A PROTECTIVE HEDGE

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” [Job 1:9-11 (NIV)]

armor - castle chillon - lake genevaYou’ve probably heard people pray for a hedge of protection around friends or family members. Is it an impenetrable bubble that keeps tragedy and trouble at bay or a substance that acts like kryptonite against Satan and protects us from his temptations and deceit?

In Biblical days, hedges of loosely packed stones or thorny bushes were built around livestock and crops to protect them from wild animals and thieves. A hedge in Scripture often represented God’s protective care and we find mention of such a hedge in the book of Job. A wealthy and godly man, Job’s righteousness was challenged by Satan. Questioning the motivation for Job’s blameless behavior, Satan complained that God put a hedge of protection around the man and all his possessions. Wanting to prove that Job only worshiped God because of the blessings he’d received, Satan suggested that once God removed the hedge and Job’s blessings disappeared, rather than worshiping God, the man would curse God to His face! When Job loses his ten children and their families, his workers, his livestock and wealth, and then his health, it becomes clear that no hedge protected him from tragedy.

Satan, however, was wrong about Job cursing God! His righteousness and integrity weren’t because of God’s gifts. Job worshiped God out of love and not as payment for the blessings of health, wealth, and family. Although the afflicted man questioned God’s reasons while trying to sort out his dilemma, he never cursed Him. A hedge didn’t make Job invincible to Satan’s ploy; it was his faith!

Today, COVID-19 is putting us all to the test and, like Job, we find life incomprehensible. Job didn’t know the why of his troubles and we’ll never the why of this pandemic but, like Job, we know who is in charge! Satan thought people believe in God only when they’re prospering under a hedge of protection, not when they suffer loss, pain, or defeat. Are we fair weather believers and only willing to follow God if the road is filled with blessings? Or, like Job, will we stay faithful while experiencing the devastation this disease will leave in its wake? Much will be lost before the crisis passes and it probably won’t be returned two-fold as it was for Job—at least not in this world! Let us rest assured: full restoration will occur in the life to come.

Rather than building a hedge of protection out of rocks or thorny shrubs, let us erect one out of our unshakable faith in a loving God and our confidence that His ultimate purpose will come to pass. While social distancing, sheltering in place, and washing our hands may serve to protect us from this virus, only the armor of God will protect us from Satan!

Anyone can rejoice when things are going reasonably well. But when we’re facing adversity or sickness or hardship or death and then we rejoice, we are obeying God. God is on his throne. He loves you and is watching out for you. So rejoice in the Lord. [Greg Laurie]

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. … so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. [Ephesians 6:10-11,13-17 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LET US PRAY

honeysuckleThe following is a beautiful prayer that has been making the rounds of the Internet and was sent to me by a friend in the Philippines. Although I tracked its possible source to a posting on AssensionPress.com, even they did not know its author. He or she remains unknown except to the Lord.

Most merciful and Triune God,
We come to you in our weakness.
We come to you in our fear.
We come to you with trust.
For you alone are our hope.

We place before you the disease present in our world.
We turn to you in our time of need.

Bring wisdom to doctors.
Give understanding to scientists.
Endow caregivers with compassion and generosity.
Bring healing to those who are ill.
Protect those who are most at risk.
Give comfort to those who have lost a loved one.
Welcome those who have died into your eternal home.

Stabilize our communities.
Unite us in our compassion.
Remove all fear from our hearts.
Fill us with confidence in your care.

Jesus, I trust in you.
Jesus, I trust in you.
Jesus, I trust in you.
[Author unknown]

THE OTHER DAUGHTER (Mark 5:21-43 – Part 2)

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” [Mark 5:34 (NLT)]

moon flowerThe daughter of Jairus wasn’t the only daughter in yesterday’s story. Concealed by the crowd surrounding Jairus and Jesus was a woman who had suffered with a bleeding disorder for twelve years. Because of Jewish law, she was ritually unclean and excluded from all social contact. The Talmud describes some eleven treatments for menstrual disorders and she had tried them all. Having spent everything she had to find a cure, her hemorrhaging had only gotten worse. Nevertheless, sure that just touching the rabbi’s clothing would heal her, she furtively pushed her way through the crowd to make contact with Jesus’ robe.

Immediately after touching the hem of His garment, the woman felt the bleeding stop. Although she’d hoped to go unnoticed, Jesus stopped and asked who’d touched His robe. He didn’t have to bring the woman’s touch to everyone’s attention but Jesus wanted to commend her faith. Afraid to admit she’d broken Jewish law, the woman hung back. It was her responsibility not to contaminate others with her uncleanness and she’d made the good rabbi unclean just by touching his clothing!

When the woman fell at His feet and confessed what she’d done, Jesus’ reaction was not one of anger at being tainted by her touch but one of compassion. Calling her “daughter,” He said her suffering was over and told her to go in peace. I picture Him touching her cheek, gently lifting her bowed head, and looking into her tearful eyes as He spoke. By publicly acknowledging her touch, Jesus showed His willingness to be identified with the unclean. Quite likely, His was the first hand to touch her in twelve years and His was the hand of God! Instead of defiling Jesus with her touch, she’s been made clean by His!

This encounter comes in the midst of Jairus’ urgent mission to save his daughter. Can you imagine his anxiety as Jesus talked with this woman? Did he pace or pull at Jesus’s robe? As ruler of the synagogue, Jairus was important enough to be named but the woman was an anonymous nobody. He was in the center of society while she was a social outcast who wasn’t allowed to attend the synagogue. While he and his daughter had twelve years of happiness, she’d had twelve years of misery and, while Jairus had friends and family, the bleeding woman had lost them all. Their only common ground was their faith in Jesus’ power and their desperate need for healing which caused them both to cast caution to the wind and fall at His feet.

As Jesus was calling one woman “daughter,” Jairus received news that his daughter was dead. While a woman who’d been as good as dead regained her life, his child had died. Although we’d expect the prominent Jairus to react in anger at the rabbi’s delay caused by this insignificant woman, there is no record of accusations or harsh words. Instead, Jesus tells him to have faith and the two men continue onto Jairus’ house. Was it the woman’s miraculous healing that enabled this father to react so calmly, to still believe in the power of Jesus? He’d originally come to Jesus to heal his daughter but now he needed Him to resurrect her! Jesus, however, is in the resurrection business and, just as His power returned the bleeding woman to life, His touch brought Jairus’ daughter back to life!

When it seems like God is ignoring our need or that He must be busy elsewhere, let us remember that Jesus was never in a rush and recall His words to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” [Mark 5:36] It is in Jesus, that we have life!

So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. [Matthew 10:31 (NLT)]

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. [John 11:25-26 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT VALUE A LIFE?

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [Matthew 10:28-31 (ESV)]

sparrowAs the economy tanks and COVID-19 spreads, we hear economists and politicians speak of making a cost-benefit analysis to determine the cost of a prolonged shutdown of business and industry with millions out of work versus the cost of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people dying. How do we put a price tag on life, especially if the life is ours or that of someone we know and love?

By reducing the human body into its basic elements, DataGenetics concluded that the grand total of materials in a typical human body is a meager $160. I suppose that means the larger the body, the more valuable it is. FinanceDegreeCenter found that all our body’s organs (hair, blood, bone marrow, heart, liver, kidneys, etc.) could be worth up to $45 million when sold on the black market. That value, however, would depend on our nationality, health, blood type, age, and the purchaser’s urgency of need. According to the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency values a life at $9.5 million, which is their benchmark for determining whether to clean up a toxic waste site.

Does our value change with age? Is a baby’s life more worthy of saving than that of a seventy-year-old? During the George W. Bush administration, the lives of people over 70 were valued at 67% that of younger people when calculating the cost-benefit of regulating soot emissions from power plants. Although AARP’s backlash put an end to that model, could appraising all ages equally devalue the lives of young people? Along with considering the deceased’s age, juries in wrongful death law suits consider things like income, quality of life, and earning potential. Their valuations can range from several hundred thousand dollars to several million.

How can any society assess the trade-off between economic well-being and anyone’s life? What is the value of one person? What is an acceptable number of fatalities? Yet, when we look at the dire economic consequences of a total shut-down, we find economists warning that making people poorer (with the resulting loss of food, shelter, essential services, mental health, medical care, opportunities, and sanitation) also has severe health consequences for the entire nation.

I’m neither economist nor politician and I can’t imagine doing a cost-benefit analysis between lives lost and a tanked economy. I’m thankful that the tough choices they are facing are not mine to make. Let us continue to lift in prayer our nation’s leaders and policy makers so that they will be guided by God’s wisdom in making the difficult decisions necessary in the days ahead. Although we hope that medical research and decisive government action will quickly put an end to this crisis, our ultimate hope lies in God.

As for any person’s value—all I know is that, from conception to death, the life of each and every person is cherished by God. He doesn’t value us by size, health, race, nationality, age, works, sex, income, potential, or even religion. Having formed us and breathed His life into us, God values each one of us as if we were His only child. We are so precious to Him that Jesus suffered and died for us—not for our economy but for our salvation! Every life is worthy of the salvation offered by Jesus—even that of a repentant thief who had but a few hours left to live as he hung on a cross beside Jesus.

Because of God’s enormous love for us, let us face today, tomorrow, and all of the days to follow with faith, hope, and love!

What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. [Heidelberg Catechism]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE WORDS OF OTHERS

Numbers 6:24-26By accident, this morning’s devotion was published yesterday afternoon. Rather than post another this morning, I thought I’d share words written by others. The first is a request by Bishop Jeff Clements of the Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA calling his flock to pray together at noon each day until May 13 about this global pandemic. We certainly don’t need to be Lutherans to join in his prayer. Whether you do it right now, at noon, or tonight, please stop and take a moment to pray (and continue to pray daily), not only for your own church family and denomination, but also for our sisters and brothers throughout this troubled world.

Pray for your members. Pray for yourself. Pray for the ill, the frightened, the vulnerable, and the poor. Pray for the dying. Pray for world leaders and our own elected leaders. Pray for our healthcare workers. Pray for researchers. Pray for the unemployed, underemployed and laid off. Pray for all students from college to kindergarten who have been forced away from school. Pray for your pastor or whomever leads your congregation. [Bishop Jeff Clements]

This next is a poem that has gone viral—the good kind of viral. Its author is Laura Kelly Fanucci who writes a syndicated column, Faith at Home, published in Catholic newspapers nationwide.

When this is over,
may we never again
take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors
A crowded theater
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine checkup
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
Life itself.
When this ends may we find
that we have become
more like the people
we wanted to be
we were called to be
we hoped to be
and may we stay
that way — better
for each other
because of the worst.
[Laura Kelly Fanucci]

While this is a time of social distancing, it is not a time of social disengagement. Let us continue to find ways to love one another so we become more like the people God wants us to be. God’s peace and joy to you all, j