DAY IS DONE

sunsetGod makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome! The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. [Psalm 19:4-6 (MSG)]

Being an early riser, I’m often out walking as the sun rises. Each new day brings amazing new opportunities and, while the mocking birds loudly sing their praises and the mourning doves coo their peaceful song, I thank God for yet another day on this side of the grass. While the morning’s soft pastels are beautiful, it’s the sunsets in our part of the world that are spectacular.

Our Florida lanai faces west and every evening, shortly before sunset, we try to stop whatever we are doing to admire the western sky. We breathe in deeply of God’s glory and majesty as He paints the heavens. We considered turning sunsets into something like an Olympic event and awarding points to God for each day’s sunset. The vibrant red ones that make the sky look as if it’s on fire might get nine or even ten points while a gray one having just a bare hint of pink might get only a two. After discussing it, however, we realized that sunsets, regardless of their colors, are truly magnificent and a cause for thanksgiving. Every sunset, no matter how colorful or dull, is a gift from God deserving of a perfect score and a reason for rejoicing. Sunsets mean we’ve made it safely through yet another day. They bring closure; we know that the day and whatever came with it, both good and bad, is over and done. But they also bring the promise of tomorrow and the wonderful possibilities that will come with a new day. Even our very last sunset will bring the assurance of dawn on the other side: it will be a time when we’ll truly see the Son.

Looking at the sun setting in the west, I recall my years at summer camp when I’d hear the solemn call of the trumpet at sunset and I silently sing the words to “Taps.” Indeed, all is well and I can safely rest because God is near. Tonight, at sunset, wherever you happen to be, pause, if only for a moment, and thank God for the privilege of one more blessed day.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Thanks and praise for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky.
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
[Horace Lorenzo Trim]

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop, they’ll stare in awe, in wonder. Dawn and dusk take turns calling, “Come and worship.” [Psalm 65:8 (MSG)]

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JESUS SAVES

This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age. [John 3:16 (NTE)]

Another one of my Abundance assignments gave an interesting twist to paying it forward. We were to give an extra $3.16 to the drive-thru cashier who was supposed to credit it to the next customer and tell them the 3.16 was from John. We rarely utilize drive-thrus and now, with social distancing, aren’t going out, so this was one assignment I set aside. Nevertheless, I thought about the ways we do or don’t evangelize.

Christians tend to get upset when the presence of a religious symbol on public property is threatened. Yet, other than an occasional Christmas decoration, we rarely display anything religious on our own private property. We claim our children should be allowed to pray at school yet how many of us use our freedom to openly say grace before meals in a public restaurant or pray with others in public spaces? We’ll wear tee-shirts with logos advertising our favorite designers, restaurants, and teams; how many do we have with Bible verses on them?

For nearly forty years, we drove by the “Jesus Saves” rock. Prior to 1955, however, that big rock displayed a Potosi Beer advertisement. A prayer group from the local Presbyterian church obtained permission to repaint the rock and the “Jesus Saves” rock now is known throughout a tri-state area. To my knowledge, in all of these years, the rock has never been defaced. Granted, it is in rural Illinois, but it’s hard to believe that no youngsters have tried adding something to the sign. While that speaks to the virtue of small town values, it probably helps that the farmer who owns the land keeps a watchful eye on the famous rock (and a bull has been known to roam in the pasture below). A local family installed a light so that it can even been seen in the dark of night and various community organizations continue to keep the sign freshly painted. The “Jesus Saves” sign is both a community effort and a community witness.

While I disagree with their theology, I admire Jehovah’s Witnesses for their persistent evangelizing. Most of us hesitate to discuss Jesus with our neighbor, but Witnesses are willing to speak with strangers, often going door-to-door. They and their display are an almost daily fixture at our area parks and beaches. Few of us are that dedicated to spreading the Word of God, although I did read of one man who named his Wi-Fi router “Jesus Saves” so that anyone searching for a signal would see the message! Since his router probably is password protected and Jesus welcomes all, his would seem to be a slightly mixed message. Nevertheless, he’s witnessing in a small way.

Failure to share the message of John 3:16 isn’t like not telling someone about the latest NetFlix offering, our favorite YouTube video, or even the news that Walmart finally has toilet paper and hand sanitizer! Let us remember that people’s eternal destiny rests in our witness. As Charles Stanley said, “The joy you’ll have when you meet that person in heaven will far exceed any discomfort you felt in sharing the gospel.”

“All who call upon the name of the Lord,” you see, “will be saved.” So how are they to call on someone when they haven’t believed in him? And how are they to believe if they don’t hear? And how will they hear without someone announcing it to them? [Romans 10:13-14 (NTE)]

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DESPERATE TIMES (Mark 5:21-43 – Part 1)

When he saw Jesus, he fell to his knees, beside himself as he begged, “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay hands on her so she will get well and live.” [Mark 5:23 (MSG)]

mottled duclJairus, the leader of the local synagogue, fell at Jesus’ feet. Telling Jesus his daughter was dying, Jairus begged Him to lay hands on her so she could be healed. Jesus went with him but, when He stopped to heal the woman with a blood disorder, news arrived that the girl was dead. Telling the distraught father not to be afraid and to keep believing, Jesus and Jairus continued on their way. Jairus had believed Jesus could heal his daughter; did he also believe Jesus could do something about her death?

A noisy crowd of friends and professional mourners had already gathered at Jairus’ home by the time the men arrived. When Jesus told them the child was sleeping and not dead, they scornfully laughed at Him. After clearing the room of all but her parents and three disciples, Jesus took the child’s hand in His and restored her to life. Astonishing everyone, the girl immediately rose and walked around!

As the synagogue leader, Jairus was one of the most powerful men in the community. Although a layman, he was responsible for the upkeep of the synagogue, ran the school, determined who would lead prayers and read Scripture in services, and probably had close ties to the Pharisees. Almost certainly, he was at the synagogue when Jesus restored a man’s hand on the Sabbath. Had he been one of those planning to accuse Jesus of working on the Sabbath? Until his daughter became ill, was he among those plotting against Jesus? It’s said that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and Jairus was desperate.

Sickness disrupts life in a way little else can; it can make us desperate. It made the woman with the blood disorder spend every shekel she had in search of a cure and then break Jewish law by touching Jesus’ robe. It made four men so determined they carried their paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus. When they couldn’t get in the door, they carted him up to the roof, dug through the tiles and ceiling, and lowered him down to into the house. That a respected and powerful upper class Jew would risk his reputation by falling to his knees before an itinerant rabbi who challenged the Pharisees and threatened the status quo, tells us how desperate Jairus was.

In a letter to a friend, C.S. Lewis wrote of “the necessity…which God is under of allowing us to be afflicted [because] so few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.” Ours is not a “fair-weather” God, only there in good times, but often we seem to be “foul-weather” followers who only call on Him in stormy ones. God is with us in sunshine and thunderstorms and we should be desperate for Him in both.

Even though Jesus told Jairus not to tell anyone what had happened, didn’t he want to shout it from the rooftops? Perhaps not, since that would put him at odds with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Did Jairus become a faithful follower of Christ or, once he’d gotten what he wanted from Jesus, did his belief turn to skepticism? Did Jairus join with the Pharisees in plotting against the very one who saved his daughter? I’d like to think that having seeing Jesus resurrect his daughter, he believed Jesus was the Messiah and was one of the 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1. Since we never read of Jairus again, we can only wonder.

What about us? Are we desperate for a momentary rescue or a long-term relationship? Do we seek a miracle or a Messiah? Do we want to feed our stomachs or our souls?

Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. [John 6:26 (MSG)]

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COFFEE WITH GOD

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. [Mark 1:35-36 (NLT)]

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.”… But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. [Mark 6:31,33 (NLT)]

brown pelicanWhen my “Weekly Wisdom” email reminded me that time is the price we must pay for intimacy with God, I thought of Cindy. A recent widow struggling to make sense of her new normal, Cindy wanted a closer relationship with God, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Rather than reciting the same prayers over and over again, she wanted to sit down and talk to Him, as she would with a good friend.

When a friend mentioned that she’d stocked a cozy corner with devotionals, Bible, encouraging books, and inspirational verses and dedicated it as a special place to read Scripture, reflect and pray, Cindy decided to do the same. In spite of preparing a peaceful spot in her house, however, her life was so chaotic and disorganized that she never found the time to use it!

No matter how well stocked it is with Bibles, devotionals, candles, or framed Bible verses, a dedicated space is pointless if it’s never used! For this to work, Cindy found she had to link her God time with something she did every day; for her, that was her morning cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. Thus began Cindy’s “Coffee with God!”

While continuing the requisite coffee, Cindy replaced the newspaper with devotions, Scripture, and prayers. Within a few days’ time, she and God were on regular speaking terms. She admits those conversations over coffee seemed rather one-sided but added that God’s responses came throughout the day. By approaching Him regularly and humbly, Cindy has become more attuned to His voice and presence in all things all day long. As for the newspaper, she knows that there’s time enough for that after she’s enjoyed her morning coffee with God and His Word.

If I neglected doing something I’d promised to do, my mother would remind me that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Expanding on that, Aldous Huxley said, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. …and furnished too.” As Christians, we are filled with good intentions, but being flawed people, we often fail to act on them. Like Cindy, until I set aside both place and time for Scripture, meditation and prayer, my relationship with God was pretty hit or miss.

Jesus wanted the disciples to understand the importance of a close relationship with the Lord: God first, everything else second. Even so, He had trouble finding quiet time with His Father. Sometimes, Jesus was interrupted and, other times, the crowds followed him. If God’s Son had difficulty finding time to pray, it’s understandable that we do, too. On the other hand, Jesus was busy doing His Father’s business while the busyness that keeps us from God is ours alone!

While yesterday’s message linked praying for peace with brushing our teeth, it’s pretty hard to build a relationship with God like that. As Christians, we won’t mature without deliberately spending time in God’s presence—reading Scripture, meditating on His word and talking with Him in prayer. Our quiet time with God needs to be a non-negotiable item on our calendars rather than an afterthought. As with any relationship, you’ve got to put in the time if you want it to grow! Tomorrow morning, why not enjoy your morning coffee with God!

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” [Psalm 27:7-8 (NLT)]

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PRAY FOR PEACE

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

Saying your prayers is like brushing your teeth.
It’s a habit you form—a commitment you keep.
You should brush your teeth, both morning and night;
The same with your prayers, if you’re saying them right.
To not let your spirit or teeth decay
Be sure to pray and brush every day! [Anonymous]

water lilyAlthough I’ve prayed while folding laundry and washing dishes, it seemed almost sacrilegious to combine prayer with an electric toothbrush and Crest! Nevertheless, after asking, “What would happen if we all pray twice a day for peace?” my next “Abundance” assignment was to pray for peace while brushing my teeth!

The lack of a declared war certainly doesn’t define peace. According to the Global Peace Index, last year the United States ranked 128th out of 163 nations rated for their peacefulness (with Iceland maintaining first place as the most peaceful and Afghanistan replacing Syria as the least). The U.S. Peace Index ranked my state of Florida at 47th out of 50 (with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire as the three most peaceful states.) Considering the political tensions both here and abroad, tribal conflicts and civil wars, terrorist attacks, conflicts and division within the church, divorce and custody battles, road rage, and the violence on our streets, in our homes and even at our schools, praying for peace seems like a good idea.

Since being peacemakers and praying for peace is God directed, I wonder why we’re not more diligent about praying for an end to the strife in our world. Living in a world that is fractured along political, ideological, socio-economic, ethnic, and even religious lines, we probably should pray for peace more than two times a day. We wouldn’t have to do it while brushing our teeth but, since we may be more conscientious about our dental hygiene than prayer, at least we’d remember to do it!

While we can cast blame for the lack of peace on things like politics, injustice, prejudice, corruption, economics, or this pandemic, the fault also lies within each one of us. While brushing and praying, I remembered the words to a song I often sang in Sunday school: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Peace must begin with us. As we pray while brushing, rinsing and spitting, perhaps we should consider what comes out of our mouths. Do we allow words of anger, frustration, criticism, and blame to spill out rather than ones of love, compassion, encouragement, or forgiveness? Our prayers for peace are empty and meaningless unless that peace begins with us!

What could happen if all of Christ’s followers really did pray for peace twice a day?

Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony.
With ev’ry step I take, Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
[Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

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PICTURING HIM

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When may I come to see God’s face? [Psalm 42:2 (GW)]

But you can’t see my face, because no one may see me and live. [Exodus 33:20 (GW)]

“He’s not at all what I expected!” I said after seeing a well-known radio personality in person. Nowhere near as attractive, suave and elegant as he’d sounded on the air, he was much better in my mind’s eye. Older, heavier, less stylish and bald, I was disappointed. The imagined was so much better than the reality.

Do you ever try to visualize God? Would he look like George Burns, the kindly white-haired old man in the movie Oh, God? whose first words to John Denver’s character were, “Eh, not what you expected?” He certainly wasn’t! Maybe God would sound and look more like Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty and appear in an elegant white suit. Perhaps He’d be more like David Strathairn in Interview with God, who, in true rabbinic fashion, answered questions with questions of his own during three interviews. In The Shack, God was portrayed by Octavia Spencer, a heavy-set soft-spoken African-American woman who went by the name of “Papa.” Of course, none of these characterizations come anywhere close to personifying God.

Nevertheless, even though we know God is spirit and without a physical body, we continue trying to visualize Him. Even the most creative mind is incapable of clearly picturing a God, unrestrained by time or space, who can be everywhere at all times: a God who sees, hears and knows all, not just in the present, but in the past and future as well. Our limited imaginations can’t come close to comprehending such an unlimited being who always has been, is now, and forevermore will be. The enormity and power of God is incomprehensible. I’m overwhelmed even thinking about it. That, however, is what I think God wants: for us to be awed and overcome by His amazing presence.

Even though God walked on earth for thirty-three years, we have no physical description of Him and Scripture used few adjectives. While John, Peter and James saw Jesus’ face shine like the sun and His clothes become white during the Transfiguration, they had but a glimpse of His great God glory! Since Judas had to point out Jesus to the soldiers in the garden, when living as a man, Jesus must have looked quite similar to every other Jewish Galilean.

Fortunately, while we may not know exactly what God looks like, we can know Him. Scripture tells us what He was like and, even though we can’t see Him, we know He is there. Moreover, when we eventually do come face to face with our Heavenly Father, we won’t be disappointed (as I was with that radio personality). It’s a guarantee; the reality will be far better than anything we possibly could imagine.

The throne of God and the lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him and see his face. His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night, and they will not need any light from lamps or the sun because the Lord God will shine on them. They will rule as kings forever and ever. [Revelation 22:3b-5 (GW)]

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