KNOWING HIM WELL

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

Mallards
After fifty-five years of marriage, there’s not much that surprises me about my husband. Even the surprise birthday weekend he gave me earlier this year wasn’t a surprise. Granted, bringing all three of our children together for a weekend here truly was a surprise but that he chose to do something special for me was not. I was sure that, true to form, he had something wonderful up his sleeve for my 75th birthday; I just had no idea what it actually was!

After over five decades of togetherness, more often than not, my husband and I think alike. When one of us makes a suggestion, the other usually admits to having the same thought and, with at least 97% accuracy, we know what the other will order at any restaurant. We recognize each other’s voice in a crowd and probably have a good idea what the other is saying! After more than half a century, we’ve seen one another at our best and worst. There’s nothing left to hide and any awkwardness, embarrassment, or shame is long gone. I know when he needs some nudging and he knows when I need words of encouragement. Appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we rest comfortably in the knowledge that we love, trust, and honor one another completely. The relationship is relaxed, pleasant, peaceful, and comfortable but never boring. As my birthday weekend proved, even though we know what to expect, we can still surprise one another in beautiful ways.

The covenant relationship of marriage is much like our relationship with God with one major difference. Through the last five plus decades, both my husband and I have changed so that we complement each other and accommodate one another’s likes and dislikes. God, however, is immutable. Since His characteristics and divine nature do not change, He is not about to accommodate our preferences; we are called to accommodate His! As in any relationship, however, the more time we spend in His presence, the easier it is to recognize His voice, to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our hearts, to discern the meaning of His words, to know what He expects, and to offer prayers in harmony with His plan. As we draw closer to the Lord, we become attuned to His rhythm and pace and we’ll even begin to walk like Jesus.

At its most basic, Christianity isn’t a doctrine, philosophy, code of ethics, or a way of life; it is a relationship with God. Just believing in Jesus is not the same as having a relationship with Him. As with any relationship, we have to spend time in God’s presence, praying, listening to His voice, and reading His word for our relationship to flourish and grow. No serious bond is developed overnight; it took decades for my husband and me to get to this point in our marriage. Fortunately, developing a deep relationship with our triune God doesn’t take nearly that long. Like marriage, however, it is a relationship that continues to mature and mellow through the years.

After fifty-five years, I can ask myself, “What would Bob do?” and pretty much know the answer. As we develop our relationship with God, we’ll be able to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and know that answer as well!

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:6 (NLT)]

You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. [2 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MRS. JOB

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. [2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)]


When God gave Satan permission to test Job, He told the fallen angel that he could do anything he wanted to Job except take the man’s life. As a result, Job lost his wealth, possessions, children, and health. The only things left were his home and wife. Some might say that one of Job’s trials was that his wife didn’t die when the rest of his family did. After all, it was his wife who told him, “Curse God and die.”

Let’s not be too harsh with Mrs. Job; don’t forget that, when Satan stole Job’s normal, he also took life as she once knew it from his wife. She may have kept her health, but everything else she held near and dear was taken and she suffered the same emotional, economic, and social devastation as her husband. The ten children to whom she’d given birth, nursed and tended, were gone as were any grandchildren. Her mama’s heart had to be breaking. The family wealth (and status) had vanished in an instant; soon the bill collectors would arrive and, in all probability, the roof over their heads would vanish as well. Her strong and healthy husband, the man who loved and protected her, became an invalid overnight! He was covered with boils from head to toe and itched so badly that he scratched his skin with broken pottery. He had scabs all over his body and maggots and worms in his pus-filled sores. In deep depression, he was an insomniac who had nightmares when he managed to sleep. He was feverish, losing weight, in constant pain, had halitosis, his skin had turned dark, and he was in constant pain. Today’s doctors might diagnose a necrotizing skin fasciitis—think “flesh eating bacteria.” Job’s future was doubtful and his wife had to watch as he suffered. Witnessing her husband’s anguish and being unable to alleviate his pain couldn’t have been easy!

Moreover, there wasn’t much hope for Mrs. Job’s future; a better tomorrow was not on the horizon As far as she knew, she was facing imminent widowhood. A penniless widow with no children, she’d be the poorest of the poor, powerless, and vulnerable. Frightened and distraught, she was understandably angry at a God who allowed this to happen. Unfortunately, the only words of hers recorded are ones in which she took out that anger on her husband. Giving Mrs. Job the benefit of the doubt, those words may have been a combination of anguish and compassion— anguish about a seemingly hopeless situation and a compassionate hope that her husband’s suffering would end with his quick death.

As I thought about Mrs. Job, I thought of other people whose spouses are slowly being stolen by things like strokes, cancer, Parkinson’s, MS, and dementia. It seems that some of them have become rather cold to their afflicted partner and I’ve judged them unfairly (as I originally did Job’s wife). I forgot that they, too, are suffering. Their old normal is gone, their new normal is challenging, and their future is not the one they expected or hoped to have. Their lives have become a struggle as they try to cope with increasing responsibilities, mounting financial burdens, and a spouse who is deteriorating daily. Perhaps, what seems to be a lack of sympathy and understanding for their spouse is their way of preparing themselves for the loss they eventually will face. It’s not easy to summon compassion for people who seem to lack compassion themselves but, if I can muster sympathy for Mrs. Job, I should be able to muster far more sympathy for people I know who are caught in similar situations.

If ever presented with challenges like those of Job’s wife, I pray that I’ll be strong, brave, supportive, hopeful, loving, and trusting of God. As for now, I’ll no longer judge Mrs. Job or her brothers and sisters in similar situations. Whether or not I like their attitude or behavior is not my business. My job is simple—prayers, compassion, and support, not just for the afflicted, but also for their caregivers. The job of caregiver is not an easy one. Father, give them strength, wisdom and compassion in the face of their tremendous challenges.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:12-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT IF?

What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? [Psalm 124:1-2 (NLT)]

mottled ducks
My husband and I, our three children, their spouses, and the five grands recently spent a week together in Idaho and every minute of it was amazing and wonderful. During a quiet moment, I looked down at my wedding ring and asked myself, “What if?” What if an odd set of circumstances hadn’t occurred in October of 1966 and I hadn’t met the man who is my husband? What if his original date hadn’t gotten ill and what if my sorority sisters hadn’t insisted on fixing me up with him? I really didn’t want to go; what if I’d refused? What if he hadn’t relentlessly pursued me or called that one lonely night and asked me to go for ice cream? If a variety of events hadn’t come together in just the way they did, I wouldn’t have met him, let alone married him, and those children and grands wouldn’t have entered my life. What if we hadn’t somewhat foolishly (and hastily) gotten married while we both were in school? My father died only a few months after our wedding and, had I not been married, I would have been completely on my own at the unwise age of twenty. But, in God’s perfect plan, I wasn’t alone; He’d already given me a new family in my husband and his parents.

“Whew, that was close!” Surely, you’ve had times like that—occasions when you’re sure God’s hand delivered you—the split second that kept you from being a traffic fatality, the chance encounter that led you to the solution for which you’d been searching, being one of the 5% who beat the prognosis, or the time your toddler’s close encounter with a car was only that—close. “What if…?” we ask ourselves. What if He hadn’t protected me from my enemies? What if God hadn’t stopped me when He did? What if He hadn’t saved me from myself? I’m not much for looking back and regretfully asking “What if?” but, when asking it reinforces our confidence in God’s deliverance, it’s a good question to ask.

Think of the times you’ve been in the right place at exactly the right time and the times you weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, the times everything miraculously fell into place, and the times you escaped trouble and tragedy by a fraction of an inch! That wasn’t due to happenstance, good luck, or even our own skill. Give credit where credit is due—that was God’s hand touching our lives.

In Psalm 124, David asked the people of Israel to consider what might have happened if the Lord had not been on their side. After reviewing God’s past deliverance, he declared his confidence in God’s future faithfulness. When I ask “What if?” I see a God who loves me and is committed to my welfare—a God who has been right beside me even when I didn’t know it—a God who put together the pieces of my life in an inexplicable but wonderful way.

As David found, when we ask, “What if the Lord had not been on my side?” the answer will reassure our confidence in God’s future faithfulness. Indeed, “Our help is from the Lord!”

They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives. Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free! Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:3-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DO NO HARM

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8 (NLT)]


Rather than in the Hippocratic Oath, “To do no harm” is found in Hippocrates’ History of Epidemics. “First, do no harm” actually dates to medical texts from the mid-19th century, and is attributed to the 17th century English physician Thomas Sydenham. Whoever said it first, I’m relieved those words weren’t the only ones recited by my doctors when they graduated from medical school. Simply doing no harm seems to set the bar too low. I want my physicians to do more than not harm me; I want them to help!

It’s never enough to stop at doing no harm; as Christians, we are to do what is right and good. Remaining on the sidelines may do no harm, but it rarely does any good either. We can’t stand idly by while people are in need nor can we ignore the plight of our neighbor, whether he lives right around the corner or half-way around the world. Rather than Hippocrates’ “do no harm,” I prefer the words of St. Ambrose in a 391 AD treatise setting forth the duties of the clergy: “It is not enough just to wish well; we must also do well. Nor, again, is it enough to do well, unless this springs from a good source even from a good will. … It is thus a glorious thing to wish well, and to give freely, with the one desire to do good and not to do harm.”

Of course, “to do good and not to do harm” requires determining what is good and what is harmful. In medicine that line often is blurred. Take chemotherapy—while it kills dividing cancer cells, it also kills dividing healthy cells like hair, skin, bone marrow, and the lining of the digestive tract. Nevertheless, it is used to treat cancer because it does more good than harm and the damage done to those healthy cells usually doesn’t last.

In everyday life, the line between doing good or harm also can be blurry. After he advised clergy to be generous in giving, Ambrose explained that generosity didn’t mean they should give an extravagant man the means to continue living extravagantly, facilitate an adulterer in his adultery, or aid someone plotting against his country because, in those cases, giving would do more harm than good. While his examples seem pretty straightforward, determining whether we’re helping or hurting others rarely is so clear-cut.

As Christians, we have the desire to help others, especially our loved ones. We must prayerfully determine whether we are empowering people to achieve something they couldn’t do by themselves or simply enabling them to perpetuate a problem. While empowering helps, enabling harms. There are certain battles that are not ours to fight, debts that belong solely to the debtor, and work that must be done without our help. There are consequences that others must face—things that will be lost, disappointments that will occur, hardships that must be endured, tears that must be shed, restitution that needs to be made, and even time that must be served. We do more harm than good when we deny our loved ones those life experiences that rightfully are theirs. Sometimes denying help is the best way to do good for someone.

Father God, guide us in our efforts to do your good works. Keep us from ignoring the many needs around us but don’t let our efforts to be helpful to those we love do more harm than good. Give us the means and desire to do good and the discernment to know the difference between doing good and doing harm. Show us the path you want us to take so that we always do the right thing.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:17 (NLT)]

Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. [Romans 14:10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHY DO WE WATCH? 

I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. [Psalm 101:2-3 (ESV)]

rainbowWhile writing about curiosity yesterday, I thought about our insatiable curiosity concerning the lives of others. Some people think nothing of prying into other people’s lives by asking how much it cost, how much you’re paid, what the grade was, and more. The number of followers of the various social media platforms and fans of tell-all books, gossip magazines, tabloids, and reality TV tells me plenty of people want to know all that and more. Whether we know them or not, we seem to have a voracious appetite for the lives of other people, especially the lives of celebrities, former celebrities, one-time-wonders, housewives, bachelors, bachelorettes, the rich and privileged, and just about everyone else. We have talk shows where the more salacious the content the better and people come to blows after revealing sordid betrayals. We have assorted judge shows where in-law problems, unknown paternity, infidelity, and other poor choices reign. Private disagreements, personal relationships, and shocking secrets are openly aired for the curious world.

As much as I struggle to understand why any of us are interested in other people’s private lives, I find it even harder to comprehend why people choose to make public spectacles of themselves. Reality TV, of course, isn’t real and those “real housewives” aren’t really “housewives.” Knowing that circumstances are contrived to guarantee crisis, conflict, and drama, I wonder why people deliberately allow themselves to be manipulated for their five minutes of fame (or infamy). Considering the number of people who have an incredible willingness to freely share the most intimate details of their lives with the world, it appears as if curiosity and braggadocio are two sides of the same coin.

Perhaps it’s conceit, egotism, or a weird sort of arrogance that leads people to think that, no matter how appalling, their every thought, feeling, experience, meal, or intimate moment is worth sharing with the world. People have become so immodest that they will bare their souls and just about everything else to complete strangers. They are like exhibitionists who leave the curtains half open to dance in front of the window and their curious audience is like the voyeur who peeks through those curtains. Sadly, our curiosity has turned people parading their private lives into a lucrative business (apparently the more dysfunctional the better.)

It’s almost malevolent the way people want to see others at the worst. Perhaps we’re drawn into this tabloid culture so we can congratulate ourselves on being nicer, saner, smarter, more moral, and less superficial. Pride puffs us up because we don’t hoard, commit adultery, spend excessively, or keep having needless plastic surgery. Self-righteously, we pat ourselves on the back for not living vicariously through our talented children, exploiting our families, brawling in public, or letting cameras into our bedrooms. We feel superior because we’re better behaved, pay our debts, and know who fathered our children.

Granted, there is a difference between watching chefs contend for top honors, brainiacs compete for money, super athletes vie for a title, or pickers search for rare artifacts and watching people engage in attention-grabbing, immoral, inappropriate, or self-destructive behavior. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between innocent interest and prurient curiosity and crossing that line leads us into sin’s territory of judgment and pride.

To rework Jeff Foxworthy’s quote about going to the state fair: “If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is watch reality TV because pretty soon you’ll be going, ‘You know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty!’” Perhaps people’s bad behavior, excessive alcohol consumption, emotional outbursts, humiliation, tears, and turmoil became entertainment simply to make us feel like saints in comparison to them. Let’s not fool ourselves; we’re not! Perhaps it’s time to check our curiosity and rethink how we spend our time and with what we fill our minds.

Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with that comparative betterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men’s lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust. [Robert Leighton (A Puritan Golden Treasury)]

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 (ESV)]

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. … Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. [Colossians 3:1-3,10 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WORDS AREN’T ADEQUATE

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

Last weekend my three children flew in from California, New Mexico, and Illinois to surprise me for my birthday. No words can express my absolute joy at their arrival. As we reminisced and laughed until it hurt, we realized the last time just the five of us were together was in 1992. After then, whenever we gathered, either someone was missing or our friends, grandparents, significant others, spouses, or children were with us. We now number thirteen and, while I love being with the whole gang, with all of our shared memories, there was something magical about gathering just the original five! Words failed me when I tried to express my appreciation for the way my husband and children juggled their schedules to make last weekend happen.

Even harder than finding words to thank my family was finding the right words to thank God—there simply are none that can encompass my gratitude. I can’t send Him flowers and He doesn’t need an invite to see the photos on Shutterfly since He was there. It’s not like I can return the kindness by surprising Him on His birthday! The question of how to properly thank God, not just for last weekend, but for all of His blessings has been with me all week. “How can I thank you?” I asked.

We thank God with our love, which begs the question, “How do we show our love?” We do it by remembering Him with gratitude in everything we do and all we encounter—not just in the big things like a family reunion or a good biopsy, but in all the little things of our day. It’s telling Him how we appreciate the strawberries in the garden, the smell of fresh mown grass, a summer breeze, or having milk for the coffee and jam for the toast. It’s being grateful while we wash the windows or mop floors simply because we have windows and floors to clean! It’s continually thanking him for things like “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens” and even for the inevitable dog bites, bee stings, and sadness that come with our favorite things.

We show our love and gratitude through action. While there’s nothing we can do for God, there’s plenty we can do for His children. When we serve others, we are serving (and thanking) Him! We thank God by expressing our appreciation to the people who serve us throughout the day. We can scatter seeds of gratitude and joy. We show our love for God through our witness. While it seems that we’re more than willing to tell people about the good things for which we’re thankful, most of us aren’t as willing to tell those same people about the Giver of those gifts.

Remembering James’ words that, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens,” [1:17] we show our love and thanks to God with humility. Those children of whom I am so proud are His, not mine. While I’d like to think they matured into the wise and wonderful people they are because of my husband’s and my stellar child-rearing skills, I know it was God’s wisdom that led us, His hand that protected them, His voice that led them, His love that covered them, and His forgiveness that showed them how to forgive. It was God who gave me people who cared enough to plan the visit and it was God (with a little help from American Airlines) who got them safely here.

We show God our love and gratitude with prayer, praise, and worship. If we’re truly grateful, however, we offer those things both in good times and bad and, most especially, in those mundane boring days that fill so much of our lives. We continually offer prayer, praise, and worship simply because every day we’re given breath is a day for thanks—whether we’re on the mountain top, in the dark valley, or somewhere in between.

While no words adequately express our gratitude to God, the way we live our lives certainly does!

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it. [A.W. Tozer]

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. [Psalm 105:1-3 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.