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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SELFIES

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. [1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)]

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. [Romans 12:15 (NIV)]


I watched as the couple extended their selfie stick and posed. Focusing only on themselves, they were oblivious to others on the beach and the beautiful sunset behind them. In love and on vacation, for the moment the world revolved around them and nothing else mattered.

It’s not just when we’re in love that we think the world revolves around us. When encountering difficulties, we frequently get out an emotional selfie stick. Focusing on ourselves and our particular situation, we often end up throwing ourselves a pity party while whining things like, “Poor me…my life is so difficult…I hurt…it’s unfair…no one understands my situation…I’m miserable…nobody cares!” Fixated on what we’re feeling, we can’t see God let alone anyone else!

On the other hand, if we put aside the selfie stick and turn the camera around, we can move beyond our limited self-awareness and interest. By zooming out or using the panoramic setting, we get an entirely different perspective. When our view widens, we begin to see people with problems of their own, and, in many cases, those problems are far worse than ours. With better perspective, we cease being the center of the universe and our difficulties cease being the center of our lives.

According to NASA astronauts, seeing the earth from space causes a profound change in their awareness. When astronaut Ron Garan viewed his home planet from space, he was in awe of its overwhelming beauty. By viewing the earth without borders, he also was struck both by the oneness of the world and by the inequity existing on it. He felt a deep sense of sadness as he thought of the billions of people on earth who suffer from things like hunger, lack of clean water, social injustice, conflicts, and poverty.

We don’t need to be astronauts to step back far enough to realize how many people suffer and suffer far more than do we on even our worst days. The pain and problems in our lives are just a small part of the interconnected and continually evolving drama of life in this world. We are but one of more than 7.8 billion people on earth and only one of the nearly 335 million people in our nation. Those numbers are humbling—and a gentle reminder that life does not revolve around us!

Oddly, when we recognize the pain of others, our pain is lessened, not because they might hurt more than we do but because we become united with them in our anguish. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, widening our perspective allows empathy and compassion to emerge. No longer alone in our suffering, we become connected with others in this flawed and troubled world of ours. No longer isolated in our distress, we move from focusing on the “me” to caring about the “we.”

Father, open our eyes to you and to the world around us. Broaden our view so that we see the purpose in pain, the lesson in loss, and the meaning in misery. Give us compassionate hearts and peace filled souls. If we are to cry, let our tears be for others and, if we are to mourn, let our mourning be for all who grieve. Please strengthen and comfort us so that we can strengthen and comfort others.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. [Viktor Frankl]

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. [2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)]

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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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HEARING

For twenty-three years…the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear. [Jeremiah 25:3a,4a (ESV)]

green heron

As the language of the Scriptures, Jesus spoke and read Hebrew and, as the language of the Roman Empire, He probably spoke some Greek, as well. His everyday spoken language, however, would have been Aramaic. A Semitic language widespread throughout the Middle East by the 7th century BC, Aramaic was adopted by the Jews during their Babylonian exile. By Jesus’ time, Hebrew (considered the “holy tongue”) was reserved for holy matters such as prayer but Aramaic was used for everyday speech. Jesus may have spoken Hebrew in the Temple but, as the common language of people throughout the Middle East, He spoke Aramaic, the rest of the time.

Even though Jesus spoke Aramaic, the words of the New Testament (probably composed between 50 and 100 AD) were written in Greek, the language of scholarship at the time. Since Jewish scholars had already translated much of what we call the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek, it made perfect sense for the New Testament’s authors to write in Greek, as well. As a result, when we read the Bible, we are reading English words translated from Greek but originally written or spoken in Hebrew and Aramaic. As happens with even the best translation, sometimes the nuance of a word is lost in translation.

For example, consider the Greek word akouwhich simply means “to hear, to be endowed with the ability to hear, or to hear something” and usually is translated into English as “hear” or “listen.” This meaning is sufficient when Jesus heard the Centurion express his faith, Herod heard the Magi say the Messiah had come, Jesus heard that John was imprisoned, John heard about the deeds of Jesus, and Peter heard the rooster crow. Akouό, however, is not sufficient when both the prophets and Jesus spoke of having ears that hear. The words they used had the root word shema/shama and the words “hear” or “listen” don’t catch its full meaning.

In Greek and English, hearing or listening are mental activities but the Hebrew/Aramaic word shema/shama meant more than that. It was as much a physical activity as an intellectual one. Along with hearing, it meant to take heed, submit, obey, and do what is asked. We may hear the television but we expect our children to shema/shama us when we tell them to do their homework!

As an observant Jew, Jesus would have said what is known as the Shema every morning and evening. It begins with the word shema: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…”  The Shema continues on to tell the Israelites the rewards of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. Shema/shama is the word prophets used when warning Israel and Jesus used when explaining His parables and the consequences of not “hearing” His words. While hearing is passive, shema/shama most definitely is not. The people of Israel failed to shema God’s words and warnings. Will we make the same mistake?

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. [Matthew 13:40-43 (ESV)]

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NO EXPERIENCE WASTED

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

God has a plan for each and every one of us and no experience is ever wasted. All that happened in the past has prepared us for what happens today and what will happen tomorrow. For example, consider Moses; the first two-thirds of his life were merely preparation for what he accomplished during the last third. For forty years, he acquired a unique skill set while living as a member of Pharaoh’s household. Being the adopted son of an Egyptian princess, he received an education befitting a prince and came to understand the protocol and ways of the royal court. Moreover, since he also was cared for by his birth mother, he knew Hebrew and understood the plight of his people. With his Egyptian/Hebrew background, Moses could communicate with both Israelites and their Egyptian oppressors. Quite likely, he was the only person with access to both Israel’s elders and Pharaoh’s court and that royal education certainly served him well when he penned most of the first five books of the Bible.

Moses’ second forty years were spent as a shepherd in Midian. A stranger in a strange land, the pampered prince had four decades to learn how to live as a nomad and shepherd. He also had forty years to learn about controlling his temper (the reason he landed in Midian in the first place). The skills he developed while herding dumb animals in the wilderness prepared him for forty years of guiding over two million “stiff-necked” people and their livestock through the desert.

At eighty, Moses might have been thinking about taking it easy—maybe selling the sheep and relaxing in his hammock under a palm tree. God, however, wasn’t going to let those eighty years of experience go to waste. It was during the last third of his life that Moses fulfilled his God-given purpose by shepherding the Israelites to the Promised Land.

Our life experiences do more than develop character and spiritual maturity; they provide us with distinctive insights, strengths, and capabilities. Every one of our past successes, failures, sorrows, joys, gains, and losses prepared us to do God’s work today and every one of today’s experiences will become tomorrow’s assets. We know how the story of Moses finished but how will our stories end? Like Moses, will we use our assets to further God’s Kingdom or will we squander them while relaxing in the hammock under a palm tree or sitting on the porch in a rocking chair?

No experience is wasted. Everything in life is happening to grow you up, to fill you up, to help you to become more of who you were created to be. [Oprah Winfrey]

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. [1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)]

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