WHOSE ARE YOU?

You go before me and follow me, You place your hand of blessings on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand. [Psalm 139:5-6 (NLT)]

lion - tanzaniaI started Sunday morning with Psalm 139—a beautiful reminder that God was with us at our conception, is with us now, and will be with us at our end. “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous,” read the psalm. Those words reminded me of Joey. Chinese by birth, born without hands, and abandoned by his mother, he was adopted by an American family. In spite of his many visible and hidden challenges, Joey was a cheerful little guy until entering junior high school, encountering bullies, and asking the inevitable questions that come with adolescence. In spite of being part of a loving family, he feels he failed the birth family who discarded him like a piece of trash and, rather than feeling wonderfully made, Joey asks why God made him the way He did.

Scripture reading was followed by the newspaper where I found an interesting advice column. The writer has both birth and adopted daughters but her birth daughter refuses to allow her children to call her sister “aunt” because she’s not really “family.” In response, the psychologist noted that there are some deep seated jealousy issues in the girls’ relationship and pointed out that legally both girls have the same standing. He then added an interesting argument to show the absurdity of the birth daughter’s position. The adopted daughter could actually say she was more of a daughter than her sister because their parents deliberately chose her and had to go through a long involved process to get her. The other sister’s conception took but a few minutes and even may have been an accident! While I don’t think that argument will improve the girls’ relationship, he had an interesting point about adoption; it is a deliberate act of love!

In a strange juxtaposition, Sunday’s sermon was part of a series, “Faith at the Movies,” and The Lion King was the subject. Until Rafiki confronted him, the lion Simba forgot who he was—the son of the king—and that his father lived in him. Like Simba, we are the King’s children; He adopted us when we accepted Jesus. Just as Simba’s father was in him, our Father lives in us.

Our Heavenly Father was there when we were but a gleam in our birth fathers’ eyes. As the psalmist wrote, He made “all the delicate, inner parts” of our bodies as He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. Joey may appear flawed by human standards but he is perfectly made by God’s standards. When Simba saw his reflection in the water, he saw his father and Rafiki assured him, “He lives in you.” Joey and his family are working with counselors but, to truly heal, Joey will have to see the face of his Father, the King, when he sees his reflection. He will have to see his worth in being the adopted child of God and believe that God’s spirit lives in him.

Rafiki asks Simba, ”Who are you?” and Sunday’s sermon asked us the same question. Like Simba, we often forget that it’s not our circumstances that characterize us. Our sex, appearance, family, heritage, profession, assets, shortcomings, accomplishments, failures, and even our sins do not define us. It’s not what we are but whose we are that gives us value and worth. Because God adopted us into His family, first and foremost, we are children of the King.

Child of God, you cost Christ too much for him to forget you. [Charles Spurgeon]

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” [Romans 8:15 (NLT)]

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:26 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ON THE RADIO

So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the Lord your God says.” [Joshua 3:9 (NLT)]

While recovering from foot surgery, I had home visits from Mike, a physical therapist. He told me of a day, more than eighteen years ago, when he visited a new elderly patient. The obviously wealthy man lived alone in a beautifully appointed 6,000 square foot penthouse overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Mike remembers him as the most unpleasant, uncooperative, bitter and miserable person he’s ever met. After that visit, the therapist drove to a nearby town for another new patient visit. Although less than an hour’s drive northeast of the affluent man’s luxurious home, it was a world apart. Today, the population in the first town has a median age of 65.6, a median household income of over $90,000, and a poverty rate of less than 10%. Just thirty miles away, the second town has a median age of 26, with a median household income of less than $29,000, and 41.6% of its population live below the poverty level. Although the numbers were different eighteen years ago, the disparity would have been the same (or even worse).

The home Mike visited was a stark contrast to the beachfront luxury penthouse. As he gingerly walked up rickety wooden stairs and knocked on the screen door of a mobile home, Mike wondered what to expect. Visiting a woman who’d had a total knee replacement, he was warmly greeted at the door by her husband and offered a cup of coffee and a churro. As he entered their cramped home, he saw pictures drawn by grandchildren decorating the refrigerator and family photos on all the tables. He knew they were people of faith from the pictures of both Mary and Jesus hanging on the walls and the cross by the door. Yet, even without those signs, the couple’s words, joy, optimism, generosity, and love for one another were evidence of their faith.

That first day, as Mike was driving back to town, Danny’s Song, by Loggins and Messina, played on the car radio. When he heard the words, “And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey, And everything will bring a chain of love,” he couldn’t help but think of the couple he’d met that morning. It was when he heard, “Yeah, don’t you live alone, Try to earn what lovers own,” that Mike thought of his wealthy old client; he was so affected that he had to pull over to the side of the road. The man had everything that money could buy and, yet, he lived alone and had nothing of real value. The couple, living in a rented trailer, had next to nothing and, yet, they had everything: faith, family, purpose, love, and one another! As rich as the old man was, he couldn’t buy the love that the couple owned.

Eighteen years later, Mike still remembers that couple and how, in a beautifully orchestrated God-incident, Kenny Loggins’ words in a popular song helped point him to the things that mattered most in his life at a time he most needed to rethink his priorities. My therapist learned a valuable lesson that day, one his wealthy client never did. The woman became his favorite client (and not just because of the churros and loving family he met during his several visits). Every time he left their home, he felt that some of their faith, joy and hope rubbed off on him. That moment eighteen years ago has stayed with Mike all these years as a constant reminder of what actually is important in life.

Just in case Mike didn’t get His message about priorities, did God arrange that song to come on the radio at exactly that time for him? I don’t know any more than I know if God was responsible for having Zach Williams’ song Fear is a Liar come on my car radio the afternoon I desperately needed that reminder. All I know is that God, with his quirky sense of humor and amazing sense of timing, could certainly manage a song on the radio!

God speaks to us in a number of ways: Scripture, Jesus (the Word who became flesh), the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, other believers, and His amazing creation. Scripture also tells us He’s spoken in some unusual ways including the urim and thummim that were kept in the high priest’s breastplate, the fleece of a sheep, a burning bush, a rainbow, and even a donkey! Capable of speaking to us at any time in any way He chooses, He might well have used a Kenny Loggins’ song. God keeps after us until we get the message and Scripture tells us that it never went well for people when they failed to listen to Him. Let’s always be open to hearing God’s voice and receptive to His message, whether it’s in the sky with a rainbow or on the radio with a song!

As it is written in the Scriptures, “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. [John 6:45 (NLT)]

I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people. But let them not return to their foolish ways. [Psalm 85:8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LIVING THE WORD – Father’s Day 2019

A righteous man who walks in his integrity—blessed are his sons after him! [Proverbs 20:7 (RSV)]

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. [Proverbs 22:6 (RSV)]

Yesterday, when writing about various translations of Scripture, I was reminded of a story about four ministers who were discussing their preferred Bible translations. The first pastor said he favored the King James because, in spite of the archaic language, its words conveyed divine power with their elegance and majesty. The second pastor noted that he preferred the Amplified Bible because its alternate readings helped clarify and broaden the meaning of the original text. Explaining that his church was made up of new believers, the third pastor said he liked the Living Bible because its modern paraphrase of traditional Scripture was easily understood by his congregation. The three men then turned to the fourth minister and asked what Bible version he favored. The man answered that his favorite translation was his father. “You see,” he explained, “He put God’s word into practice which is the best translation of Scripture that I’ve ever seen!”

Shortly before our pastor’s first mission trip, his grandfather gave him a book about ministerial ethics and morals. Although he still has that book, I think he had an even better book in the examples of both his grandfather (a man who truly served “the least of these”) and his evangelist/pastor father. Both men’s lives witnessed the truth of the Gospel message. Some of us were blessed with fathers or grandfathers like his: godly men, the salt of the earth, men who embody the message of God’s word in their daily walk. Sadly, others may not have been so fortunate. Nevertheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, every one of us can translate God’s word into practice. A popular saying is, “You may be the only Bible some people read.” Indeed, we may be the only glimpse of Jesus seen by some.

Sunday is Father’s Day, a day when we honor the men who raised us. Let’s remember to honor our spiritual fathers, as well: those men we’ve know who didn’t just profess their faith but truly lived it. The best way to honor any of them isn’t with t-shirts, books, baseball caps, or after shave. It’s by living the way our Father in heaven wants us to live: with faith, generosity, joy, love, mercy, fairness, gentleness, compassion, honesty, wisdom, forgiveness, peace, humility, patience, kindness, and self-control. In honor of God the Father, let us all be faithful translations of His holy word.

There are five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian—but most people never read the first four. [Rodney “Gypsy” Smith]

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE BEST WE CAN

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. [James 1:19-21 (MSG)]

Thompson's gazelleAs a teen and young adult, it was easy to be critical of my parents and their parenting. Vowing I’d never say or do some of the things they did, I was sure I’d never make any of their mistakes. Once I became a mother, however, I became far more forgiving and sympathetic. I understood that, all things considered, my parents had done the best they could. Granted, they didn’t always make the right decisions but I believe they thought they were the correct ones at the time. Parents want to keep their children from heartbreak, disappointment and harm; they want more and better for their children than they had. As a result, in spite of their best intentions, they can be over-protective, judgmental, enabling, dictatorial or stubborn. And, yes, I made some of the same mistakes my parents did (and plenty more of my own). Yet, looking at the finished products, I did just fine! Now, as parents, my children have the opportunity to make their own share of mistakes.

The vast majority of people don’t wake each morning intending to be unforgiving, unsympathetic, intractable, or indifferent. We don’t plan on being selfish, temperamental, hypercritical or rude. Rather, most of us probably wake up wanting to be kind and loving people. Unfortunately, we’re not always good at doing that! None of us are perfect; being human, we all make plenty of mistakes. People hurt us and we hurt others, but rarely do we or they do it on purpose. I never started the day planning to yell at my children or lose my temper, yet I often did. I certainly never begin the day intending to be impatient, inconsiderate, or negative, but that happens far too often. My prayer each morning is simply to be a better person that day than the one I was the day before and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that is slowly happening.

When we remember that sometimes our best efforts are not nearly good enough, it becomes much easier to forgive others for their failings. Forgiveness doesn’t mean those actions are right or good; it doesn’t mean we approve of them or accept them. It simply means we forgive them. While we’re forgiving others, we should forgive ourselves for our shortcomings as well. Let’s release our regrets; we all could have done better, but what’s done is done. If God can forgive us, we ought to be able to do so, too.

Father, lift any hidden resentment and regret from our hearts and replace them with love and forgiveness. Help us accept that flaws, both ours and those of others, are part of being human. Show us how to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we can be better people today than we were yesterday, and even better ones tomorrow.

Some days, doing “the best we can” may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect – on any front – and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else. [Fred Rogers]

I was wrong before. I’m smarter now. [Chris Bohjalian]

Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. [1 Peter 4:8 (MSG)]

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped. [Psalm 130:3-4 (MSG)] 

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

EXTEMPORANEOUS PRAYERS

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

great egretIn our pastor’s absence, I led worship for two Sundays. For me, giving the sermons was far easier than leading the prayers. Our pastor has a way with words that inspire, enlighten and lift my spirits and his extemporaneous prayers appear to flow effortlessly from his heart through his mouth to my ears and up to God. He always seems to have the perfect Bible verse up his sleeve, the wisest thoughts in his mind, and the power of the Holy Spirit in his words. The Holy Spirit has truly given him a beautiful spiritual gift and our entire congregation is blessed by it.

While I’m often the one asked to give a table blessing, saying grace among friends or family is a far cry from leading the congregation in opening and closing prayers and Communion. Knowing I’d be leading prayers, I spent nearly as much time composing the days’ prayers as I did writing the sermons and I was fully prepared those Sundays with a well-written script.

More often than not, however, we don’t know when we’ll be called on to say a prayer. We frequently have opportunities to offer a spontaneous prayer with family, friends, and even strangers. Sadly, we may let those opportunities slip by simply because we don’t think we have the right words.

As a writer, I like to carefully select, arrange, rearrange, and edit my words before committing them to paper. Feeling at a loss for the perfect words when leading an impromptu prayer, I used to tell someone I’d pray for them rather than offer to pray with them right then and there. Intercessory prayer, however, isn’t about me and finding the perfect most expressive words; it about the other person and lifting their concerns to God. I’ve finally realized that God isn’t bothered by awkward prayers and hesitant delivery and I doubt that whoever we’re praying for minds either.

When giving a gift, we’re often told, “It’s the thought that counts.” That philosophy goes for prayers, as well. While we may not be gifted at spontaneously leading prayer, we all can pray. While we might not readily inspire others with our language, we can encourage them with our faith. We may not be able to remember the perfect Bible verse for every situation, but we can take the words of the Bible into our hearts and souls and let them guide our prayers. While we may not speak fluent Holy Spirit, we can let Him speak for us.

Prayer is talking with God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. [Josh McDowell]

Prayer is simply talking to God like a friend and should be the easiest thing we do each day. [Joyce Meyer]

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. [Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MAMA BIRDS – MOTHER’S DAY 2019

My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction. Keep their words always in your heart. Tie them around your neck. When you walk, their counsel will lead you. When you sleep, they will protect you. When you wake up, they will advise you. [Proverbs 6:20-22 (NLT)]

The mother eagle teachers her little ones to fly by making their nest so uncomfortable that they are forced to leave it and commit themselves to the unknown world of air outside. And just so does our God to us. [Hannah Whitall Smith]

wrensWhen writing yesterday’s devotion about what I called “concierge” parents, I couldn’t help but think about how birds parent their young. We once had a birdhouse hanging from the eaves and, every spring, a wren family would move in. Once their eggs hatched, I could hear the wren chicks chirping away, demanding food from the crack of dawn until dusk. Those who’ve had the patience to observe them estimate that wren parents make about 1,000 trips a day to provide room service for their hungry brood; my wrens were no exception. Mom or Dad would disappear inside and stay only long enough to drop off dinner before reappearing and flying off again. Back and forth, the pair flew as they delivered caterpillars, beetles, seeds, crickets, berries, snails and spiders to their youngsters.

As the nestlings grew, the demanding chicks got noisier. Nearly as big as their parents, they would stick their heads out and loudly call for dinner. Every few return trips, however, instead of entering the nest with their meal, Mama would come right up to the opening with a mouth full of goodies and then fly away. This must have been her way of telling the youngsters that room service soon was coming to an end. If they wanted to eat, they were going to have to come out and get it; she knew, if they got hungry enough, they would! Less than three weeks after hatching, the birds would leave the nest. At first, I’d see the little guys franticly flapping their wings as they flew close to the ground around the yard. Soon, however, they were flying high with no apparent effort and then off they went, ready to fend for (and feed) themselves.

I don’t know if Hannah Whitall Smith’s words about the mother eagle making the nest uncomfortable for her young are true, but I do know that the eaglet, like the baby wrens, will never fly until he leaves the comfort of the nest. Like them, we will never become the people God wants us to be until we leave our comfort zones and, sometimes, like the birds, we may need a little nudging.

This Mother’s Day, let us be thankful for the men and women in our lives who didn’t coddle us: the ones who gave us a spoon to feed ourselves even though it meant more food got on than in us; the ones who let us put on our own shoes, even though they ended up on the wrong feet, and allowed us to pick out our clothes, even though they frequently were mismatched; the ones who let us spill the milk when we first poured it, lose when we played Old Maid or Parcheesi, and fall when we learned to roller skate; the ones who made us do our own homework, pick up our messes, clear the dishes, write thank you notes, apologize when we were wrong, and earn the money for the expensive designer jeans we just had to have; the ones who disciplined us when we misbehaved, let us make mistakes and face their consequences, and loved us enough to nudge us out the nest! Let us thank our mothers (and all the other people in our lives) who taught us how to fly!

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. [Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.