THE PEACE POLE – WORLD PEACE DAY

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:18,21 (NLT)]

peace poleCOVID kept us from the Botanic Gardens for well over a year. When we finally returned to one of our favorite places, we came upon a peace pole planted among the palms, bamboo and bromeliads. Although a similar pole is in the city park downtown, I don’t remember seeing one here when last we visited. These poles are just two of the more than 250,000 that have been erected in over 180 nations.  Symbolizing the oneness of humanity, the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” are written in eight different languages. The languages chosen for this pole were English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hawaiian, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish—the languages of people who, like us, live at the 26th parallel north. Peace poles stand as a visual reminder to pray for peace on earth and to think, speak and act in the spirit of harmony and peace.

Forty years ago, the United Nations designated today as the annual International Day of Peace (commonly called World Peace Day). In 2011, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate it as a day of cease-fire and non-violence. They ask every person and nation to halt hostilities and fighting for this one twenty-four-hour period. Unfortunately, I doubt the world can make one hour, let alone twenty-four, without aggression, hostility and bloodshed. Hopefully, you and I can go longer than twenty-four hours without conflict or violent behavior!

The causes of world conflict are many and, according to the UN, include poverty, social inequality, hunger, dwindling natural resources, water scarcity, environmental decline, disease, corruption, racism, and xenophobia (an intense fear of foreigners). This year’s theme, “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World,” continues the UN’s focus on finding ways to overcome those causes. Indeed, as our world struggles to recover from what seems to be a never-ending pandemic, we can see how the underprivileged and marginalized have been hit the hardest. In the last eighteen months, we have seen both the best and the worst of our fellow travelers on this planet. This day is a reminder that instead of fighting with one another, we should join in fighting mankind’s common enemies!

As Christians, we have the peace of God—the peace that passes understanding—but we must be more than possessors of peace. Jesus calls us to be makers of peace but erecting a peace pole is not enough! We can start by bringing peace to our little corner of the world, beginning at home and then moving on to work, school, church and community. Our peacemaking efforts, however, can’t stop at the borders of our neighborhood or even our nation. We must take Christ’s message of peace out into the world by thinking, speaking, and acting in the cause of peace. While we each have an obligation to improve the various conditions that promote conflict, changing people’s circumstances is just a beginning. For true peace, the peace that is found in a relationship with God, we must change people’s hearts.

World peace, while a lofty goal, is not something I expect to see in my lifetime. Nevertheless, we each must do our part.

We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ spoke much of peace on earth. [Henry Drummond]

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. [James 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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TRULY FREE – INDEPENDENCE DAY 2021

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered, “We are Abraham’s children, and we have never been anyone’s slaves. So why do you say we will be free?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, everyone who lives in sin is a slave to sin. A slave does not stay with a family forever, but a son belongs to the family forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free” [John 8:32-36 (NCV)]

paradeWhile the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking were thinking of political freedom and enslavement to people, Jesus was speaking of spiritual freedom and the enslavement of people to sin. Yet, even then, the Jews were wrong. They’d forgotten about being Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt; being captives of the Moabites, Canaanites, Philistines, Midianites, Mesopotamians, and Ammonites during the time of the Judges; their Babylonian exile; Persian rule; Alexander the Great; the Ptolemies and Seleucids; and Rome’s occupation of their homeland. They hadn’t had freedom from foreign domination for centuries. Jesus’ answer, however, made it clear that He was speaking of spiritual freedom. His listeners’ hope for spiritual freedom wouldn’t be found in their ancestry; it would be found in Him—He was the Son who could set them free.

This weekend we will observe our nation’s Independence Day and celebrate the many freedoms we enjoy in this nation. Families and friends will gather for various parades, picnics, band concerts, carnivals, chicken roasts, and fireworks. Let us not make the same mistake the people of Judah did by thinking of ourselves as free when we’re not! While we may live in a nation of freedom, without Christ, we will never truly be free men or women. We won’t be free because, no matter where we live, we still will be slaves to sin.

As thankful as I am for the patriots who made this great nation a reality, I am even more thankful for Jesus and his small crew of apostles who made it possible for us to live in true freedom! The Liberty Bell rang out for our nation’s freedom but the cross gave us our spiritual freedom—freedom from bondage to sin and the freedom to serve God.

As we enjoy the fireworks and patriotic music tonight, let’s remember to thank God both for the freedom we enjoy in our nation and, more important, for the freedom we enjoy in our hearts and souls.

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. … 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. [Father Edward Hays, “A Pilgrim’s Almanac”]

The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [2 Corinthians 3:17 (NCV)]

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his very own. [Psalm 33:12 (NCV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

TEACH THE CHILDREN (FATHER’S DAY- 2020)

And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today. You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning. Tie them on your finger, wear them on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house! [Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (TLB)]

elkIn 2018, a woman posted a video on Facebook that was shared over 400,000 times in the next six days. It was of a little boy who had a unique way of reciting his ABCs—each letter was followed by a Bible verse that began with it. Rather than “A is for apple,” the youngster started with “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find,” [Matthew 7:7] and finished with “Zion hears and rejoices.” [Psalm 97:8] In spite of the boy’s dark brown hair and East Texas drawl, the woman mistakenly identified him as blond-haired Prince George, third in line to the British throne. Originally posted in October of 2016, the video actually was of  four-year-old Tanner Hemness from Tyler, Texas.

After the youth minister at Tanner’s church challenged the congregation to learn Bible verses for every letter of the alphabet as a family, Tanner’s dad wasn’t sure his then three-and-a-half-year-old could do it; nevertheless, the family gave it a try. Every week they worked on another letter and verse. Seven months later, Tanner was able to recite his ABCs in Bible verses. We had enough trouble convincing our children that they couldn’t use “Jesus wept” as their personal Bible verse at their confirmations and this little guy learned twenty-six far longer verses! Instead of “Jesus wept,” for J, the youngster learned Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Although there were many positive responses to seeing this little boy happily reciting God’s word, there also was criticism. Among other things, Tanner’s father was accused of brainwashing, psychological indoctrination, and child abuse. Yet, if he’d spent seven months successfully teaching his son how to hit a baseball or make a basket, those same people probably would have applauded his dedication to the boy. Tanner’s father did exactly what Scripture told him to do: teach God’s word to his child. After all, the Israelites were told to talk about God’s word from morning to night, tie it on their hands, wear it on their foreheads, and post it on their doorways, so writing a different Bible verse on a chalkboard each week doesn’t sound that extreme! It speaks of a father’s dedication to and love for both his family and the Lord! Sadly, if we don’t teach our children to follow Jesus, the world will teach them not to!

The Bible is the basis for our faith; all of our doctrine and practices are guided by God’s word. Unfortunately, many of us are at a loss when it comes to knowing what the Bible actually says. That four-year old boy is further ahead than many adults I know. Of course, Tanner’s dad knows that many of those verses don’t have the same meaning to a child that they do to an adult. Realizing his work is not done, he and his wife will continue sharing God’s word and the meaning of those verses with their son. “The hard part,” said Tanner’s father in an interview, comes with “being the kind of dad who helps him live these words.” He’s made a great start!

Sunday is Father’s Day but, sadly, not all of us had fathers as dedicated to their families and God as does Tanner Hemness. Unfortunately, it is far easier to father a child than to be a father to a child. Some of us never may have known our fathers, can barely remember them, or would prefer not remembering them, at all. Nevertheless, we probably all had men in our lives who inspired, taught, nurtured, guided, and corrected us. If we can’t honor our fathers this day, let us honor them.

Thank you, God, not just for our fathers but for all of the men in our lives who took the time to share your message and teach us your word. Thank you for the men who have shown us what it means to live in God’s light. Fill them with your Holy Spirit so they may continue in your good works.

Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best. [Bob Talbert]

And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice. [Ephesians 6:4 (TLB)]

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A MINUTE TO REMEMBER – MEMORIAL DAY 2021

Defend the defenseless, the fatherless and the forgotten, the disenfranchised and the destitute. Your duty is to deliver the poor and the powerless; liberate them from the grasp of the wicked. [Psalm 82:3-4 (TPT)]

It is essential to remember and renew the legacy of Memorial Day, which was established in 1828 to pay tribute to individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice to the United States and their families… [National Moment of Remembrance Act]

memorial dayContrary to popular belief, the purpose of our long holiday weekend is not to celebrate the end of school or the beginning of summer. More than a day for picnics and play, this is a day to honor those men and women who died while serving our country. Just as we stop to give thanks for our nation’s blessings on Thanksgiving, Memorial Day is the time we should stop to give thanks for the people who sacrificed their lives to makes those blessings possible.

When a group of school children touring our nation’s capital in May of 1966 were asked the meaning of Memorial Day, they said it was the day the city pools opened! After a survey that same month revealed that only 28% of adult Americans knew the significance of this national holiday, the idea for a moment of remembrance was born. Four years later, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act that designated a “moment of remembrance” at 3:00 PM (local time) every Memorial Day. In honor of our fallen warriors, people are asked to pause from whatever they are doing for one minute of silent remembrance and respect.

Sadly, this national moment doesn’t seem to be common knowledge and we’re usually too busy grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, splashing in the pool, planting flowers, playing ball, sitting in the shade with a cool drink, or watching sports to officially observe our national holiday. Rather than replacing other Memorial Day events, this observance is a simple way to put the memorial back into the day. If actually observed, these 60 seconds when all Americans honor those who died in service to our country could be a rare moment of national unity (something that seems to be in short supply these days).

While much is wrong with our country, there is much more that is right. We can worship freely or freely choose not to worship. We can read the books we want to read and say pretty much whatever it is we want to say. We can peaceably assemble and loudly complain to the government and everyone else. We can write letters to the editor, run for public office, Tweet, Instagram, and blog. We have mail that is uncensored and access to the Internet and everything on it. We can choose the television shows and movies we watch, the music and political commentators we hear, and the newspapers and magazines we read. If arrested, we have the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and to confront any witnesses against us. We enjoy a level of freedom that is unknown in much of the world. That freedom, however, came at a terrible cost. Today, if only for a minute, let us remember the heroes who made all of that possible. In December, we’re reminded to keep the “Christ” in Christmas. How about putting the “memorial” back into Memorial Day? One minute, however, is nowhere nearly enough time to honor those who died for us.

Heavenly Father, thank you for those men and women who made it possible for us to enjoy the rights we so often take for granted. May we bear in mind that Memorial Day is not a tribute to summer but rather a tribute to those brave souls who died in the pursuit of our freedom and peace. Thank you for their courage, honor, service and sacrifice.

That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. [Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863]

For the greatest love of all is a love that sacrifices all. And this great love is demonstrated when a person sacrifices his life for his friends. [John 15:13 (TPT)]

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SHAVUOT

At the Festival of Harvest, when you present the first of your new grain to the Lord, you must call an official day for holy assembly, and you may do no ordinary work on that day. [Numbers 28:26 (NLT)]

fruitAt sunset yesterday, the Jewish feast of Shavuot began. Originally known as Festival of Harvest or First Fruits, Shavuot is the second of the three pilgrimage festivals given to the Israelites. The first was that of Unleavened Bread (Passover) and the third was the Final Harvest or Ingathering (Sukkot or Tabernacles). Originally, all three festivals were tied to the harvest with Passover at the beginning of the barley harvest, Shavuot seven weeks later at the start of the wheat harvest, and Sukkot at the last harvest of the season. For a nation who’d left Canaan because of famine, spent four hundred years in a foreign land (much of it as slaves) and then another forty years as nomads, the promise of becoming a people with land of their own, who could plant and harvest for themselves, must have been almost inconceivable.

Two distinct rituals were observed on Shavuot. In gratitude for the harvest, two loaves of bread baked from the new crop of wheat, a bull, seven lambs, two rams, and a goat were offered. In the second ritual, the choicest of the harvest’s first fruits were presented to the priests as these words from Deuteronomy were said: “With this gift I acknowledge to the Lord your God that I have entered the land he swore to our ancestors he would give us.” [26:3] Continuing with verses 5 through 10, the worshiper then acknowledged God’s faithfulness in bringing the people out of Egypt and in keeping His promise to the patriarchs to bring His people to a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Because it fell a full seven weeks (50 days) after the Passover, this festival became known as the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).

Ten days after Christ’s ascension, during Shavuot, a group of believers gathered together in Jerusalem. A powerful wind roared and flashes of fire appeared and “everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Because of the uproar, a crowd gathered and Peter preached the gospel to them. That day, 3,000 people believed and were baptized; these new believers were the first fruits of the gospel harvest. Because it occurs fifty days after Easter, Christians call this day Pentecost, from the Greek meaning “fiftieth.” Because of the difference between the Jewish and Gregorian calendars, however, 2021’s Shavuot began last night but Pentecost will not occur until Sunday, the 23rd.

Because rabbinic tradition held that the Law was given on Mt. Sinai exactly seven weeks from the beginning of the Exodus, the day’s emphasis gradually moved from the first fruits of the harvest to the Torah. By the 2nd century, with the Temple destroyed, what began as a harvest festival commemorated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai.

Today, Shavuot celebrates Israel’s bond because of the Torah and Pentecost celebrates Christians’ bond because of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, when looking at the origin of this ancient Jewish festival and its acknowledgement that God fulfilled His promise to bring His people into the Promised Land, I think of the many Messianic promises of the Old Testament. Rather than freeing us from slavery in Egypt, God faithfully fulfilled His promise and freed us from slavery to sin. Rather than physically bringing us into Canaan, He brought the Kingdom of God to us. Granted, the story is not over and the Kingdom is not fully realized, but we are in the land He promised and the best is yet to come! Let us be thankful and praise God for all He’s given us!

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. [Deuteronomy 8:7-10 (NLT)]

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STRONG MOTHERS – MOTHER’S DAY

So the Lord answers, “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you. Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” [Isaiah 49:15-16 (GNT)]

While walking in the park, we came across a female snapping turtle by the side of the trail. Normally an aggressive species, she was too busy laying some thirty eggs to snap at us. Two days later, we walked past the same spot only to find that her nest had been destroyed. The empty shells scattered along the trail told us a raccoon (or some other predator) had enjoyed a turtle omelet soon after mama turtle’s departure. At first, I felt sorry for this mother who’d labored so hard just two days earlier until I remembered that she’d never know about the loss and really didn’t care. After laying those eggs and covering the nest, she returned to the water and wouldn’t be back until the following year when she’d dig another hole and lay more eggs. If any of those eggs hatch (and only about 5% of snapper’s eggs ever do), Mama won’t be there to help the tiny (1”) hatchlings find their way to water or to protect them from any land predators. If they safely make it into the water, she won’t be around to defend them from fish, snakes, and other turtles looking for a quick meal. In fact, she might even enjoy one of her own young for dinner! Ms. Turtle doesn’t deserve any Mother’s Day cards!

On the other hand, unlike most reptiles, alligators are good mothers. While 90% of turtle nests are destroyed by predators, because Ms. Gator carefully covers her nest and guards her eggs, less than a third of alligator nests get raided. When the mother hears her babies start to hatch, she uncovers the nest and gently carries each hatchling to the water. Mama Gator continues to watch over her young for more than a year. If a youngster is threatened, he just calls for mom and she comes! Few predators are daring enough to approach the little guys knowing mom can’t be far away. While cold blooded, Ms. Gator is anything but cold to her young.

While I’m not sure they’ll appreciate the comparison, most of us were blessed with women in our lives who were more like an alligator than a turtle. But, for those who weren’t so blessed, God provided us with foster, step and adoptive mothers, along with aunts, mothers-in-law, teachers, neighbors, and mentors, all of whom watched over us. They were like the Muscovy duck I saw at the zoo. Muscovies typically lay a clutch of eight to sixteen eggs but this mother was watching over more than thirty little ones; apparently, she was running the equivalent of ducky foster care. I watched as she chased off a large softshell turtle as it swam near in search of a duckling lunch. The softshell is an aggressive hunter but, fortunately for the ducklings, he was no match for Ms. Duck. She kept an eye on that turtle as it circled around the young ones and fearlessly snapped at it whenever it dared approach the youngsters. She kept nudging the ducklings along the shore into a more protected area. No matter whose babies they were, she seemed determined that not a one of those little guys would be lost on her watch.

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking mothers only comfort and nurture. They’re as tough as mother alligators, muscovies, and even little mockingbirds. After giving a warning with their angry buzz, mockingbird moms will dive-bomb humans if they venture too close to the nest and bravely fend off crows, herons, hawks, and snakes. Mothers can be pretty tough when someone messes with their young! The only one who keeps a better eye on children is God!

Thank you God for the women you brought into our lives—women who not only comforted and encouraged us, taught us about love, and shared their faith with us, but also protected us when danger lurked. Thank you for those women who had eyes in the back of their heads, knew when we told a lie, stood up for us, taught us to stand up for ourselves, and cared enough to punish us when we misbehaved. Thank you for the women who watched over us, taught us how to navigate the murky waters of life, and kept us safe from harm.

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child. When you see this happen, you will be glad; it will make you strong and healthy. Then you will know that I, the Lord, help those who obey me, and I show my anger against my enemies. [Isaiah 66:12b-14 (GNT)]

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