WHO KNOWS?

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. [1 John 1:5 (NLT)]

The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (NLT)]

yinyangAn old Chinese parable tells of a poor farmer whose only horse runs away. His friends commiserate over his bad luck and ask how he’ll plow his field. The farmer answers, “Who knows? We shall see.” Two days later, the horse returns along with several wild horses. When the farmer’s friends congratulate him on the good fortune of now having a stable full of horses, the farmer replies, “Who knows? We shall see.” The following week, while trying to tame the horses, the farmer’s son breaks his leg in three places. The farmer’s friends offer condolences and wonder how he’ll get his work done with his son unable to walk and help. The farmer answers, “Who knows? We shall see.” When a war breaks out, the emperor’s men arrive and conscript all the young men in the village. With his leg in a cast and needing crutches, the farmer’s son is considered unfit for battle and remains in the village. As his neighbors watch their sons leave home, they congratulate the farmer on his stroke of luck. He replies, “Who knows? We shall see.” Although the son’s leg eventually heals, he has a bad limp. The farmer’s neighbors express their sympathy for such trouble. “Who knows? We shall see,” he again replies. By the time the war is over, all of the village’s boys have died in battle but, with his several horses and a son now able to help, the farmer can plow several fields and has grown wealthy. When the villagers congratulate him on his good fortune, the farmer replies, “Who knows? We shall see.”

This 2,000-year-old tale reflects Taoist stoicism and the belief in Yin Yang—everything in the universe consists of two complementary yet opposing forces. There is no good or bad, only that which appears to be so. The resigned farmer is subject to fate and it is only his attitude over which he has control. Associated with this philosophy is the Yin Yang symbol: two equal parts of white and black comma-shapes with a black dot in the white side and a white dot in the black one. It represents the belief that opposites cannot exist without one another—white cannot exist without black nor could light exist without dark. In the same way, good cannot exist without bad nor can bad exist without good. Rather than good and bad being at war, they are in a constant state of flux; there is a little bad in all that’s good and a little good in all that’s bad.

While it is comforting to think there are no absolutes and that life is just a balance of opposites, that’s not Biblical. We live in a world of absolutes and our triune God is absolutely righteous and the sovereign judge of all that’s evil. Moreover, not all things change—our God is immutable and Jesus is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. If Christians had a symbol similar to that of Yin Yang, it wouldn’t show equal forces with neither side struggling for dominance. It would have the light consuming the darkness. Good and evil are not balanced—they are at war and good won the war when Christ died and rose from the dead! There is no dot of darkness in God’s light.

If this were a Christian parable, the imperturbable farmer wouldn’t answer, “Who knows? We shall see.” Rather than being complacent and merely accepting his fate, he would find purpose in it. He’d echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “In all things I give thanks, knowing that I can be content in all circumstance because my strength is in Christ.” The Christian does not find peace in a philosophy—he finds peace in the person of our triune God. Like the Taoist farmer, he doesn’t know what the next day will bring or how it all fits together but, unlike that farmer, he knows who is writing the story and how the story eventually will end!

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

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IN GOD WE TRUST

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. [Psalm 118:8-9 (NLT)]

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,” And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. [Francis Scott Key]

quartersIn one of those viral, supposedly true but probably not, inspirational stories, a wealthy man is said to bend over and pick up any and every coin he spots on the ground. When asked why he bothered to collect mere pennies, the man explained he didn’t pick up coins for their monetary value; he picked them up for the value of the message on them: “In God We Trust.” He believed the penny’s words to be God’s way of reminding him to trust the Lord rather than his wealth and considered every coin he found an opportunity to acknowledge his faith in prayer.

Thanks to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase’s directive that, “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins,” the phrase “In God We Trust” first appeared on a bronze two-cent piece in 1864. Our nation was in the midst of the bloody Civil War and those words were to profess the nation’s faith and trust in God during that turbulent time. The words were inspired by the fourth verse of our national anthem (written in 1814) that claimed “In God is our trust” as our nation’s motto.

In the 1950s, our nation was again embroiled in a war—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. In 1955, President Eisenhower signed a law requiring “In God We Trust” to appear on all U.S. paper and coin currency. The words were to differentiate us from the Soviet Union, a nation that promoted atheism and had passed anti-religion legislation. Unfortunately, there never seems to be a time when our nation is not in turmoil of some kind and we need to be reminded that our trust must be in God today as much as we did back in 1860s and 1950s!

Even though the front (or obverse) side of our nation’s great seal has the words E Pluribus Unum, meaning “Out of many, one,” that is not our nation’s motto. While it rightly reflects our country’s melting pot nature and how thirteen colonies came together to form one nation, “In God we trust,” became our national motto in 1956. Congress reaffirmed it as our motto in 2002, 2006, and again in 2011. The motto, explains historian Frank Lambert, “reclaims this notion that we’re a chosen people and that we were conceived under God and that we flourish under God, and we turn our backs on God at our own peril.” In spite of numerous legal challenges, the courts have upheld its use by saying that, rather than an official endorsement of religion, the motto is “ceremonial Deism.” As used by the Supreme Court, “ceremonial Deism” means that phrases like “In God We Trust” (or “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance) are nominally religious statements and practices deemed to be merely ritual and non-religious through their long customary usage. For a believer, however, there should be nothing nominal or merely ritualistic about trusting God! We must never forget that this one nation exists under God and we must place our trust in Him! We should also remember Lambert’s warning, that “we turn our backs on God at our own peril!”

If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under. [President Ronald Reagan]

He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. [Psalm 9:8-10 (NLT)]

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RELUCTANT HEROES

Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” [Exodus 3:10-11 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkIn the late 1970s, psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance developed the concept of what is known as the “imposter syndrome.” Loosely defined as doubting one’s abilities and feeling like a fraud, it is believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. The impostor syndrome manifests in failing to realistically assess our competence and skills, self-denigration, a fear of not living up to expectations, and attributing any of our successes to someone or something else, like luck.

When God called out to Moses from the burning bush, He assigned Moses the task of going to Pharaoh and leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. Moses’ response is a classic example of imposter syndrome. As the princess’ son, he spent forty years as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace, was well-educated, and knew the royal protocol, language, and culture of Egypt and, as a Hebrew, he also knew the language, history, culture, expectations, and God of Israel. Although he was uniquely qualified for the task, Moses belittled his speaking ability and showed his fear of failure with the question, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?”

Moses, of course, is not the only one of the Bible’s heroes to suffer from the “imposter syndrome” when called to do God’s work. Isaiah thought he was too sinful, Jeremiah thought he was too young, and then there’s Gideon. When we first meet him, Gideon is hiding in a winepress while threshing wheat, which seems somewhat cowardly. The people of Israel, however, had been oppressed for seven years by marauding nomadic tribes like the Midianites. Their livestock and crops were being pillaged and the people were being starved into submission as they hid in caves. Not about to let his family starve, Gideon had come up with a clever way to conceal his activity and threshing wheat in a wine press may have been wiser than it was cowardly. Nevertheless, when the angel of the Lord called on him to rescue Israel, the man disparaged not just himself but his entire clan of Manasseh. Even though the people had no other leader, Gideon was sure he had neither status nor authority to call up an army.

Convinced that they weren’t capable of doing God’s work, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Gideon listed all that they weren’t rather than looking at all of the things God is. They didn’t see what they brought to the table and certainly didn’t understand the power they’d receive from God. It wasn’t eloquence that caused Egypt’s plagues or caused the Israelites to follow Moses nor was it strict adherence to the law or maturity that enabled Isaiah and Jeremiah to prophesy. It certainly wasn’t status and authority that led to Gideon’s victories. It was the power of God!

While there are many competent, experienced, and skilled people in the world, God isn’t interested in whether or not we’re qualified. God is interested in our devotion to Him. If we’re committed to doing His work, God will provide the qualifications! If we’re not devoted to God, however, we’ll remain unqualified regardless of our eloquence, status, authority, talents, wisdom, or expertise. Let us never underestimate our abilities but, more important, let us never underestimate the power of our God!

Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them. [James Hudson Taylor]

Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded. [Judges 6:34-35 (NLT)]

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SUNDAY MORNINGS

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. [John 4:23-24 (NIV)]

The purpose of this Christian society called the “Church” is, first: to glorify God by our worship. We do not go to church just to hear a sermon. We go to church to worship God. [Billy Graham]

Old World Wisconsin
In this day and age, we refuse to be bored. We watch one of three TVs while on the health club treadmill, stream music or podcasts when out walking, and check our phones at red lights. (Technically, we’re not texting while driving—we’re simply texting while stopping.) We could blame technology, but our penchant for boredom has been a problem since the beginning of time. A golden calf and some “pagan revelry” was the Israelites’ antidote for boredom while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Then, when they got bored with manna, the Israelites demanded meat. David had at least eight wives but boredom caused his eyes to wander over to Uriah’s house where Bathsheba was bathing. Mankind just seems to be hardwired to tire of the “same old, same old” and, sometimes, that propensity for boredom enters into our worship.

“I laugh so much during church, it seems almost sinful; it’s just so much fun to come!” said a neighbor about her church. Another neighbor urged us to join them at their church because of the musical talents of their pianist/organist who is known for playing six keyboards at once. Neither neighbor, however, mentioned things like the substance of their pastor’s message, the basics of their church’s beliefs, or how their worship affects them. There’s nothing wrong with pastors who insert humor into their messages or great worship music but we must be cautious of thinking of church as entertainment. The center of attention is neither the man in the pulpit nor the musicians; it is the man who hung on the cross for our sins! Jesus was an impressive man while He walked the earth but impressing people was not His goal. If it was, He would have performed far more miracles; instead, He often told people not to tell anyone. His purpose wasn’t showy miracles but the lasting message of salvation.

The purpose of worship is not to praise the pastor, music, or setting; it is to glorify God! Pope Pius X said it succinctly: “Worship is for the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.” It’s easy to get the glorifying part—we’re praising the wondrous nature of God, thanking Him for our blessings, and celebrating His glory. Our worship, however, shouldn’t stop there. Sanctification is one of the Christian words we don’t use a lot, but it simply means that our worship is supposed to change us—to set us apart from the world and worldly concerns for God’s holy purpose. As for edification, another churchy word, worship is about helping one another along the road to Christlikeness—the building up of a group of disparate individuals into the body of Christ. Regardless of the pastor’s ability to deliver a sermon or the worship leader’s choice of music, if the service hasn’t glorified God, helped change us for the better, or built up God’s Kingdom, we haven’t worshipped properly.

Is church where we go to be entertained or is it the place we go to be strengthened by His word and grow to be more like Christ? Is it where we go to be distracted from the cares of the world or where we go to worship the Lord and to revel in His glory? While bells and whistles are pleasant, we should remember that the purpose of church is worship not theater. Rather than fluff and stuff, we should be seeking a foundation in God’s word, the presence of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. If we’re bored during church, the antidote isn’t more pageantry or spectacle, funnier sermons, or better music; it is more mindful worship on our part.

Worship is not about my enjoyment. It is about my enjoyment of God. It is not about my pleasure or my delight or my satisfaction. It is about my pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in God. Worship is not simply about glorifying God. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. [Sam Storms]

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)]

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TAKE THE RISK

Be strong and courageous! … Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you. [Deuteronomy 31:6a,8 (NLT)]

Let all who fear the Lord repeat: “His faithful love endures forever.” … The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? [Psalm 118:4,6 (NLT)]

great egret
Judge Guido Calabresi regularly asks his Yale law students to imagine receiving an offer of an amazing invention that could improve people’s lives in every imaginable way. In exchange for this invention, however, the lives of at least 1,000 randomly selected young people would be taken every year. When asked if they’d accept the deal, his students inevitably conclude they wouldn’t. Calabresi then asks them the difference between that offer and the automobile. The very thing that allows us to travel, see loved ones, easily move products across the country, and do things that couldn’t be done otherwise, kills even more than that! Over 2,600 teens (16-20) accounted for auto accident fatalities in 2019 and, with over 46,000 car fatalities last year, more than 150 people of every age die each day because of a car. Be that as it may, we’re not about to give up driving!

Calebresi uses his example to illustrate how selective we are in our fears. We underestimate and accept chronic risks like riding in a car while overestimating prominent ones like a terrorist attack or plane crash. In actuality, rather than dying from either of those things, we’re more likely to die by choking on food or slipping in the shower or tub but, preferring bathing, eating, and even driving to the alternatives, we decide they’re worth the risk. On the other hand, after assessing the perils involved in things like free solo climbing, running with the bulls, or base jumping, most of us probably decide they’re not worth the risk.

In contrast, any risk we take in obedience to God always is worth it. Regardless of the danger, we must obediently accept the risks in the challenges and tasks He gives us. Think of what Abraham risked by packing up his family and leaving Haran for an unknown destination. Think of the risks taken by the midwives Shiphrah and Puah when they defied Pharaoh by letting boy babies live or the risk Moses took when he returned to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh. It was a huge risk when Gideon and his 300 men took on an army 400 times their size and when David faced Goliath with just a sling and stones. In spite of the risk, Esther approached the king, Daniel defied the law by praying, and the bleeding woman touched Jesus’ robe. Joseph of Arimathea took a risk when he asked Pilate for Jesus’ body and Peter and John risked imprisonment and worse when they defied the Council by continuing to share the gospel. When we search Scripture, we don’t find people who assessed the risks and played it safe. We find God’s version of bungee jumpers and wing-suit flyers—faith-filled and obedient risk takers.

Every God-sent risk comes with a God-sent promise. He will remain faithful to us and be present in the risk. He will protect and empower us and we’ll never need more than what He supplies. As followers of Jesus, we don’t walk by sight. In spite of the risks, we walk by faith because faith means we’re willing to risk anything for God!

Trust is faith that has become absolute, approved, and accomplished. When all is said and done, there is a sort of risk in faith and its exercise. But trust is firm belief; it is faith in full bloom. Trust is a conscious act, a fact of which we are aware. [E.M. Bounds]

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:20 (NLT)]

…For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)]

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DOUBT AND UNBELIEF

lilacWe reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. [2 Corinthians 4:2-4 (NLT)]

Yesterday, when writing about John the Baptist, I said that doubt was not the same as unbelief. In John’s question to Jesus, we have the doubts of a godly man but we see trickery and unbelief in most of the questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Because the Sadducees interpreted Scripture literally and the Pharisees gave equal significance to their oral tradition, the groups frequently argued with one another over Jewish doctrine. They were, however, united in their hatred of Jesus. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not belief in an afterlife or the resurrection of the dead. Nevertheless, they asked Jesus a question dealing with resurrection. Jewish law said that, if a woman’s husband died without having a son, the husband’s brother had the responsibility of marrying her. Using this law as their starting point, the Sadducees set up a bizarre scenario in which one brother dies without having children and his widow, who never bears a son, ends up marrying and burying brother after brother until she’s married and buried all seven brothers. The Sadducees want Jesus to tell them which of the seven will be her husband in the afterlife.

Since they didn’t believe in any afterlife, theirs was not an honest question and they’re sure Jesus can’t answer without looking foolish, offending people, or being caught in an inconsistency. He’ll appear arbitrary if he picks one brother over another and immoral if He says they all can have her! His other choice (and possibly the one for which they hope) is to admit that resurrection is a preposterous doctrine. Not only would they score a point against the Pharisees but Jesus would look like a fraud since He couldn’t be the “resurrection and the life” if there were no resurrection!

Imagine their consternation when Jesus corrected them by saying they’d misinterpreted Scripture and had underestimated God’s power with their assumption that resurrection meant a continuation of the same kind of bodies we have in this life. Jesus explained that people would be raised into bodies unlike their present ones and marriage and procreation would be unnecessary. When Jesus added that people will have bodies “like the angels in heaven,” He dug the knife deep into their absurd question because Sadducees didn’t believe in angels any more than they did resurrection.

In His final thrust, Jesus asked the Sadducees if they’d read about resurrection in the Scriptures. He then repeated these words from Exodus: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” [3:6] Even though the patriarchs had been dead for more than four centuries, God’s words to Moses were in the present tense which showed that the men remained alive before Him. Jesus could have found scriptural support in words from Isaiah, Daniel, or Job but He chose a verse from part of the Pentateuch, the section the Sadducees found most authoritative. Having been out-argued by the Son of God, I imagine the Sadducees departed with their proverbial tails between their legs. The crowd that heard Jesus, however, was “astounded at his teaching.”

When comparing the questions posed by John’s disciples and the Sadducees, the differences between doubt and unbelief become clear. Where doubt seeks answers, unbelief isn’t interested in them. Doubt seeks enlightenment; unbelief prefers darkness. Doubt is receptive; unbelief is hostile. Doubt is straightforward; unbelief has ulterior motives. Doubt wants the truth; unbelief just wants to win.

There are those who insist that it is a very bad thing to question God. To them, “why?” is a rude question. That depends, I believe, on whether it is an honest search, in faith, for His meaning, or whether it is the challenge of unbelief and rebellion. [Elisabeth Elliot]

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. [Matthew 22:34 (NLT)]

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