KEEP CALM AND PRAY ON

Naples FL sunsetDon’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. [Isaiah 41:10 (MSG)]

The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,” your love, God, took hold and held me fast. When I was upset and beside myself, you calmed me down and cheered me up. [Psalm 94:18-19 (MSG)]

In 1939, on the eve of World War II, the British government produced three posters to be used in the event of war. Printed with the goal of reassuring the public of the nation’s ultimate victory, the posters featured a plain background, a small crown logo on top, and simple block lettering. The two posters that were distributed said, “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might” and “Your courage, Your cheerfulness, Your resolution will bring us victory.” The third poster, with its message to “Keep calm and carry on” was only to be issued in the event of a German invasion. Fortunately, it never was needed. In 1945, most of the “Keep calm” posters were destroyed and forgotten until some were discovered and popularized sixty years later. In spite of the unsettled political climate in our nation, freedom doesn’t seem to be in peril but, if there ever were a time we need, pluck, optimism, determination, and composure, it is now!

Since we’ve been invaded by COVID, I’ve seen several memes with variations on the “Keep calm” posters. They suggest everything from keeping calm and washing our hands, quarantining on, masking up, and staying home, to drinking wine, baking brownies, eating chocolate, blaming someone else, and calling Batman. One simply said “Now panic and freak out!” When faced with a disaster, misfortune, or major mess up, I admit to having done nearly all of those things (except call Batman) but none did much to calm my troubled soul. Perhaps the Christian’s versions of the original poster would have a cross on the top and include suggestions to keep calm and pray on, remember God loves us, or trust in the Lord and His plan. At least, those suggestions would work!

Let’s remember: Jesus stilled the water and waves on the Sea of Galilee with just a word! If He can do that, He is more than capable of calming our troubled hearts and quieting every storm in our lives, even a global pandemic! In the face of life’s predicaments, troubles, uncertainties, and calamities, let us choose to carry on with courage, cheerfulness, and resolution by keeping calm and praying on!

When we fight our battles on our knees, we win every time. [Charles F. Stanley]

You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan. [John Bunyan]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (MSG)]

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THE PROVERBS 31 WOMAN

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. [Proverbs 31:10-12 (NLT)]

osprey pair - rookery bayProverbs 31 is said to have been written by King Lemuel. We only know that Lemuel was “the king of Massa,” possibly an Arab king, his name means “devoted to God,” and his words were written somewhere between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. Attributing his words to counsel from his mother, the first nine verses sound like the sort of thing a queen-mother would tell son about government and the dangers of wine and bad women. Verses 10 through 31, however, are an acrostic poem outlining the qualities of the ideal wife.

Lemuel’s mama would have been a hard mother-in-law to please because the woman described in Proverbs 31 could be called Wonder Wife. She seems to be a cross between Shark Tank’s Barbara Cocoran, Martha Stewart, Little Women’s  Mrs. March (Marmee), and Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver. Rising before dawn and burning her lamp late into the night, the Proverbs 31 woman juggles family, home, business, and charitable activities effortlessly and without benefit of carry-out, Amazon, Instant Pot, car pools, complaint, spa days, naps, or any help from her husband.

Because I don’t spin wool, sew clothing to sell, plant vineyards, or make our bedspreads, I used to feel a twinge of guilt whenever I read Proverbs 31. There are weeds in the garden, fingerprints on the walls, stains on the carpet, and my kids often outgrew clothes before I got around to sewing on a missing button! These words, however, aren’t about specific activities, they are about values. In these twenty-two verses, rather than a to-do list, we find the qualities every woman (and man) should want to emulate. She is virtuous, trustworthy, strong, supportive, enterprising, resourceful, compassionate, industrious, energetic, considerate, generous, honorable, and wise and we don’t have to gather flax, weave our own cloth, dress in fine linen, or get up before dawn and prepare breakfast to be any of those things! In actuality, the Proverbs 31 woman is the epitome of the ideals found throughout the book of Proverbs. She is what true wisdom looks like in real life (or real life more than 2,000 years ago)!

Some women find this chapter objectionable with its somewhat dated sentiments. Let us remember that these verses are from a time when the highest compliment a man could give a woman was that she was a perfect homemaker! Although mothers have been advising their sons about the kind of woman they should marry for centuries, some scholars think these verses actually may be King Lemuel’s tribute to his mother: a woman of “noble character.” In fact, in many traditional Jewish homes, these verses (known as the Eshet Hayil) are sung or recited at the Sabbath meal Friday nights as a way for the husband to honor his wife and show the family’s appreciation for all she’s done for them. Rather than a list of wifely duties, these words are a song of praise!

Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!” Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise. [Proverbs 31:28-31 (NLT)]

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NEVER OBSOLETE

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. [Isaiah 46:4 (NLT)]

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself. [Anonymous]

Grandpa J

Several years ago, a friend’s spry 94-year old mother emailed the family about having forgotten her elbow brace on the way to the exercise room in her senior residence. After returning to her apartment and donning the brace, the woman took an inventory of the other pieces of hardware she needed to get through each day. Along with the elbow brace, she wore bi-focal glasses, two hearing aids, a knee brace, two sets of dentures, two orthopedic shoe inserts, and one doe-skin support for three toes. Even without inventorying the number of medications that were part of her daily regimen, she observed that “it’s not a simple management situation” to keep track of it all. Feeling blessed that she didn’t need a cane and walker as did many her age, she closed her message by reminding the younger family members to take care of themselves. She continued her optimistic outlook and daily exercise routine until she went home to the Lord just a few months before her 100th birthday. Her light-hearted email remains a serious reminder that time takes a toll on our bodies.

Within my circle, many have reached the age when God has started to recall some of their parts. A few are nearly  bionic with their titanium plates, pacemakers, implanted cardioverter defibrillators, replacement heart valves, intraocular lenses, artificial hips and knees, or portable oxygen concentrators. As my mother-in-law observed in her 102nd year, “Old age is not for sissies!” Indeed, it presents a fair number of challenges. Nevertheless, as long as we’re still breathing, we should be in good spirits and thankful. Old age is a gift from God and one denied to far too many of our friends and family. It is a privilege not a punishment, an opportunity rather than a misfortune, and a blessing not a curse.

Even though we slow down and start wearing out as the years progress, God (who is older than time itself) remains the same and is constant in His care for us. He doesn’t stop working in our lives because parts of our bodies have ceased to function properly. He doesn’t put us out to pasture because we can no longer carry a load, consign us to the trash heap because we have some broken parts, or scrap us because we’re out of date. In God’s eyes, no matter how old or run-down His children are, no one is considered unusable or obsolete! He is as close to us now as when we took our first breath and He’ll be right beside us when we take our last one. God carried us as children and He will continue to carry us until He recalls our worn out bodies and takes us on our final trip home.

Before we take that last journey, however, there is still work to be done in God’s earthly kingdom. As long as we are breathing (even if we need an oxygen concentrator to do it), there is someone somewhere with whom we can share God’s love and good news. Just don’t forget your elbow brace or cane on the way out the door!

But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!” [Psalm 92:12-15 (NLT)]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. [2 Corinthians 4:16 (NLT)]

Today’s picture is of my father-in-law—a man who never grew obsolete. Even though his physical strength waned, his spiritual strength never did and he continued to bear fruit until he went home at age 96.

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RULES

This is what the Lord has commanded: A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do. [Numbers 30:1-2 (NLT)]

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. …For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’” [Matthew 23, 15-16 (NLT)

water lily

As any parent of a teenager knows, it’s impossible to have enough rules to cover all the ways your child can err. Schemers that they are, they’ll always find a way around restrictions. When I attended boarding school, for example, several of us girls had our ears pierced by a fellow student (an aspiring physician). We knew that neither school nor parents would endorse numbing our ears with icicles and piercing them with a sewing needle and dental floss but, without a specific rule against it, we pierced them anyway. Because it was the school’s second year, the administration hadn’t anticipated all the ways we teens could misbehave and our student handbook was only one page. Now, 57 years later, that handbook is 33 pages long and covers such things as body piercings and tattoos, drones, room searches, recording devices, prohibited clothing, subwoofers, a roommate’s rights, and unauthorized access to the school’s computer system. I imagine next year’s handbook will be even longer and reflect yet another way its students have managed to flout authority.

Of course, it’s not just teenagers who assume that, if something isn’t specifically prohibited, it must be allowed. No matter their age, people will try to find a way around every inconvenient or bothersome rule. For example, God made it clear that a vow made before Him was binding. Keeping promises, however, can prove problematic and, through a convoluted re-interpretation of the law, the Pharisees of Jesus’ time created a loophole. If one swore by the gold on the altar, the promise was binding. But, if one swore only by the altar or temple, it was like crossing your fingers and the promise could be broken with impunity: a promise was only a promise if it was expedient.

We girls knew we shouldn’t have pierced our ears that way, the Pharisees knew that God meant for all promises to be kept, and today’s students shouldn’t need a specific rule stating that roommates must be spoken to in a respectful manner. While there were plenty of laws in the Old Testament, Jesus boiled them all down to two simple ones: love God and love our neighbor. In a perfect world these would be the only laws necessary. The world, however, isn’t perfect which is why we still have regulations and school handbooks.

Just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily make it right and just because something isn’t specifically prohibited doesn’t mean it should be done. Jesus lived by one law: the law of love. Regardless of the rules, like Him, we must let the two-fold commandment of loving God and loving our neighbor guide us in everything we do.

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. [Romans 13:8-10 (NLT)]

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THE INVISIBLE FENCE

Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. [1 Timothy 1:19 (NLT)]

african irisThe barking dog came charging down the driveway toward me before skidding to a halt. “Thank you, God, for invisible fences,” was my relieved thought. Unwilling to cross that invisible barrier, the fiercely barking dog followed me from his yard while keeping his distance. A bed of beautiful African iris was between us and I debated about stepping closer to get a photo of their blossoms. While the threat of his collar deterred the dog as long as I remained where I was, I wasn’t sure what he’d do if I ventured any closer. My stepping on his turf could have proven too much temptation for the fellow and he may have been willing to take the punishment for a chance to show me who was boss. My flower picture could wait until another day.

Life would be so much easier if I had an invisible fence. No, I don’t have a dog; the fence would be for me. It would warn me when I got too close to sin and give me a shock if I dared cross the line into sinfulness. When talk veered toward gossip, I’d hear a little buzzing sound; if I continued the conversation, I’d get a zap! The same thing would happen whenever pride reared its ugly head or when tempted to be selfish, deceitful or envious. I’m a quick learner; I imagine my behavior would improve quickly if I got an unpleasant buzz or a little shock every time I started to step across the line into sin!

Actually, I do have an invisible fence, only it’s called a conscience and it’s my built-in ability to know right from wrong. A gift from God, it is His voice planted within my heart. Unfortunately, just like an angry dog with an invisible fence, when sorely tempted, I’m capable of ignoring my conscience. Moreover, just as the battery in the dog’s collar can weaken or die, my conscience isn’t entirely reliable. It tends to be stronger when others are present, weaker when I’m alone and can even atrophy from lack of use. That’s why I like having the Holy Spirit at my side—He operates at full strength all of the time. Even when my conscience fails me, He is sure to convict me when my behavior doesn’t glorify Jesus—He might even give me a spiritual zap!

The paradoxical and tragic situation of man is that his conscience is weakest when he needs it most. [Erich Fromm]

God knows what each one of us is dealing with. He knows our pressures. He knows our conflicts. And He has made a provision for each and every one of them. That provision is Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit, indwelling us and empowering us to respond rightly. [Kay Arthur]

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. [Galatians 5:16-17a (NLT)]

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FAIRY TALE ENDINGS

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?. [Romans 8:35,38-39 (NLT)]

blue flag irisAs a child, I loved the way fairy tales always ended with these words: “and they lived happily ever after.” Real life, however, is anything but a fairy tale. I suspect that after Cinderella and the Prince had two kids, she went right back to cooking and cleaning all day and never went to another ball. Prince Eric’s fondness for ahi tuna sushi and sashimi led to his divorce from Ariel for irreconcilable differences. Snow White ended up under arrest for dwarf exploitation and trafficking in blood diamonds while Barbie, who turned 60 last year, keeps undergoing plastic surgery in an unsuccessful attempt to regain her youth. Because of Ken’s bad investments, their dream house went into foreclosure and their dream cars, boat and motor home were repossessed. In real life, no fairy godmother shows up with a magic wand to turn pumpkins into carriages, mice into horses, and our sweetest dreams into reality.

The “grown-up” life we expected at age ten probably bears little resemblance to our present reality. Naively, we were sure that life would be easy for us. We envisioned a life that went according to plan, never expecting that circumstances beyond our control could leave a loved one dead or take away our business. If we anticipated marriage, we didn’t picture things like infidelity or “irreconcilable differences.” We certainly didn’t consider the possibilities of job loss, unpaid bills, or bankruptcy. Piles of laundry, dirty dishes, or having to work two jobs never entered our thoughts. If we imagined children, they didn’t have cerebral palsy, autism, Down’s or an addiction. If we even visualized ourselves as senior citizens, we’d be athletic, slender, healthy and as attractive as we were at twenty. We never imagined being alone, needing a walker, artificial hips or cardiac rehab. Nor did our mental picture have age spots, wrinkles, a bald spot or dementia.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that life doesn’t go according to our plan. It isn’t like a private train ride in which we set the destination, map the route, and schedule the stops. It’s more like we’re hitch-hiking across the country with all of the delays, detours, rejections, good and bad encounters, and unscheduled stops that come with thumbing a ride. Life is filled with the unexpected and, like a successful hitch-hiker, we just have to make the most of what comes our way.

Rest assured that we are never alone on this journey. Life doesn’t go according to our perfect plan but it does go according to God’s! As the Apostle Paul told the Romans: “Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.“ Rest assured, as a believer in Jesus, there really is a “happily ever after!”

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.