of the many prophets who followed) were not heeded and, as prophesied, the kingdom was swept away less than 500 years later. One of God’s Biblical names is Elohay Mishpat, the God of Justice; the fall of Israel and Judah was His judgment against injustice, evil, disobedience, and sacrilege.

What does fear the Lord mean to us today? The Hebrew word for fear is yirah and it can be applied in many different ways. It conveys dread and terror: the sort of fear the Israelites had when God displayed his awesome power and authority with that rain storm. Yirah also expresses reverential awe, wonder, worship and respect. Fear of the Lord means regard for His might, trust in His limitless love, awe of His majesty and power, loving reverence for His being,  submission to His commands, and an overwhelming mindfulness of His existence in our lives. Let us never forget, however, that our God is fearfully powerful. As followers of Christ, we have no need to fear natural disaster, the strange or unfamiliar, the future, shame or embarrassment, speaking the gospel, enemies, persecution, judgment, or even death. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I beg to differ; the only thing we have to fear is the Lord!

Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [Matthew 10:28 (NLT)]

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. [Hebrews 12:28 (NLT)]

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OTHER DEMONS

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39 (NLT)]
Halloween ghost

Yesterday, I wrote of the emotional vampires that can plague us but there are other demons even harder to spot than those two-legged ones. Invisible, they go by the names of guilt, anger, doubt, resentment, shame, regret, fear, and worry. They haunt us with “if only,” “what if,” “should have,” and “could have” and leave us discontented, sullen, resentful, fearful or worried. They are the hobgoblins that whisper lies and half-truths in our ears: we’re unlovable, contemptible, unforgiven, helpless, inadequate, or worthless. Like vampires, these monsters also can suck the life out of us. Friends of the enemy, they keep us from living boldly, stepping out in faith, and leading the fulfilling and joyful life Jesus promised.

It’s time to declare war on these monsters; they have no place in our lives. In the old movies, evil was repelled by the crucifix—a mere religious symbol. In real life, however, it is the power of Jesus that defeats the enemy! Through His power, we can banish those demons that steal our joy and suck the life from us. We can face our secrets, shed our shame, forgive others (and ourselves), know we are loved, release our anxiety and fear, trust God and choose His truth. The voice we hear can be that of the Holy Spirit rather than the unsettling voice of the enemy. With the power of the cross, we will be able to step out of the haunted house of our lives not in fear, but in faith—not in darkness, but in light.

Heavenly Father, help us look into the dark corners of our lives and, through your power, banish the demons that keep us from the abundant life you promised.

The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls. [Edgar Allen Poe]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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LOST IN THE MAZE

All of us like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. [Isaiah 53:6a (NLT)

blue morning gloryWhen visiting my daughter’s family in New Mexico, a trip to the pumpkin farm and navigating through the dreaded corn maze is a fall tradition. I say “dreaded” because I’m so directionally challenged that I’d have trouble finding my way out of a box. Fortunately, my daughter did not inherit my poor sense of direction so, like a good shepherd, she carries the map and leads her flock through the maze. As long as the family is in eyesight, I pay no attention to where we are. Last time out, I saw some beautiful blue morning glories and stopped to take photos. Seeing prettier ones down a path, I went over to them, spotted a butterfly, and started following it through the corn. Before I knew it, my family was nowhere in sight and I was hopelessly lost. In a labyrinth of corn stalks, every path seemed to be a dead end and, having left my phone in the car, I couldn’t even call my daughter! Eventually, hearing someone call my name, I looked up and saw my family standing on a high viewing platform in the middle of the field. From their vantage point, they managed to direct me through the maze until I rejoined them.

In Jesus’s parable of the Good Shepherd, I’d often wondered how that one sheep got lost if the shepherd was properly shepherding; now I know. The shepherd was doing his job by leading and the flock was doing theirs by following, but that one lamb wasn’t paying attention to either of them. Perhaps it found some tasty red clover and, spotting a field of pink vetch, wandered over for a nibble. Maybe, like me, it followed a butterfly and, before the lamb knew what happened, it was all alone. It didn’t mean to stray; it just stopped following the flock and paying attention to the shepherd and, once on its own, the lamb was vulnerable to attack. Fortunately, the good shepherd went looking for it just as my family looked for me.

It’s incredibly easy to lose our way, not just in mazes and pastures, but in the complicated, bewildering and often perilous world in which we live. Jesus, our Shepherd, wants us to be safe by remaining part of His flock. Unfortunately, instead of morning glories or butterflies, we can get distracted by anything from busyness to boredom, from success to defeat. We don’t mean to stray but things like ambition, popularity, self-importance, doubt, worry, discontent, anger, guilt, or disappointment can sidetrack us. We start to wander and, before we know it, we’re lost and vulnerable to the enemy’s attack. Fortunately, we don’t need a phone to call our Good Shepherd; a simple prayer is all it takes.

Staying connected with other people of faith—people who follow the shepherd and will guide us when we’re lost, encourage us when we’re overwhelmed, and correct us when we make a wrong turn—is vital for our survival. As I discovered in the corn maze, it’s best to stay close to the shepherd and flock: they’re the ones with the map who know where they’re going! On the other hand, as members of the flock, it’s important to notice when a lamb has gone missing.

After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. … My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  [John 10:4,16b,27 (NLT)]

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