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)]

spiderwortMy husband and I have been married for fifty years now and there’s not much that surprises me about him anymore. Even the surprise birthday celebration he planned for me earlier this year wasn’t a surprise. Oh, the way he managed to fool me into thinking I was just going to a business dinner—that truly was a surprise; 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 70th birthday; I just had no idea what it actually was!

After fifty years 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 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. It’s not boring in the least; it is relaxed, pleasant and peaceful. Even though we usually know what to expect, as my birthday celebration proved, 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 five decades, both my husband and I have changed to complement one another. God, however, doesn’t change and any changing that must be done is done by us, not by Him. As in any relationship, the more time we spend in His presence, the easier it is to recognize His voice and to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our hearts. The more we read God’s word, the more likely it is that our prayers will be in harmony with His plan. As we draw closer to Jesus, we become attuned to His rhythm and pace and we’ll even begin to walk like Him.

At its most basic, Christianity isn’t a doctrine, philosophy, code of ethics or a way of life; it is a relationship with God and believing in Jesus is not the same as having a relationship with Him. We have to spend time in His presence, praying, listening to His voice, and reading His word for that relationship to flourish and grow. No relationship 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 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 ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DOUSE THE FLAMES

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. [John 13:34-35 (NLT)]

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself. [Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)]

hate has no home hereAs we watched the helicopters fly through the sky, we could see the water buckets hanging under them. Once the copters were in position, hoping to extinguish the forest fire, the crews would open the dump valve and empty water on the flames below them. The helicopters flew back and forth all afternoon as they refilled their buckets from the glacial lakes. If the helicopters are too low or slow in dropping the water, the water will be too concentrated to work effectively and, rather that put out the flames, the rotors’ downwash will intensify it. Even though those buckets can carry as much as 2,600 gallons of water, to those of us on the ground, it seemed a little like a mop bucket was being used to extinguish a house fire. Nevertheless, the firefighters continued their valiant fight against the blaze.

For most of this month, we’ve been on holiday, away from the newspapers and television, and able to ignore much of the world around us. Our pastor’s sermon yesterday reminded me that I cannot close my eyes to the inferno of hate in our midst. This has nothing to do with politics, color, or nationality. It doesn’t matter whether we live in a red or blue state, lean left or right, or what statues are erected in our town square. This has to do with hatred and bigotry and, regardless of the First Amendment, there is no place in a Christian’s life for them. I’ve noticed signs posted throughout our town saying “Hate Has No Home Here” and, indeed, hate has no home in a heart that claims to be filled with the love of Jesus.

What can we do to keep this firestorm of hate from spreading? No matter how loudly I speak, I’m little more than a household mop bucket; even then, my words of love can douse a few hateful flames. If we join forces, however, perhaps we can be as effective as those 2,600 gallon fire-fighting buckets. Moreover, whenever we feel empty, we can refill from the source of our love—Christ’s living water. Can our words of love douse the hate? I don’t know, but I know we must try. We start by examining our own attitudes, words and actions so that we don’t fan the fire’s flames with them. The words we speak must be those of love, tolerance, patience, hope and peace. We may not extinguish the fire completely but, by using only words of love, we will be doing our utmost to suppress it and keep it from growing any larger.

Heavenly Father, give us the right words and the courage to speak them so that we can combat the hate in the world today. Let us remember that hate has no home in our hearts.

By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. [Martin Luther King Jr.]

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. … For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. [Ephesians 5:1-2a,8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE BENEFIT OF DOUBT

 

When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you. [Ephesians 4:29 (NCV)]

crinium lily

“What did she mean by that?” we might wonder. We know better than to make insensitive, unkind, or inappropriate remarks but what about when we think we’ve heard those same kinds of comments? Unfortunately, what we perceive is not necessarily what was meant or said. Sometimes, we over analyze the things we hear: the words chosen, the way they’re said, and even the speaker’s tone of voice. We may assign unkind intentions or hidden meanings that aren’t there. When we do that, we can easily find offense where none is intended.

Let’s face it, we all have had “foot in mouth” disease and said the wrong thing or the right thing the wrong way more than once. We’ve used poor choices of words, been politically incorrect, forgotten something we were supposed to remember or mentioned something we should have forgotten. We’ve called people by the wrong names and probably even asked a heavy-set woman when the baby’s due! We didn’t mean to hurt anyone; we were just being the imperfect people we are! I suspect most people are like me, not anywhere near clever enough for veiled messages and double meanings. Nevertheless, I can analyze someone else’s remarks as if they’ve spent hours choosing their words and practicing their delivery. When I think about it, if I’ve felt hurt or offended by another person’s words, it’s usually because of my own insecurities.

I never intend to say rude or thoughtless things but, unfortunately, it sometimes happens. Lord, let your Holy Spirit keep my foot out of my mouth. When in doubt, remind me that silence is always a good option. Just as I want others to give me the benefit of the doubt when I speak carelessly, show me how to be willing to do the same thing. May your Holy Spirit help me assume innocent intentions on the part of those whose words upset or offend me. Guide me so that I not only speak with love but listen with love, as well.

This does not mean that love is gullible, but that it does not think the worst (as is the way of the world). It retains its faith. Love is not deceived … but it is always ready to give the benefit of the doubt. [Leon Morris, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 13]

Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures. [1 Corinthians 13:7 (NCV)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOD BLESS EVERYONE

CANADA GEESEYou have heard that it was said, “Love your friends, hate your enemies.” But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. [Matthew 5:43-45 (GNT)]

In “The Family Circus,” a comic written by Bil and Jeff Keane, little Billy is saying his prayers. “And bless Mommy and Daddy, Bless Dolly, Bless PJ, …um.” He pauses and asks his Dad, “Is it all right if I add a few ‘Don’t bless’ to my list?” Obviously, his little brother Jeffy (and perhaps others) irritated him that day.

Sometimes, it is difficult to ask blessings for certain people in our lives. Jesus, however, made it abundantly clear that we aren’t to pick and choose who to love or for whom we pray. That includes difficult bosses, irritating neighbors, bothersome in-laws, and even annoying little brothers. We may just find that after praying for those bothersome individuals they cease being so annoying. Their behavior may change or, more likely, our attitude toward them will. It’s not easy to remain angry or upset with someone when we’re asking God’s blessings upon them!

Heavenly Father, fill me with your love so I am as generous with mine as you are with yours.

Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Matthew 5:46-48 (GNT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

NO REGRETS

Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)]

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. [1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtail butterfly on bergamotWhen writing yesterday’s devotion (“It’s Curtains”), I couldn’t help but feel a brief pang of regret because I never had those conversations with my parents before they died. The thoughts, “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you,” may have been assumed but never were spoken. I was fifteen when my mother succumbed to cancer. I saw her that day in hospital but, when I walked out that afternoon, I was sure I’d see her again when I visited the following day. I never thought the next time I saw her she’d be lying in a casket. When people would say, “She looks so good,” I wanted to shout at them and say, “She doesn’t look good; she looks dead!” Five years later, I was in the same funeral home and surrounded by many of the same mourners. That time, it was my father’s body lying so still in the front of the room. Two day earlier he’d been hunting pheasants when his heart failed; he died in the middle of a corn field. I’d seen him just a few weeks before that and never thought our farewell was the final one. Did my parents know how much I loved them? Did they know how sorry I was for my failings? Did they know I forgave them for theirs? Did they know how thankful I was for the life they gave me?

If we’d had those conversations at that time, however, I’m not sure how satisfying they would have been. I was far too young to have any concept of what it meant to be a parent and make the difficult choices parents do. I was too immature to have a real appreciation of the sacrifices they made for me or to understand the depth of parental love and the pain that so often accompanies it. And, I was far too young to acknowledge how wrong I’d been in so many ways. I think of the Apostle Paul’s words, “I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.” Indeed, I did. Now, more than fifty years later, I have the blessings of faith, maturity, perspective, and experience but those conversations cannot take place. Surely, like me, there are others whose final farewells were nonexistent or less than satisfactory. Nevertheless, they were final.

Although I expect to meet my parents in heaven, I think we’ll be too busy joyfully worshipping God to bring our regrets with us to the afterlife. What’s done is done and those last farewells, as unsatisfactory as they were, will have to do. The past is just that—passed! There really is no room in our lives for regret or looking backward. After all, we still have a race to run.

To dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present. Is that Christianity? Of course it is not. [Martyn Lloyd-Jones]

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 3:13b-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IT’S CURTAINS

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

Death never takes the wise man by surprise; He is always ready to go. [Jean de La Fontaine]

PEONYWithin a week of one another, two friends joined the ranks of widowhood. One was not surprised when she joined this club. Her husband surrendered to cancer several months ago when they chose to stop all treatment and make the most of their remaining time together. The other woman was caught by surprise; she went to bed a wife and awoke the next morning a widow. Her husband, who appeared to be the picture of health, had suffered a fatal heart attack during the night.

I thought of these women when reading an article in Prevention magazine by Dr. Ira Babcock. His experience as a palliative physician taught him the value of making four statements before saying our last good-byes: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Although the first family had an opportunity to prepare for that last good-bye, the second family did not.

We may picture a peaceful ending with family gathered around the bedside affording us an opportunity to say and hear whatever needs to be said or heard. In actuality, that’s probably not the way the last act of life will be staged. Any forgiveness that needs to be asked for or extended, any thanks that should be offered, and any words of love to be spoken cannot wait for the last act. We may not even know the play is nearly finished, the people to whom we want to speak may not be present, or conversation may not be possible.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. They’re all thoughts that shouldn’t wait to be expressed until we or the people we love are at death’s door. In their last moments, did either of those husbands regret having left something unspoken? When the casket was closed, did their family members weep because of words they’d left unsaid? I’d like to think the first husband and his family had expressed their forgiveness, thanks and love. As for the second husband—as he was gasping his last few breaths, did he wish he’d said “I love you!” before his wife went to bed? Do his children regret not apologizing for something or failing to express their love and appreciation for all he did? Does his wife wish she’d told him how much she loved him that night? Does she regret their morning argument or wish she’d thanked him for his incredible patience?

Lazarus died and was resurrected. If he or Martha and Mary left anything unsaid the first time he died, I imagine they didn’t the second. Unlike Lazarus, we don’t get a second chance at dying and, unlike Martha and Mary, we don’t get a second opportunity to say farewell to our loved ones.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. We don’t know when the curtain will close. Is there anyone to whom we should say those words before it does?

Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it…If we did, we would do things differently. … Forgive yourself before you die, then forgive others. [Morrie Schwartz in “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. [Psalm 39:4-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.