A SERVANT’S HEART (Naaman – Part 1)

But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. [Mark 10:43-45 (ESV)]

PansyOccasionally, bands of marauding Arameans would go out into neighboring nations. It was during one of those raids into Israel that they captured a young girl and brought her back to Aram. Picture her fear as she stood on the auction block and was sold to the highest bidder. This child, a spoil of war, became the servant to Naaman’s wife. The commander-in-chief of the army, Naaman developed leprosy. Had I been that girl, I probably would have rejoiced silently at his plight. He was the enemy; it was because of his soldiers that she’d been kidnapped and made a slave in a strange land. A lesser person would have thought Naaman deserved all the pain and misery he could get! Although it would have been easy to remain silent and watch him suffer, this nameless slave girl didn’t. Instead, she sang the praises of Elisha and told her mistress that Naaman should go to “the prophet who lives in Samaria” where he could be healed.

This young girl, of such little significance that her name isn’t even recorded, didn’t hide her light under a bushel. Her story reminds us that we all have opportunities to share God’s light and serve His people. The loving action of this child, who gets only a brief mention in 2 Kings 5, teaches us all a valuable lesson about forgiveness, love and obedience to the word of God. She may have worked as a servant to Naaman’s wife but, by her actions, we know that she lived as a servant to God.

One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us. [John Wesley]

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [Philippians 2:1-4 (ESV)]

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IN EVEN THE BEST FAMILIES

mute swansBut Samuel’s sons did not live the same way he did. Joel and Abijah accepted bribes. They took money secretly and changed their decisions in court. They cheated people in court. [1 Samuel 8:3 (ERV)] 

Not all dads did as well with their boys as did my father-in-law. Eli and Samuel, for example, were both high priests and judges; while they were good at their jobs, neither is known for his parenting skills. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, were corrupt judges who took bribes. Eli’s boys, Hophni and Phinehas, were no better. They took advantage of their position to appropriate the best portion of every sacrifice for themselves and to have sexual relations with the sanctuary’s serving women. Even David had problems with his boys: Amnon was a rapist, Absalom a murderer and rebel, and Adonijah tried to seize his brother Solomon’s crown.

Clearly, being a godly parent doesn’t guarantee godly children. Were Eli and Samuel so busy with their temple duties that they failed to spend time with their boys? David had at least nineteen sons and probably several more with his concubines. Between the battlefield and his obligations as king, did he neglect being a father to his many children? In their busyness, did these men overlook their obligation to train their children in proper values? Were they as attentive as they should have been? I’m not pointing fingers because, at some time or another, we all have disregarded some of our parenting duties and short-changed our children with our time, attention, and affection.

Eli and Samuel knew their sons were corrupt and David knew of Amnon’s rape of his sister but the men did nothing about these offences. Perhaps, not wanting to face the unpleasant truth about their boys, they ignored their parental responsibility to discipline. At some time or another, in spite of evidence to the contrary, most of us have refused to believe our children are anything less than perfect, as well. Sometimes, we find it easier to ignore the elephant in the room than to address it.

These fathers were far from perfect but, then again, so are we. Nevertheless, we must remember that the failings of a child are not necessarily because of poor parenting. Even the best parent makes plenty of mistakes. We just do our best and pray (a whole lot). We’ll never know exactly what went wrong with those boys. After all, Solomon came from the same household as his malicious elder brothers and the same home that produced the honorable President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel peace prize winner, gave us his troubled and somewhat embarrassing brother, Billy.

Home may be a child’s first classroom but he continues to learn when he steps into society. As the church, we need to fill the voids in the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of our community’s children. Not all of us are parents, but we all share in the awesome responsibility of raising the next generation.

Lord, guide us in our homes, community, and churches so that all of your children become people of faith and good character.

My son, remember your father’s command, and don’t forget your mother’s teaching. Remember their words always. Tie them around your neck and keep them over your heart. Let this teaching lead you wherever you go. It will watch over you while you sleep. And when you wake up, it will give you good advice. [Proverbs 6:20-24 (ERV)]

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LEAVING THE NEST

anhinga chicksMy child, pay attention to what I say. … Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. … Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. [Proverbs 4:20a,23, 25-27 (NLT)]

This past spring we watched an anhinga family who’d nested near the swamp boardwalk. At first, mom and dad provided around the clock nest service for their brood of blind and helpless chicks. When the chicks were about three weeks old, rather than returning to the nest with food, the parents would perch nearby. If the youngsters wanted dinner, they had climb out of the nest and hop along a branch to get it. As the babies grew, mom and dad perched further and further from the nest until, at about six weeks, their chicks had to fly for their supper. Within two months of hatching, the youngsters were flying across the pond and the nest was abandoned. Mom and dad, however, were never too far away; perched nearby, they watched their brood learn to fend for themselves around the swamp. I wonder if they worried about their youngsters becoming dinner for an alligator while they fished or sunned on a log. Nevertheless, mom and dad knew their young ones had outgrown the nest; it was time to let them lead their own lives.

Today, my eldest grand receives her high school diploma. An honor student, she’s a delightful young woman and I know her parents are immensely proud of her many accomplishments. That pride, however, is combined with a fair amount of apprehension on their part. Later this summer, this young woman will leave the nest and move 5,500 miles to London where she’ll spend her freshman year of college. Although her parents won’t be worried about alligators, there will be plenty of other concerns that might keep them awake at night.

Our children: we love them, teach them, correct them, encourage them, support them, lead them, and guide them in an effort to prepare them for adulthood. As a mama, I know how difficult it is to let our children go, but let them go we must. After all, parenthood is a job that is supposed to become obsolete; it’s when our children are confident enough to leave home that we know we’ve done our job well. Let us praise God when we see them spread their wings and fly. No matter how far away they go, however, we still have the job of acting as prayer warriors for our children and we’ll do that for the rest of our lives.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of children and the privilege of leading them into adulthood. Reassure those parents who are struggling with letting go; may their tears of sadness become ones of joy as they watch their children take their next steps. As we release our children to your tender care, we ask you to wrap your loving arms around them and protect them from the dangers of the world. May they always walk in your ways and grow in courage, strength and wisdom. Let your Holy Spirit fill them with faith, hope, and love. Teach them, guard them, lead them and lift them so that they soar!

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence. [Hodding Carter]

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. … Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:1,5-7 (NLT)]

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. [Numbers 6:24-26]

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WHEN GOD REMODELS

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6 (ESV)]

tiger swallowtailMany years ago, we did some major remodeling on our lake house. The original structure was gutted: carpets ripped up, paneling pulled off, decks knocked down, stairs demolished, walls cut open, and our landscaping ruined. Filled with fear and misgivings, I stared at the gaping hole in the hillside and what was left of the original dwelling. The architect/builder kept reassuring me that, having drawn the plans, he knew how everything would eventually fit together. Me? I just saw the ruined house, a deep pit and piles of dirt. I hadn’t expected this devastation; it had seemed so simple on paper. How this mess was ever going to become the house we’d pictured, I didn’t know. I simply had to trust the builder and leave it in his hands. Seven months later, I stood in the same spot, thrilled with the final result; it was better than I’d ever expected!

Life can be like that remodeling project. Change can be unpleasant; at times, it may even look downright ugly and hopeless. We can rest easy when God is in charge; we’ll find that all will be good in its proper time. When God is finally finished, everything will make sense. We have to trust Him and not judge His work before it’s complete. He is a master architect and builder; let Him do His job!

Father, thank you for the beauty and joy you can salvage from our messed up lives. Help us trust your plan and timeline; give us patience and faith as we grow and change into the people you want us to be.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. [C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)]

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)]

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THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

muscovy ducklings - floridaNow they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” [Luke 18:15-16 (ESV)]

In the comic strip Baby Blues, done by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, Daryll and Wanda’s daughter Zoe has been reading Charlotte’s Web. “Think she’ll be traumatized by the ending?” Daryll asks his wife. (Spoiler alert—Charlotte dies.) In comes Zoe who loudly announces, “Today at school we had a shelter-in-place drill, an active shooter drill, and a hazardous materials evacuation drill. It was fun!” When Wanda replies, “I think she’ll be fine,” the stunned Daryll announces, “I’m not!” Not long after seeing that comic, Moderately Confused, drawn by Jeff Stahler, continued the theme. As a mother looks at her son’s schoolwork, he proudly declares, “At least I passed my active shooter lockdown drill.” When shotguns, rifles, pistols, and pipe bombs regularly find their way into our schools and threaten our children, I find no humor in these comics; they are only a sad commentary on the nation in which our children live.

When I sent my children off to school, I thought they were going to a safe place; at that time, they were. They may have returned home with the sniffles, chicken pox, hurt feelings, a skinned knee or even a black eye from a playground scuffle, but they returned home. When a student at the Santa Fe High School in Texas was asked if she was surprised by the violence, her reply was chilling: “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here.” Violence in schools should be the exception rather than the expectation! We’re barely 22 weeks into the year and yet, according to CNN, there have been 23 school (K through university) shootings where someone has been hurt or killed. (That doesn’t include incidents that were resolved without injury.) No wonder our children aren’t surprised by the violence around them.

During last week’s Indiana shooting, a 7th grader texted to his mother: “Mom, there’s an intruder, I just wanted to tell you I love you.” No child should have to be hiding in a classroom behind a door barricaded with chairs and, fearing he has only a few minutes left to live, texting what he thinks are his final words. He should be writing essays not last words and worried about a pop quiz in biology rather than a schoolmate wielding a gun. Middle schoolers should be busy with math drill worksheets rather than active-shooter drills, a diploma should not be accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder, and, when a child leaves school, it shouldn’t be in an ambulance or a body bag. We are called to care for, nurture and protect the children God has given us—not just those in our homes but also in our communities, nation and throughout the world. Sadly, we’re not doing a very good job of it.

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, a cynical meme circulated on the Internet that showed an empty van with the caption: “Excellent news. The first truckload of your thoughts and prayers arrived.” We often say our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these tragedies but thoughts and prayers are not enough; we must take action. Whether it is gun control legislation, better mental health services, metal detectors, mentoring programs, security cameras, RFD badges, locked doors, armed security guards, or armed teachers—I won’t pretend to know the solution. Nevertheless, I must seek to find it and work to implement it. Let us all prayerfully consider what each one of us can do to give our children a safe and secure future.

Father in heaven, forgive us for our failure to protect the ones you have entrusted to our care. Guide us in our actions so that we protect them not just from illness and injury but also from abuse, neglect, bullying, and violence. Show us what we can do so that they thrive and blossom rather than wither and die.

Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer. … Prayer and action must always be profoundly united. [Pope Francis]

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. [Psalm 82:3-4 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NEVER FORGET – MEMORIAL DAY 2018

Freedom Park - Naples FL
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. [Psalm 34:18 (ESV)]

When I was a girl, regardless of the day of the week, Memorial Day was always May 30. It was when we took off the storm windows, put on the screens, could start wearing white shoes, and got out the grill. Nowadays, we no longer have the twice a year storm window/screen exchange or the silly “no white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day” fashion rule, we grill all year long, and Memorial Day means a three-day weekend. As the “official” start of summer, it’s when city pools open, families and friends gather for picnics, the kids get out the bubbles and sidewalk chalk, bicycle tires get pumped up, flowers are planted, and we relax in the yard with a cool lemonade while the ribs cook on the grill.

Memorial Day, however, is a day of remembrance—of remembering the more than 1.3 million American military men and women who, over the last 242 years, paid the ultimate price for our freedom to enjoy this pleasant holiday. That number, however, only reflects those who lost their lives in combat. Many more, like the nine who died in Georgia earlier this month, lost their lives in training.

People have paid for this three-day holiday weekend with their lives. Yet, with less than one percent of our population on active duty or in the reserves, most of us are distanced from the true cost of war. When we don’t know any military personnel, it’s easy to become unappreciative or complacent about their sacrifice. Let’s never forget that we continue to have American men and women in harm’s way. Since 2001, nearly 7,000 American troops have lost their lives in Operation Enduring Freedom/Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom alone and there seems to be no end in sight. Each one of those fallen soldiers left behind loved ones who still mourn their loss. For some people, today means placing flowers on a grave rather than a cook-out with hot dogs and s’mores. For them, every day is Memorial Day.

As we celebrate the start of summer, let’s pause to remember those who died in the service of their country, thank God for their sacrifice, pray for their families, and, most of all, pray for peace. Father in Heaven, we thank you for this nation in which we are blessed to live. Thank you for those who went before us, making our freedom possible and those who continue to battle for our country’s safety and survival. Just as we must remember that our salvation was because of your sacrifice, let us never forget that the freedom we enjoy as a nation came at a great sacrifice, as well.

Heavenly Father, on this Memorial Day, we pray for those who courageously laid down their lives for the cause of freedom. May the example of their sacrifice inspire in us the selfless love of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Bless the families of our fallen troops, and fill their homes and their lives with your strength and peace. In union with people of goodwill of every nation, embolden us to answer the call to work for peace and justice, and thus, seek an end to violence and conflict around the globe. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Archdiocese of Detroit]

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. [John 15:13 (ESV)]

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