IF HE CAN

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my disbelief!” [Mark 9:23-24 (NLT)]

Beauty Berry FlowerPrayer is calling on God’s power; it’s like calling in the big guns to fight the battle. When doubt in the efficacy of prayer sneaks in, however, it’s more like calling in the big guns but not believing they’re loaded with enough ammunition. I am often like the father in Mark 9 who qualified his request that Jesus heal his son by saying, “If you can.” Like that father, I profess to believe but I need God to help me believe more! Sometimes, the enemy sneaks into my heart and causes me to doubt both the ammunition and God’s aim.

Looking for a feel-good movie to escape from the challenges of the day, we recently streamed the War Room. Not to be confused with the 1993 documentary The War Room, the war room in this 2015 movie is a converted closet with prayer requests covering the walls rather than an Arkansas political campaign headquarters. Focusing on the power of prayer, the story is about a crumbling marriage that is redeemed by prayer.

In one memorable scene, Elizabeth Jordan, the woman in the troubled marriage, and Miss Clara, a prayer warrior extraordinaire, are walking together when they’re confronted by a knife-wielding mugger demanding their money. As Elizabeth starts to get out her wallet, Miss Clara successfully defies him just by saying, “You put that knife down right now in the name of Jesus!” The next scene shows a frazzled Elizabeth reporting the incident to a skeptical policeman while the unruffled Miss Clara enjoys some ice cream.

Even the most positive reviews of this movie were critical of the unreality of those scenes but, as improbable as they were, their inclusion in the movie were necessary because they demonstrate the absolute faith—the total certainty—that is necessary for truly powerful prayer. Facing that mugger, Miss Clara had no doubt that she was in God’s hands and was certain that He would rescue her if she called on Jesus’ name. Later, as she calmly consumed both her and Elizabeth’s ice cream, it is obvious she wasn’t surprised by God’s protection. She expected it, as should we all if we truly believe. After all, nothing is impossible with God!

I’m not sure that God wants us to respond to a weapon-wielding robber the way Miss Clara did but I think He does want us to have the kind of faith demonstrated in that scene. When we come to Him in prayer, we must have faith enough to put our entire lives in His hands. We must believe that our prayers can actually make a difference. Indeed, prayer is the key to winning all those battles we can’t win on our own.

When we pray, do we ask with our lips but doubt in our hearts? When we ask, are we surprised when we receive? Father in heaven, I don’t know why I still doubt when you’ve shown me over and over again that my prayers do not fall on deaf ears. I have faith, dear Lord; please, help me have more!

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will. [Ben Stein]

But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. [James 1:6-7 (NLT)]

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

TWO MEN AND TWO CHOICES

You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you. You have received the Holy Spirit from God. So you do not belong to yourselves, because you were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies. [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NCV)]

peonyAlthough Elijah had just won an amazing victory over Baal and his prophets, we find the prophet running for his life in 1 Kings 19. The journey of over 120 miles left him physically exhausted and, having endured so many setbacks and challenges, the disheartened prophet was emotionally exhausted, as well. Wanting what he saw as a hopeless situation to end, He begged the Lord for death and he’s not the only one of the Bible’s heroes to do so. Overwhelmed by the heavy burdens he carried, Moses cried to God, “If you are going to continue doing this to me, then kill me now. If you care about me, put me to death, and then I won’t have any more troubles.” [Numbers 11:15] A discouraged and frustrated Jonah told God it would be better for him to die than to live. Job, in his despair and agony, and Jeremiah, in his disappointment after decades of prophesying with no appreciable results, were so miserable that they cursed the day they were born! Even the Apostle Paul admitted having been nearly overwhelmed by his troubles. Yet, as hopeless at their situations seemed, none of them died when they wanted to and none took their own lives. God did not abandon them and they did not abandon life.

One week ago, in a Maryland hospital, 57-year-old terminally ill David Bennett, Sr. underwent open heart surgery and received a genetically modified pig’s heart as a replacement for his own severely damaged one. That same day, in Cali, Columbia, 60-year-old Victor Escobar chose to die by euthanasia. While Escobar suffered from intense pain, his condition was not terminal and he fought for two years in Columbian courts for the privilege of ending his life on his own terms. “I do not think God will punish me for trying to stop suffering,” he said. In stark contrast, Bennett, whose condition was terminal, said, “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.” One chose to die while the other (who was well aware of the risks) chose to continue living for as long as possible.

I’m not going to enter into the controversy regarding assisted suicide, euthanasia, or the use of animal organs in transplants. There’s nothing I can add to what theologians, ethicists, physicians, and lawyers have already said. Nevertheless, I can’t help but ponder the choices made by these two men. If I were in Bennett’s shoes, knowing the risks and low probability of long-term survival, would I make such a last-ditch effort in hope of gaining of few more days, weeks or months?  On the other hand, were I confined to a wheelchair and suffering from diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and spasms as was Victor Escobar, would I beg God for death? If I felt like I were living in a torture chamber, would I consider suicide or euthanasia?

Looking to Scripture, we have Paul’s words that we belong to the Lord, body and soul. Just as we have no right to tear down our neighbor’s house no matter how dilapidated it may be, we have no right to destroy our broken-down bodies; they are not ours to destroy. We are the Holy Spirit’s temple, were purchased with Christ’s blood, and our bodies belong the Lord! While we may long to depart this world, the where, when and how of that departure is God’s choice, not ours. Although I’m not sure I would make Bennett’s choice of such radical surgery, I do know I will never make Escobar’s of euthanasia.

I suspect that, like those Biblical heroes, there will be times in every believer’s life when we dread waking up to another day—there certainly have been in mine. Wanting whatever is plaguing us to be over with and gone, we might even cry, “I wish I were dead!” Yet, as desperate and despondent as were Elijah, Moses, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah, and Paul, none of them took their lives. God heard their cries of despair just as he hears ours.

A Christian will part with anything rather than his hope; he knows that hope will keep the heart both from aching and breaking, from fainting and sinking; he knows that hope is a beam of God, a spark of glory, and that nothing shall extinguish it till the soul be filled with glory. [Thomas Brooks]

Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, because God’s temple is holy and you are that temple. [1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NCV)]

We do not live or die for ourselves. If we live, we are living for the Lord, and if we die, we are dying for the Lord. So living or dying, we belong to the Lord. [Romans 14:7-8 (NCV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

MAY WE NEVER FORGET

Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. … Praise the Lord, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom. Let all that I am praise the Lord. [Psalm 103:1-2,22 (NLT)]

little blue heronThe Bible is filled with evidence of God’s goodness and the great (and miraculous) things He’s done for His people. Daniel emerges unscathed from a lion’s den, David defeats Goliath and the shepherd boy becomes a king, wisdom and riches are given to Solomon, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego aren’t even scorched from a fire. Water is parted more than once, the walls of Jericho collapse, jail doors miraculously open, and storms cease at a word. Armies are led to victory, manna falls from heaven, fish and bread multiply, the barren give birth, the sick and lame are healed, and the dead rise. The Bible is full of marvelous accounts of miracles, majesty, and triumphs.

While probably less noteworthy, God’s hand has been as present in our lives as it was for David, Moses, the Apostles and everyone else in the Bible’s Hall of Faith. Although it wasn’t the Red Sea or the Jordan River, He’s kept us from drowning in the deep waters of life and, while it wasn’t a fortified city like Jericho, walls that blocked our way have tumbled down more than once. It may not have been 135,000 Midianites against only 300 of us as it was for Gideon, but He’s given us victory over foes just as formidable when the odds were just as bad. Instead of a fiery furnace, He’s gotten us out of hot water many times and, while it probably wasn’t lions or an invading army, He’s saved us from plenty of perilous situations. We may not have the enormous wealth or wisdom of Solomon, but God has given us more than enough of both.

Let us never forget that God didn’t stop working in people’s lives when the last words in Revelation were penned. Our stories may not be as exciting and astonishing as those in the Bible, nevertheless, they are every bit as wonderful and worthy of thanks and praise. We’ve emerged unharmed when we should have been hurt, been nourished when hungry, been loved and comforted in our anguish, and been helped when we lost all hope. Jesus freed us from the chains of sin and the prison of despair and gave us a new life and the Holy Spirit! Indeed, God is good!

The Psalmist tells us never to forget all the good things God has done and yet, considering these past two years, it’s easy to do just that. As we face what promises to be an equally trying 2022 and the various challenges of a continuing pandemic, flight cancellations and delays, a still broken supply chain, and extremes in weather (along with countless other troubles), let us remember the many blessings of the past and appreciate the little blessings of each day.

Praise the Lord, oh my soul; let all that I am praise the Lord!

Count your blessings instead of your crosses.
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count your joys instead of your woes.
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears.
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean.
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth.
Count on God instead of yourself. [Author unknown]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given. [Psalm 105:1-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THORNS

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:7-9a (ESV)]

thistlePaul was speaking metaphorically of his thorn and whether it was a spiritual, emotional, physical affliction, or something else entirely, we don’t know. Since Paul dictated his letters, some speculate that that he had poor eyesight: perhaps cataracts or macular degeneration. Then again, severe arthritis in his hands may have prevented him from holding a stylus. Paul may have had a chronic medical problem such as gout, migraines, severe asthma, or spinal stenosis. It may have been a person: perhaps, Alexander the metalsmith who was harming his ministry. Considering the number of times the apostle was arrested, the thorn may have been an old injury from the many beatings inflicted upon him. Paul even may have suffered from bouts of depression or the 1st century equivalent of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The identity of his thorn (or even thorns) is unimportant to us. It is how Paul dealt with his thorn that matters.

This last year has been challenging for many of us; it certainly has been for me. Rather than a single thorn, I feel like I’ve fallen head-first into an enormous patch of thistles or spiny hawthorns. Along with a never-ending pandemic and the disruption Covid-19 has brought to our daily lives, I’ve been dealing with a variety of painful health issues, the deaths of several loved ones, and a recurring case of the glums and gloomies. There has been far too little sleep and laughter and far too many tears and pain.

Like Paul, in my initial prayers I pled for relief. Perhaps, he made the same argument as did I and patiently explained to God how much more effective he’d be in his ministry without that pesky thorn. Unlike Paul, however, I didn’t stop at a mere three times before understanding (and accepting) that God’s power “is made perfect in weakness.” Eventually, I understood that God’s denial of relief didn’t mean He failed a test of His love for me and realized that I was undergoing a test of how much I loved and trusted Him! Although I wanted the emotional, spiritual, and physical pain to go away, God had other plans; He was doing a bit of unwelcome “character building.”

Having just revealed to the Corinthians that he’d been caught up to Paradise where he saw and experienced such amazing things that he was incapable of expressing them, Paul explained that he’d been given the thorn to keep him from becoming proud, arrogant, or big-headed because of what had been revealed to him. Although I haven’t had such an extraordinary spiritual experience as Paul’s, I did need a lesson in Christ-like humility and a few thorns to keep me mindful of my need for God’s power!

Thorns drive us to acknowledge our weaknesses and make us depend on Christ for strength so that His power can surround and enable us! Accepting that God’s grace is sufficient for my needs, my prayers have become simpler and far less demanding. Trusting Him for tomorrow, I simply ask that He grant me grace enough to get through today! Indeed, His power is made visible in my weakness.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 (ESV)]

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

DIGGIN’ UP BONES – NEW YEAR’S EVE 2021

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

I’m diggin’ up bones, I’m diggin’ up bones
Exhuming things that’s better left alone
I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone
Yeah tonight I’m sittin’ alone diggin’ up bones. [Randy Travis]

lotusI was listening to Randy Travis sing, “I’m diggin’ up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.” It seemed an appropriate song for this time of year when we tend to dwell on the past—not just past loves, but past losses, mistakes, oversights, misunderstandings, injuries and pain. As one year ends and another begins, we often dig up all the grievances, regrets, and ”if onlys” of our yesterdays.

The word Randy Travis uses is “exhuming” and that’s a powerful word. When we exhume something, we’re not just digging in the dirt for weeds or post holes—we’re digging a corpse out of its grave and that’s a gruesome ghoulish thought. Once a body is buried, it’s meant to be left undisturbed; that also goes for all those old memories of things dead and gone.

When we dig up the past, we’re trying to rewrite history. Even if we could have a do-over, we would do no better the second time; we’d just make different mistakes and still have regrets! From any time-travel novel or movie, we know that time-traveling is complicated; small changes in the past can have major, and often bad, ramifications. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly nearly erases himself when he accidentally becomes his mother’s high school romantic interest. In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, after the protagonist prevents JFK’s assassination, he sadly discovers that the world is worse off because of his actions. Moreover, it’s our history—all of those sad, terrible, painful, embarrassing, frightening, and distressing experiences, along with all the good ones—that make us who and what we are today. We’re us, not in spite of the past, but because of our past.

If we don’t like who or where we are in life, that’s not the past’s fault and it’s certainly not God’s. Tomorrow is the start of a brand new year and we can make a fresh start. The good thing about God’s mercy, love and forgiveness is that we don’t need to wait another 365 days before we can start fresh again. God specializes in fresh starts and we can begin anew any moment of any day. Each minute we waste digging up the bones of the past is a minute we’ve lost to the wonders of the here and now. The only moment we have is this one; let us use it wisely and leave the old bones (and memories) where they belong—dead and buried.

The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. [Phillips Brooks]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

CUSTARD PIES

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. [James 1:2-4 (NIV)

When we lived in the north, we often walked a public path that meandered along the shoreline of a nearby lake. Running through both public and private properties, it crossed the front lawns of historic lakefront estates and stunning homes with beautifully landscaped yards and gardens. One such home placed a lakeside bench for tired walkers that said, “Sit-Pray-Mediate-Enjoy” under a sign that read, “You can trust me. Love, God.” A delightful white fence delineated their private property from the public path. Decorated with whimsey, “Expect a Miracle” was the message on the gate and assorted Bible verses and words of wisdom were painted on the fence’s horizontal slats.

I laughed at actress Lynn Redgrave’s observation that, “God always has another custard pie up his sleeve.” Having grown up watching the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Soupy Sales, I knew exactly what she meant! Custard pies are the unplanned quirky episodes of life—the glitches, bugs, hitches, curve balls, obstructions, setbacks, and snags that seem to arise when we least expect them. While they’re not necessarily earth-shattering or tragic, they upset the apple cart of our lives and can throw us off our game!

Sometimes those custard pies come at us the way candy on a conveyor belt did in an old I Love Lucy episode called “Job Switching.”  Working in a candy factory, Lucy and Ethel’s job seemed simple enough: wrap candies as they came down the line. All went well until the line sped up and the candies came faster and faster. Knowing they’d be fired if any unwrapped candy reached the packing room, the women frantically grabbed the candies off the belt and ended up stuffing them in their mouths, hats, and blouses. “I think we’re fighting a losing game,” admitted Lucy.

Most of us can handle one or two custard pies at a time but, when they come flying at us as fast as the candy came to Lucy and Ethel, we feel like we’re playing a losing game and our faith is challenged! As Ms. Redgrave said, it does seem like God has an endless supply of custard pies up his sleeve. For many of us, the last twenty months have been a speeding conveyor belt of those pies and, with months of disappointments, complications, delays, and uncertainty, little went according to our expectations or plans. Before God tosses another pie my way, I wish He’d give me a warning so I could duck!

Nevertheless, as Christians, we know that those pies are part of God’s greater plan for us. Life is unpredictable at best and we need to accept its capriciousness with proper perspective, a positive outlook, a sense of humor, and faith in the One who is in charge. In the meantime, I’ll follow the advice painted by that home owner. Knowing that God loves me, I’ll trust in Him and expect a miracle (or two). I’ll sit, pray, meditate, and enjoy what God has put before me—even if it’s another custard pie!

Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. [Joshua J. Marine]

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. [Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.