THE OTHER SIX

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work… [Exodus 20:8-9 (ESV)]

naples botanic gardenUpon retirement, many people consider their productive years over. Having been a CEO in a major corporation, a friend’s father felt worthless without his corporate identity. Prior to retirement, he could call any number of powerful people and get a meeting simply because of his position but, without his title, he felt like a nonentity. His previous business triumphs couldn’t sustain him and he saw no victories in the future. Unfortunately, many seniors who found their identity in their career, corporate title or paycheck are at loose ends when retirement comes along. Some of my friends who were homemakers aren’t much different from those in the business world. It’s just that they found their identity in motherhood and their self-esteem in their children’s achievements. Now, with an empty nest and adult children living their own lives far away, they feel unnecessary. Like my friend’s father, they are looking back at who and what they’ve been rather than forward to who and what they can be.

A quick glance around the room at my noon women’s Bible study tells me that most of us qualify for senior discounts. When discussing keeping the fourth commandment, our pastor told us to read all of the words. While we should observe the Sabbath, she reminded us that those other six days of the week are meant for productive work. A few of the women attending are still employed and others are caregivers for ailing spouses or handicapped children. Like me, however, the majority of the sixty women present are happily unemployed and our time is our own. The pastor’s words clearly were meant for us.

Well into her 70s, this pastor lives her advice. After reaching the mandatory retirement age in this church, she stopped getting a paycheck but continued in her mission. She still teaches at least two Bible studies a week, oversees the women’s organization, conducts both the weekly preschool chapel and the Saturday evening worship services, and, during Lent, added a daily 7:00 AM communion service to her schedule. She did not give up her purpose when she stopped getting a paycheck!

Our work schedule after retirement doesn’t need to be as rigorous as this pastor’s, but it seems that God wants more for us than days in front of the TV, at the beach, shopping, Facebooking, or playing bridge, mah jongg, golf, bocce, or tennis. Yes, daily activities like cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, and making repairs qualify as “work” but the people I know who truly enjoy their golden years are the ones who regularly devote some part of their week to service and learning. One friend has parlayed her HR experience into a volunteer job helping seniors navigate insurance and another uses her love of animals as a zoo docent. A former teacher tutors the disadvantaged, a retired nurse does blood pressure screening, and a neighbor uses his marine skills as a boat driver for the Conservancy. Former CEOs help stock shelves at the food pantry, advise new businesses or build houses for Habitat.

God gave us the gift of the Sabbath but, before He gave us the Sabbath, He gave us the gift of work. No matter our age, let’s use those other six days both wisely and productively.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [Genesis 2:15 (NLT)]

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! [Psalm 90:17 (ESV)]

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WHOSE SIDE?

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” [Joshua 5:13-14 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawk

The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan River and were preparing to conquer Canaan when Joshua came upon an armed man. Joshua was a stranger in a foreign land and I wonder if he brandished his sword when asking, “Friend or foe?” Neither Canaanite nor Israelite, the man identified himself as the commander of the Lord’s army. As to whether he was friend or foe, he said his loyalty was to neither side. His allegiance was to God and the only side he was on was God’s! Recognizing him as a divine being, Joshua fell to the ground.

Jump ahead 500 years to King Asa of Judah. Under attack by the Ethiopians, Asa turned to God for guidance. Rather than ask God to be on his side, he prayed that Judah’s side was God’s. In spite of overwhelming odds, Judah’s army was victorious, not because God was on their side but because they were on God’s. Asa then committed his kingdom to seeking God with all their heart and soul. Unfortunately, twenty-one years later, the King forgot whose side he was on. He depleted his nation’s treasury by committing himself to an alliance with Ben-hadad of Aram. Although the alliance at first appeared to be a success, the prophet Hanani rebuked the king for violating his covenant to seek the Lord. His foolishness meant that Judah would continue to be at war for generations. Asa, so sure he was on the right side, never bothered to find out if he was on God’s side.

During the Civil War, one of Abraham Lincoln’s advisors commented that he was grateful God was on their side. The President replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Whether the dispute is ours or someone else’s, getting involved eventually means taking sides. It’s not a question of which side we’ll support. It’s a question of prayerfully determining which side is God’s and understanding there’s a good chance that God has a side all His own. Perhaps, we should take a lesson from Joshua and Asa before taking sides, drawing lines in the sand, making threats, burning bridges, creating alliances, waging battle, or committing ourselves to a cause. It’s not who’s on whose side that matters; it’s simply a matter of whether or not we’re on God’s!

The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. [2 Chronicles 15:2b (NLT)]

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. [2 Chronicles 16:9a (NLT)]

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NOT WHAT WE WANTED – Palm Sunday

Orchard swallowtailFor the Lord will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. [Zephaniah 3:15-17 (NLT)]

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. [John 1:10-11 (NLT)

With palm branches waving, the people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. News of Jesus’s miracles, especially the resurrection of Lazarus, had spread through town. They shouted “Hosanna!” at the man they thought would overthrow the Romans, establish peace in the nation, and retake David’s throne. Expecting a political liberator rather than a spiritual savior, they wanted deliverance from the Romans rather than redemption from sin—a conquering king rather than a suffering servant. More concerned about the here and now than the forever after, they wanted power and might rather than love, peace, humility, forgiveness or eternal life. Jesus, however, didn’t come to change their circumstances; He came to change their lives and, when He didn’t give them what they wanted, they rejected Him.

I sometimes wonder if we do the same. Are we fair-weather followers like the people of Jerusalem? Those cries of “Hosanna!” became calls to crucify Him when the miracles stopped. Like them, do we turn away from God when He doesn’t fulfill our expectations? If God delivered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a fiery furnace, why won’t He deliver us from cancer, marital problems, or debt? God answered Elijah’s prayers with rain, so why won’t He answer ours with the longed for baby, spouse or job? He freed Peter from his prison cell, so why won’t he free us from debt, pain, or addiction? When God doesn’t deliver what we want, do we turn our backs to Him as did the people of Jerusalem? Let’s remember that while Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were delivered from the furnace and Peter escaped from prison, not everyone got what they wanted: Stephen was stoned, John beheaded, Isaiah sawn in half, and James slain with a sword.

When God doesn’t meet our expectations, we may start to doubt. Instead of believing that God is good, we ask, “What good is God?” We don’t have to earn God’s love with our works and yet we expect Him to prove His love through His blessings. Our faith cannot be tied to His fulfillment of our desires and expectations; it must be tied to His word. His business is transforming us and not our circumstances.

Let’s never confuse our desires with God’s promises. He will always deliver what He’s promised—peace, love, forgiveness, salvation, the Holy Spirit, eternal life, His grace, and sufficiency. Whether they recognized Him or not, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, God was fulfilling His promises and meeting their greatest need: deliverance, not from the Romans, but from sin. God continues to be true to His word today. He will always deliver what He’s promised but, like that itinerant rabbi from Nazareth riding on a donkey through the streets of Jerusalem, often it is not what we expect or think we want!

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. [Deuteronomy 7:9 (NLT)]

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? [Numbers 23:19 (NLT)]

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TAKING THE LONG WAY

Tent Rocks - NMDon’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. [Isaiah 43:2-3a (MSG)]

When visiting New Mexico, we often drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The shortest route is north on I-25. If we’re not in a rush, however, the best way is the longer Turquoise Trail, a national scenic byway on the east side of the Sandia Mountains. In theory, this route should only add about a half-hour to the trip but it always takes longer. The whole point of going that way is to enjoy some breath-taking scenery, take a hike in the high desert hills, check out one of the bizarre roadside attractions (like the Tinkertown Museum), visit various art galleries along the trail, and stop for lunch (and more shopping) in the reborn ghost town of Madrid. Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination.

When the Israelites escaped from Pharaoh, God didn’t lead them the shortest way to the Promised Land; His reasoning, however, had nothing to do with sightseeing or shopping. The most direct route would have taken them northeast along a coastal road and directly into Philistine territory. Instead, God led them south southwest into the desert on the eastern edge of Egypt. Although they were armed for battle, the Israelites were anything but ready to face a military conflict. Having been oppressed for generations, rather than a mighty nation, they were a ragtag band of former slaves. While the longer route made sense, God’s next instructions certainly didn’t! He told Moses that Pharaoh’s men would give chase but that the Israelites should turn back and camp in such a way that they were exposed and trapped against the sea. Although God promised this strange tactic would demonstrate his power and glory, I can’t help but think that Moses was shaking in his sandals when reassuring the people that God had everything under control.

If the Israelites weren’t ready to face the Philistines a few days earlier, they were no more ready to face Pharaoh’s mighty army then. In fact, from a logistical point of view, by turning back, the novice warriors moved into an utterly indefensible position. That, of course, is exactly why God arranged it. Whether facing Philistines or Egyptians, the Israelites’ reaction to either would be panic. With the Philistines, they could have fled, even if that meant returning to Egypt. With Pharaoh’s army, however, they had no escape route. Although their sarcastic complaints to Moses revealed their lack of faith, pinned against the sea as they were, they had no choice but to trust in God. Since we know the rest of the story, that trust was well-founded. The people of Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground and Pharaoh’s army perished in its waters. After experiencing God’s miraculous deliverance, the Israelites no longer feared Pharaoh. They did, however, fear, trust, and believe in the Lord!

Sometimes God takes us the long way around for a reason; while it may be for the scenery, there’s a good chance it’s to take us away from trouble. On the other hand, sometimes God takes us on detours that seem to make absolutely no sense because they lead us into trials and difficulty. That usually happens when there’s something we need to learn. When we find ourselves between an army and the sea or a rock and a hard place, there’s no need to panic. We just need to trust in the Lord.

And Israel looked at the Egyptian dead, washed up on the shore of the sea, and realized the tremendous power that God brought against the Egyptians. The people were in reverent awe before God and trusted in God and his servant Moses. [Exodus 14:30-31 (MSG)]

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SUMMONED

prairie coneflower - blanket flower - black-eyed susanListen, O heavens, and I will speak! Hear, O earth, the words that I say! Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants. I will proclaim the name of the Lord; how glorious is our God! [Deuteronomy 32:1-3 (NLT)]

My granddaughter recently received a summons to jury duty. Although she attended law camp last summer and just might do better than some jurors, at fourteen, she’s not qualified to serve. Trying to get her out of jury duty, however, appears to be easier said than done. Because the grand’s birth date is “invalid,” the on-line juror qualification questionnaire cannot be completed. Her mother’s call to the clerk resulted in being told that the youngster must come to the court house to prove her age by presenting them with her driver’s license. When it was politely pointed out that at fourteen she has no license, the clerk irately asked why she got the summons. “I don’t know; you’re the ones who sent it to her!” was all her mother could reply. Let’s hope jury duty is an excused absence from junior high because it appears that the district court does not want to take “No!” for an answer.

When God summons us, He doesn’t take “No” for an answer either. Moses was sure it was a mistake when God called to him from that burning bush. He protested by listing all of his inadequacies and God countered with His assurances and provision. In his final objection, Moses claimed to be an inarticulate tongue-tied speaker so God gave him Aaron to act as his spokesman.

Aaron, however, died before the Israelites reached Canaan and, in the book of Deuteronomy, we finally hear Moses speak. In his first speech (lasting four chapters), Moses gives an historical review of what brought the people to be standing on the plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho. An articulate powerful account, it’s as inspiring as one of Billy Graham’s sermons. The next thirty chapters are equally moving as Moses summarizes the Israelites’ covenant obligations and blessings.

To the county clerk, my grand was merely a name and address but, as the one who made us, God knows everything about us. He knows our weaknesses and capabilities and, unlike government bureaucracy, His summons is never in error. God knew what He was doing when he called Moses and He knows what He’s doing when He summons us. Where we see liabilities, inability, inadequacy and failure He sees assets, possibility, ability, and promise.

I can’t help but think of A.A. Milne’s Christopher Robin and the words he spoke to his bear, Winnie-the-Pooh: ”There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” Indeed, we are braver, stronger and smarter than we think and more capable than we can imagine. Moreover, like Christopher Robin, God is always with us. It is His faithfulness to us that empowers us to do His work.

When God puts a calling in our hearts, He won’t leave us stranded. He equipped and enabled Moses with wisdom and oratory skills and He’ll equip us. Moses’s final speech in Deuteronomy (ending with both a song and a blessing) rivals any motivational message given by Tony Robbins, Dave Ramsey, or Bear Grylls. When you doubt your abilities, remember that those eloquent words in Deuteronomy were spoken by a man who, because of his stammer and ineptitude at oration, considered himself unqualified. God knew better!

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you. [Deuteronomy 31: 8 (NLT)]

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MAKE IT PERSONAL

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

white peacock butterflyI recently read a devotion that suggested substituting our own personal anxieties and concerns for the troubles listed by Paul in Romans 8. Perhaps your version would read: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither old age nor loss of loved ones, neither cancer nor dementia, neither our fears for our wayward children nor our worries about finances—not even the powers of terrorism and hate can separate us from God’s love. No hurricanes or earthquakes—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then again, maybe widowhood, heart disease, migraines, foreclosure, floods, stroke, bullies, loneliness, crime, hunger, depression, fires, hard times, debt, anger, betrayal, homelessness, violence, or tornadoes would be on your list. However you fill in the blanks, Paul’s words remain true and bear repeating. Nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from God’s love as shown in Jesus Christ.

That God is for us, however, doesn’t mean we have no enemies. In fact, Paul’s words were written to the Roman church, a church that underwent tremendous persecution for the following 300 years. We encounter threats from both physical and spiritual enemies daily. What it does mean is that those enemies, no matter how powerful they are, can’t turn God against us. Because God gave His only son to save us, we can be sure, not just of his unchanging and everlasting love, but of our salvation.

What troubles would you substitute for Paul’s in Romans 8? No matter what they are, rest assured in the promise that the battle is already over and overwhelming victory is ours through Christ our Lord!

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? … overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. [Romans 8: 31b-32,37b (NLT)]

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