THE ANSWERS WE DON’T WANT TO HEAR

Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart. [Psalm 26:2 (NLT)]

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)]

When we go to our meeting with God, we should go like a patient to his doctor, first to be thoroughly examined and afterwards to be treated for our ailment. [Ole Hallesby]

hostaAs much as David wanted to hold to God’s standards, he knew he was flawed and so he asked the Lord to point out whatever He found offensive. We know we should do the same but I’m not sure we actually do so. While we can lie to ourselves and even to God, we know He won’t lie to us. If we ask Him to tell us where we’ve gone wrong, His answer, while loving and gentle, will be brutally honest! Could it be that we don’t ask because we really don’t want Him to tell?

In our evening prayers, are we willing to ask God if we’ve done what should have been done that day? Are we eager to hear His truthful answer if asking whether we’ve acted with integrity in all our affairs, been sincere in our communications, or damaged Jesus’ name in our conduct? Do we really want to hear Him point out our hypocrisy or expose the true motives behind our words and actions? Are we ready to hear Him mention our laziness, overindulgence, and contentiousness or to show us how we excused ourselves for our failings but not others for theirs? At day’s end, do we ask if we’ve honored Him with our words and served Him by acting as His hands and feet? While those are the kind of questions we should be asking, I suspect we don’t ask them as frequently as we should simply because we’re not anxious to hear His answer.

Because they can’t peer into our hearts, other people’s assessments of us usually are inaccurate and, because we’re experts at rationalizing, justifying, and even deceiving ourselves, our self-assessment is equally unreliable. Like the Psalmist, we must earnestly ask God to put us on trial and be happy to hear His answer (whatever it may be)! Moreover, once we hear His answer, let us be ready to make a change!

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. [Soren Kierkegaard]

As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 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 4:3-5 (NLT)]

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OUR ENEMY

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. [1 Peter 5:8-9a (MSG)]

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist and a magician with the same delight. [C. S. Lewis]

tiger

If asked to name your enemies, what would you answer? Unless you are embattled in a bitter lawsuit, you might say China, Russia, North Korea, or your fiercest business competitor. While you might even claim you have no enemies, would you think of mentioning things like discontent, doubt, resentment, discouragement, greed, despair, envy, pride, fear, or bitterness? Would you mention Satan, our greatest enemy—the  one who so generously gives us those unpleasant gifts? Probably not; yet Satan is far more dangerous than any nation, terrorist group, or cyber-criminal. Although his purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy, Satan rarely gets the recognition he deserves. Because we frequently think of him as a cartoonish character with horns and a tail, wearing red tights, and carrying a pitchfork, Satan doesn’t seem real or dangerous—but he is!

Our enemy is thrilled when we picture him as the silly red devil depicted on a can of Underwood deviled ham. If we recognized him as the repugnant fiend he is, we’d immediately flee in terror. Satan and his demons, however, are spirits, not beings, and have no physical likeness. We may not be able to see them, but we can see the destruction they leave behind with one glance at the day’s news.

Satan fell from grace when he opposed God and, as God’s adversary, he opposes God, His people, and His truth. “Satan” is the Hebrew word for adversary or opponent and “devil” is from the Greek diabolos, meaning accuser or slanderer. All that and more, as the father of lies, tempter, and sower of weeds, our enemy will do everything possible to thwart God’s purpose and destroy all that God loves.

Let’s never forget, however, that Satan is not, never was, and never can be God’s equal. Wanting to be God rather than God’s servant, Satan is more like a promising executive who grew proud, discontented, and jealous of his boss (the founder and owner of Heaven, Inc.). After Satan attempted a hostile takeover, the management easily defeated and fired him. Leaving with about a third of the original employees, Satan opened Evil, Inc. in direct competition. In an effort to destroy God’s customer base, Satan lies, cheats, and steals and offers an inferior counterfeit product that appears to be cheaper but costs far more in the long run.

Unfortunately, we seem more wary of the false advertising we see every day in the media than we are of Satan’s empty promises. While we might be able to spot a deal too good to be true in a magazine ad, we’re often oblivious to Satan’s subtle schemes. Even though the best he can offer is an eternity in hell, we keep falling for his lies. Like a good fisherman, he baits his hook according to the appetite of his prey!

A cunning enemy, Satan wants our souls far more than the most persistent telemarketer wants our money. If he can’t take our souls, he’ll use every tactic in his arsenal to hinder our witness and service. Limited in power, Satan is fighting a battle that was lost with Jesus’ resurrection; his final destination is eternal punishment in a lake of fire. That, however, doesn’t keep Satan and his demons from their malicious activities. Knowing how much God loves His children, Satan wants to wreak as much havoc and cause as much collateral damage as possible before the end. Let’s not play into Satan’s hands by failing to take our enemy seriously. It’s a matter of life and death!

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus! [Romans 16:19b-20 (MSG)]

After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways! [2 Corinthians 2:11 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MANY WRITERS BUT ONLY ONE AUTHOR

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return here but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)]

great blue heronA popular mystery writer, frequently on the best seller list, now writes most of his books in collaboration with another author. Several years ago, after reading one of his joint efforts, I stopped reading his work entirely. While I never expected a literary masterpiece, the mystery was unrealistic, implausible, and the chapters unconnected. Although it’s said that he sets the plot line and there is an intense back-and-forth between the authors, it didn’t seem that way to me. It was as if the two authors alternated chapters and, at the end of their chapter, each deliberately threw in some farfetched character or event as a way of challenging the other to make sense of it. Having a plot outline certainly didn’t mean continuity or structure in their book.

Six years ago, I was part of a book project in which twelve women, all Christian blog writers, were to write a chapter about being hurt, then healed, and how the Holy Spirit transformed them into wounded healers. In spite of having a similar theme, herding cats would have been easier than having twelve Christian women come together in a cohesive voice. Instead of being a patchwork quilt bound together by our experience with the power of the Spirit, we were more like twelve totally different blankets with absolutely nothing in common. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it clearly was not Spirit led and, while wishing the project well, I withdrew.

If twelve Christian women couldn’t come together into a unified voice and two well-known professional writers seem unable to put together a simple plot, I find it amazing that some forty writers managed to put together the sixty-six books of the Bible over a span of about 1,500 years. It’s not always easy to read but, without a doubt, the Bible makes sense and has a unifying theme: the revelation of God’s plan and purpose for His people and His Kingdom.

Within this one book we find poetry, law, and history along with biography, wisdom, prophesy, and personal letters. Written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), the writing took place in various locations—from the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula to the king’s palace in Israel, from Babylon to a prison in Rome. The writers were a diverse group of men—ranging from a doctor, publican, tent maker/Pharisee, and adviser to a Babylonian king to fishermen, shepherds, kings, scribes, and judges. They all had their own style and, in some cases, even a specific audience. Nevertheless, in spite of their different backgrounds, languages, times, and places, there is a cohesiveness to what all of these men wrote and their words never contradict one another. Even with the writers’ different perspectives, they have a unified voice that proclaims the same one true God and Jesus as the way to salvation.

When two well-known authors working together can’t put together a solid well-written mystery and twelve women, living at the same time, speaking the same language, and claiming to be Christian writers can’t successfully put together their faith stories, how did the Bible’s forty writers manage to do it? Perhaps, it’s because people write what they want to say but the Bible’s writers wrote what God wanted said! The Bible may have forty different writers—the people who put pen to papyrus or parchment—but there was only one author: God. It was God who inspired those men and, because they wrote His word, the Bible is one uninterrupted and unified story. It is, indeed, “God-breathed.”

The Bible is God’s word in human words. [Mel Lawrenz]

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)]

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. [Matthew 24:35 (ESV)]

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THE OTHER CHEEK (Matthew 5:38-48 – Part 1)

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. [Matthew 5:38-39 (NLT)]

catWhen Jesus said to turn the other cheek, was he teaching total nonresistance in every circumstance? Are Christians to be doormats to be walked all over? Was he telling the battered wife to remain a punching bag to her abusive husband, the father not to defend his family in a home invasion, the teacher not to protect his students from a crazed shooter, or the girl being molested not to fight back? Having nothing to do with pacifism, Jesus’ words don’t mean we ever should place ourselves or others in danger nor did He say we shouldn’t resist the forces of evil. Using an easily understood example (at least for a 1st century person in Judah), Jesus made it clear that He was speaking about our reaction to personal insults. Rather than not resisting evil, we are not to resist an evil person by seeking retaliation.

To Jesus’ listeners, a slap on the right cheek wasn’t the start of a physical altercation like a punch in the stomach. Not intended to cause physical harm, a slap on the right cheek was meant to disgrace and humiliate. A challenge to one’s honor, it was the most disrespectful and belittling thing one person could do to another. Most people are right-handed and, normally, would slap someone else’s left cheek. When Jesus specified the “right cheek,” He was describing a back-handed slap which, according to rabbinic law, was twice as offensive as being smacked with a flat hand. It was so insulting that the striker could be taken to court and fined. In actuality, it might have been easier for Jesus’ listeners to ignore a gut punch than this slap of contempt and disrespect! When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, He’s telling us that it’s better to be insulted twice than to retaliate with a return slap or by taking the matter to court!

Since we don’t go around slapping people’s cheeks to insult them, what does this mean to us? Perhaps it’s as simple as refusing to play the petty game of “tit for tat.”  Regretfully, as mean-spirited as it is, we’ve all played it. It’s things like deciding I’m not going to return his call because he didn’t return mine, I’m going to be late today since she kept me waiting last week, I’m unfriending them because they didn’t include me in their plans, my dogs can poop in his yard since his dog pooped on my lawn, I’m turning up my music since the neighbor’s music is too loud, I’m ignoring her birthday to pay her back for forgetting mine, or I’m not going to let the car merge because the driver cut me off!

Whether it’s rudeness, spite, malice, slight, or contempt, when we return like for like, this old nursery rhyme best says what happens next: “Tit for tat, Butter for fat; If you kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat.” We  foolishly think we’re evening the score and punishing the other person, but we’re not. Returning tit for tat simply raises the stakes and escalates the battle. Let us remember that, by refusing to react, the nasty game is over!

In this day and age, people have endless opportunities to degrade, insult, offend, mock, and slight one another. While we have no way to control what other people do or say, the Holy Spirit provides us with the power to control our reaction—to turn the other cheek. As Jesus’ peaceful soldiers, we can claim victory by not fighting at all!

In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior. [Francis Bacon]

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. [1 Peter 3:9 (NLT)]

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NOTHING PERSONAL

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. [Luke 6:35-36 (MSG)]

great egret - breeding lores“There is nothing personal going on here,” were the words that helped author Jane Smiley get through her acrimonious divorce. Although no divorce is pretty, the circumstances surrounding hers were especially ugly. Realizing that her husband was acting out his own drama helped her to better understand and deal with his dreadful behavior and hurtful actions. Smiley explained, “This is a wiser way of understanding the people around you … how they have their own passions, motivations, and histories, that sometimes (always) grip them in ways, that even they do not grasp—ways you don’t have to respond to automatically.” Her words impressed me so much that I wrote them down after reading them several years ago. The author wrote that remembering the phrase, “There’s nothing personal going on here,” has helped her deal with other difficult people and situations in her life. I find them useful, as well.

When Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley writes fiction, she is the creator of each character. As such, she knows their back story, needs, fears, and issues. She invents the baggage they’re carrying and understands the reasons for their behavior. In real life, however, people have their own private history. Although people’s past hurts or present problems are never an excuse for thoughtless words or bad conduct, they do affect them. Carrying hidden scars, people have passions, fears, insecurities, prejudices, and forces that control them in ways that even they may not understand. We don’t know much about other people’s pasts (or their present circumstances) nor do they know ours. Realizing this makes it easier to step back and not take their hurtful words and actions so personally.

In this day and age of insults, boorishness, and unpleasantry, we have plenty of opportunities to take offense. More often than not, we’ve done nothing deliberately to deserve whatever nastiness has been dished out to us; nevertheless, let us remember than taking offense is a choice. We are accountable to God only for what we do, not for what is said and done to us.

It is hurting people who hurt people; remembering that hurtful behavior is more the result of other people’s issues than our behavior keeps us from retaliating. It certainly makes forgiveness much easier. Rather than taking it personally, let us pray for those who upset, offend, fail, or hurt us. Bearing in mind that everyone has a history and their own unique story known only by God, we can say, “There is nothing personal going on here,” and get on with our lives.

What can you ever really know of other people’s souls – of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. [C.S. Lewis]

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. [Luke 6:37-38 (MSG)]

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THE MAIN THING

Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen. “Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!” … He replied, “You are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.” [Luke 10: 40-42 (NTE)]

great blue heronThe guest pastor shared an experience when he was an intern at a large church. Posted on the door leading into the senior pastor’s office was this quote by Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” At eye level and in large letters, anyone entering the pastor’s office was sure to see it. He’d given the sign little thought until one day, hot under the collar and ready to voice a complaint, he started to knock on his boss’s door. Seeing the sign, he paused, quietly returned to his desk, gave his complaint more thought, and asked himself if he was keeping the main thing main with his grievance.

Of course, to keep the main thing main, we must identify it first. Scripture, however, makes the main thing rather clear: love God, love others, and follow Jesus. Nevertheless, even when we’ve determined the main thing, it’s easy to get distracted and shift our focus. Like a reader who nitpicks over semi-colons and spelling while ignoring the significance of the words, we frequently cease focusing on God and His purpose to focus on ourselves and our interests.

Martha, for example, lost sight of the main thing when she complained to Jesus about her sister Mary. The mother of James and John lost sight of the main thing when she demanded special treatment for her boys and the disciples lost sight of the main thing when they squabbled over who was the greatest. Losing sight of the main thing, Elijah threw himself a pity party when things got tough, Jonah tried to escape his assignment in Nineveh, and the Pharisees carefully tithed their spices but neglected their parents and neighbors.

Our complaints to others (and to God) usually have little or nothing to do with God’s plan but rather with how it affects us. I’m busy, tired, bored, annoyed, angry, unappreciated, taken advantage of, better than him, too good for that, underpaid, or over-scheduled. Maybe some of our complaints are true. The question, however, remains—are any of them the main thing? If not, what is?

Father in heaven, help us keep our eyes on the main thing—you, accepting your plan, and furthering your kingdom. May we always remember that the main thing is never about us and always about you!

Let the king’s word dwell richly among you, as you teach and exhort one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God with grateful hearts. And whatever you do, in word or action, do everything in the name of the master, Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the father. [Colossians 3: 16-17 (NTE)]

Look at it like this. People whose lives are determined by human flesh focus their minds on matters to do with the flesh, but people whose lives are determined by the spirit focus their minds on matters to do with the spirit. [Romans 8:5 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.