THANK YOU NOTES

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

wild turkeyWhen I was a girl (back in the days of pen, paper and postage stamps), my mother insisted that I write a thank you note for any gifts I received. Whether birthday or Christmas, I was not allowed to enjoy my gifts until the necessary notes had been written. Moreover, each note had to be personal. I couldn’t just write a generic, “Thank you for the nice present.” I had to say something specific about the gift and, if it was money, I had to say how I planned on using it. Even if the present was something I really didn’t like or want (and we’ve all had those kinds of gifts), I had to express gratitude. My mother reminded me that, while I might not value the gift, someone else’s time, thought, love and money had gone into getting it for me. Therefore, I should take the time to properly acknowledge and show my appreciation for the giver’s generosity. The thank you note rule also applied whenever someone did something special for me. If a family took me to an event or I’d spent the night at a friend’s house, a note of thanks had to be written.

Eventually, once I was old enough to buy the gifts, do the good turns, and host the guests, I appreciated the time, energy, money, thought, and love that goes into those things. My mind set changed from “I have to write a note” to “I want to write a note.” Rather than an obligation, thanking someone became a privilege.

Whenever I get a note of thanks, I relish it, especially when it’s from a grand. Misspellings and poor penmanship don’t matter to me; I love knowing that they (and their parents) appreciate the gift and the love that came with it. Unfortunately, nowadays, people rarely write thank you notes or even thank you emails. We seem to take people, their gifts and kindness to us, quite for granted.

As rare as hand-written notes are today, how much rarer is it for us to remember to send our thanks regularly to our Father in Heaven? What if we couldn’t play with our toys, enjoy our health, use our talents, spend our money, live in our homes, hug our family, eat our food, use our intellect or accept God’s grace until we had properly thanked him? Thanksgiving is our national day of thanks but every day should be a day of thanksgiving. That means seriously thinking about our many blessings, specifying the gifts for which we are grateful, and then actually giving God our thanks and praise.

Tomorrow, when you take that walk in a vain attempt to work off those extra 2,000 or more calories, try listing your blessings and offering your thanks as you walk. You just might find you’re still thanking God for his gifts by the time you return home.

It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do. [Tim Keller] 

Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone. [Gertrude Stein]

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation. [Psalm 100:4-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DON’T DRAW STRAWS! – Election Day 2018

Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights. A gift gets attention; it buys the attention of eminent people. The first speech in a court case is always convincing—until the cross-examination starts! You may have to draw straws when faced with a tough decision. [Proverbs 18:15-18 (MSG)]

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. [Edmund Burke]

scarecrowHere in the United States, we enjoy political freedom. We have free and fair elections, competitive political parties, and the candidates we elect actually do govern. The opposition isn’t powerless and plays an important role in government while the interests of minority groups are represented. That level of freedom is not enjoyed by most of the world. According to the independent watchdog organization Freedom House, only 45% of the world’s nations are considered “free,” 30% are “partially free,” and 25% are “not free” at all. Tomorrow we have an opportunity to exercise our freedom by voting. In less than a week, we will honor those who fought for us so that we can have this priceless opportunity. Let them not have fought in vain.

Regardless of how you stand on the issues, I suspect many of us are disillusioned by the whole political process. The amount of money spent on advertising has been astronomical. $244 million has been spent on the Illinois governor’s race alone! It’s not just TV ads; both our snail mail and email mailboxes are filled with propaganda and we’re hesitant to answer our phones because of all the political robocalls! I have yet to see or read any ad, from either party, that hasn’t been negative, accusatory, and misleading. The issues on both sides have been blurred and distorted and it’s not easy to find the truth.

Some people may have clear ideas about the many candidates and issues on the ballot while others may still be confused. Here in Florida, with multiple county, state, and federal candidates and twelve proposed amendments, we have the longest ballot our voters have seen in twenty years. Throughout our nation, many voters may feel like their choice of candidates is between dumb and dumber, bad and worse, or crook and crookeder! Nevertheless, our vote matters. The people we elect and the decisions we make today will have an impact on our environment, economics, health, education, safety and quality of life for years to come.

Some choices we have to make are so tough that we may be tempted to take Solomon’s suggestion in Proverbs 18 and draw straws. Nevertheless, while easier, simply drawing straws or flipping a coin is not the way to preserve our nation. I would hope that, instead of letting luck guide us, we prayerfully will ask our Father in Heaven for some much needed political wisdom. Come Wednesday morning, regardless of who is elected, let us all start praying for our leaders.

Father, guide us as we cast our ballots. Help us see through the slick advertising and empty promises to the truth. Let your Holy Spirit show us how to apply our Christian principles when making choices in the voting booth tomorrow.

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressman and government officials, but the voters of this country. [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. [Romans 13:1-2 (MSG)]

Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all: He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down, He provides both intelligence and discernment, He opens up the depths, tells secrets, sees in the dark—light spills out of him! [Daniel 2:20-22 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” [Mark 9:35 (ESV)]

chicory - bee“Dream small. Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all. Just let Jesus use you where you are, one day at a time,” sang Josh Wilson. Reminding me that a tiny rock made Goliath fall and five loaves and two fish fed them all, he sang that it is simple moments that change the world. I thought of his song when I received an email from a local charity including the sentence, “We may not be able to change the world, but we can change the world for some people.”

Tomorrow is “Make a Difference Day,” an annual national community service event that has been held every fourth Saturday in October since 1992. The single purpose of this day is to improve the lives of others. In a way, it’s a nationwide day of dreaming small and changing the world for someone!

Volunteers from across the nation will participate. Teens in Plymouth, Michigan, will rake leaves and do outdoor work for seniors and the disabled while volunteer gardeners in Budd Lake, New Jersey, will be winterizing the community garden. Trees will be planted in Vancouver, Washington, volunteers in Fort Collins, Colorado, will be going door to door, swapping out incandescent light bulbs with free LED ones and, in Cincinnati, people will assemble and bag the ingredients for 150,000 meals. These are small dreams; none of them will change the world, but they will change some people’s lives.

Dranafile Bojaxhiu was dreaming small when the widow extended an open invitation to the city’s poor to dine with her family. She told her daughter Agnes, “Never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others,” When asked who their dinner guests were, she replied, “Some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.” Dranafile wasn’t dreaming big but she was making a difference.

Dranafile’s daughter Agnes became a nun and moved to India. Better known as Mother Teresa, Agnes had no big dreams when she ventured into Calcutta’s slums; her goal was simply to aid “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” Starting small with an open-air school and a home for the dying destitute, she founded the Missionaries of Charity (a community of twelve) and then established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics. By the time of her death in 1997, there were more than 4,000 Missionaries of Charity and thousands of lay volunteers. Her small dream has grown to over 600 foundations in 123 countries. Sometimes, small dreams can become big ones. Sadly, there is still poverty in India; Mother Teresa did not change the world but, like her mother, she changed some people’s lives.

Lord, show us how to change the world, one life at a time. Through loving acts of service, may we make a difference, not just tomorrow, but every day.

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. [Mother Teresa]

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

COULD IT BE TODAY?

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

black vultureA few years ago, unaware of what the day would bring, a family friend kissed her new husband good-bye as he left for work. While riding the train that morning, the young man collapsed; he died of sudden cardiac arrest less than an hour after that tender kiss. That same year, another friend, whose wife’s body was ravaged by cancer, knew how short the time was he had with her. “While watching TV,” he confided downheartedly, “I looked over at Maureen and realized that next year her chair will be empty and I’ll be alone!” Today is Patriot Day, an annual remembrance of those who died or were injured during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Thinking about that tragic morning seventeen years ago when so many lost their loved ones unexpectedly, I remembered these two widowed friends. Which is worse: watching the one you love deteriorate and knowing that you’re running out of time for kisses or kissing a loved one in the morning and not knowing that will be the last kiss you’ll ever share?

I can’t imagine the anguish of either scenario and am thankful that God doesn’t give us a choice in this matter. But, I do know what would be more heartbreaking than either scenario. Instead of kissing one another when parting, it would be worse if our last words were angry or harsh ones. How tragic if, instead of sharing a few loving words, we spent our last moments together in heated discussion or spiteful silence. What if we squandered our last opportunity to say “I love you,” to apologize or forgive, to pray together, to laugh with one another, or to share a kiss?

Whenever we say good-bye to my mother-in-law, we always give her a kiss and express our love. Since she’s nearing her 102nd birthday, we understand that each time we see her might be the last. This day of remembrance, however, is a powerful reminder that we can’t see what the next day will bring. There is no guarantee of tomorrow or even the next hour. We don’t know when our last moments with someone may be, whether they are 102 or only 12, dying of cancer or in the prime of life. We mustn’t waste the time with which we’re blessed. Let’s fill our lives, and the lives of others, with love, peace, and joy.

Father in Heaven, may we all learn to live each day as if it is our last. Remind us, O Lord, that this could be the final day, not just for us, but for those we love. May your Spirit guide us so that we truly appreciate the time and people you’ve given us. Let us leave no forgiveness denied, no love unexpressed, no apologies unoffered, no conflicts unresolved, and no thanks unspoken.

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Stephen Grellet]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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.