FILL THE TANK

Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress. … Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. [Psalm 107:5-6,8-9 (NLT)]

Trumbull cemetery - OhioMy father had what’s often described as a Type-A personality. An impatient workaholic, he always took on more than he could handle. Life, for him, was one crucial task after another, none of which anyone else could do, at least not correctly. Always in a hurry, he never wanted to stop for anything, even when his gas gauge read precariously close to empty. Something more pressing always took precedence over a brief stop for gas. As a result, his car was often left on the roadside while he trudged off with a gas can to find the nearest service station. Instead of saving time, his refusal to stop cost him time. Living that way actually cost him his life; he died of a massive coronary at the age of fifty-six. It’s often been said that your in-box still will be full when you die and, indeed, his was. None of us can accomplish everything on our to-do list and we may well destroy both our relationships and ourselves while trying.

Unlike my father, most of us will stop at a gas station when our cars need fuel. Having spent hours stranded on country roads waiting for my father to return with a can of gasoline, my gas tank is never less than half full. But, like my father, I’m not always so careful about keeping my spiritual tank full. No matter how organized I try to be, my to-do list seems to get longer while the days remaining get shorter. Sometimes, I feel like I’m just running on fumes and I don’t think I’m the only one!

Unfortunately, just as my father ignored his gas gauge, we often ignore signs like anger, worry, sadness, impatience, and temper that tell us our supply of spiritual fruit is dangerously low. It often takes a squabble, blow-up or crisis before we finally stop and refuel with God. Of course, the wiser choice is to top off our tanks with daily prayer and meditation so we never run low!

When asked about his plans for the following day, it’s been said that theologian, professor, author, Bible translator, reformer, pastor, husband and father Martin Luther replied: “Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” If we’re too busy to stop for gas, we’re busier than we should be. Martin Luther knew that, if we’re too busy to pray, we’re busier than God wants us to be.

Heavenly Father, sometimes we allow the challenges of everyday life to keep us from spending time with you and we run precariously low of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control your Spirit so graciously provides. Help us accept that we can’t do it all and that there will always be another task waiting right around the corner. Guide our priorities, Lord so that you’re on the top of our to-do list every day. Remind us that you are all we really need and help us see a brighter tomorrow in your promises. Lead us to that peaceful place of your presence. Refresh and renew us and let your Holy Spirit fill us up again.

No one ever said at the end of his days, “I have read my Bible too much, I have thought of God too much, I have prayed too much, I have been too careful with my soul. [J.C. Ryle]

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. [Psalm 23:1-3 (NLT)]

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

JOB’S LAMENT (Part 2)

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest. [Psalm 22:1-2 (RSV)]

taos NMYesterday, I wrote about Job’s lamentation. 19th century bible scholar George Granville Bradley said this about Job 3: “Where in the world will you find a sadder strain of more hopeless, uncontrolled, and unbroken lamentation and mourning? … Filled to the brim, they run over with pain.” I have to agree.

Nevertheless, as sad as that chapter is, there is beauty in its words. Job’s anguished speech lets us know that it’s okay to express our emotions. It tells us that God doesn’t expect us to stoically maintain silence in the face of tragedy and pain. Job’s words, like those in the many psalms of lament, are the anguished cries of a faithful believer—someone who can uninhibitedly express his pain and grief to God.

Job’s lament, however, is not a laundry list of grievances. He’s not complaining about his sudden poverty, that no one will carry on his name, his loss of status, or going into gory detail about his physical maladies and grumbling that scraping his skin with potsherds brings no relief. Rather than an account of his misery, grief, and misfortune, his is simply a cry to escape his suffering. When God finally speaks to Job, He doesn’t take the man to task for his honesty in pouring out his deepest emotions; it is for accusing God of acting unjustly and questioning His wisdom.

Faith in God and despair in our situation are not incompatible. Out of the 150 psalms, one third are considered psalms of lament. Considered a man after God’s heart, David is credited with writing 73 psalms and many of those are laments. Clearly, ours is a God who allows us to be brutally honest with Him as we voice our anger, distress, fear, anguish, frustration, doubt, shame, heartache, and disappointment.

For some unknown reason, David felt that God has abandoned him in Psalm 22 and he echoed Job’s question of “why?” These same words were repeated by Jesus as He hung on the cross and, in His torment, cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Jesus was sinless, which means His anguished words were not sinful; feeling God is absent is not the same as believing it. Like Job and David, Jesus was calling out to God in His misery but their words of lament didn’t mean they’d lost faith in God. They wouldn’t have called out to God in their despair had they not believed their words would reach God’s ears!

As happened with Job, one moment it can seem like God is smiling down at our lives when, suddenly, life goes down the tubes and it seems like God has turned His back on us. Feeling abandoned and alone in our suffering and sorrow, we must never be afraid to express our heartfelt emotions to the God who created us with the ability to have those very emotions! Dark and silent brooding turns us inward and away from God while expressing our shock, grief, and despair turns us outward toward Him!

Let us never be hesitant to approach the Lord in our tears and despondency. A child instinctively calls out to a parent when he’s hurting, sick, frightened, or lost; we should be no different. Rather than a denial of our Father in Heaven, a lament directed toward Him is both a plea for help and an affirmation of His presence and power.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. [Psalm 55:22 (RSV)]

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. [1 Peter:5:6-7 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

CURSE THE DAY! (Part 1)

Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb, for letting me be born to see all this trouble. Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? [Job 3:10-11 (NLT)]

baby feetAfter Satan took Job’s loved ones and wealth, the grieving man remained a pillar of patience and faith. Rather than blaming God, the stoic man acknowledged God’s sovereign authority saying, “The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” [1:21]

Things took a turn for the worse when Satan attacked Job’s body. With boils from head to foot, Job’s body was covered with scabs, pus oozed from his sores, his skin was black and peeling, and maggots fed on him. As if that weren’t enough, the man suffered from insomnia, nightmares, fever, and pain in his bones. His symptoms sound as horrific and deadly as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever.

When Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, the faithful man responded, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” [2:10] Although he seemed resigned to his fate, the despondent Job came dangerously close to falling into Satan’s trap when, in Job 3, he questioned God’s wisdom in giving him life.

I can understand someone like Job, someone suffering terribly who sees no end to the misery, wishing for a quick end to his life and praying for the release offered by death. What I find difficult to understand is Job’s wish that he’d never been born. Cursing the day of his birth and the night of his conception, the despairing man literally wished his life erased from its existence.

Until Satan’s attack, Job’s life appears to have been picture perfect for decades. With his many servants and more than 10,000 head of livestock, he was the richest man around. The father of seven sons and three daughters, he probably had numerous grandchildren. The family regularly gathered together for long feasts so they must have enjoyed each other’s company. A prominent man, well-respected in the community, Job was principled, generous and charitable. In spite of having everything his heart desired, Job’s heart remained set on God and the Lord called him, “the finest man on earth…blameless…a man of complete integrity.” [1:8] Yet, by cursing his very existence, Job wanted to obliterate all the blessings and joy that existed between his birth and his affliction.

In his pain, Job forgot about growing up in a loving home, playing with his brothers and sisters, the bliss of young love, the wonder of touching his wife’s belly and feeling his unborn child move, the delight of holding his children in his arms, the laughter of his family, the satisfaction that came from being able to right a wrong or help the poor, and the joy of bouncing a grandchild on his knee. If he’d never been born, he would have missed sunrises and sunsets, the taste of grapes, the sound of birds’ songs, the pleasure of a kiss, and the joy of praising the Lord. Although Job began his story as a sterling example of accepting of God’s will when disaster strikes, cracks developed in his spirit as his suffering intensified.

Job’s outburst of despair, however, does not mean that Satan won. While Job cursed his day of birth, he never cursed God. Moreover, even though he wondered why people who longed for death continued to live, Job never considered suicide. Because he operated on a false retribution theology, Job believed that God had forsaken him. Rather than losing faith in God, he lost faith in himself.

For many of us, these last several months have challenged our physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial resources and, like Job, we may feel overwhelmed by all that has beset us. Job lost perspective; let us not do the same. God did not forsake Job and He has not forsaken you! We must never forget our past blessings or rue the day of our birth. After all, had we never been given life, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know Jesus, be born again, or enjoy eternal life!

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)]

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! [Psalm 43:5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE LAMPLIGHTER

You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. [Psalm 18:28 (NLT)]

moonflowerWhen Robert Louis Stevenson was just a boy, he was gazing out the window one evening and saw the lamplighter lighting the street lights. The future poet is reported to have said, “Look, Nanny! That man is putting holes in the darkness.” While it makes for a good sermon illustration, a more accurate version of his words is found in an essay he wrote in 1878, “A Plea for Gas Lamps,” in which the man expressed his opposition to the “ugly blinding glare” of the electric lights that were beginning to replace the gas lamps of Edinburgh. After asking God to bless the lamplighter, the poet described him as “speeding up the street and, at measured intervals, knocking another luminous hole into the dusk.” The lamplighter, said Stevenson, “distributed starlight, and, as soon as the need was over, re-collected it.”

The first gas lighting systems in Edinburgh were installed in 1819. At dusk, teams of lamplighters called “Leeries” would stream through the city. Using long poles, they’d ignite the gas in every lamp, whether on street corners, in front of businesses, or on people’s porches. After turning the city from darkness to light at dusk, the men would return in the morning to extinguish the lights. Responsible for trimming wicks along with cleaning and repairing the lamps, theirs was an important job until automation and electricity eventually eliminated the need for them.

A few years after his plea to keep the gas lamps, Stevenson published his poem “The Lamplighter.” In it, the speaker is a boy who says, “My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky; it’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by.” Picture the boy looking out into the dark and, even before he can see the lamplighter, he sees the lamps Leerie illuminates as he approaches. Once past the boy, the lamplighter will have left a trail of lights behind him that will be visible long after he’s disappeared into the dark.

Before gas lamps became common, the streets were dark and dangerous. Pick-pockets and robbers roamed freely and people were afraid to go out at night. Although they could pay a “link boy” to guide them with a torch, there was a real risk the fellow might lead them into an alley to be robbed. When gas lamps were first introduced, The Westminster Review reported that they would do more to eliminate immorality and criminality on the streets than any number of church sermons.

Our pastor frequently closes services with the reminder to be light into darkness. Indeed, we are to be like the lamplighters who illuminated the darkened streets of the 19th century. Turning night into day, we are to put “holes in the darkness” of the world and let God’s light through. As Christians, it’s not enough that we bring the light. Like the Leeries of old, ours is an important job—we must light the lamps of others and help to keep them lit. As we point their way to Jesus, people should be able to trace the course of where we’ve been by the light we’ve left behind us. Like the lamplighters, our actions will speak louder about the light of Christ than any number of church sermons.

Unlike lamplighters who snuffed out the street lights in the morning, we must never extinguish the light of Christ or the flame of God’s love. With the advent of automation and electricity, there was no more need for lamplighters and they disappeared, except for a few whose job has more to do with tourism than bringing light into darkness. Our job as bringers of light, as the people who distribute God’s light by knocking luminous holes into the dusk, will never end. Like the lamplighter of old, let us poke holes into the darkness of the world and leave a trail of light and love wherever we’ve walked.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. … So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. [Ephesians 5:8-9,15-16 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NEVER OBSOLETE 

Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square. She calls to the crowds along the main street, to those gathered in front of the city gate: “How long, you simpletons, will you insist on being simpleminded? How long will you mockers relish your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise. I called you so often, but you wouldn’t come. I reached out to you, but you paid no attention. You ignored my advice and rejected the correction I offered.” [Proverbs 1:20-25 (NLT)]

When my little grands came to play, I’d dig out the Fisher-Price “little people” village that had been their parents. Being from the early 70s, it included a free standing phone booth and I had to explain what it was and why pay phones were necessary. Phone booths are so scarce now that I suspect Superman needs to find another changing room! I can’t remember when last I dialed a phone, let alone filled a fountain pen, used carbon paper or even a typewriter. Mimeograph machines, 45s, rabbit-ear antennas, 8-track, VHS, and cassette tapes are all long forgotten. 35 mm film has been replaced by digital technology, dictionaries by spell check, and that cumbersome 26 volume encyclopedia by search engines. If you don’t understand my references, you probably don’t have a landline phone or use an alarm clock, address book, pocket calendar or travel agent. You stream your music rather than play CDs, use a GPS rather than maps, and get your news on the Internet! It’s amazing how many things have become antiquated in just my lifetime. There is, however, one thing that hasn’t become obsolete in 3,500 years: the Bible!

The Bible isn’t some old book with no relevance to our modern lives; it is filled with stories that are as relevant to us today as they were thousands of years ago. Granted we have hybrid cars and iPads rather than donkeys and stone tablets, but mankind’s nature and desires haven’t changed in all these years. Instead of Bathsheba, it could be the pretty blond down the street and, instead of an apple, it might be that Gucci purse you can neither resist nor afford. Like Samson, we’re often tempted to brag and make poor choices in sweethearts and, like Jonah, we often are given tasks we don’t want. We must learn to set priorities as did Martha and to be as patient as Job. Like him, we may encounter overwhelming tragedy or, like David, face adversity, temptation, and loss. Responsibilities that seem overwhelming and endless will be thrust upon us as they were on Moses and, like Elijah, we’ll even get depressed and lonely.

The Bible is far more than a rule book; it’s life’s instruction manual. It’s a guide to finding God and knowing His will. Moreover, it gives us the benefit of thousands of years of other people’s experience. Of course, all that knowledge means nothing if we don’t apply its lessons to our daily lives.

Time can take nothing from the Bible. It is the living monitor. Like the sun, it is the same in its light and influence to man this day which it was years ago. It can meet every present inquiry and console every present loss. [Richard Cecil]

Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. [Joshua 1:7-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

PREFECT TIMING

God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 (CEV)]

Big Cypress Fox SquirrelSaturday mornings we usually walk through a nearby park that is home to a unique subspecies of squirrel found here in southwest Florida: the Big Cypress fox squirrel (or BCFS for short). Larger than a common gray squirrel, the BCFS has a black head and back, buff sides and belly, white ears and nose, and a long bushy tail.

We’re always on the lookout for these black-masked critters, but they are cautious and secretive and it had been two years since spotting one. Thinking the endangered rodent no longer inhabits the park, I’d given up hope of seeing one again. Recently, while trying to focus my camera on some holly berries, the shaking branches above them caused me to look up. A large BCFS was staring down at me and even stayed long enough for a photo! Our brief encounter was exactly what I needed to lift my spirits after several discouraging weeks. As I thanked God for the “Aha!” moment, I pondered how God’s timing is both unpredictable and perfect.

I’m not sure David thought God’s timing perfect while spending fifteen years on the run hiding from Saul and his army and I suppose the Israelites questioned God’s timing as they waited 400 years in Egypt and 40 more in the desert before entering the land promised to them. Joseph may have questioned God’s timing during the years he spent as a slave in prison before becoming Pharaoh’s second in command. Sarah and Abraham waited twenty-five years between God’s promise of a son and Isaac’s birth and, after waiting decades, Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up any hope of a child when she became pregnant with John. I look at my prayer list and see that God often seems painfully slow. Nevertheless, the squirrel’s unexpected appearance reminded me that God is present whether or not we see Him. Rather than losing hope, we must trust in His perfect timing.

Rather than providing photo ops, the squirrels’ lives revolve around berries, seeds, nuts, one another, and avoiding predators. They’ve been in the park all the time but, because my timing isn’t perfect, I missed seeing them. God’s timing, however, always is perfect. Like the squirrels, His purpose is not to satisfy or entertain us. God wants to teach us to trust Him as we grow more like Christ. While we may not always understand or appreciate His timing, the appearance of that BCFS was a reminder that faith in God means faith in His presence, plan, and timetable.

If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for. The waiting itself is beneficial to us: it tries faith, exercises patience, trains submission, and endears the blessing when it comes. The Lord’s people have always been a waiting people. [Charles Spurgeon]

The Lord says: “My thoughts and my ways are not like yours. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, my thoughts and my ways are higher than yours. [Isaiah 55:8-9 (CEV)] 

Dear friends, don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day. [2 Peter 3:8 (CEV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.