THE DASH

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)]

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years. [Linda Ellis]

clock - ChicagoAfter scrutinizing the website for the umpteenth time in a futile search for the perfect gift for my daughter-in-law, I closed the iPad and announced, “What a waste of time! This is why God created checks and gift cards!” I remembered last Friday when both Linda Ellis’s poem “The Dash” was read and the recently deceased David Cassidy was mentioned. The former Partridge Family heartthrob’s last words were: “So much wasted time.” Indeed, too much time is wasted in unproductive activities or agonizing over what, in actuality, are trivial matters. Searching the same website, over and over, and expecting to find something different was certainly one of those.

Last Friday morning, I made better use of my time; after looking at a photo of a friend’s niece, I prayed for her. This two-year old, bald from undergoing chemotherapy for stage 4 cancer, was asleep in her mother’s arms and doesn’t understand that the chemicals making her so miserable are a last ditch effort to destroy the cancer that has ravaged her body. Later that day, I attended a Celebration of Life for a man who, less than a week earlier, set out for an afternoon ride on his motorcycle never knowing that would be his final ride in life. Absent from that memorial service were our senior pastor and his wife. They’d been in a car accident earlier in the day. Like the toddler and the motorcyclist, they never expected what came hurtling into their lives. One child is fighting for her life, one man lost his life, and one couple escaped with their lives.

Many of us might say we have too little time but the quantity of time granted us and our loved ones, whether just days or several decades, is exactly the right amount of time and has been determined by someone far greater than we are. The way we spend those precious moments, however, is our choice alone. Unfortunately, David Cassidy had it right: “so much wasted time.” When the book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a season for everything, wasting time is never mentioned as one of them. We can fritter away our minutes in all sorts of futile ways—anger, nitpicking, regret, lethargy, worry, complaint, conflict and fretting are just a few—or we can use them generously, joyfully, thankfully and with love.

This week we celebrate my mother-in-law’s 101st birthday; her dash has been long and well spent. While she has been blessed with exceptional longevity, last Friday was a reminder that we all have expiration dates and none of us know that day. In many cases, it will be far sooner than expected. The dates we are here, however, are not as important as how we spend the time between those dates. How will we spend our dash?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MY VACUUM

Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens—and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld—what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea. [Job 11:7-9 (NLT)]

great blue heronAt our house, the closest thing we have to a pet is one of those robot vacuums. While it’s nearly as entertaining as a puppy, it needs far less care. As I watch it zip around the house, its movement appears to be entirely random. Sometimes it starts by spiraling outward in a circle and other times it heads for the perimeter of the room. Whenever it hits an obstacle, it seems to bounce off in another direction. Apparently, it has multiple sensors that help it calculate room size, detect obstacles, and adjust for variations in surface.

Sometimes I think I’m not even as smart as this silly machine. It knows enough to stop and beep if it gets in a tight spot; as for me—I usually think I can get out of tight spots on my own when I clearly can’t! I should call on God as readily as the robot beeps for me. The robot will stop when it is filled with dirt. Like it, I don’t function well when bogged down with the grime of my life. Unfortunately, I’m not very good about confessing my sins and asking God to empty me of my burdens. When its battery runs low, this little vac knows enough to find its way back to its recharging station, connect, and charge up again. I, however, tend to forget the importance of resting in God and letting Him power me up again. I often run myself ragged until I stop dead in my tracks.

In spite of reading various explanations of its programming, I have yet to figure out whatever logic is built into this robotic cleaner. Right now, it is zipping around my office, going under tables and chairs and ducking in and out of corners; I can see neither rhyme nor reason to its behavior. Nevertheless, that robot knows what it’s doing and, given enough time, does a good job. I can’t help but think of the often inexplicable way God runs the universe. The events of life often seem random, disconnected, and perplexing and yet they are all part of a program we simply don’t understand. Just because we don’t understand them doesn’t mean they’re not part of God’s perfect plan.

I can program the vacuum to clean on my schedule, move it wherever I want, and place it on or remove it from the charger. I can even erect a virtual wall with a battery-powered infrared beam so it stays where I want. Clearly, in the case of my vacuum, I’m the one with the power. With God and us, however, He’s the one with all of the power and we are at His mercy. He schedules our lives, gives us tasks, and erects life’s barriers. He moves us wherever and whenever He wants and determines when our running time has ended. We just need to remember that the way He orchestrates our lives, like the way my little robot works, is beyond our understanding.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOD-INCIDENCES – Thanksgiving 2017

The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. [Psalm 103:19 (NLT)]

mountain bluebirdMost of us live rather ordinary and somewhat predictable lives that are occasionally interrupted by major life events (some welcome and some not). It is life’s little surprises—its happenstance and serendipity—that keep our lives from becoming humdrum. On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s give thought to those little blessings we call coincidences.

We probably have no problem crediting God with the big blessings of life—things like the birth of a healthy child, the benign biopsy, the successful surgery, the spouse he gave us, the better paying job or His gifts of salvation and forgiveness. On the other hand, we tend to think of the little unexpected blessings—the butterfly or bluebird, the chance meeting, the phone call from a loved one, the sermon that spoke to our need, or the humorous email that arrived when we were in the dumps—as mere coincidence or luck. After all, our God is almighty and far too busy running the universe to deal with the minutiae of our everyday lives. Make no mistake; nothing is unimportant to a God who sees every sparrow fall and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our universe is not run by random chance and God can multitask better than a one armed paper-hanger or a mom with triple toddlers! Nothing escapes His notice!

We speak to God in prayer but often chalk up His answer to luck or coincidence. Although He speaks audibly, I think he also speaks through a seemingly random Bible verse, a fortuitous encounter, words in a book we happen to pick up, a picture we see, or even sunsets, sunrises, flowers and animals. When we credit the little blessings of life to coincidence, we’re happy. When we credit them to their orchestrator, we become thankful. While we’re surprised by these seemingly random or chance events, our God never is! Both the big important incidents and the unimportant trivial ones come from His hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we will give thanks for our food, family, health, homes and all the major blessings of life. Let us also give thanks for the little blessings, the godsends, that make our ordinary lives so extraordinary: the ones that encourage us when we want to give up, put smiles on our faces, fill our hearts with joy, answer our questions, or remind us how much we’re loved. Along with all the big things, let’s be sure to give him credit for the little ones—the God-incidences—that he scatters throughout our days. His fingerprints are everywhere we look!

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)]

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MARA

Monarch butterfly - queen anne's laceBut she said, “Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined me.” [Ruth 1:20-21 (MSG)]

The final lesson of learning to be independent – widowhood…is the hardest lesson of all. [Anne Morrow Lindberg]

When we first meet her in the book of Ruth, the widowed Naomi does not seem the sort of unpleasant meddlesome mother-in-law about whom jokes are made; she is much loved and respected by her daughters-in-law. After great tragedy strikes their family, Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law Ruth chooses to leave home, return with her to Israel, and adopt the God of the Israelites. Naomi must have been a very special woman to have a daughter-in-law so determined to stay at her side. By the time the widows arrive in Bethlehem, however, we see another side to the older woman. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she says, telling people to call her Mara, meaning bitter. For Naomi and Ruth, circumstances improve when Ruth meets and marries Boaz and presents her mother-in-law with a grandchild. Unfortunately, not every widow has a Boaz to act as her redeemer and provide a happy ending to the story.

I have a group of widowed friends who, if comparing tragic sob stories with Naomi, could put hers to shame. They lost as much or more and have endured as many hardships and challenges as did Naomi. Nevertheless, in spite of having their lives turned upside down by their losses, none of them would call themselves bitter. While they have their moments of complaint, sorrow and loneliness, their faith strengthens them and allows them to face their new reality with an eagerness and joy that does not depend on outer circumstances. Their grief hasn’t left them bitter; if anything, it has made them better. They radiate a sense of peace, purpose and zest for life because their redeemer isn’t a relative who has chosen to take care of them; their Redeemer is Jesus Christ!

I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to lose a spouse but I imagine it’s like being ripped in half. Someday, either my husband or I will face the grief and uncertainty that comes with widowhood. When the “we” of our lives becomes just “me,” loneliness, anger and resentment can easily follow. We can become bitter or allow our faith to fill us with hope. Death may take away a spouse, but Jesus will take that spouse away from death! I pray that, in our grief, we will be strengthened by our faith in God’s purpose and receive the consolation offered by our Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

Most loving God, you know the pain and sorrow of death; mercifully hear our prayer for those who mourn the death of their beloved. The nights are lonely and the days are too long. Comfort them and bring an end to the days of tears. Bless them and bring an end to their days of sorrow. Renew them with the joy of life and bring to an end their days of mourning. Let the bond of love which you have for your people be the foundation of their hope that love never ends and that precious moments with our beloved are forever held dear in our hearts. Amen. [Vienna Cobb Anderson]

The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. [John 14:26-17 (MSG)]

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. [Matthew 5:4 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE

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)]

desert roseCan you imagine what it was like being a brother or sister to Jesus? He had six siblings: James, Joses, Simon and Jude and two unnamed sisters. It couldn’t have been easy having the Son of God as a half-brother. Both his conception and birth were announced by angels, a star shone over his crib, and He’d been visited by foreign kings with expensive gifts. It’s tough to top that sort of entrance into the world. His brothers may have struggled with their religious studies but Jesus astounded the rabbis with his knowledge when He was only twelve. Without sin, He probably never threw a temper tantrum or a rock through a window. With no sassing, fighting, biting, or naughtiness, He was probably the perfect son and may have been Mary’s favorite. Such a blameless, intense and devout elder brother was a tough act for anyone to follow and there probably was some resentment and jealousy on the part of his siblings.

When Jesus left home and the family carpentry business for the ministry, it seems that his family didn’t support His mission. The Jews were looking for a very different Messiah—one who would be a victorious political leader. The Messianic king would free the Jews from their bondage to Rome and restore Israel as an independent nation. No matter how pious and righteous Jesus was, his brothers had seen him stub a toe, skin a knee, relieve himself, blow his nose, get a splinter and break a sweat—hardly what one would expect of the promised Messiah. John tells us “even his brothers didn’t believe in him.” [7:5] Jesus may have managed to turn water into wine but, to them, He was just a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. His ministry even may have been an embarrassment to the family, especially when he added tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners to His entourage. In fact, Mark tells us they thought him “out of his mind” and tried to take him home. [3:21] It’s highly unlikely that Jesus’ brothers were even at the crucifixion. As He looked down from the cross, rather than entrusting Mary’s care to them, Jesus asked his beloved disciple John to care for her.

In spite of their absence from His ministry, in the first chapter of Acts, we find Jesus’ brothers meeting with the disciples and joining them in prayer after the crucifixion. If they didn’t believe their brother before his death, why would they believe the words of His disciples after it? We can only assume the reason for their change of heart was that they actually saw the resurrected Christ. Only then did they finally understand and believe Jesus and His message. The Messiah didn’t come to save the Jews from bondage to Rome but to save the world from bondage to sin; He did not come to restore an old kingdom but to establish the new one. Instead of scoffers, His half-brothers became believers!

Jesus’s brothers had lived and worked with Him yet failed to see what was right in front of them. Like Thomas, they had to see the resurrected Christ before they could believe in Him. Seeing, however, is no guarantee of belief. Plenty of others saw Jesus and his miracles and never believed. As for us, unless we have a vision similar to Paul’s on the road to Damascus, we’re not likely to see the risen Christ. Nevertheless, if we believe in Him in this world, we will see Him in the next.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” [John 20:29 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE ENEMY – FEAR

Laudermilk Park Naples FLWe, therefore, can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ [Hebrews 13:6 (PHILLIPS)]

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address. It was 1933 and the nation was in the dark days of the Great Depression. Although the reason for our nation’s darkness differs, his words still hold true.

Like many others, our church spent last week discussing and implementing security measures. How can a house of worship—a place that welcomes the lost and the least, the weary and the burdened—protect itself from the violence that increasingly surrounds us? As so many schools do, should we require everyone to have laminated ID cards for entrance through our doors? Do we pat down people or pass them through metal detectors? Should we carry guns in shoulder holsters and purses? Do we cease welcoming strangers? Will we refuse entry to anyone involved in a domestic dispute lest their angry spouse chooses to vent his anger on our doorstep?

Will we allow fear to stop us from attending church? If we do, we might as well stop going to concerts, schools, theaters, shopping centers, street festivals, airports, parades, marathons, or sporting events—all of which are perfect targets for both terrorists and the mentally ill. No place is entirely safe, especially when cars and trucks can become weapons with just a turn of the wheel and a little pressure on the gas pedal.

I admit to being more cautious nowadays. I look for exits and avoid confrontations but that’s being sensible rather than afraid. Told to say something if we see something, I am attentive to my surroundings but for what are we supposed to look? The concert goers in Las Vegas never saw the shooter and, by the time the parishioners in Texas saw the gunman, it was too late. Once it was easy to identify the deranged—they were the ones talking or screaming to themselves, gesturing wildly, or dancing to their own inner music. Now, because of cell phones, blue tooth, and iPods, many on the street seem unbalanced when they aren’t and terrorists don’t wear t-shirts announcing their hateful plans.

Admittedly, we live in a world of random violence but it’s not nearly as violent as we think it is. The odds of dying of either heart disease or cancer are more than 30,000 times greater than dying at the hands of a terrorist. While those odds are of no comfort to the families who have lost loved ones to terror, they tell us to be watchful rather than afraid.

There is more to FDR’s quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to turn retreat into advance.” When we allow fear to keep us from our daily routine, when fear keeps us from attending  our children’s football games or  flying on a plane, when we become too afraid to go the beach or even to church, we are retreating from the real enemy—Satan. Rather than arming ourselves with weapons, let’s put on the armor of God and, as Christ’s soldiers, bravely advance onward into battle.

Never be afraid of those who can kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction! [Matthew 10:28 (PHILLIPS)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.