FOR THOSE WHO LABOR

If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. [Galatians 6:3-5 (NLT)]

Old World WisconsinLabor Day was my least favorite holiday when I was a girl (and not just because school started the next day)! For the Smith family, Labor Day meant work. We spent the entire day helping my father as he climbed up and down a ladder to exchange the screens (that had been mounted the previous Memorial Day) with the external storm windows. It was several years before I understood that Labor Day was not a special day dedicated to this yearly ritual of washing windows, lugging screens and windows to and from the garage, and otherwise spending my last day of summer vacation working. Energy efficiency and fuel bills were of no interest to me and, selfishly, it never occurred to me that my father probably didn’t enjoy the holiday ritual any more than did his children. I certainly never thought to thank him for working so hard to provide us with the house (and storm windows) that kept us safe and warm all winter long!

In 1894, Labor Day became a federal holiday to honor the contributions workers make to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our nation. Nowadays, rather than the storm window ritual, most people celebrate with barbecues and shopping the Labor Day sales. They probably don’t give much thought to the people whose labor makes all that we have and do possible. This year, however, I have a new appreciation for our nation’s workers.

While my husband and I can remain safely at home to limit our exposure to other people and COVID-19, many workers can’t. They continue to harvest food, manufacture products, package goods, deliver boxes, stock shelves, work cash registers, keep the utilities running, prepare the dishes, serve the food, repair what’s broken, cut our hair, teach our children, care for the sick, put out fires, fill prescriptions, and protect our safety. Being in contact with others puts them at a higher risk of infection and many are working under challenging conditions. They deal with daily temperature checks and health screenings, masks, sanitizing regimens, new procedures, irate customers, anxious parents, testy co-workers, fearful patients, and child care issues while schools teach on line. Although safer, working remotely from home offers its own set of challenges. It’s not easy to give the sermon to a computer screen week after week, be isolated from the rest of your management team, have the kitchen table do double duty as your office and your child’s schoolroom, or make your business video-chats from the bathroom because it’s the only private spot in the house! Keeping the attention of a classroom of first-graders while teaching remotely from your bedroom on Zoom, discussing investments with a client when the dog is fiercely barking at the Amazon delivery man, or closing a deal when your toddler calls for help going potty is problematic!

This Labor Day is more than the end of summer and beginning of pumpkin spice everything season. It is a time to pray for our workers: both those still employed and those who’ve lost their jobs.

Lord, we thank you for the gift of work and for all who labor in our communities, many of whom we never see or thank. We lift in prayer those who labor and ask that you keep them safe. May they always be treated fairly and properly compensated for their work. For those who long for employment, we pray for their perseverance as they seek work and for success in finding it. Make us attentive to the needs and appreciative of the efforts of the workers we encounter. May their work always glorify you.

O God, you have bound us together in this life. Give us grace to understand how our lives depend on the courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity of all who labor. May we be mindful of their needs, grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Reinhold Niebuhr]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

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TRUE FREEDOM – INDEPENDENCE DAY 2020

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. [Romans 6:14 (NLT)]

fireworksTomorrow, as we commemorate our nation’s birthday, the celebration will be a little different. Beaches are closed and the brat fests, chicken roasts, band concerts, parades, fireworks, neighborhood picnics, rodeos, and ice cream socials typical of this national holiday have been cancelled. Friends and family won’t be joining us to light sparklers, have a water balloon fight or baseball game, catch fireflies, eat popsicles and watermelon, or enjoy s’mores around a campfire.

Restrictions because of this pandemic have made some people bristle at their loss of personal freedom and these last few weeks have put a spotlight on both the shortcomings of our nation and the imperfections of our national heroes. Nevertheless, regardless of our nation’s faults and problems, we have an incredible amount of personal freedom. Here, we are free to disagree but, in nations like Syria, Turkmenistan, South Sudan, North Korea, and even our close neighbor Cuba, those demonstrations would never have taken place. There we’d have suppression of political opposition, restrictions on internet use, a one-party political system, government controlled media, prohibitions on worship, and harsh authoritarian rule with even more injustice and inequalities. While we’re far from perfect, we’re better than most!

As thankful as I am for the statesmen and patriots (flawed as they were) who made this great nation a reality, I am even more thankful for Jesus and his small band of Apostles who made it possible for us to live in true freedom! True freedom has more to do with belief in Jesus than it does with a Declaration of Independence or a Bill of Rights. Without Christ we will never truly be free because, no matter where we live or what kind of government we have, we will still be in bondage to sin. The Liberty Bell rang out for our nation’s freedom but it was the cross and an empty tomb that gave us our spiritual freedom. Our nation’s freedom began with its Declaration of Independence 244 years ago; our spiritual freedom came when we accepted Jesus and learned to live in dependence on Him.

We lift up our hearts, O God, on this day of celebration in gratitude for the gift of being Americans. We rejoice with all those who share in the great dream of freedom and dignity for all. 

With flags and feasting, with family and friends, we salute those who have sacrificed that we might have the opportunity to bring to fulfillment our many God-given gifts. 

As we deny all prejudice a place in our hearts, may we also clearly declare our intention to work for the time when all people, regardless of race, religion, or sex, will be granted equal dignity and worth. 

Come, O gracious God, who led your children Israel from slavery, keep us free from all that might hold us in bondage. 

Bless our country and join our simple celebration that we may praise you, our Source of freedom, the One in whom we place our trust. [Edward Hays, “A Pilgrim’s Almanac”]

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. [2 Corinthians 3:17 (NLT)]

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LEGACY – FATHER’S DAY 2020

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. [Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NLT)]

My husband, son, and sixteen-year old grandson were talking after dinner and reminiscing about Grandpa J, my husband’s father. A man of faith and fun, love and laughter, honesty and honor, he truly was one-of-a-kind. Having died shortly after my grand’s birth, the boy only knows his great-grandpa through photos and some wonderful stories that just seem to get better with time. The conversation gradually turned to the family business, started by Grandpa J nearly sixty-five years ago in the family’s garage. Although my grand had heard some of the stories, others were new and he listened intently.

As the men spoke, my son told his boy a story from when he first started selling for the business. He shared how he learned the importance both of taking responsibility for his mistakes and of quickly righting a wrong. The story was about integrity—doing the right thing even when it didn’t have to be done—and was a better lesson than any number of lectures on honesty and honor. Only three generations were sitting at the table, but a fourth one definitely was present. In my son’s words, I heard not just his father but also his father’s father. Sitting there, I saw Grandpa J in all of the men—their entrepreneurial spirit, humor, zest for life, and, most of all, their integrity. As I quietly listened, I thought how much Grandpa J would have loved to have been there and how proud he would have been of his legacy. Of course, if he’d been there, a game of Euchre would have been in progress!

Sunday is Father’s Day and, as I pondered what to write, I remembered that evening—how I saw Grandpa J in my husband; both Grandpa and my husband in our son; and Grandpa, my husband, and our son in the sixteen year-old grand. Grandpa J, however, wasn’t the only great-grandfather with the men that night. I heard echoes of my own father’s determination and felt his presence, too. Since he died shortly after our marriage, my husband barely knew my father and our son and grand never met him. Nevertheless, even though I’ve rarely spoken of him, without consciously doing it, something of my father has been imparted to my boys through me.

Remembering that night, I saw how each generation profoundly affects the next and the generations that follow. Fred Rogers once said, “One of the greatest dignities of humankind is that each successive generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation.” That’s a heavy responsibility and, sadly, not all of us had fathers who left an admirable legacy. Nevertheless, we all probably had men in our lives who encouraged, taught, and guided us: men who shared their wisdom and faith and exemplified integrity and honor. Let us remember to thank them, if they are still with us, and to thank God for them and their legacy. Just as we shed DNA wherever we are, we leave bits and pieces of our faith, ethics, and values on the lives of the people with whom we interact. Let us all, men and women alike, take seriously our responsibility for the development of the generations that follow and leave only good things behind in the lives of the people we touch.

If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave behind at every meeting with another person. [Fred Rogers]

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

The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them. [Proverbs 20:7 (NLT)]

 Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

ELOHIM (The Trinity – Part 2)

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” [Mark 12:29-30 (NIV)]

Tower Falls - Grand Canyon

Although words like divinity, omniscience, incarnation, and omnipresent are fundamental to our understanding of God, they never appear in Scripture; their concepts, however, do. Like them, the word “trinity” never appears in the Bible but its concept is found throughout God’s Word.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, we find the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith and it was this commandment that Jesus cited as the most important commandment of all. Although His words made it clear there is only one God, from the first words of Genesis to those in Revelation, we find a plurality to that one God. In Hebrew, the singular form of God is El, but when Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the word translated as “God” is Elohim, the plural form of God. Yet, wherever we find the plural Elohim referring to God, the verb used is singular, clearly implying only one God!

In Genesis 1:26, we have God (Elohim) speaking in the plural, “Let us make man in our own image” and, in 3:22, He says that man “has become like one of us.” God isn’t speaking to the angels because they are nothing like us nor is God using a royal “we” since there are no other examples of its use in Scripture. In fact, the earliest evidence of royalty referring to self as “we” is not found until the 4th century!

The personages of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are found in both the Old and New Testaments. In Genesis 14:18, we have the Father when El, the singular form of God, refers to “God Most High.” In Isaiah 7:14, we have the Son in “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.” In Job 33:4 and 37:10, we find the Holy Spirit as the ”Spirit of God” and “Breath of God.” In the New Testament, we have all three personages present when Jesus was baptized, God publicly proclaimed Him as His Son, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon Him. [Matthew 3:16-17] We then have Jesus putting all three persons together when He gave the disciples the Great Commission.

Last Sunday, Christians celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers. While Pentecost, like Christmas and Easter, celebrates an event, this coming Sunday we will celebrate a vital part of Christian doctrine: the Holy Trinity. Just as the Trinity was there in the Old Testament when Elohim decided to make man, the Trinity was there when Elohim chose to save man in the New! Thank you God!

When I know it is the Word of God that declares the Trinity, that God has said so, I do not inquire how it can be true; I am content with the simple Word of God, let it harmonize with reason as it may. And every Christian should adopt the same course with respect to all the articles of our faith. [Martin Luther]

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)]

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PENTECOST

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-18 (NLT)]

roseate spoonbill

After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples. On the fortieth day, He told them to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Then, with his followers watching, Jesus was taken up in a cloud and ascended into heaven. Bewildered, the disciples stood there until two angels promised that someday Jesus would return. We know the disciples attended to business by choosing a replacement for Judas, but how else did they spend their time? There were twelve apostles and about 120 believers. How difficult was it for this diverse group of people to keep the faith and wait ten days for something which seemed so perplexing? Where was this Holy Spirit promised to them? When would Jesus return? Did they grow impatient or begin to doubt what they’d seen with their eyes?

Yesterday was Pentecost (meaning fiftieth). At that first Pentecost, all of Jesus’ followers were gathered together because the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot was being observed. Also called the Feast of Weeks, Shavu’ot (or Pentecost) occurred seven weeks after Passover and celebrated both the first harvest and Moses being given the law at Mt. Sinai. It was one of three pilgrimage festivals when all able-bodied Jewish men were required to visit the temple and offer sacrifices.

It was on this fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection that the Holy Spirit, accompanied by high winds and tongues of fire, descended upon Christ’s followers. As every believer was filled with the Spirit’s power, he or she began to speak in other languages. Shavu’ot had brought together Jews from fifteen or more different regions, each with its own language, and yet everyone was able to understand the Spirit-filled Christians as they spoke. The Holy Spirit had empowered the disciples to bring Christ’s message of salvation to all people.

It hardly seems an accident that God chose Shavu’ot for such a miraculous event to occur and not just because Jerusalem was teeming with people from far and wide. On a day when people went to the temple to be in God’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s arrival meant that God could always be present in His people. On a day that commemorated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai—an external means of keeping Israel from sin—the Holy Spirit descended and believers no longer had to adhere to laws carved on stone. By His power, the law was now written on their hearts and, through Him, believers could live righteously. On a day that celebrated the first harvest, 3,000 people were baptized. That incredible first harvest of souls marked the beginning of the New Testament church. So, in a way, while Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Christian church.

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” [Acts 2:38-39 (NLT)]

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MEMORIALS – Memorial Day 2020

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. [John 15:12-23 (NLT)]

9/11 MemorialLast fall, when New York City was a bustling and untroubled city, our family gathered there to celebrate my son’s birthday. Only staying for a few days, we rushed to do the things tourists are expected to do in the “Big Apple.” When we walked onto the grounds of the 9/11 Memorial, however, the hubbub of the city disappeared and a hush descended. People’s silent tears fell on the bronze parapets inscribed with the names of the dead that edge the memorial as they reverently looked down at the twin waterfall pools disappearing into nothingness. According to their architect, Michael Arad, the pools represent “absence made visible.” Although the water flows continually into the voids, they never can be filled. Indeed, the loss of a loved one leaves a void that cannot be filled this side of eternity.

As we left the park, we passed six large low stone monuments. Inlaid with steel remnants from the World Trade Center, these monoliths recognize the courage, selflessness, and perseverance of the tens of thousands of men and women from across the nation and throughout the world who contributed to the rescue and recovery effort. This Memorial Glade honors the continuing sacrifice of those rescue, recovery, and relief workers (along with the survivors and members of the lower Manhattan community) who have died or remain sick from exposure to toxins at the site in the aftermath of 9/11.

Along with weddings, births, and deaths, there are certain dates that stand out in our memories—that mark the before and after of our lives. For many, it is the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For my mother-in-law, it was Black Tuesday, October 29, 1919, and the start of the Great Depression. For others, it is the “date which will live in infamy”—December 7, 1941, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For many in my generation, it is November 22, 1962, and John Kennedy’s assassination. While the exact date will be unclear, I don’t think there is a person alive today who will not see the spring of 2020 as another dividing line much like 9/11: a line between what once was and now is.

As I think back to that 9/11 Memorial, I wonder if eventually another memorial will be erected in New York City, this time dedicated to the police officers, first responders and medical personnel throughout the nation who put their health and lives on the line during this COVID-19 pandemic. While serving on the front-lines, they were over-worked, under-staffed, under-supplied, and under-paid; sadly, some lost their lives in the process.

Today is Memorial Day, a day traditionally dedicated to honoring the men and women who died while serving our nation in the armed forces. While not minimizing their military service or the loss of their lives, today I also will remember the police, first responders, and medical personnel who lost their lives (and continue to lose them) while trying to save ours from COVID-19. Like their fallen sisters and brothers in the armed forces, they lost their lives in a battle. They, too, were in combat; it’s just that their enemy was invisible and seemed unbeatable.

Because they selflessly chose to serve rather than be served, today is a day to remember all those who have fallen, whether to bullets, bombs, toxins, or disease. They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and friends. Whether military or civilian; whether they wore scrubs, fatigues, combat helmets, hazmat suits, N95 respirators, isolation gowns, or turnout gear; whether they carried stethoscopes, AEDs, or weapons; whether they served in the desert, the ambulance, or the ER: we have been served and protected by them. Let us honor their sacrifice.

Lord, we remember and thank you for those who put the welfare of others ahead of their own and, in doing so, gave their lives to protect our freedom, safety and health. Please protect those who continue to serve us; may your loving arms keep them from harm. Grace them with your peace, provision, wisdom, and strength.

O God, you yourself have taught us that no love is greater than that which gives itself for another. These honored dead gave the most precious gift they had, life itself, for loved ones and neighbors, for comrades and country – and for us. … Though their names may fade with the passing of generations, may we never forget what they have done. Help us to be worthy of their sacrifice, O God, help us to be worthy. [J. Veltri, S.J.]

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. [1 John 4:9-12 (NLT)]

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