LOST IN THE MAZE

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. [Psalm 119:105 (NLT)]

scarecrowAlthough we usually visit my daughter’s family in New Mexico in October, my broken ankle canceled our plans. The only bright spot in the cancelation is that I won’t have to participate in the dreaded family tradition of navigating through the corn maze at the pumpkin farm! I say “dreaded” because I’m so directionally challenged that I’d have trouble finding my way out of a box. Actually, after our first outing, I’m surprised any of us ever again ventured into another corn maze.

For our first venture, we chose what was reported to be the best (and largest) maze in the area—a 16-acre corn field that had been transformed into an intricately designed labyrinth. Although we had a small map, we soon became convinced that it was for an entirely different maze. Between the trail’s fiendish twists and turns and its 6-foot walls of corn stalks, we soon were totally lost. We had no idea where we were, let alone where we’d been or where we were going. Hot, thirsty, and tired, the little ones started to whine and complain and we adults weren’t much better. What was supposed to be a fun family outing was turning into a miserable afternoon.

While pausing to finish the last of our water, my husband happened to glance down at the stakes placed along the pathways. Connected by twine, they kept people from taking shortcuts or straying off the convoluted trail into the corn. Seeing that some stakes had a barely noticeable tiny arrow drawn on their  ends, we tried following the markings. Finding that they never led us into dead ends or left us walking in circles, we continued following those arrows all the way to the exit. Even though the solution to our problem was right in front of us, in our frustration, we hadn’t seen it.

While wandering through that maze, we were like a flock of sheep without a shepherd—and a flock without a shepherd is just a herd of lost sheep (maybe even dead ones since they’ve been known to follow one another off cliffs or into deep water)! While we may be smarter than sheep, like them, we need guidance and our Shepherd is the Lord. While it’s easier to follow His lead when all is going well and the path seems straightforward, it grows more difficult when the path He’s laid out for us is a complicated or challenging one. In God’s world, however, there are no shortcuts and sometimes we have to navigate through what seems a hopeless maze. Think of the convoluted routes taken by the Apostle Paul on his four mission trips, the less than straightforward route to Canaan God gave Moses, and the many years and challenges encountered by David before he became king. The paths on which God placed them were filled with twists, turns, and even a few dead ends.

Although our Shepherd will never abandon us, it sometimes seems as if He has. Feeling hopelessly lost, we find ourselves unsure of where to go or what to do as we wander through a maze of difficulties or major decisions. Rather than tiny arrows drawn on wooden stakes, God guides us through our journey with His word. Without it, we can find ourselves as lost as my family was in that corn field. Whether the path God puts us on is a complex maze or a straightforward four-lane freeway, He has provided us with all the guidance we need in Scripture. Far more accurate than our useless map and easier to understand than those arrows, His word can be trusted to lead us through our troubles to hope, safety, sustenance, strength, and peace.

 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOD IDEAS

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]

Every Friday, I’m emailed a “weekly wisdom” consisting of two pithy sayings like, “Don’t just trust God for things; trust Him in things,” or “You can’t enjoy today if you’re worrying about the past or the future.” Last week’s wisdom really hit home with, “Not every good idea is a God idea!” More than once, I’ve looked back with regret while saying, “It seemed like such a good idea at the time!”

When she did it, eating that forbidden fruit probably seemed like a good idea to Eve just as moving to the beautiful grazing land near Sodom seemed a good idea to Lot. David’s ideas about taking a census to know the strength of his troops and transporting the Ark on a cart might have seemed good ones at the time but he lived to regret them. Fresh from his victory over Edom, King Amaziah may have thought it good strategy to challenge King Jehoash of Israel and, anxious for a child, Sarah probably thought it a good plan to give Hagar to Abraham. Saul’s idea to make sacrifices without waiting for Samuel, Rebekah’s scheme to deceive Isaac, and Hezekiah showing off his riches to envoys from Babylon may have seemed like good ideas at the time but, like those others, they weren’t! They may have looked like good ideas but none were God’s idea and all ended badly.

What those words of wisdom should have added, however, is that not every God idea seems like a good one. In fact, many make no sense to our mortal reasoning. Even though it was God’s idea to lead the people back toward Egypt and camp facing Pharaoh’s army with their backs to the Red Sea, it probably didn’t seem like a good idea to Moses and the Israelites. Joshua probably had reservations about exhausting his troops by marching them around Jericho for seven days and Gideon must have wondered at the wisdom of reducing his army of 32,000 to 300. Being told by God to deliberately marry a promiscuous woman who would betray him probably made no more sense to Hosea than buying land occupied by the Babylonians did to Jeremiah or building an enormous boat with no water nearby did to Noah. Nevertheless, as unreasonable as God’s ideas might have seemed to them, they faithfully obeyed. Regardless of appearances, they knew that God’s ideas are good ones!

We tend to think that the ideas we like are good ones (and God’s) and the ideas we don’t like couldn’t possibly come from Him which makes it difficult to discern the difference between God’s ideas and ours. The more we know of Him and His word, however, the easier it will be to determine if our good ideas and God’s ideas are the same. Even when God’s idea doesn’t seem like a good one, rest assured that, when God tells us to do (or not to do) something, we can know that His idea is far better than any we might have!

God does not exist to answer our prayers, but by our prayers we come to discern the mind of God. [Oswald Chambers]

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” [Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOING “ALL-IN”

My dear family, I don’t reckon that I have yet overtaken it. But this is my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead. I mean to chase on towards the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NTE)]

dolphinJeopardy contestant James Holzhauer became known for his 32-game winning streak, massive winnings, and his “all-in” hand gesture while putting all of his winnings on the line when answering a Daily Double. A new champion is in the making with Ph.D. student Matt Amodio. Like Holzhauer, he plays an aggressive game and is not timid when it comes to the Daily Double. Last Wednesday, after saying “all-in,” he wagered his entire holdings of $8,000 and lost it all; undeterred by the previous night’s Daily Double loss, he again went “all-in” with a $10,400 wager the next day. His willingness to go “all-in” has paid off handsomely and, by the end of the week, he’d won 28 games and amassed $1,004,001.

Seeing both Holzhauer and Amodio fearlessly go “all-in” when it comes to game show winnings, I wondered if we’re as fearless when it comes to going “all-in” when it comes to God. Showing tremendous confidence in their intelligence and knowledge of trivia, neither contestant allowed previous set-backs to keep them from their purpose. Granted, their goal was to amass as much money as possible yet I question whether we’re as confident in God and as determined in our purpose to serve him faithfully. Are we “all-in” when it comes to following Jesus?

Scripture’s heroes are people who went “all-in” – not with their money but with their lives. Noah was “all-in” when he built the ark on dry land, Jochebed was all-in when she placed the infant Moses in a basket and placed him on the bank of the Nile, and Abraham went “all-in” when he left his homeland, packed up his possessions, and set off to parts unknown. The unmarried Mary wasn’t so naïve that she didn’t know the risks of her choice, but she went “all-in” when she chose to become pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Think of John and James who went “all-in” when they left their father and fishing boat or Matthew who left his lucrative tax collector job. Peter went “all-in” when he stepped out of the boat to walk on water, the woman with the bleeding disorder was “all-in” when she ventured into the crowd to touch Jesus, and the unnamed woman was “all-in” when she anointed Jesus’ feet and hair with her tears and costly jar of fragrant oil. The poor widow was “all-in” when she dropped two small coins in the collection box, Stephen was “all-in” when he continued to preach the gospel as stones rained down on him, Barnabas went “all-in” when he sold his land and gave the proceeds to the church, and Peter and John were “all-in” when they defied the authorities and continued to boldly proclaim the gospel. Like Holzhauer and Amodio, they took risks with no guarantee of success but, unlike those game show contestants, they didn’t do it for themselves; they did it for God. It wasn’t an earthly prize they sought; it was a heavenly one!

Think of the rich young ruler who, although he wanted to know Jesus, was reluctant to surrender to Him. Unwilling to go “all-in,” he walked away from the Lord and missed an eternal relationship with God! What about us? Are we “all-in” when it comes to Jesus? With His words that we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,” Jesus is telling us that we are to go “all-in” all of the time. Do we?

He then spoke to them all. “If any of you want to come after me,” he said, “you must say No to yourselves, and pick up your cross every day, and follow me. If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me, you’ll save it. What good will it do you if you win the entire world, but lose or forfeit your own self? … “Nobody,” replied Jesus, “who begins to plough and then looks over his shoulder is fit for God’s kingdom.”  [Luke 9:23-25,62 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

FARMA – Part 3

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” [Matthew 13:24-28 (ESV)]

sunflowerWhile we usually reap what we sow, we also can receive unexpected and undeserved harvests! When we lived in the north, courtesy of God and nature, wildflower seeds took root in the field next to our house and Spiderwort, Sunflowers, Dame’s Rocket, and Wild Bergamot grew there without any effort on my part. Although I hadn’t sowed them, I never protested those beautiful wildflowers; I just thanked God for them. None of us are likely to complain to God about the many undeserved blessings He regularly bestows on us!

While we certainly don’t object when we get a harvest of blossoms, we’re sure to protest when we receive an unexpected (and seemingly undeserved) harvest of life’s thistles. Like the farmer who sowed high-quality seeds only to discover weeds growing in his field, we were distressed the year we discovered our beautiful field of wildflowers had been invaded by thistles. Although we hadn’t planted the invasive weeds, the unwelcome thistles were there!

Shortly before his eviction from Eden, Adam was told that the ground would yield thistles and thorns along with grain. That warning was both literal and figurative. Satan will spread his seeds wherever and whenever the opportunity arises and the enemy’s seeds of evil can invade people’s lives no matter how many good seeds they’ve sown. We can sow the seeds of love and fidelity but still be betrayed by an unfaithful spouse, we can work carefully and industriously but get downsized, we can drive cautiously and courteously but get hit by a drunk driver, and, even though we pray for and love our enemy, he may continue to hate us!

While we should expect more of the same when we sow thistle seeds, we’re perplexed when we’ve sown seeds of righteousness and get things like misfortune, difficulty, suffering, or loss. That’s the enemy assaulting us and we can’t allow his seeds of hatred, anger, resentment, doubt, or violence to take root in our hearts. Rather than wonder why, our job is simply to faithfully tend our fields and keep sowing seeds of righteousness. When the time is right, God will take care of the weeds and we’ll be part of a wonderful harvest.

If I ask, “Why me?” about my troubles, I would have to ask, “Why me?” about my blessings. … I take the good with the bad, and I try to face them both with as much calm and dignity as I can muster. [Arthur Ashe]

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BUYING A FIELD

See how the siege ramps have been built against the city walls! Through war, famine, and disease, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, who will conquer it. Everything has happened just as you said.  And yet O Sovereign LORD, you have told me to buy the field—paying good money for it before these witnesses—even though the city will soon be handed over to the Babylonians. Then this message came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me? [Jeremiah 32:24-27 (NLT)]

grand tetons - jackson holeUnder siege for nearly a year, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonians, and Judah’s future looked grim. Whether it was poverty or the desire to get rid of property that soon would be worthless once Babylon invaded, Hanamel decided to sell his land in Anathoth, about three miles from Jerusalem. Under Israelite law, property was supposed to stay within a family and so Hanamel offered it to his cousin, the prophet Jeremiah.

Since Anathoth already was under Babylonian control, Hanamel’s real estate deal would be like being offered property in Kabul, Afghanistan. While real estate often is considered a good investment, purchasing property in an active war zone or occupied territory is not. Nevertheless, even though Jeremiah was imprisoned in the palace courtyard and the nation’s defeat was inevitable, God instructed him to become the property’s redeemer by purchasing his cousin’s land.

Having prophesied the fall of Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem, Zedekiah’s imprisonment, and the Jews’ captivity, Jeremiah knew how worthless the land was. Although he lawfully could refuse to purchase it, the prophet paid his cousin 17 shekels (about 18-months’ wages) for the land which, considering the circumstances, seems a sizeable sum for land he’d never live to enjoy. Assuring his scribe Baruch that the worthless land again would have value, he told him to take the deeds, place them in a clay jar (the ancient version of a safety deposit box), and preserve them in a safe place, The prophet then passed along God’s hopeful words to all those who witnessed the transaction in the courtyard: “Someday people will again own property here in this land and will buy and sell houses and vineyards and fields.”

Along with his prophecies of Jerusalem’s ruin, Judah’s defeat, and the people’s captivity, Jeremiah had prophesied God’s eventual restoration of the people to their land. He didn’t buy the land because Judah wouldn’t be conquered; he purchased it because it would! The prophet was putting his money where his mouth was. His purchase of a worthless piece of acreage was an act of faith. It was a sign of hope for the future by the man who’d prophesied doom and gloom—a powerful demonstration of his belief in God’s promise that the land would again have value and belong to the Jews.

If we want to see the fulfillment of God’s promises to us, like Jeremiah, we must be obedient to God’s commands, no matter how difficult, confusing, or absurd they seem to be. In the face of obstacles, hardship, or overwhelming odds, we must demonstrate our faith and hope in God because faith and obedience go hand in hand. If we say we believe His promises, we must act as if we truly do! May we always remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord!

I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land. [Jeremiah 32:37-41 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR

dragonflyWhen all the people in the synagogue heard these things, they became very angry. They got up, forced Jesus out of town, and took him to the edge of the cliff on which the town was built. They planned to throw him off the edge, but Jesus walked through the crowd and went on his way. [Luke 4:28-30 (NCV)]

For love to be real, for it to grow deep inside, it must not give in to fear. It is not afraid to give, to risk, to chance, even if it hurts. Love believes. It is faith moving forward. Fear holds us back. It makes us stop or turn and run. [Chris Fabry]

While writing yesterday’s devotion about selfishness being the opposite of love, I found several authors who suggested that fear is the opposite of love. This gave me pause; can something be the opposite of more than one thing?

From day one, when Mary and Joseph fled with Him to Egypt, Jesus had plenty of reasons to be fearful and yet fear never prevented Him from speaking, healing, pointing out hypocrisy and evil, or going to the cross. He didn’t give in to fear when, after speaking of God’s grace to Gentiles, the people of His own hometown tried to force him off a cliff. Angry mobs, religious leaders, and Rome never intimidated Jesus or kept Him from challenging the corrupt political and religious system of His day. He knew a warrant was issued for His arrest and that the cross awaited Him in Jerusalem but fear didn’t stop Jesus from boldly riding into the city while being hailed as a king. He knew Judas would betray Him and yet the Lord shared His last meal with him. Jesus didn’t plead for mercy or justice at his trial and His last words weren’t ones of fear or selfishness; they were words of loving forgiveness. Nothing Jesus said or did speaks of fear but everything He said and did speaks of love.

Afraid of commitment, rejection, manipulation, the opinions of others, insufficiency, injury, ineptitude, failure, or that there won’t be enough left over for us, we don’t love. Afraid of being vulnerable, we protect ourselves by not getting involved, not going all-out, not sharing, and not caring. So, like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable, we walk away, keep to ourselves and our interests, pretend we don’t notice, or make excuses.

Fear happens when we look at ourselves rather than trust in God. Perhaps fear and selfishness are two sides of the same coin. When we’re fearful, we become selfish and, when we’re selfish, it’s likely we’re afraid of something or someone. Love, however, is the antidote to both afflictions. God is love and where God’s love is, there is neither selfishness nor fear.

The call of Jesus is a call to take heart, to have courage, to stand tall in the name of love. The daily invitation that the risen Christ extends to us is to be a people who refuse, in love, to step to the tune of fear. [Bishop Robert O’Neill]

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears. [1 John 4:18 (NCV)]

God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power and love and self-control. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NCV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.