Highways To Zion - Judy Nichols
Highways to Zion is a weekly devotional message on WVMC FM designed to encourage you in your daily walk with Christ through lessons from everyday life. Here are the archive's of past devotional messages.
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See what Judy has to encourage you this week...
Week of May 24th
This is Memorial Day, when we remember those who gave their lives to secure and maintain our freedom. My father was just a child when World War 1 broke out and then was too old when the Second happened, but my father-in-law served in both of those conflicts. He was grievously wounded in the Argonne Woods in World War 1. Shrapnel entered his right side and exited his left shoulder. He was in the hospital for over a year recovering from his wounds.
Years later, in what might be termed a coincidence, his son, my husband, rented a room at college from the man who, it turned out, had been his father’s sergeant in the Army. This man said he was sure his private was a goner when he shoved his guts back into him and helped load him onto a stretcher.
I don’t say that to gross anyone out, but because we need to know that real suffering was endured by real people. In the same way, Hebrews 12:3 urges us to "consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Jesus, our Lord, was a real man who had the same kinds of emotions we do, the same physical body, the same temptations. He had real relationships with real people and real trust in God. Yet from the outset of his ministry, he faced opposition as well as adoration.
I can imagine the temptations He faced as he continually confronted the hardness of heart of the religious leaders. He probably alternately faced the desire to lash out in anger or to weep with despair. Perhaps some of those all-night prayer times with His Father saw some of that vented. I’m sure he was often disappointed in His own disciples’ lack of understanding, yet He never became impatient with them.
In the end He was betrayed by one of His own, denied by another, and abandoned by all. Knowing what was coming, I’m sure, was a huge emotional burden, as evidenced by His sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. At His trials, He was mocked, beaten, and spat upon. Many did not live through the Roman beatings, so you can imagine the pain He endured. Crucifixion, done naked and in public, was designed to inflict the maximum of both humiliation and pain. And then, there was the excruciating experience of the just wrath of God as He took the sin of the world – yours and mine – upon Himself.
My father-in-law survived his wounds and lived to the age of eighty-one. Jesus Christ died but rose again and lives forever. Just as we honor those who died in the service of America and pledge ourselves to strive against evil and oppression, so may we do homage to the One who secured our eternal freedom from sin and death and pledge ourselves to strive against the temptations and influences that would lead us away from God.
© Judy Nichols 2015
Week of May 17th
A BETTER WORD
So often we read right over something in the Scripture without really thinking about it. Then suddenly one day it jumps out at us. It happened again today when I was reading in Hebrews. The author has spent the whole book contrasting Jesus with Judaism, the sacrifices, the priesthood, the covenants, and finally even the hope. He contrasts the terror of the Israelites, including Moses, when God descended on Mt. Sinai in fire and smoke and gloom to give the law, with the hope of Mt. Zion, the city of God where there are angels, righteous men made perfect, Jesus the mediator, and the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (See Heb. 12:18-24.)
"Sprinkled blood that speaks better than the blood of Abel" caught my attention. Why is that brought up here? He’s talking about heaven and the wonders to be found there and then flashes back to Genesis, the first family, the first sin, the first offerings, and the first murder.
Brothers Cain and Abel are the first recorded instances of people making offerings to God. Cain brings some of his vegetables and Abel brings the firstlings of his flock. Being the first generation from the fall, it is reasonable to think that both were aware of how God had killed the first sacrificial animal in order to clothe His fallen creatures (Gen. 3:21). It’s not even unreasonable to think that God had instructed Adam and Eve as to what He would accept as an offering.
Abel was righteous in what he offered to God. He knew why he needed to make an offering, and he brought what God had prescribed, trusting that God would accept it. The blood of Abel’s sacrifice spoke of knowing sin and wanting atonement. Jesus’ blood speaks a better word than that. Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life; He had no need of atonement, yet offered Himself to provide atonement for everyone else.
It should come as no surprise that Cain’s offering was not accepted, while Abel’s was. God confronts Cain and challenges him to overcome his sin. Instead of repenting, Cain goes and kills his brother, bringing us to God’s second confrontation with Cain and His declaration, "The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground." (See Gen. 4:2-10.)
What was Abel’s own blood saying to God? "I am innocent! I didn’t deserve this!" sounds reasonable to me. Even though Abel was a sinner, he didn’t deserve to die by his brother’s hand. What did Jesus’ blood say to God as it ran down the cross and splattered on the ground? I believe it, too, said, "I am innocent! I didn’t deserve this!" But more than that, it said, "I’m more than innocent! Not only did I not do anything wrong, but I did everything right." Jesus blood testified that God’s righteous demands for perfection in His creatures were met, and also that the penalty for sin had been paid.
That’s definitely a better word, one that is worthy of our contemplation, gratitude, consecration, and adoration.
© J.H.Nichols 2009
Week of May 10th
A good friend of mine tells the story of an underwater swim contest she participated in when she was a kid. It was simple: whoever got the farthest swimming under water got a chocolate bar. This friend is an achiever. She was in the race to win and won by a long shot. She’d seen a shadow ahead of her and thought it was a swimmer. Surprise! Nope, they were all far behind. So she got the coveted chocolate bar. Trouble was, whether because of the exertion of the swim or an intestinal bug, she threw up after the race, gave away the chocolate, and went home and spent several hours in bed.
In this life we chase after so many things that turn out to be shadows. We chase after money thinking it will fulfill all our wants and needs. We chase after success or influence thinking surely the emptiness we feel inside will go away when we are an important person. We chase after dietary fads, supplements, exercise, and medicine in an effort to thwart the ravages of illness, pain, aging, and ultimately dying. We chase after relationships with people to meet our need for acceptance.
None of these things are in themselves bad things. Having the resources to provide shelter, food, and clothing for one’s family is a great blessing. There is nothing wrong with hard work that leads to success. Being a good steward of one’s own body is a responsible and beneficial thing to do. And the marital relationship, created by God in the very beginning, is probably the most sacred and wonderful bond we can enter into.
But none of these are worthy of being our guiding principle or ultimate goal. Wealth does not guarantee happiness. Success is no substitute for being at peace with who you are. Good health is at best a temporary blessing; even if it lasts into old age, we know we will all die eventually. And while marriage is wonderful, being in that intimate a relationship often brings our inadequacies into sharper focus. I can’t meet all of his needs and he can’t meet all of mine.
The Scripture speaks about these phantoms we idolize. Paul warned Timothy about the love of money. "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction" (1 Tim. 6:9). On the flip side of the coin, Jesus said that if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all these other things will be added to us as well (Matt. 6:33). And Paul amplified it in Philippians 4:19. "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Jesus is not only the source of all our wealth; He is, in Himself, worth more to us than all the riches in the world.
The great king Solomon spent years working and building not only the Temple and his palaces but also vineyards, gardens, and parks; ponds and irrigation systems supporting them as well as large flocks and herds of livestock. But then he despaired over the thought that all the fruit of his labor would be left to another, "and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?" (See Eccl. 2:4-20.) Perhaps Solomon was wise enough to do his work without letting his identity get wrapped up in it. But for most of us, the fact that the childhood question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is nearly always answered by some occupation tells us that very often we take our identity from the work we do. The New Testament writers encourage us to do our work heartily, as though we were working for Jesus Himself (Eph. 6:7, Col. 3:23). But they also make very clear that our identity is in Christ and all the work He has done for us (see Eph. 1:3-14).
The Old Covenant included dietary laws. Their goal was primarily symbolic, I think. The Israelites were not to eat the blood of an animal, for instance, because the blood represented the life and life is sacred. Some of the dietary requirements did have incidental health benefits. The fat, the liver and the kidneys were to be burnt on the altar. While this represented God’s willingness to take upon Himself all that was excessive, wasteful, or toxic, it also served to keep people from eating the parts of the animal that would raise their blood cholesterol levels. But overall, the Scripture is not so concerned about our physical health as it is about our spiritual health. Paul admonished the Romans, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (14:17). And Jesus said, "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you" (John 6:27). He then said, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst" (v. 35). Focusing on our physical health while ignoring our spiritual health can have terrible consequences; there is a death that is worse than physical death.
God ordained marriage from the very beginning and proscribed any sexual activity outside its bounds. Paul explained that immorality is a sin against one’s own body (1 Cor. 6:18) and we should flee from it. Yet even in the absence of any sexual sins, marriage does not and cannot make us whole. My husband and I complement each other but we do not complete each other. Only Jesus can make us complete (see Col. 2:10).
Would that the consequences of chasing these shadows were as simple as throwing up, giving away a chocolate bar, and going to bed for a while. There is no shifting shadow with God; He alone is worthy of our wholehearted pursuit.
© Judy Nichols 2015
Week of May 3rd
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. God uses one of the edges on us. It pierces to the division of soul and spirit and judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Just the other night I was reading one of the Psalms where the writer declares things he does not do because of his reverence for God. Right in the midst of it, as I read, "I do not . . ." I sensed the Spirit saying to me, "Oh, yes, you do." My sinful attitude was revealed to me in all its ugliness. There is no polite denial when God puts His finger on your sin. You know it’s true; you confess it’s true, and you repent..
The other side of the sword is described in Psalm 149:6 and following. "Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand." God gives us the sword to use in our spiritual warfare. Since "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places," it behooves us to know how to use this weapon.
These opponents we face are no mere mortals, but they are no match for God’s word. As we faithfully hide it in our hearts, the Holy Spirit faithfully brings it to mind when we are faced with temptation, oppression or doubt. Jesus overcame the direct temptations of Satan himself by quoting God’s word. He validated his actions in cleansing the temple with Scripture. He assuaged John the Baptist’s doubts with Isaiah’s prophetic words.
Trying to do spiritual battle in our own power, wisdom or authority is futile. Some Jewish exorcists attempted to deliver a man of an evil spirit by quoting the name of "Jesus, whom Paul preaches" over him. The spirit said, "I recognize Jesus and know about Paul, but who are you?" And the man with the spirit leaped on them and subdued them and they fled out of the house naked and wounded. (Acts 19;13-16.)
The writer of Psalm 119 said, "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You" (v.11). What do we do with things we treasure? We keep them close, in a safe place, and we use them or look at them often and lovingly. If we do this with God’s word, we will be kept from sinning. And in refraining from sin, we do what the following verses of Psalm 149 say. We will "bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written" (v.8).
Living for Christ in this world not only honors God and benefits us, but it also has ramifications in the spiritual realm. Jude 1:6 says God is keeping the fallen angels in eternal bonds until the day of judgment. Our godly behavior, prompted by God’s word in our hearts, strengthens those bonds and contributes to the judgment they will suffer. "This is an honor for all His godly ones. Praise the Lord!" (Psalm 149:9).
© Judy Nichols 2015