IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES – THANKSGIVING 2020

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation. [Psalm 100: 4-5 (NLT)] 

turkeyWhen an irrevocable law was signed that prohibited praying to anyone but King Darius, Daniel prayed! Knowing he’d be thrown into a den of lions for doing so, the devout man went home, opened the windows, and prayed to God just as he always had done. Rather than starting with a fervent plea for God’s help, however, Daniel began with a prayer of thanks. His prayer of thanksgiving showed Daniel’s faith in a good God who was present in all circumstances!

Back in the 1630s, in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War when all of Europe was in turmoil, a Lutheran minister named Martin Rinckart also understood the importance of thanking God in all circumstances. Life seemed hopeless, especially in the walled city of Eilenburg where Rinckart lived. Refugees overcrowded the city, people were starving, and the city was surrounded by enemy soldiers. Poverty, famine and disease reigned. Mercenary soldiers committed atrocities, looted, and extorted tribute. Rinckart had to quarter soldiers in his house and endure their plundering of his possessions and stocks of grain. Diseases like typhus, dysentery, and scurvy already were widespread when the plague took control and devastated the population in 1637. And we think we have it tough in 2020!

Rinkart faithfully served the sick and dying. As the last living pastor in town, he performed as many as fifty funerals a day and buried over 4,400 townspeople, including his own wife. It was during this horrific time, one of the darkest in Europe’s history, that Rinckart counted his blessings and wrote a beautiful family prayer of thanksgiving. We know that joyful prayer as the popular Thanksgiving hymn Now Thank We All Our God. Martin Rinckart, like Daniel, offered thanks to God in the midst of challenging circumstances. Can we do anything less?

I saw a cartoon in which the heavy-set husband, after looking down at his skimpy plate of dieter’s salad, looked up at his wife and said, “You better say grace this time. If I do it, God will know I’m lying.” Unlike Daniel and Martin Rinckart, most of us are like him: blind to the blessings of life and deficient in our thanks to God for those blessings, however great or small. Today, as we celebrate our national day of thanks, let us remember that every day should be a day of giving thanks—even if, instead of sweet potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and pumpkin pie, our plates have only lettuce, carrots and celery!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace, and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills, in this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
the Son, and him who reigns with them in highest heaven;
the one eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore. [Martin Rinckart)]

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)]

Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. [Psalm 95:1-2 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HOLIDAY GATHERINGS

zebras - serengettiAvoid foolish controversies, arguments about genealogies, quarrels, and fights about Moses’ Teachings. This is useless and worthless. [Titus 3:9 (GW)]

Four years ago, our Thanksgiving weekend was a busy one, in large part to the celebration of my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday. While the results of the presidential election weren’t disputed four years ago, the political mood that November was just as divisive as it is today, making for some awkward and challenging gatherings. Today’s contentious political climate can be problematic at holiday get-togethers this year, as well. With the rhetoric even more heated, conspiracy theories running wild, and the prevalence of vicious postings on social media, even Zoom calls with family could be challenging!

Recognizing that the next several weeks will require diplomacy, tact, restraint, and a great deal of love, I thought I’d repeat the following devotion that was first published on Thanksgiving eve, 2016.

“Our days are few, and far better spent in doing good than in disputing over matters which are, at best, of minor importance,” were the words in my morning’s devotion by Charles Spurgeon. Although they were in reference to Paul’s words to Titus regarding divisive arguments in the early church, they are words to remember as we gather with family and friends at our tables tomorrow. Let’s face it, for the next several weeks, we’ll be thrown together with a wide assortment of people, all of whom will have at least one opinion that differs from ours. Moreover, while we share genealogy and genes with family members, we often have little else in common. Some people say Thanksgiving dinner without an argument or two is like turkey with no stuffing or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade without helium balloons. Nevertheless, I’m not so sure acrimony has to ruin our day of national thanks. Remembering Paul’s words to Titus can help us through tomorrow and the rest of the holiday season.

All of us have dropped our anchors on certain issues and we’re not about to change our opinions on those. Let’s honor the rights of others to drop anchor on their beliefs, as well. There are, however, far more issues where, rather than dropping anchor, we could tie up to the pier and quietly listen to the person berthed across the dock; we just might have more in common than we realize. Fearless listening occurs when we’re not afraid to truly hear another person’s point of view.

Keep in mind that holiday get-togethers are not debate stages or battle grounds and a friendly discussion should remain amicable. Although a friendly discussion is never about winning, I have one friend who actually prepares for disputes by packing news articles supporting her viewpoints in her purse and suitcase. Although out-of-tune pianos can be tuned, some minds can’t be changed and it is foolish to even try. Moreover, even when people have well-founded opinions, many differences will never be reconciled. Wisdom is knowing when to stop a discussion and true wisdom is knowing enough not to start!

We will gather with twenty-eight people tomorrow and seventy-five the following day. In spite of the old saying never to talk about religion or politics, considering the recent election, there is sure to be discussion of at least one of those topics. In addition to people with diverse (and strong) opinions, any holiday gathering has its share of conspiracy theorists, whiners, complainers, nitpickers, and over-indulgers. Getting through a holiday dinner can be like traversing a mine field!

Being a vegetarian, I’m used to politely saying, “Thank you, no,” when the shrimp, turkey, gravy and sausage stuffing are urged on me. Being a follower of Christ, I’ll silently say, “Thank you, no!” every time an opportunity for dissension, anger, criticism, pettiness, or insult comes passing my way. I’ll also pray a lot! Personally, I’ve found, “Please, God, put your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth!” to serve me well.

Blessings, peace, and joy to you tomorrow!

Our business is neither to ask nor answer foolish questions, but to avoid them altogether. [Charles Spurgeon]

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments. You know they cause quarrels. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel. Instead, he must be kind to everyone. He must be a good teacher. He must be willing to suffer wrong. [2 Timothy 2:23-24 (GW)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE SLANDERED (Psalms of Ascent – Part 2)

wild phloxRescue me, O Lord, from liars and from all deceitful people. … How I suffer in far-off Meshech. It pains me to live in distant Kedar. I search for peace; but when I speak of peace, they want war! [Psalm 120:2,5-6 (NLT)]

When we are slandered it is a joy that the Lord knows us, and cannot be made to doubt our uprightness he will not hear the lie against us, but he will hear our prayer against the lie. [Charles Spurgeon]

While many of the fifteen psalms designated A Song of Ascents display the sense of joy and pride in Israel that we’d expect from people returning to their homeland, a few express distress, looming peril, or trials. One such psalm is the first in the collection: Psalm 120. It is the individual lament of someone who seems to have become the victim of slander—the prayer of someone who is surrounded by warlike people.

While I’ve never been the victim of slander, I have a friend who was. His reputation was deliberately damaged by falsehoods, misrepresentations, and innuendo. Until I studied this psalm, I don’t think I truly understood how isolated and defenseless he must have felt. Like the psalmist, he longed for peace but felt like a stranger in the midst of a hostile nation.

The psalmist expresses his distress at such deceit and pleads for relief. He then describes the destiny of the liar’s tongue: being pierced by fiery arrows, like those used in sieges to set places on fire. This is a bit of irony since Scripture frequently likens deceivers’ tongues to a bow that shoots out harmful words. In effect, the psalmist is asking that his enemies receive a dose of their own medicine! Having shot their vindictive words at him, in a bit of divine justice, God will shoot his own flaming arrows of judgment at them!

What follows is a lament about living in both Meshech and Kedar among people who hate peace. The psalmist is speaking figuratively since these pagan nations were in opposite directions and he couldn’t be in both places at once. The people of both nations, however, were ferocious and aggressive barbarians. Living among the ungodly—people who prefer war to peace—the psalmist feels like an outsider. The psalm’s final line expresses the psalmist’s desire for peace and the deceitful people’s desire for war. Maligned and slandered by people who wanted to make his life difficult, the psalmist asks the Lord for peace, for His shalom.

It’s easy to wonder why such a psalm would be among this collection of hopeful and encouraging psalms until we realize that, unlike most psalms, this one is somewhat backwards. Instead of beginning by stating his plight and following with a plea for deliverance, the psalmist begins by telling us that God already has answered his prayer. From the first verse, we know that the Lord has dealt with the problem and delivered him from his enemies. Rather than a lament, this is a psalm of thanksgiving. The psalmist found refuge and peace in a hostile world because God answered his prayers. Let us take comfort knowing that we have a God who answers our prayers!

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

I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. [Psalm 120:1 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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.

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.