TOSS ‘EM OUT – It’s a New Year

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. [Hebrews 4: 13 (NLT)]

Snow in SteamboatExplaining her years of addiction, Alice said, “It’s all because my parents moved from Illinois to Texas while I was in high school.” Was the move a contributing factor to Alice’s drug use? Maybe, but that was more than twenty-five years ago and has nothing to do with her failure to deal with her behavior today. Since high school, she’s abandoned a child, served time in prison, been in and out of a well-known residential rehab so often that she should have her own room, and is still lying, stealing, and using. Like many of us, Alice is simply blame shifting.

Yes, our experiences influence us but, as Christians, our past determines neither our present nor our future. By blaming our genes, nationality, appearance, or our over-indulgent or too strict parents, we abandon ownership of our failures and sins. We say we had too little or were given too much, that the spouse was inattentive, the judge was prejudiced, the teacher was inept, or we shouldn’t have moved. I’ve heard people blame their rudeness, stinginess, drinking, and tempers on their upbringing when they alone are responsible for their conduct today. Blaming other people or things implies that we aren’t accountable for our actions and leads us to think we aren’t responsible for changing that behavior.

Contributing factors, extenuating circumstances, and difficult childhoods may be of interest to a therapist but not to God. We may be able to deceive ourselves and others, but our excuses will never deceive Him! There will come a day when each one of us will be held responsible for our thoughts, words, and deeds and any excuses we use to justify our sins will disappear.

For both the non-believer and believer, there is judgment. No matter what the excuse, the person who has rejected Christ is doomed. When Alice meets God face to face, He will see into her and hold her accountable for her sins: the way she denied Him and wasted the precious life he gave her. While believers are saved by faith alone, they too will be judged. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, they’ll be asked to give an accounting of their lives in service to Him. When Alice’s parents (both believers) stand before God, He won’t hold them accountable for their move to Texas but He may well hold them accountable for the way they continually enabled their daughter to squander her life.

Excuses may not be outright lies but they keep us from facing the truth and, without facing the truth about ourselves, we won’t change. Our goal in life is to become more like Christ and we can’t do that by rationalizing our failings. This is a new year and a perfect time to do some serious self-examination. Are we victims of circumstance or victors in Christ? Are there any excuses we should toss out with the holiday trash?

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)]

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The 8th Day – NAMING HIM

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” [Matthew 1:22-23 (NLT)]

reddish egret

In the first century, the prescribed time for a Jewish boy to be circumcised and officially receive his name was eight days after birth. Joseph and Mary brought their baby boy to be circumcised on the eighth day of His life; at that time, they named him Jesus. As with his cousin John (whose name meant “the Lord is gracious”), Jesus’s name was not chosen by His parents but was directed by a visiting angel.

Even if the God hadn’t chosen it, Jesus was the prefect name for this boy. In Hebrew, “Jesus” means “to deliver or to rescue” or “the Lord saves” and the angel told Joseph the child would save His people from their sins. The message in Jesus’s name was that God would deliver mankind. But, truth be told, the baby’s name wasn’t really Jesus! There was no letter J in either the Hebrew or Greek alphabets so our Savior’s name actually would have been Yeshua (a shortened form of Yehoshua) which translates from Hebrew to English as “Joshua.” The New Testament, however, was written in Greek and the Greek translation of Yeshua is Iesous which translates into English as “Jesus.”

While true meaning came with Jesus’s name, that’s not true of all names. My husband’s, for example, is Robert, which comes from the German Hrodebert. Although it means “bright fame,” he’s not famous and I’ve never seen his name in bright lights. He has other, more descriptive names, as well. I call him “honey,” our children call him “Dad,” the grands call him “Poppie,” his mother calls him “son,” his best buddies call him “friend,” and his employees called him “boss” (and maybe other things behind his back).

Just as my husband can be called many names, Jesus had other designations. Both Joseph and Mary were told that the baby would be called “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us,” but “Immanuel” wasn’t His only other name. Mary also was told that her child would be called both “the Son of the Most High” and the “Son of God.” Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life, the good shepherd, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the true vine” and “the alpha and omega.” At Jesus’s baptism, John the Baptist called Him “the Lamb of God” and God called Him “my dearly loved son.” I imagine the Pharisees had several much less pleasant names for Him. Perhaps my favorite titles given to Jesus are from the book of Isaiah. They are the names we recently heard sung so joyfully from Handel’s Messiah: “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Jesus is, indeed, all of that and much more!

There are two hundred and fifty-six names given in the Bible for the Lord Jesus Christ, and I suppose this was because He was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express. [Billy Sunday]

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! [Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)]

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WHAT’S YOUR STATE?

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)]

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:13 (NLT)]

african iris

If there were a Hall of Fame for favorite Bible verses, John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, and Philippians 4:13 would be in it; every year, they are the most popular verses on my favorite Bible web site. This year, in a stunning upset, Jeremiah 29:11 edged out perennial favorite John 3:16 for first place with Philippians 4:13 running a close third.

In 2017, John 3:16 easily held first place with Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 4:13 in a hotly contested race for the next two spots. In honor of the Electoral College meeting that year, the website determined which of those two verses carried each of the fifty states and gave them electoral votes. Had it been a presidential election, Jeremiah 29:11 would have won with 302 electoral votes. With the nation split into two camps, rather than dividing us into red or blue states, the site asked: “Do You Live in a ‘God Has a Plan’ State or an ‘I Can Do All Things’ State?” While my residence in is a “God Has a Plan” state, I wondered if that truly is my state of mind.

I’m a voter who splits her ticket. Sometimes, I’m accepting of circumstances, serenely confident in God’s plan, and (usually without complaint) easily can step forward in trust and faith. Other times, I’m sure that God has intentionally given me challenges to overcome—challenges to strengthen and mature my faith. Rather than accept the situation, confident in God’s power, I try to surmount the challenging circumstances. The problem arises when I’m unsure about whether I should trust and accept or trust and overcome.

Most of our decisions are made without consciously thinking about God—red or blue shirt, sneakers or sandals, oatmeal or yogurt, walk in the park or at the beach, and so on. We don’t ask God if we should go through the yellow light, where to park, or whether to buy peas or beans. We don’t consult Him about mowing the lawn, making the bed, balancing the checkbook, going to the grocery, or doing the laundry. Although we’re operating on auto-pilot, many of those little decisions can make a difference in our lives. They may determine if we’re in the right place at the right time or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nevertheless, even if we did stop and pray about even the smallest decision, it’s unlikely that God would provide a definitive answer about all of them. I don’t think it’s because He doesn’t care but rather that He expects us to use our God-given common sense and free will to make our everyday choices godly ones.

Sometimes, even when we’ve asked for His guidance, God seems to be silent. We ask who to marry, which job to take, how much money to give, how much to keep, where to live, what cancer treatment to choose, how to deal with the addicted child, where to attend church, or whether to start a new business and His definitive answer just doesn’t seem to come. There’s no angel, star in the East, burning bush, writing on the wall, or wet fleece. The heavens don’t open, a lamb doesn’t miraculously appear, a donkey doesn’t speak, and a neon sign is unlikely. That God knows the detailed plan doesn’t mean He’s going to tell us what it is!

Perhaps knowing the plan isn’t as important for us as knowing the God who made the plan. He has revealed Himself and everything we need to know about living a godly life in Scripture. The more we know Him, the more we know His answers. We pray and proceed, trusting in the God who loved us enough to sacrifice His son for our salvation, the God whose plans are for good and not disaster, the God who wants to give us a future and hope. We do so, confident that we can do all we need to do through Christ who gives us strength.

Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)]

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LAST RESORTS

Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry. I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me. [Psalm 86:6-7 (NLT)]

“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. [Psalm 107:13 (NLT)]

digging in the sandOnce upon a time, a little boy was busy digging in the sand at the beach and, like other youngsters through the years, he thought he even might be able to dig all the way to China. His steadfast excavations got so deep that he encountered a large rock. With great determination, he dug and dug with his small shovel in an attempt to free it from the ground. Unfortunately, the little boy and his plastic shovel were no match for the rock. When the shovel broke in two, the boy let out a howl and burst into tears. Hearing the child’s cries, his father immediately ran to comfort him. Through his sobs, the boy told how he’d tried and tried to free the rock but was too weak, his arm was too short, and he’d broken his only shovel. His father gently asked why he hadn’t used all of his strength. “But I did, Daddy, I really did!” exclaimed the boy. “No, son, you didn’t,” explained the man as he reached into the hole, grabbed the rock with his large hands, and pulled it from the ground. “You should have called me!”

While the circumstances and challenges are different, we’re really not much different than that little boy. Determined to be self-sufficient and strong, we often fail to call on our Heavenly Father to help with the heavy lifting. I’ve never sobbed at the beach while holding a broken shovel but I’ve sat in despair and hopelessness in plenty of other places and cried because I thought I was at the end of all my resources. That’s usually when I complain to God with some version of why: why this, why now, why here, and (my personal favorite) why me? While God rarely offers an answer to the whys, perhaps it’s simply that trials exist to drive us to God: to trust in Him and call on Him in faith.

During David’s reign, Israel suffered from a three year famine and David prayed to God about it. When God told David the famine was because Saul had dishonored a covenant Joshua made with the Gibeonites, the king took rather gruesome steps to make amends and, apparently, the famine ended. [2 Samuel 21] Famine in Israel, an agricultural society, was a grave matter and I can’t help but wonder what King David was doing during the three years of scarcity before he finally fell to his knees and consulted God. Why didn’t he pray at the first sign of trouble rather than waiting until the people were starving? Could pride have made David think that he and his advisors could solve a food crisis on their own? If so, that pride caused his people to suffer for three years simply because he didn’t use all the strength available to him by calling on his Father!

Ours is not a God of Last Resorts! He is not where we go when all else fails: when the shovel breaks or the grain bins are empty. Ours is a first responder God! He’s the first call we make when we see the rock that seems immovable, discover insects infesting our fields, or see challenges looming on the horizon. With His power, we can do things we could never accomplish by ourselves. Let us be strong in the Lord!

We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours. [Oswald Chambers]

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. [Ephesians 6:10 (NLT)]

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. … But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40:29,31 (NLT)]

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THE BLAME GAME

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. [Matthew 7:1-2 (NLT)]

roseate spoonbill - corkscrew sanctuaryThere’s a classic Peanuts comic (drawn by Charles Schulz) that shows meek Linus questioning Lucy, “Why are you always so anxious to criticize me?” His bossy big sister answers: “I just think I have a knack for seeing other peoples’ faults.” Dropping his blanket, Linus asks, “What about your own faults?” to which Lucy replies, “I have a knack for overlooking them.” Among other things, Lucy has what psychologists call “fundamental attribution error.”

Fundamental attribution error is the tendency to judge other people differently than how we judge ourselves. We attribute other peoples’ flawed behavior to shortcomings in their character (dispositional attribution) and ours to the challenges of our situation (situational attribution). For example, when someone else spills his coffee, it’s because he was careless but, when we do, it’s because the barista didn’t put the lid on tight. When a car speeds past us in traffic, the driver is a jerk but, when we exceed the speed limit, it’s because we’re late for an important appointment. Our neighbor’s angry outburst is evidence of a character flaw but our temper tantrum is because of the extreme pressure at work. Unfortunately, we often attribute other people’s actions to their disposition (they’re irresponsible, inconsiderate, or foolish) rather than consider that their behavior, just like ours, could also be linked to their circumstances. Although we know our story, we don’t know the stories of others. Perhaps the person who spilled the coffee has Parkinson’s, the speeder was on his way to the hospital, or the neighbor’s spouse just filed for divorce.

Without reading further than Jesus’s first words in Matthew 7, people often misinterpret the passage. “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged,” Jesus doesn’t mean we shouldn’t judge. He doesn’t want us to suspend our critical thinking or be so open-minded that our brains fall out! Wanting us to use discernment in our dealings with people, He tells us that the same standard we use in judging others will be applied to us. The literal translation for this verse is: “for in what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and in what measure ye measure, it shall be measured to you.” If I measure you in fractions of an inch, I can’t measure myself in yards! If I judge your actions by your nature, I must judge mine the same way. If I explain or justify my actions by my circumstances, I must consider that circumstances may also explain or justify yours.

Even if you didn’t hurry home after school to watch Dark Shadows, you probably know that vampires can’t see their reflections in the mirror. While we may not sleep in coffins during the day, there’s a little bit of vampire in us when it comes to seeing ourselves in a mirror. Like Lucy, we often judge other people harshly but rationalize our own behavior to make it excusable. Jesus, however, tells us to take a good hard look at ourselves and deal with our own faults before we start judging other people.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Deal with the faults of others as gently as your own.” While that’s good advice, Jesus tells us to deal with our own faults before we begin to deal with anyone else’s.

It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own. You can‘t clear your own fields while you’re counting the rocks on your neighbor’s farm. [Cicero]

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, “Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. [Matthew 7:3-5 (NLT)]

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DIFFERENT LISTS

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. [Matthew 1:16 (NLT)]

Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry. Jesus was known as the son of Joseph. Joseph was the son of Heli. [Luke 3:23 (NLT)]

nativity

Writing about the genealogy of Jesus, as I did yesterday, posed a bit of a conundrum. While both Luke and Matthew establish that Jesus is of the house of David, meaning He fulfills the Messianic prophecies, their lists don’t match. It’s not just that Matthew begins with Abraham, goes forward, mentions women, and skips a few generations while Luke starts with Jesus and goes all the way back to Adam. Matthew’s genealogy traces Jesus’s ancestry to David’s son Solomon but Luke’s traces it to David’s son Nathan. They are, however, in agreement in acknowledging the virgin birth; neither genealogy states that Joseph was Jesus’s blood father. Matthew simply calls him Mary’s husband and Luke says that people thought Joseph to be the father of Jesus.

Nevertheless, when genealogy and all those “begats” seem so important in Scripture, what explanation is there for such discrepancies? Most biblical scholars theorize that we are given two different but accurate lines of ancestors. Some say Matthew gives Jesus’s official (paternal) one through his legal father Joseph and Luke gives us His actual (maternal) one through his mother Mary. After all, Joseph was Jesus’s father in name only. While giving a mother’s lineage was unusual, so was a virgin birth! Since there was no Greek word for “son-in-law,” they suggest Joseph was the “son” of Heli through his marriage to Mary who was Heli’s daughter. That both Joseph and Mary could trace their lineage to David is not so unusual; apparently, it was customary (but not required) to marry within your tribe. Since there is no mention of Mary having brothers, she could inherit from her father if she married within her tribe. Some scholars propose this was the case and that Joseph became Heli’s heir by virtue of his marriage to Mary and, therefore, he actually had two genealogies.

On the other hand, I read several articles positing that Luke’s genealogy actually is that of Joseph and Matthew’s is Mary’s! Some scholars believe “the husband of Mary” is a mistranslation of the word aner and should read that a man named Joseph was “the father of Mary.” Giving support to this argument is that, along with mentioning Mary, Matthew also mentions four other women while, in his genealogy, Luke never even mentions her.

Over 2,000 years ago, they didn’t have Ancestry.com or 23andMe kits and we have neither Matthew nor Luke to explain. As a result, even the most knowledgeable biblical scholars merely can speculate about these two lists. As a layperson, I simply ask myself whether small inconsistencies or unanswered questions in the gospels make a difference to me. Whether one or both lists are accurate does not weigh heavily on my belief. Remembering the phrase that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” I don’t base my faith equally on the exactness of every word in the Bible but rather on the truth of the sum of its words and the importance of their message. I firmly believe that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies and was from David’s line; whether he did that through Nathan or Solomon really doesn’t matter. What matters is that “the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” [Luke 19:10]

“For the time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. [Jeremiah 23:5 (NLT)]

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. [Luke 1:31-32 (NLT)]

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