DAY IS DONE

sunsetGod makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome! The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. [Psalm 19:4-6 (MSG)]

Being an early riser, I’m often out walking as the sun rises. Each new day brings amazing new opportunities and, while the mocking birds loudly sing their praises and the mourning doves coo their peaceful song, I thank God for yet another day on this side of the grass. While the morning’s soft pastels are beautiful, it’s the sunsets in our part of the world that are spectacular.

Our Florida lanai faces west and every evening, shortly before sunset, we try to stop whatever we are doing to admire the western sky. We breathe in deeply of God’s glory and majesty as He paints the heavens. We considered turning sunsets into something like an Olympic event and awarding points to God for each day’s sunset. The vibrant red ones that make the sky look as if it’s on fire might get nine or even ten points while a gray one having just a bare hint of pink might get only a two. After discussing it, however, we realized that sunsets, regardless of their colors, are truly magnificent and a cause for thanksgiving. Every sunset, no matter how colorful or dull, is a gift from God deserving of a perfect score and a reason for rejoicing. Sunsets mean we’ve made it safely through yet another day. They bring closure; we know that the day and whatever came with it, both good and bad, is over and done. But they also bring the promise of tomorrow and the wonderful possibilities that will come with a new day. Even our very last sunset will bring the assurance of dawn on the other side: it will be a time when we’ll truly see the Son.

Looking at the sun setting in the west, I recall my years at summer camp when I’d hear the solemn call of the trumpet at sunset and I silently sing the words to “Taps.” Indeed, all is well and I can safely rest because God is near. Tonight, at sunset, wherever you happen to be, pause, if only for a moment, and thank God for the privilege of one more blessed day.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Thanks and praise for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky.
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
[Horace Lorenzo Trim]

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop, they’ll stare in awe, in wonder. Dawn and dusk take turns calling, “Come and worship.” [Psalm 65:8 (MSG)]

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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.

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)]

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PRAY FOR PEACE

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

Saying your prayers is like brushing your teeth.
It’s a habit you form—a commitment you keep.
You should brush your teeth, both morning and night;
The same with your prayers, if you’re saying them right.
To not let your spirit or teeth decay
Be sure to pray and brush every day! [Anonymous]

water lilyAlthough I’ve prayed while folding laundry and washing dishes, it seemed almost sacrilegious to combine prayer with an electric toothbrush and Crest! Nevertheless, after asking, “What would happen if we all pray twice a day for peace?” my next “Abundance” assignment was to pray for peace while brushing my teeth!

The lack of a declared war certainly doesn’t define peace. According to the Global Peace Index, last year the United States ranked 128th out of 163 nations rated for their peacefulness (with Iceland maintaining first place as the most peaceful and Afghanistan replacing Syria as the least). The U.S. Peace Index ranked my state of Florida at 47th out of 50 (with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire as the three most peaceful states.) Considering the political tensions both here and abroad, tribal conflicts and civil wars, terrorist attacks, conflicts and division within the church, divorce and custody battles, road rage, and the violence on our streets, in our homes and even at our schools, praying for peace seems like a good idea.

Since being peacemakers and praying for peace is God directed, I wonder why we’re not more diligent about praying for an end to the strife in our world. Living in a world that is fractured along political, ideological, socio-economic, ethnic, and even religious lines, we probably should pray for peace more than two times a day. We wouldn’t have to do it while brushing our teeth but, since we may be more conscientious about our dental hygiene than prayer, at least we’d remember to do it!

While we can cast blame for the lack of peace on things like politics, injustice, prejudice, corruption, economics, or this pandemic, the fault also lies within each one of us. While brushing and praying, I remembered the words to a song I often sang in Sunday school: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Peace must begin with us. As we pray while brushing, rinsing and spitting, perhaps we should consider what comes out of our mouths. Do we allow words of anger, frustration, criticism, and blame to spill out rather than ones of love, compassion, encouragement, or forgiveness? Our prayers for peace are empty and meaningless unless that peace begins with us!

What could happen if all of Christ’s followers really did pray for peace twice a day?

Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony.
With ev’ry step I take, Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
[Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14b (NLT)]

balloon over serengettiAlthough the book of Esther never mentions God by name, His fingerprints are found throughout the story as it illustrates God’s providence in human affairs. The Jews were in captivity in Persia and the Persian King had banished the queen. Along with all the other beautiful virgins in the land, the young Jewess Esther is taken to the King’s harem. She finds favor with the king and is declared queen while the evil Haman plots the massacre of every Jew. When Esther’s cousin Mordecai requests her help in begging for the king’s mercy, she hesitates out of fear. Reminding Esther that she isn’t exempt from Haman’s evil plot, Mordecai asks, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

I thought of Haman’s question as churches around the world struggle to provide worship and study opportunities during this crisis. By the time our church, Coastal Fellowship Church, was a year old, we’d developed a free App providing more than calendar, prayer requests, devotions and online giving. Through strategic partnerships, it provided preschool video Bible adventures and material from the Bible Project that now includes videos on reading Scripture, the Bible’s books from Genesis through Revelation, wisdom topics, and a word study. More recent offerings include a number of short videos showing where sports and faith connect and two series from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

At the time, I’m sure people wondered why a church like ours – brand new, without a building, with minimal financial support, and a small congregation of mostly senior citizens (some of whom still use flip phones) – became so committed to 21st century technology and developing an App. Our pastor felt God’s call to do an App and, as he led, the congregation, without clearly understanding its importance, followed in obedience to God’s urging. If anyone wondered why we did it, the last few weeks gave us the answer. Rephrasing Mordecai’s words, “Who knows if the App was developed for just such a time as this!”

We didn’t know over a year ago that online resources and platforms would be essential to serving the Church during this global pandemic. Distanced geographically, we remain connected by faith. We are a global church serving a global God and the App allows us to do just that!

The technical expertise acquired while creating the App enabled us to stream services within a few days’ time and develop a permanent platform for services and Bible study by the second week. Because the App received 30 awards for everything from logo to video and animation, it’s had international exposure; available on several platforms, there have been 40,000 downloads from all over the world. The strategic partnerships that started with the App led to more partnerships, including one with N. T. Wright, and expanded our offerings to better serve the global community. Our first Sunday service was viewed by people throughout the world with 2,182 viewings in the first week! What’s really important is that 88% of those viewers watched the entire service! (I’m not sure 88% of a congregation stays awake during a live sermon!)

As mortals, we don’t know God’s long range plans; even if we did, we wouldn’t understand them. Joseph didn’t understand why he ended up a slave in Egypt until he saved his entire family from famine. Moses didn’t know why he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter until God spoke to him from a burning bush. David didn’t know why he kept doing target practice with his sling until he came face to face with Goliath. Esther didn’t understand why she became queen until she saved an entire nation and I never knew that sending a daily Bible verse to a few women would morph into a daily devotional. Even though we don’t see God’s vision, like Abraham, we follow His lead. Once we get wherever God has taken us, we’ll know why we’re there. God will tell us, “For just such a time as this!”

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. [Hebrews 11:18 (NLT)]

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

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