ATTENDING TO THE PRESENT

dawnYet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

C.S. Lewis’ religious satire The Screwtape Letters consists of 31 letters written by the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of acquiring the soul of a young man. Screwtape’s suggestions of ways to cause the fellow’s damnation could be described as a self-help book in reverse. As the diabolical demon advises Wormwood in methods of temptation, the reader learns Satan’s assorted strategies and ruses and what not to let happen. While walking the other morning, I thought of Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood regarding the young man’s focus of attention.

To beat the heat of Southwest Florida, I start my walk while it still is dark. When crossing one of our bridges, the previous night’s full moon was on my left and the coming day’s sunrise on the right. Caught between the day that was and the day yet to come, I thought of Screwtape’s words that God prefers man to be concerned with either the present or eternity rather than yesterday or tomorrow. When in the moment, he is “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, [or] giving thanks for the present pleasure.”  When considering eternity, he is meditating on God. Wanting neither of those things, Screwtape advises Wormwood to get the young man to live in the frozen past or the unknown future.

Of the two methods, Screwtape prefers getting him to live in the future: either in perpetual anticipation of the rainbow’s end or in constant fear of the horrors tomorrow may bring. Clarifying his point about the future, Screwtape explains that God expects man to make plans but planning for tomorrow’s work actually is today’s duty. God, however, doesn’t want man to place his expectations in the future. Naïve optimism and unrealistic expectations inevitably end in disappointment while anxiety and distress rob the present of joy. Unlike God, the demons want man to be “hagridden by the future” and so obsessed by images of either a surefire windfall or a pending catastrophe that he will be willing to do anything to attain his pipe dream or prevent the disaster. If there ever were a time we’re tempted to live in a pre-pandemic yesterday, ignore reality and view tomorrow with rose-colored glasses, or be so fearful of the future we can’t face it, that time is now. When we focus on yesterday or tomorrow, we’re playing right into our enemy’s hands.

Standing on the bridge, I knew God wanted me to attend to the present—to leave yesterday behind and accept with faith what tomorrow brings. As I walked forward, however, I remembered that He also wants me to attend to eternity—to look beyond time to Him: the Eternal One who holds yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity in His loving hands.

God has set Eternity in our heart, and man’s infinite capacity cannot be filled or satisfied with the things of time and sense. [F.B. Meyer]

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SON OF DAVID (Part 1 – Mark 10:46-52)

When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” [Mark 10:47 (NLT)]

columbine

Jesus and his followers were among the crowd of pilgrims passing through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and the city was teeming with people. Picture the scene as pilgrims, donkeys, carts, and even sheep slated for sacrifice moved along the road. With people talking, animals bleating and braying, children running back and forth, and beggars calling out for alms, it was difficult for those following Jesus to hear Him speak.

Sitting by the road, in the midst of this confusion, was the blind beggar Bartimaeus. When he heard that Jesus was in the crowd, Bartimaeus stopped begging for alms and pled for mercy, crying out, “Son of David! Jesus! Take pity on me!” When people tried to quiet him, the beggar just shouted louder. Over the din of the crowd, this man’s desperate cry was enough to make Jesus stop. Of course, Jesus made it a practice to stop for the lost, outcast, and hurting. Just as He halted for the bleeding woman desperate for his healing touch and the tax man desperate enough to climb a tree, Jesus stopped for Bartimaeus and called the beggar to Him.

Throwing his cloak aside, the blind man stumbled his way through the crowd to find Jesus. When Jesus inquired what he wanted, Bartimaeus immediately asked for his sight. It was restored instantly and Mark’s gospel tells us the once blind beggar followed Jesus down the road toward Jerusalem.

One thousand years earlier, God had promised David that one of his descendants would be the Messiah: the one who would reign forever as the head of God’s kingdom. By Jesus’ day, the term “Son of David” was a title for the Messiah. Other Messianic prophecies promised that the Messiah would heal the sick, bring hearing to the deaf, make the lame walk, and give sight to the blind. Bartimaeus may have been blind but he recognized Jesus as the Messiah when he called Him “Son of David” and without hesitation asked for his sight. Acknowledging the man’s blind faith, Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.” Indeed, had he not called out in faith, he would have remained a blind beggar until his dying day.

The blind man who received sight contrasts with the sighted religious leaders Jesus would soon meet in Jerusalem and call “blind guides” and “blind fools.” It’s ironic that a blind beggar, sitting in the dirt by the road, understood the prophecies and recognized the Messiah when the sighted couldn’t even see who was right in front of them!

The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” [Luke 4:17-21 (NLT)]

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THE POSSIBILITY OF FAILURE

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:13 (NLT)]

mottled duck“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” the bumper sticker asked. That’s the sort of query that used to be posed to beauty pageant contestants. Their answers typically had to do with curing cancer, attaining world peace, or solving the problems of illiteracy, poverty and hunger. Of course, we’d all like to be able to wave a magic wand and solve the world’s difficulties. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

The question, however, continued to intrigue me. Is there something I would do if there was absolutely no possibility of failure? Would I even want to? Would there be joy in achievement if there were no struggles, no hurdles to jump and no problems to solve? There’s no sense of victory in playing a game when the opponent doesn’t present a challenge. The value of a diploma would be cheapened if we never had to study for final exams. The sense of satisfaction at a job well done would be diminished if we never had the possibility of failure. Failure is part of God’s training plan. The risk of failure brings us closer to God and reminds us that we can do nothing without faith in Him.

When Paul wrote the Philippians that he could do all things through Christ, did he mean he would be successful in every endeavor? Rather than a statement of self-reliance or guaranteed success, Paul was declaring his reliance on Christ. He wasn’t denying the possibility of adverse circumstances or failure; he was affirming his faith.

If we knew we couldn’t fail in an endeavor, we’d have no need for faith. Furthermore, the possibility of success or failure should never keep us from obediently following God’s direction. While the risk of failure should never stop us, lack of faith will.  As long as His Spirit is in us and we are walking in His footsteps, whether we succeed or fail, we will not fail the test of faith!

What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail? Exactly what I’m doing now—sometimes successfully and other times not, but always in obedience to Him.

Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. [Francis Chan]

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. [2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)]

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NLT)]

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THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens.  Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. [Isaiah 46:9-10 (NLT)]

For want of a nail the shoe was lost, For want of a shoe the horse was lost, For want of a horse the rider was lost, For want of a rider the battle was lost, For want of a battle the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail. [Poor Richard’s Almanack (1758)]

painted lady - marigoldOf course, in another time or place, a missing nail might have better consequences. Without the nail, horseshoe and rider, the horse wouldn’t have been on the road, reared at the sight of a snake, and thrown off his rider (who died from his injuries)! Life is unpredictable.

Theorizing that weather prediction models are inaccurate because knowing the precise starting conditions is impossible and a tiny change can throw off the results, meteorology professor Edward Lorenz posed this question in 1972: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” Of course, a single act like the butterfly flapping its wings won’t cause a cyclone but Lorenz’s point was that nature’s interdependent cause-and-effect relationships are too complex to resolve. Small variations in conditions can have massive, minor, or imperceptible consequences and it is impossible to predict which will be the case.

As if the magnitude of this pandemic isn’t proof enough, Lorenz’s “butterfly effect” reminds us that life is amazingly unpredictable. We often pray that God will fix, heal, repair, reverse, or resolve situations or people and are disappointed when it seems that God has turned a deaf ear to us. The answers to our prayers, however, are not up to us—they are up to Him and the people and situations we want God to change are frequently the people and circumstances that God is using to change us!

As weather forecasters have learned with the “butterfly effect,” we mortals can’t possibly see all of the consequences of the changes we request in our prayers. God is the only one capable of knowing the repercussions of any alteration. While we have a limited concept of what the future will bring, His view is all-encompassing; He sees not just our lives, but all of the lives before us, with us, and those yet to come. God knows exactly what will happen if He grants our prayers, not just to us but also to everyone else. Our faith is not that God will give us what we want but that God will give us what is best!

In retrospect, I can only offer thanks that God, in His infinite wisdom and love, didn’t give me everything for which I asked. When Garth Brooks thanked God for unanswered prayers, he was wrong. God always answers prayers; it’s just that sometimes He answers with a “No!”

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care.
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. [Garth Brooks]

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? [Romans 11:33-34 (NLT]

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DEADLINES

The king said to me (the queen also was sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I set him a date. [Nehemiah 2:6 (NSRV)]

wiggens pass sunset“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion,” is what’s known as Parkinson’s Law. Writing those words in 1955, Parkinson wasn’t talking about deadlines; he was taking aim at the British Civil Service and government bureaucracies that become less efficient as they increase in size. Nevertheless, later studies have shown that without strict time constraints, we tend to waste time and work takes longer than necessary to complete.

When this pandemic began, all sorts of obligations were cleared from my calendar and, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, I was sure lots of writing would get done. How wrong I was! Like others who found themselves with excess time and no deadlines or sense of urgency, instead of getting more done, I’m accomplishing less.

When Jerusalem fell to Babylon, the Temple was destroyed and the city left in shambles. After Zerubabbel led the first group of exiles back, it took twenty years to rebuild the Temple. Seventy years after its completion, however, the city walls were still in ruins. When Nehemiah asked King Artaxerxes permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, the King asked how long he would be gone. Given Nehemiah’s weighty responsibilities in court, it’s logical to assume that the king would not agree to a lengthy absence. As the king’s cup-bearer, Nehemiah’s presence was essential to the king. His duties included being the chief financial officer and bearer of his signet ring. As the king’s wine taster, his job was to sample royal beverages to test for poison.

Before making his request, Nehemiah must have carefully considered both the amount of time necessary for such a task and the length of time the king would allow his absence. Although we don’t know Nehemiah’s answer, the king found it reasonable and the men agreed upon a time frame. With no target date, the wall hadn’t been repaired in over ninety years; with a deadline, the project was completed in a record 52 days!

Although Scripture mentions Nehemiah returning to Babylon twelve years later, it’s difficult to think the king would have agreed to be without his cup-bearer for that length of time. It’s more likely that a specific deadline, perhaps as brief as two months, had been set and Nehemiah returned promptly after the wall’s completion. Having shown his excellent leadership qualities, it probably was then that Artaxerxes appointed Nehemiah Judah’s governor and sent him back to Jerusalem. If the King originally had agreed to a twelve year absence, I suspect the wall may have taken nearly that long to complete!

Deadlines motivate us; they keep us from growing lethargic or unconcerned. Let us never forget that we all live with two deadlines: our own personal expiration date and the world’s. Although we know that both cutoff dates will occur, we don’t know when. Let us never grow lax and apathetic or lose a sense of urgency about doing the Lord’s work. Viewing every day as a gift, we must use our time wisely and enthusiastically to glorify God and bring about His Kingdom. Let us live this day to the fullest as if it were our last. After all, it very well could be!

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. … Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. [Matthew 24:36,44 (NSRV)]

You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. [2 Peter 3:17-18 (NSRV)]

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THE RIGHT PATH

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That’s right—you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set. [Psalm 119:1-3 (MSG)]

You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; Then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel. [Psalm 119:4-5 (MSG)]

hiking Steamboat SpringsIn an article about how our post-pandemic new normal will evolve, the author suggested a process for businesses to identify what needs changing in their post COVID-19 world. As a way of illustrating their method, there was an aerial photograph of a college campus quad.  Before designing the walkways for this large green area surrounded on four sides by university buildings, the landscape architects simply sodded the field and observed how the students used the grassy expanse. After a while, the beaten down grass indicated the students’ preferred traffic patterns and it was on those favored paths that they finally placed paved walkways. At first glance, the asymmetric sidewalks seemed random but, once the process was explained, the strange arrangement of paths made sense. It was easy to see how they accommodated people’s tendency to take shortcuts and cut across corners.

While observing emerging patterns of behavior and then accommodating those patterns worked for that quad’s design and may be a good model for business, God doesn’t work that way. He’s not running a business, seeking to improve employee output, or trying to accommodate customers or students rushing to class. God is both perfect and immutable—unchallengeable and unchanging—and He has not designed the world or our lives to accommodate our preferences for ease, efficiency or profit. Instead, we are to adjust our lives to accommodate His desires!

The landscape architects accommodated the students’ tendency to take shortcuts and cut corners. Hoping to keep us from walking on the grass, God doesn’t place the sidewalks where we want them. Instead, He puts the walkways exactly where He wants them and posts signs saying, “Keep off the grass!” Cutting corners and taking shortcuts in life usually involve far more than walking on the grass and God is not about to pave the wrong way for us.

The path God chooses for us isn’t always the easy one. More often than not, it is pretty much guaranteed to be the hard way, one that is often rocky and steep. Nevertheless, since it is God’s way, it is the right way and only path to take.

Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. … What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. [Matthew 7:13-14,21 (MSG)]

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