ALL FOR THE GOOD

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the True Judge,” is a blessing often said by Jews when they undergo a death or tragedy. “This is all for the good,” or “Blessed is the true judge,” is often said by other Jews in response to their tragic news. Rather than being about God’s final judgment of a person, these words remind them that only God can judge whether events are good or bad. To illustrate this point, the Talmud has a story about the second century sage, Rabbi Akiva. One night, the rabbi, along with his rooster and donkey, arrived in a village. When no one would give Akiva a place to stay, the rebbe said, “All that God does, He does for the good.” He then walked to a field outside of town, set up camp, and lit his lantern. That evening, a gust of wind knocked over the lantern breaking it, a fox came and ate the rooster, and a lion came and killed the donkey. In spite of all that, Akiva said, “All that God does, He does for the good!” Just before dawn, marauders came and attacked the village but, camped in the field without light, crowing rooster or braying donkey to reveal his presence, the rabbi remained safe.

The Talmud explains this story by saying that we must bless God for the bad news that comes our way in the same manner we bless Him for the good things that befall us. Indeed, when Scripture tells us we are told to love God with our whole heart, soul and strength it doesn’t mention any exceptions for circumstances we don’t like. While it’s easy to love God with our entire being when all is good, we must also love Him that same way in our suffering, sorrow and misfortune. Rest assured, in the long run, whatever happens to us is for our good. That, however, does not mean everything that happens to us will be good. Indeed, even when we don’t know why, pain, grief and adversity are blessings. All that God does, He does for the good! Blessed be the true judge.

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist. [Saint Augustine]

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … 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 8:35,38-39 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FULLY AWARE

For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, “Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” [Isaiah 41:13 (NLT)]

cousinsScientists have found that even a simple hug or the holding of hands can lower both blood pressure and heart rate in stressful situations. Gentle touch also causes a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and an increase in oxytocin (often called the “cuddling hormone”). Where cortisol might give a “fight or flight” response, oxytocin causes more of a “tend and befriend” one by increasing feelings of trust and connection. Since we were at a funeral and the previous ten days had been a roller coaster of emotion and tension for everyone, the priest’s request to join hands as we stood in prayer benefitted us physically and psychologically as well as spiritually.

While holding hands during prayer wouldn’t be unusual in many evangelical Protestant churches, apparently it is in Roman Catholic ones (especially when done during every prayer) and it has become a point of contention in some dioceses and parishes. Being a rather touchy-feely Protestant, I enjoyed the hand holding and the feeling of solidarity in prayer that came with it. The priest, however, asked us to do more than simply join hands. “Take the hand of the person beside you,” he instructed, “and, fully aware of the soul you are touching, join in prayer.” As I held the hand of the stranger beside me, I thought of those words: “fully aware of the soul you are touching.” I didn’t know the man and will never see him again. From his rosary, I knew we do not attend the same church. Nevertheless, I knew we worshipped the same God and were there for the same reason: to celebrate the life of the man whose body lay in a casket near the altar. As I became more aware of the soul I was touching, my thoughts turned from my own personal sorrow to the sorrow shared by all who were present in the sanctuary. We were one community, united in our thanksgiving for the man we mourned, in our intercessions for his family, in our love for God, and in our belief in the resurrected Christ and the life everlasting.

I appreciate that some people are uncomfortable with the intimacy of holding hands and find doing it during worship an unwelcome innovation. Whether or not we touch one another during prayer is not as important as being fully aware of one another: not just of the people with whom we pray but of all with whom we interact. Fellow travelers through this troubled world, they are struggling as much as we are to navigate the challenges, sorrow, and pain in their paths. Is there some way we can make their journey easier? Sometimes, we find that answer in a simple touch. While we probably won’t bring healing to their bodies, we may bring some healing to their souls.

At the conclusion of the funeral, the deceased’s family followed the casket out of the sanctuary and his sister passed by our pew. My husband stepped into the aisle beside her and they joined hands as they walked out together. Although we hardly know her, fully aware of her mournful soul, he knew her need to be supported during that difficult walk.

Lord, teach us to be fully aware of the souls we encounter each day. Let our words be kind, our actions helpful, and our touch gentle and supportive.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. [Henri Nouwen]

As it happened, Publius’s father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. [Acts 28:8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SEEING THE OTHER SIDE

Monarch buttefliesNow all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

“He’s so young!” said my husband when my brother died at the age of fifty-six. I reminded him that my dad was the same age when he died. “But he was old!” my husband exclaimed. The difference, of course, is that we were in our fifties when my brother died but only in our twenties when my father did. That the same thing can look so different from two viewpoints makes me think of those tilt or magic motion cards that used to come in Cracker Jack© boxes. Done by something called lenticular printing, one card holds two or more different images. Titled one way, there might be the traditional Mona Lisa but, tilted the other way, she would be winking with a goofy grin on her face. Just as whether someone seems young or old depends as much on our age as theirs, what is perceived on a tilt card depends on the angle at which it is viewed.

When we look at a magic motion card, we only see what’s right in front of us but, when God looks at one, He sees if from all sides. Looking at life from just our viewpoint, we only see what’s happening now and how it affects us and those we love. We see the delay and feel the frustration of waiting but, from His viewpoint, God also sees us learning patience. We see the task and protest that our work is too demanding but He sees that we’re learning determination. We see the unknown and hesitate in fear but He sees us learning to trust Him. We see the betrayal and feel resentment but He sees us learning to forgive. We see the burden of caregiving and grow tired but He sees us learning about sacrifice. We see the cranky in-laws and get exasperated but He see us learning about unconditional love. We see the failure and are disheartened but He sees us developing resilience. Rather than looking at circumstances from just our viewpoint, we need to tilt the picture and look at circumstances through the eyes of God.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Unfortunately, that’s about as specific as God gets in detailing those plans. So, just as I can’t see both pictures on a tilt card at once, I have no idea what is on the other side of today’s challenges. I will just have to settle for knowing that our loving God sees it all and His plans for me are good ones.

God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons we could not learn in any other way. The way we learn those lessons is not to deny the feelings but to find the meanings underlying them. [Stanley Lindquist]

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FAREWELLS

DAISIESJesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” [John 14:1-4 (NCV)]

“Why can’t they be happy for us,” my daughter-in-law plaintively asked many years ago. “We’re going to where we want to be. This is our dream!” I certainly understood about her friends’ reaction to their news. My son, his wife and their two children (my precious grands) were moving to California. Instead of living a mile from us, they’d be over 2,000 miles away! I was no different from her friends except that, since taking Mother-in-Law 101, I’d mentally duct-taped my mouth and managed to silence my protests.

I felt her words in my heart. Why couldn’t I be happy for them? I was so blinded by my loss that I couldn’t see their gain: a beautiful new house, an ideal climate, a super school, and their dream location of surf, sand and sunshine. I asked God to change my heart: to take the sadness and replace it with gladness and to take my self-pity and replace it with encouraging words and enthusiasm. I knew this wasn’t the last time we’d see each other; after all, we only would be a plane ride apart.

It’s been several years since their move. When I see how happy they are in California, I can’t believe I ever allowed my sorrow at their departure blind me to their joyous arrival in a new location. Besides, my husband and I now have a wonderful place to visit.

Many of us are at the age when our friends and family are departing, not to live across the country, but to move from this world into the next. Why is it so difficult to be happy for them? That final move is the best one yet for them. They are leaving a place of pain, sin, anxiety, and sorrow and going to a new home: one where there is peace and joy and love. Moreover, they’re going to a place where, eventually, we all want to be! It’s just so difficult to stop focusing on our loss to see our loved one’s gain: a home in heaven – no pain, no tears, and the presence of God! Remember, this won’t be the last time we see them!

Heavenly Father, when our loved ones leave us, let it be less about us and more about them. Please lessen our sorrow at their departure and increase our joy at their destination.

Death is an incident, not an end. It is a transition for a Christian, not a terminus. [Billy Graham]

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 21:4 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE LIAR

Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” [Mark 4:40 (NLT)]

Fear, he is a liar; He will take your breath;
Stop you in your steps. Fear, he is a liar;
He will rob your rest; Steal your happiness;
Cast your fear in the fire. Cause fear, he is a liar.
[Zach Williams, Jonathan Smith, Jason Ingram]

killdeerI was singing along with Zach Williams, “Fear, he is a liar,” when I recalled one of my memory verses: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?” [Psalm 27:1] I then realized a commonality in the Bible verses I’ve been memorizing: fear. If asked, I wouldn’t say I’m a fearful person and yet the Bible verses I’ve been memorizing contradict me. I don’t suffer an assortment of phobias nor do I see a threat around every corner. I’m not unduly anxious—I don’t pace, bite my nails, stay awake all night, or binge eat. While I’m cautious when the situation calls for caution, I don’t consider myself irrationally fearful, so why did I choose to memorize so many Bible verses dealing with fear?

I’m not afraid of public places like the grocery, losing my cell phone, or reading books, and a walk through my house would tell you I’m not afraid of dust; clearly, I don’t have agoraphobia, nomophobia, bibliophobia or koniophobia. When thinking about fear, however, I was mistaking phobias for a common garden variety fear that can afflict us all. It can keep us imprisoned in much the same way as agoraphobia—only instead of being trapped in our homes, we’re trapped in our small comfort zones. It’s the fear that we’re not enough: not good enough, strong enough or smart enough. It’s the malicious voice that tells us we’re unworthy, unwelcome, unloved, and unfit. It’s the fear that we’re not up to the task, we’ll be embarrassed, or we should be ashamed. It’s the apprehension that we’re either too young or too old and the whisper that says we’re not dedicated, loving or virtuous enough to do God’s work. It’s the fear of failure and of the unknown. It’s the same fear that plagued Gideon and Moses: the fear that we’re inadequate to the task at hand.

In a way, fear does tell the truth—alone, we are not enough. Fear, however, is a liar because he doesn’t tell us the whole truth; we have a more-than-enough God. He has more than enough riches, wisdom, strength, and love for us all. If we live by God’s power, there is nothing to fear! When we place our not-enough-selves into His hand, we become His more-than-enough servants. Indeed, fear is a liar.

Remember: even the smallest drop of God’s strength is more than enough to cover our frailties, our shortcomings, and the places where we deem ourselves weak. [Lysa Terkeurst]

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)]

I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me. [Psalm 16:8 (NLT)]

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

TRUSTING GOD

This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. [Psalm 91:2 (NLT)]

The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? [Psalm 27:1 (NLT)]

During our western trip with the grands, I wasn’t the only one to step out of my comfort zone. The two youngsters (fifteen and eighteen) took some big steps when they did a four-hour “Treetop Adventure” – think Swiss Family Robinson crossed with the X-Games or Tarzan meets American Ninja Warrior. After ascending the mountain, they had a short safety briefing, suited up in body harnesses with tethers, and set off on their aerial adventure. They maneuvered through the tree tops on elements like swaying bridges, z-shaped balance beams, high wires, hanging ropes, swinging logs, and flying skateboards. They climbed ladders, scrambled up and through cargo nets, rode thirteen zip lines, tree top adventure - jacksonand literally jumped through hoops; all of this took place some twelve to eighty feet above the forest floor.

Their equipment included a safety belay system which, in theory, always kept them clipped to a safety wire. Although participants could fall, the harness and tethers would keep them from falling more than a few feet. While it would be difficult, they could pull themselves back up and continue the course. If unable to get back up, injured, exhausted, or faint of heart, there were a few guides scattered about who could effect a rescue and lower them down to the ground. In spite of all the safety precautions, the detailed waiver we’d signed that morning made it clear there was an element of risk to the activity.

As we watched (and prayed) from the ground while the teens progressed through the course, I thought of my granddaughter’s words earlier that day: “I know it’s dangerous and that I might fall, but I also know that I’m tethered to the cable and can’t fall far.” That’s the sort of confidence we find in the Psalms. David, of course, faced far greater challenges than a ropes’ course and zip lines and, rather than trusting a cable and safety harness, he trusted God. Trusting God doesn’t mean there’s no risk or that we might not fall. Trusting God means that, like the safety harness, we know God’s there to catch us! Trusting God doesn’t mean that our journey will be easy or effortless. Trusting God means that while our journey may be challenging, like the arduous ropes’ course, getting through it is possible. Trusting God doesn’t mean we’ll never find ourselves in a dark valley. Just as the guides were there to help in an emergency, trusting God means we know we’ll never be in that dark place alone; God is always with us.

The kids completed their adventure without mishap (Praise God!). Their confidence in facing that extreme course made me wonder why I so often am hesitant about taking on much lesser challenges: not challenges requiring a liability waiver or a tethered safety harness but challenges that simply require trusting in the Lord.

If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable. [John Newton]

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. [Psalm 23:4 (NLT)]

I entrust my spirit into your hand. Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. …  So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord! [Psalm 31:5,24 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.