THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS – Independence Day 2018

Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God. [Romans 6:14 (MSG)]

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. [Declaration of Independence]

uncle sam - lady libertyToday we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 242 years ago. It was then that American colonists shed the tyranny of Great Britain and King George III to form a new nation—the United States of America. Among the unalienable rights cited in this historic declaration were “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This weekend, we’ll enjoy life, celebrate our liberty and pursue some happiness with a variety of activities that may include the beach, picnics, cook-outs, flags, fireworks, or parades.

The Declaration of Independence tells us that we have the right to pursue happiness and God has allowed us the freedom to choose how we do that. Having the freedom to pursue happiness, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that we always choose our pursuits wisely. Adam and Eve decided to pursue a little happiness and knowledge when they saw a delicious looking apple and David sought happiness and pleasure with Bathsheba as did Sampson with Delilah. A hungry Esau pursued happiness and satisfaction with a hearty bowl of stew and Sarah pursued happiness and a baby through Hagar. Achan pursued happiness and wealth when he kept plunder from Jericho and so did Saul when he kept the best spoils from Agag. Like many of us, Noah sought happiness in too much wine. None of those situations had happy endings.

A prevalent attitude in our nation seems to be one of “if it feels good, do it.” We might want to think that one over a bit and exercise some caution when pursuing happiness. We may live in a free country and God may have given us free will, but we need to be sure we don’t ever use that freedom to fall into tyranny, a tyranny much worse than that of King George III: the tyranny of sin.

There are two freedoms—the false, where man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought. [Charles Kingsley]

So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom! [Romans 6:15-18 (MSG)]

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FATHER’S DAY – 2018 

the old man and the sea
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 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:-7 (NLT)]

I lost my first father the same year I gained my second one: my father-in-law. Although I only had my birth father for twenty years, I was blessed to have my father-in-law for thirty-seven! I think I married my husband out of my love for his parents as much as for my love for him! Dad J lived his life well: with faith, vigor, enthusiasm, joy and a whole lot of love. Compassionate and generous, responsible and helpful, good-humored and resourceful, he was a man of absolute integrity (with a touch of mischief on the side). The Bible might describe him as a man after God’s heart.

My father-in-law died nearly fourteen years ago as the result of a car accident. His injuries necessitated him being air-lifted to a distant hospital. It troubled me that in his final hours, Dad was alone in a strange place. There was no one to tell him his wife had survived the crash and no loved ones to hold his hand or pray with him. Then I realized that he was never alone; Dad always walked with God. As he walked through that dark valley, the Good Shepherd was with him, His rod and staff protecting and comforting my father-in-law the entire journey home.

If, at any point in his ninety-six years, Dad had been told that he had only one day left in which to live, he would have lived that last day in the same way he lived every other one. He had no regrets, no grudges, no scores to settle, and no debts to repay. There was no one to whom he owed an apology, no amends that had to be made, no deeds left undone and no loving words left unsaid. He was an example of how life should be lived and an inspiration to us all. In the words of Will Rogers, Jr., “His heritage to his children wasn’t words or possessions, but an unspoken treasure, the treasure of his example as a man and a father.” Indeed, he was as close to an ideal husband and father that any mortal man could be. I enjoy the benefit of his example in my husband and our boys. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree and there’s a beautiful bit of Dad in them all.

On this Father’s Day, join me in thanking God not just for our fathers, but also for our fathers-in-law, step and foster dads, uncles, coaches, mentors, big brothers, teachers, pastors and all the other men in our lives who have been examples of how to live a Christian life.

Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice. [Charles F Kettering]

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. [Psalm 127:3b (NLT)]

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

Those who fear the Lord are secure; he will be a refuge for their children. [Proverbs 14:26 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

NEVER FORGET – MEMORIAL DAY 2018

Freedom Park - Naples FL
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. [Psalm 34:18 (ESV)]

When I was a girl, regardless of the day of the week, Memorial Day was always May 30. It was when we took off the storm windows, put on the screens, could start wearing white shoes, and got out the grill. Nowadays, we no longer have the twice a year storm window/screen exchange or the silly “no white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day” fashion rule, we grill all year long, and Memorial Day means a three-day weekend. As the “official” start of summer, it’s when city pools open, families and friends gather for picnics, the kids get out the bubbles and sidewalk chalk, bicycle tires get pumped up, flowers are planted, and we relax in the yard with a cool lemonade while the ribs cook on the grill.

Memorial Day, however, is a day of remembrance—of remembering the more than 1.3 million American military men and women who, over the last 242 years, paid the ultimate price for our freedom to enjoy this pleasant holiday. That number, however, only reflects those who lost their lives in combat. Many more, like the nine who died in Georgia earlier this month, lost their lives in training.

People have paid for this three-day holiday weekend with their lives. Yet, with less than one percent of our population on active duty or in the reserves, most of us are distanced from the true cost of war. When we don’t know any military personnel, it’s easy to become unappreciative or complacent about their sacrifice. Let’s never forget that we continue to have American men and women in harm’s way. Since 2001, nearly 7,000 American troops have lost their lives in Operation Enduring Freedom/Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom alone and there seems to be no end in sight. Each one of those fallen soldiers left behind loved ones who still mourn their loss. For some people, today means placing flowers on a grave rather than a cook-out with hot dogs and s’mores. For them, every day is Memorial Day.

As we celebrate the start of summer, let’s pause to remember those who died in the service of their country, thank God for their sacrifice, pray for their families, and, most of all, pray for peace. Father in Heaven, we thank you for this nation in which we are blessed to live. Thank you for those who went before us, making our freedom possible and those who continue to battle for our country’s safety and survival. Just as we must remember that our salvation was because of your sacrifice, let us never forget that the freedom we enjoy as a nation came at a great sacrifice, as well.

Heavenly Father, on this Memorial Day, we pray for those who courageously laid down their lives for the cause of freedom. May the example of their sacrifice inspire in us the selfless love of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Bless the families of our fallen troops, and fill their homes and their lives with your strength and peace. In union with people of goodwill of every nation, embolden us to answer the call to work for peace and justice, and thus, seek an end to violence and conflict around the globe. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Archdiocese of Detroit]

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. [John 15:13 (ESV)]

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FOR BEAUTIFUL WOMEN EVERYWHERE – Mother’s Day 2018

 

Charm is deceptive and beauty disappears, but a woman who honors the Lord should be praised. Give her credit for all she does. She deserves the respect of everyone. [Proverbs 31:30-31 (GNT)]

muscovy - ducklingsMy mother disliked having her picture taken. She didn’t think of herself as attractive and she probably wasn’t pretty in the conventional way. Yet, even with a face covered by freckles, unruly hair, an overbite combined with a toothy smile, thick glasses and a hearing aid, she was the most beautiful woman I’ve known.

It was at my mother’s side that I learned to love the written word. She urged me to read all sorts of books that were probably considered far too adult for my age and we discussed every one of them in detail. She was intelligent and creative and encouraged me in every one of my efforts. She was incredibly open with me about her past, her faith and feelings. Perhaps she knew her time on earth was brief so she had to pack everything a mother wants to teach her daughter into a few short years. It was from my mother that I learned about love and forgiveness. She showed me that true love takes effort and is more a choice than a feeling. She started me on my journey of faith and it was through her that I came to know Jesus.

This shy quiet woman taught me courage: courage in the face of adversity, courage in the face of cancer, courage in the face of death. She taught me how to live and how to die. She was probably the most beautiful when she was the least attractive, just a few days before her death, when I was fifteen. As we were departing her hospital room, my father leaned over, picked up a corner of the oxygen tent, and kissed her. He said, “You look like an angel tonight.” Her response, said with a smile on her radiant face, was, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll be with the angels.” As she passed through the valley of death, she had no fear. She had complete faith in God’s promise. She wasn’t worried; she trusted God that the family she left behind would be just fine and she knew that where she was going would be even better. She may not have been pretty but my mother was the most beautiful woman in my world.

On this special day, Dear Lord, we thank you for our mothers: those beautiful women who gave us life. We also thank you for all of the beautiful women of faith who have blessed our lives with their example and encouragement, enlightenment, love, and guidance. Please reassure them that, in spite of what the mirror and society may tell them, they are truly beautiful both in your eyes and ours!

…Your beauty should consist of your true inner self, the ageless beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of the greatest value in God’s sight. [1 Peter 3:4 (GNT)]

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LAST WORDS- ASCENSION DAY

starry campion - mouseeared chickweed - chicoryHe said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. [John 19:30 (NLT)]

It’s been said that Leonardo Da Vinci’s last words were, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” A scientist, painter, architect, mathematician, musician, sculptor, geologist, botanist, historian, cartographer, and inventor, Da Vinci was a true Renaissance man and it’s difficult to understand how he could feel he’d failed anyone. I hope my last words won’t be as depressing as his or as foolish as those of Union Major General John Sedgwick who, just moments before he was shot and killed, said, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance!” Nevertheless, most of us won’t know when the words we speak will be our last ones. Chances are they’ll be as mundane as Elvis Presley’s: “I’m going to the bathroom to read.”

Jesus, however, knew his life was ending when He spoke from the cross. He’d been hanging there for several hours and the weight of his body pulling down on his arms meant he could barely breathe. John tells us Jesus said, “It is finished!” and then died. After hearing those words, can you imagine the heartbreak of His followers? This was Jesus, the man who calmed storms, fed thousands and healed lepers! How could it be finished? Everything they’d believed in and hoped for was gone! Was this how their story would end?

Last words, however, aren’t always what they seem. Jesus’s words and the crucifixion were only the end of the first act. What the disciples didn’t understand was that the story was just getting started. Three days later, the resurrection opened the second act. Forty days later, that act ended with Jesus’s ascension into heaven. Although those last words vary in the gospels and Acts, the message remains the same: our sins are forgiven, we are to go out into the world and make disciples, and the power of the Holy Spirit is promised. Jesus physically left the disciples but He promised both His presence and return so those weren’t His final words either. Early in the third act, Jesus spoke to Saul and He continues to speak to us today through His living word (the Bible), prayer, and in the Holy Spirit’s beautiful whisper. The only last words to be spoken in the third act will be ours when we depart the stage, as did both Da Vinci and Elvis. The glorious fourth act begins when we come home to Jesus and hear His voice again. This final act has no ending and there will be no last words spoken. It never is finished and the curtain never will fall!

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. [John 14:1-3 (NLT)]

And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment. [John 5:25-29 (NLT)]

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THE CORNERSTONE

You are God’s building. Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians 15: 9b-11 (NLT)]

oleanderTwo members of our small group attended Easter service at a Christian church in another town. Imagine their shock when the pastor began his sermon by saying he didn’t believe in the resurrection. Thinking his statement had been made for shock value, they patiently waited for him to make a case for Christ and defend the truth of Easter. Unfortunately, he only offered a feel good message about new beginnings. I was reminded of their story when another pastor mentioned his experience when a youth pastor. After one of the teens complained that he talked too much about Jesus, he was called into the senior pastor’s office and told that Jesus just should be a “side dish” in the church youth group!

As for the resurrection—can it be Christianity without the risen Christ? Without Easter, we just have a man who said some beautiful and wise things and was killed for his words. While He may have had a great message, he was either delusional or a liar. In the early church, an Apostle was someone who had personally known Jesus both before that dark Friday and after that glorious Sunday. Without the resurrection, Peter and the rest of the Apostles were equally delusional or liars who perpetrated a fraud with their claims of an empty tomb and their witness to the risen Christ. Without the resurrected Christ, everything that happened after the crucifixion and much of what happened before is suspect. When we read Acts, we find that the essence of every sermon preached is the resurrected Christ. Without the resurrection, how can we believe Jesus was God in flesh? Without the risen Christ how can we believe in the Holy Trinity, the resurrection of the dead, or the truth of the New Testament?

There are plenty of authors who make excellent cases for the resurrection and I’ll leave the Christian apologetics to them. Believing in the resurrection doesn’t mean we totally understand it, can explain how it happened, or know exactly what the body of the risen Christ was like but we don’t need those answers to believe in the risen Christ. Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity and, if Jesus is still dead, so is our religion

As for a “side dish Jesus:” side dishes are optional and you can take as much or as little as you want or skip them altogether. They’re like the Brussels sprouts or green beans at Thanksgiving dinner. Jesus, however, is not a side dish; along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, He’s the main (and only) course! Rather than a turkey, our Triune God is more like one of those Turduckens: three meats (turkey, duck, and chicken) rolled into one. When you slice through it, you get all three—each one equally delicious and equally essential. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, it seems that both the resurrection and Jesus are fundamental to our faith.

I don’t know about that doubting pastor from Easter but I do know a little about that teen who thought there was too much Jesus in her youth group. Her youth pastor refused to back down and, rather than put Jesus in a side dish, He kept the risen Christ front and center. The teen who objected to the main dish Jesus? Shortly after that meeting, she accepted Jesus—not as an optional add-on but as her Lord and Savior!

Scripture often referred to Jesus as the cornerstone: the foundation upon which the church is built. The cornerstone of a building gives it a reliable and firm foundation; it is indispensable and prominent. May the risen Christ remain indispensable and prominent in our witness as we build His church!

You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. [Ephesians 2:19b-21 (NLT)]

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