WHEN GOD REMODELS

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6 (ESV)]

tiger swallowtailMany years ago, we did some major remodeling on our lake house. The original structure was gutted: carpets ripped up, paneling pulled off, decks knocked down, stairs demolished, walls cut open, and our landscaping ruined. Filled with fear and misgivings, I stared at the gaping hole in the hillside and what was left of the original dwelling. The architect/builder kept reassuring me that, having drawn the plans, he knew how everything would eventually fit together. Me? I just saw the ruined house, a deep pit and piles of dirt. I hadn’t expected this devastation; it had seemed so simple on paper. How this mess was ever going to become the house we’d pictured, I didn’t know. I simply had to trust the builder and leave it in his hands. Seven months later, I stood in the same spot, thrilled with the final result; it was better than I’d ever expected!

Life can be like that remodeling project. Change can be unpleasant; at times, it may even look downright ugly and hopeless. We can rest easy when God is in charge; we’ll find that all will be good in its proper time. When God is finally finished, everything will make sense. We have to trust Him and not judge His work before it’s complete. He is a master architect and builder; let Him do His job!

Father, thank you for the beauty and joy you can salvage from our messed up lives. Help us trust your plan and timeline; give us patience and faith as we grow and change into the people you want us to be.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. [C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)]

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

IN THE DARK

And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. [John 3:19-20 (NLT)]

sunriseAlthough demons had no trouble recognizing Jesus, the people who were most knowledgeable about Scripture and best knew the Messianic prophecies often seemed blind to what was before them. In fact, even after hearing Jesus speak and watching Him heal, the Pharisees and scribes accused Him of being a demon. Why did they refuse to see what was right in front of them?

Of the people who recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, only a few were what would have been called religious. The devout Simeon and Anna knew the Messiah when Jesus came to the temple as a baby yet, twelve years later, no one in the temple recognized Him as anything more than a perceptive intelligent boy. Most of the others who recognized Jesus were secular people who knew they were flawed and in need of Him: the woman at the well, the Gentile woman with a demon-possessed daughter, the prostitute who washed His feet, the blind Bartimaeus, the corrupt publicans Zacchaeus and Matthew, Mary Magdalene, the lepers, the adulterous woman, and the paralyzed man and his friends. On that dark Friday, rather than a religious scholar, it was one of the Roman soldiers who’d nailed Jesus to the cross and a thief hanging beside Him who testified to His true identity.

Just as sunlight reveals fingerprints on the window and dust on the table, the Light of the World revealed the sins of the world. Without light, a zircon can pretend to be a diamond, stainless can pass for sterling, and a designer knock-off can be mistaken for the real thing. In the darkness, hypocrisy, deceit and legalism can pass for righteousness, morality and piety. Until it recognizes what it actually is, corruption can call itself integrity, wickedness can say it’s virtue, and arrogance can profess humility. Those unwilling to see their own sinfulness and need for salvation rejected Jesus—the one without sin. Not wanting to see what the Light revealed, they chose to remain in the dark. Those who admitted their sins knew they were in the dark and welcomed the Light. Recognizing their need for Jesus, they accepted Him and received healing, mercy, forgiveness, and everlasting life.

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)]

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. [John 1:10-12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

CHARACTER WITNESSES

So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak. [Mark 1:34 (NLT)]

Great Blue HeronMatthew tells us that after Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee and landed near the town of Gadara, He was greeted by two violent demon-possessed men who’d been banished to live among the tombs. Upon seeing Jesus, they immediately started screaming at Him and called Him the “Son of God.” Recognizing Jesus’s divinity, they knew He possessed the power to cast them out and the authority to send them to their final torment. When the demons begged to be sent into a herd of pigs and Jesus obliged, it didn’t end the way they expected; the swine plunged into the lake and drowned.

Whenever Jesus encountered demons, He always silenced them. Since they acknowledged Him as the Son of God, why didn’t He let them speak? Demons don’t make good character references and allowing them to attest to His identity would be like asking Charles Ponzi or Bernie Madoff to endorse an investment company, Benedict Arnold to guarantee someone’s patriotism, or Al Capone to corroborate an alibi. Since demons can say whatever they want, their declaration of Jesus’s divinity would not help His case! If they told the truth, the Pharisees would say Jesus commanded them to lie and, if they lied, the Pharisees would say they told the truth! In a no-win situation, Jesus simply commanded them to be silent!

Long ago, one of my children tugged at a crowd control rope attached to a long series of stanchions. When they all fell like dominoes, I simply turned away and said, “I wonder whose child that is!” Lord, forgive me, but it had been a trying day with a series of toddler challenges and this was the frosting on the cake. That child’s behavior was not a testimony to my good mothering skills so I denied knowing him!

While we’re not demons (or difficult mischievous children), I wonder if, like them, we can be poor character witnesses for Jesus. Could there be occasions He looks at us and says, “Be quiet!” because our testimony is so suspect? Do we ever undermine God’s character by our poor choice of words or shoddy behavior? Does He ever want to say, “That’s not my child!”? The validity of our witness to the power of Christ is found in how we live our lives; let’s make sure He wants people to see and hear it!

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. … If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. [James 1:22, 26-27 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

ONE AT A TIME

But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval. [John 6:27 (NLT)]

northern mockingbird

There once was a beautiful mockingbird who loved to sing from the branches of the forest trees. An old sly fox sat beneath the trees and licked his lips as he thought of devouring her. Every time he tried to snatch the bird, however, she would fly away to safety high in the oaks. One day he offered her a mouthwatering berry for the price of just one feather. Accepting his offer, she plucked out a feather, swooped down for the fruit and flew back up to the treetop before the fox could catch her. The next day, he made the same offer and the mockingbird, anxious to enjoy the sweet bite again, gave him another feather. The wise owl warned her not to play this foolish game with the fox but the bird, hungry for the tasty berries, ignored him. This went on for several days until one day, after giving the fox a feather and snatching the berry, the mockingbird tried to fly away only to discover that she couldn’t. Foolishly, in her desire for the passing pleasure, she had given away one feather too many. The fox had his meal and the mockingbird was no more—all for a perishable and momentary indulgence.

Berries won’t cause our downfall, but pursuing fleeting pleasures can. We don’t have a wise owl on a neighboring branch but we do have the Holy Spirit living within us. We must listen to his voice and live by his power. Best of all, even if we lose our feathers, all is not lost. Because of Jesus Christ, God’s final word is not punishment and death but grace, forgiveness, redemption and restoration.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) … Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [Romans 8:9, 12-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE TITHE

One-tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy. [Leviticus 27:30 (NLT)]

HibiscusTithe means ten percent and the Jews were required to give ten percent of all they earned or grew as part of their worship. Because there were three required tithes, the actual percentage given was more like 23%. One tithe went to the Levites, another was for the use of the temple and religious festivals, and a third one, required every third year, was for the poor. Although no tithes were collected from the land on the seventh (Sabbath) and 50th (Jubilee) years or when there was drought or famine, tithing was mandatory at any other time and the Israelites got in trouble with God when they didn’t fulfill this obligation.

With His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements of the old law. As Christians, we’re no longer obliged to visit Jerusalem for the festivals of Passover, Shavuot, or Sukkot nor do we observe Yom Kippur. We don’t keep the Jewish dietary and butchering regulations, light Shabbat candles, refrain from work on the Sabbath, or require circumcision. Like tithing, those are the laws of the Old Covenant and Jesus brought us a New Covenant. Nevertheless, there are some Christian pastors who think that one specific Old Testament law remains: tithing.

In effect, the Old Testament tithe was an involuntary tax and no one I know cheerfully pays his or her taxes. Searching for every loophole, they may even employ some “creative accounting” to lessen their payment. When we think “tithe,” we can easily start nit picking and hair splitting like the Pharisees. Are we talking before or after income taxes? Can we take off tuition for a Christian school, medical expenses, property taxes or business expenditures? What about mileage to and from church? Is the tithe for our parish or the church at large? What about faith-based causes like World Vision, the Gideons or Samaritan’s Purse—are they part of the tithe? Can good causes that aren’t faith based, like the local food pantry or homeless shelter, qualify? Perhaps the greatest problem with tithing is that we begin to think that only 10% of our money is God’s when, in fact, it all belongs to Him! Moreover, He also owns our time and talents and how do we measure ten percent of those? The tithe can become what Randy Alcorn calls the “finish line” instead of the “starting block” for our giving.

If we don’t tithe, how do we decide how much to give? A pastor friend gives the perfect answer: we pray! We simply ask God exactly how much He wants us to give and how and where He wants us to give it. In obedience to Him, we then commit our resources—our finances, time, and talent—as He directs. What we don’t do is base our giving on feelings, recognition we may be given, or the entertainment value of the pastor’s sermons. Offering our first fruits rather than our leftovers, we don’t give thoughtlessly, randomly, or grudgingly. We base our giving on God’s principles of stewardship and use His gifts wisely to expand His kingdom. Whatever He tells us to give, we give joyfully and with thanks—remember, it’s all His!

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” [2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)]

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:21 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

TABLE SCRAPS

Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter. Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” [Mark 7:25b-27 (NLT)]

dogYears ago, I often baby sat my granddaughter and dog sat my son’s dog at the same time. The grand in her highchair would push her food around the tray while trying to feed herself. Since fine motor skills are lacking in toddlers, a fair amount of whatever she was eating would end up on the floor. What my grand didn’t get in her mouth became a feast for the dog who waited patiently beneath her for the bits and pieces that fell.

I think of my grand and the dog whenever I read about Jesus and the mother of the demon-possessed girl. When this Gentile woman begged Jesus to help her, He gave her an odd reply. At first look, Jesus seems to insult her by comparing her to a dog. A derogatory term often used by Jews for Gentiles, His response seems very un-Jesuslike. Although the word Jesus used can also translate as “little dog” or “puppy” rather than mangy mutt, a dog is a dog and His response seems harsh. He’d never withheld healing before this, why now? Where was His compassion and love?

As unfeeling as it seems, Jesus’s response was correct. Parents would never take food from their children’s mouths and then throw it to the dogs (regardless of whether they are pedigree puppies or wild strays). I never would have fed the dog first and given my grand whatever was left in the dog bowl. My priority was feeding my granddaughter and Jesus’s priority was giving his message to the Jews; Israel was to come before any Gentile nation. The woman, however, didn’t take offense. She humbly agreed with Him; in effect, she said, “You’re right! I may be a dog because I’m not a Jew, but I’m like the little dog that waits under the table for scraps.” Jesus came as a Jew to be the King of the Jews and yet His own people couldn’t recognize the promised Messiah. This Gentile woman, however, knew Him. She was just asking for a scrap from the man who’d fed a multitude with next to nothing and ended up with leftovers. She knew that even the smallest crumb of His grace would be enough to heal her daughter.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says, “Good answer!” and the child is instantly healed. Is it because the determined mother’s logic convinced Jesus to change His mind? On the other hand, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Your faith is great.” Is the healing because she passed a test of faith? Perhaps, it was both. After all, stumbling blocks are often put before us to test both our determination and faith in God. Could their exchange also have been a lesson for the disciples who would shortly be spreading the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles? This was prophesized centuries earlier when God told Abraham, “All the families will be blessed through you.” Their exchange shows that it is determined faith, not Jewishness, that brings the blessings of God.

As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:11-13 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.