CARPE DIEM – THE NEW YEAR

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)]

Hibiscus trionum - Flower-of-an-Hour
Several years ago, a young woman with Parkinson’s told me, “Every day I wake up, I realize that I’m the best I ever will be and it’s only downhill from here.” Rather than complaining, she was explaining how that knowledge made her determined to seize and delight in each day. Unlike her, I’m not suffering from a degenerative disease (other than age); nevertheless, her words continue to haunt me. No matter how healthy or happy we may (or may not) be today, we have no guarantee that tomorrow will be any better. Life is precarious and our tomorrows are uncertain. Yet, we so often squander the hours and days we’re given.

We regularly called a friend whose remaining time was counted in weeks. Having exhausted all treatment options, he was painfully aware of being on a steep downhill run. Like the woman with Parkinson’s, however, he refused to let that knowledge steal his joy in the present. In fact, his awareness of life’s fragility seemed to give him more appreciation of every moment with which God blessed him. Thankful for every morning he saw, he was determined to make that day his best one by rejoicing in its simplest gifts. Of course, being a man of faith, he knew that death does not have the final word and had no fear of what lay ahead of him. Nevertheless, until that time came (as it did last week), he continued to seize the day with all the joy and gusto he could muster.

A new year is fast approaching and, as I started making plans for 2023, I thought about the uncertainty of our tomorrows, not just for my friend, but for all of us. Why do we waste a single breath with anger, regret, resentment, or complaint? Why do we fritter away even five seconds in self-pity or worry when they should be spent in thankfulness and joy? Why do we see the day’s imperfections with twenty/twenty vision when we’re blind to the day’s blessings? The old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is only partially true. We all have expiration dates and today well could be the last day of our lives here on earth. Shouldn’t we make it the best one we’ll have?

Perhaps we can learn from the Hibiscus trionum. Called “Flower-of-an-Hour,” each flower blooms during a single sunny day and remains open only a few hours. Nevertheless, the flower makes the most of its brief time by turning to the sun, getting pollinated, providing pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies, and sharing its leaves with caterpillars and rabbits. Why don’t we make the most of our time in the sun? It shouldn’t take cancer or Parkinson’s to make us realize that today is the best day of our lives! It is the day the Lord has made—the precious day the Lord has given us in this precarious world—and we should rejoice in each and every moment of it!

Father, forgive us when we fail to make the most of the days with which you have generously blessed us. Help us to seize today with joy and thanksgiving and be glad in it. No matter what the future may bring, may each day be our best one ever!

The past, the present and the future are really one: they are today. [Harriet Beecher Stowe]

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. [Psalm 39:4 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

PEACE ON EARTH

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. [Isaiah 9:6-7a (NLT)]

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” [Luke 2:13-14 (NLT)]


Isaiah prophesied a Prince of Peace, the angels proclaimed peace on earth to the shepherds, and Jesus promised us His peace but one glance at the news tells us that peace certainly doesn’t reign in our world today. We have wars, injustice, prejudice, intolerance, hate-filled speech, anger, abuse, violence, greed, and indifference.

In a world filled with conflict, it looks like God reneged on His promise of peace. It wasn’t God, however, who failed us—we are the ones who failed Him. Far too often God’s gift of peace is like a book we’re given but never take the time to read or a gift card we lose when tossing out the wrapping paper. While peace is His gift, we are the ones who have to implement it. Unfortunately, all too often, we allow fear, pride, bigotry, bias, arrogance, resentment, apathy, exasperation and wrath to shove peace right out of our hearts and lives.

Inner peace hinges on having a relationship with God. The angels brought their message of peace to the world because Jesus’ presence enables mankind to have peace if we are in relationship with Him. Inner peace, however, is not enough. For peace on earth, we must have peace with others and therein lays the problem. Our egos just can’t seem to accept the humility, selflessness, and devotion required to love the unlovable, touch the untouchable, turn the other cheek, treat our neighbors as ourselves, pray for our enemies, forgive, or have compassion on those in need (especially if they don’t look, talk, or act like us). As a result, true peace escapes us. If there ever is to be peace on earth, it must begin with us!

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the gift of peace that came wrapped as a baby in Bethlehem. Forgive us for the way we’ve ignored this precious gift. Help us resolve the differences in our homes and families, community, nation, and world by bringing a portion of your peace to everyone we encounter. As we become your peace makers, may there be peace on earth.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. [St. Francis of Assisi]

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. [John 14:27 (NLT)]

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

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ARE WE READY? – Advent 2022

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!” [Isaiah 40:3 (NLT)]


Yesterday was the third Sunday in Advent – the church season of preparation leading up to Christmas. Back in the 4th century, Advent was a 40-day season spent in penance, prayer and fasting in preparation for the baptism of new Christians on Epiphany (January 6). On that day, the church celebrated the gifts of the Magi, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and His first miracle at Cana. By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the promised second coming of Jesus but, by the Middle Ages, Advent was tied to the celebration of Jesus’ first arrival and Christmas. Today, Advent is a time the Christian church commemorates Christ’s first coming while anticipating His second. It’s a time to prepare our hearts and minds both for Christmas, when Jesus came as a suffering servant and arrived in a manger, and for Christ’s return, when He will come as the conquering King who makes all things right.

Indeed, most of us use the four weeks of Advent as a time of preparation, but for what? Rather than readying our hearts for Christ, we’ve probably been busy making lists and checking them twice, searching for the best deals on line, decorating our homes and yards, trimming the tree, going to or hosting parties, making travel arrangements, baking holiday treats, planning menus, wrapping packages, addressing Christmas cards, and standing in line at Fed Ex or the post office, all of which have little to do with that first Christmas when God came into our chaotic world and even less to do with anticipating His glorious return.

Last night, after lighting the candles of hope and peace on our Advent wreath, my husband and I lit its third candle—the shepherd’s candle of joy. Admittedly, even though we’re having a relatively quiet Christmas, I felt more stress than hope, peace, or joy. I had allowed the preparations for this holiday keep me from focusing on Jesus!

Pause for a moment and remember how 2,000 years ago, the people of Judah longed for the promised Messiah. Recall how God recognized mankind’s need for a savior and answered their prayer that night in Bethlehem. That helpless baby in the manger, the infant who needed to be fed and burped and changed, was God incarnate!

As Christians in the 21st century, we long for Messiah’s return and, someday, God will make good on that promise, as well. As we remember Christ’s first coming, let us look forward to His return—a time when peace and justice will prevail and there will be no “death or sorrow or crying or pain.” We must never allow our holiday preparations keep us from preparing our hearts for the promises of hope, peace, joy and love that Jesus brings to our lives.

With only 13 days remaining until the 25th, we probably wonder if we’re ready for Christmas. Let’s get our priorities straight and make sure we’re ready for Christ!

The immense step from the Babe at Bethlehem to the living, reigning triumphant Lord Jesus, returning to earth for His own people – that is the glorious truth proclaimed throughout Scripture. As the bells ring out the joys of Christmas, may we also be alert for the final trumpet that will announce His return, when we shall always be with Him. [Alan Redpath]

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:4 (NLT)]

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. [Isaiah 11:6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

REMEMBERING

Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. [Psalm 103:1-2 (NLT)]


Any other Thanksgiving, we would have travelled to be with family or entertained friends and family here but my recent surgery meant neither of those options were feasible, so it was just the two of us. Thanksgiving, of course, really isn’t about a bountiful feast of turkey and the trimmings or even about family and friends (although it’s a blessing when we can share it with them). Thanksgiving simply is about giving thanks—and we can do that regardless of where we are, what we’re eating, or who we’re with!

My husband and I spent most of the day looking through old photo albums. Having been married over 55 years, there were decades of memories packed into those old pictures and, with every memory, came a reason to be thankful. From pictures of our first date to our family gathering this year, we had countless reasons for gratitude. We were most grateful for the many years we had with his parents (who lived to 96 and 102) and the years we continue to enjoy with our children and grands; many are not so blessed. Pictures of every holiday and celebration seemed to include our family around a table laden with food and we thanked God that we never went hungry or homeless. Seeing photos of friends who became family, many of whom are gone, made us thankful that God brought them into our lives. As we recalled the trips we took, the places we visited, the houses we owned, the amazing people we met, and the adventures we had, we were filled with gratitude for those opportunities. Red-letter days like graduations, birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and anniversaries were memorialized in photos and we were thankful for the arrival of so many milestones. There also were countless photos of unremarkable times—everything from playing euchre with Grandpa, carving pumpkins for Halloween, walking in the woods with a little one, grilling burgers, and playing house with the grands to snow ball fights, baking cookies, shooting hoops, children running under the sprinkler, and enjoying s’more around the campfire. In retrospect, those ordinary moments were extraordinary and we were thankful for each one!

Of course, we laughed at many of the outfits, hairdos, silly expressions, and crazy situations we saw in those photos. When we weren’t laughing, there were sweet tears of nostalgia leaking from our eyes. All in all, our quiet day of Thanksgiving was a joyful day of giving thanks as we remembered how blessed we have been every moment of every day of our lives. Granted, we didn’t have any photos memorializing the tears, anguish, pain, affliction, hospitalizations, and grief of over 55 years. Nevertheless, evidence that God’s powerful hand was with us in both the good times and bad was in those pictures. They gave witness to answered prayers of things like healing, sobriety, health, achievement, provision, forgiveness, restored relationships, safety, protection, guidance, and success—and we gave thanks.

God told the Israelites to remember His word and commandments, His judgement, the ways He dealt with sin, and the way He tested them while safely leading them through the wilderness. God also told the Israelites to remember His goodness, all He did for them, His wondrous works, and His abundant provision! Yet, when it came time to claim Canaan—a land where they’d eat crops they hadn’t planted and live in cities they hadn’t built—the Israelites forgot God’s wondrous ways, grew fearful, and wanted to return to slavery in Egypt!

It’s in remembering God’s past faithfulness and bountiful provision that we learn to trust God with our unknown futures. Remembering God’s many blessings also leads to thanksgiving and it is the act of giving thanks that leads to us to joy. Indeed, in spite of missing our loved ones, our quiet Thanksgiving was one of the most joyful holidays we’ve experienced!

This way of seeing our Father in everything makes life one long thanksgiving and gives a rest of heart, and, more than that, a gayety of spirit, that is unspeakable. [Hannah Whitall Smith]

But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. [Deuteronomy 4:9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

TITHING OUR TIME

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully. [2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)]

white peacock butterflyWhile many people faithfully tithe by giving ten percent of their income to God’s work, I read an article in which the author not only tithes her money but also her time. With 168 hours in a week, she dedicates a total of 16.8 hours a week to serving God. These tithed hours are spent in things like Bible study, prayer, mentoring, visiting the house-bound, bringing food to the needy, or sending encouraging notes.

While measuring out time for God may work for the author, I’m not so sure it would work for everyone. Would we have to tithe 2.4 hours each day or could we pick and choose when to use our week’s hours? Would we be talking gross or net hours? If net, once we’d taken out the eight hours for sleep every night, only 112 hours would be tithable and only 11.2 hours a week would belong to God. Would people need to keep a time-card and clock in and out every time they said a prayer? I wonder if Sunday evenings there might a frantic effort to find a way to fulfill the remaining unused time. Would we call an elderly neighbor to chat while counting minutes until we could disconnect?

Some people might split hairs about what actually determines giving time to the Lord. If we’re bringing the trash bin back to the house anyway, does bringing up the neighbor’s bin count? If we take canned goods to the food pantry, do we get credit for the entire time spent at the grocery store purchasing them? If we talk about church when meeting a friend for lunch count or must it be someone we don’t especially like or to whom we witness? Does the time spent driving to and from our volunteer job at the resale shop count? If we’re taking someone to church or Bible study, can we count the entire drive time or just the extra time it took to pick them up? Do we get extra credit for watching monster children in the church nursery? Once those sixteen plus hours are used, could we then turn a deaf ear to people’s needs or skip praying? If we gave more than 16.8 hours in one week, could the extra time carry over to the following one? Once we’re done with our hours, can we turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the needs surrounding us until the following week?

The Pharisees got so caught up in the minutia and letter of the Law that they missed its purpose and, like them, with all that nitpicking, it would be easy to get more concerned with tallying time than sharing God’s love. Instead of it being a privilege to give back to God, strictly tithing time could turn worship, prayer, study, and service into a chore. God loves a cheerful giver but this doesn’t sound very cheerful to me.

Admittedly, tithing time originally seemed like a good idea, especially since I spend more than 16.8 hours a week writing these devotions. I’d easily fulfill my weekly obligation at my computer so nothing more would have to be done for or with God! The Holy Spirit then gave me a kick in the behind and said, “You’re never done serving the Lord; I want all 168 hours of your week!” May we always remember that, other than our love, there’s nothing we can give Him that isn’t already His!

Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can. [Attributed to John Wesley]

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SHOUT WITH JOY

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. [Psalm 100:1-3 (NLT)]

water lily
For those who wondered—I weathered Hurricane Ian with nothing more than minor inconveniences and some yard work. Sadly, most of Southwest Florida was not so fortunate. Frankly, it’s even worse here than the photos you’ve seen and the stories you’ve heard. The death toll is rising, rivers still are flooding, more damage is being revealed, the loss is astounding, people’s lives are shattered, nerves are frayed, and medical staff, first responders, repair crews, and volunteers are exhausted. Sunday morning, in spite of the day’s sunshine, things looked dark.

Even though my church meets outside at a beachfront park, like many other churches, we lost our place of worship. Park facilities were destroyed, the beach was decimated, and the area is closed because of hazardous conditions. In a return to Covid days, our Sunday service was online.

Early Sunday morning, however, I read Psalm 100. Perhaps because there is nothing somber or vengeful in this psalm, it is one of my favorites. Chanted by Jews on their way to the Temple thousands of years ago, this call to know and worship God is a perfect psalm for Sunday mornings. After reading its words to shout with joy, worship with gladness, and come into God’s presence, I felt a desperate need to worship with others. Wanting to make a loud and joyful noise to the Lord, we skipped the online service and came into His presence at a nearby church.

As the organist began with J.S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, I knew we made the right decision. When the trumpet joined the organ in this beautiful composition, tears of joy filled my eyes even though my heart cried for the hundreds of thousands affected by this horrific storm. Bach’s familiar melody reminded me that we have a God who loved us so much that He gave us His only son to die for us so that we could be saved—not from hurricanes, ruined homes, and flood waters, but from sin and death.

His Name is Wonderful was the first hymn we sang and, with its words, “His Name is Wonderful; His Name is Counselor; His Name The Mighty God, Jesus my Lord,” we accepted Psalm 100’s call to worship with gladness. Our joyful noise continued as we acknowledged the goodness of our God with the familiar words of How Great Thou Art: ”Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!” We offered thanksgiving as we shared His body and blood during Communion. We acknowledged His magnificence, unfailing love, and faithfulness when we closed the service with the hymn Majesty singing, “So exalt, lift up on high, the name of Jesus. Magnify, come glorify Christ Jesus the King. Majesty, worship His majesty. Jesus who died, now glorified, King of all kings!” My heart was lighter and the day much brighter after entering His gates with thanksgiving!

Curious about the inspiring music that opened the service, I learned that the composition we know as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is a chorale in a much larger work called Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life). Bach took the text for this song from two stanzas of a hymn by Martin Janus called Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne (Jesus, My Soul’s Bliss). It was only when Dame Myra Hess transcribed this portion of the cantata for solo piano in 1926, that we came to know this beautiful melody as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. You might find a hymn by the same name in your church’s hymnal. It’s words, however, were written by Robert Bridges who, rather than translating the original nineteen-stanza hymn, wrote a much shorter version.

I’m closing today with a translation of the two stanzas Bach chose to include in his awe-inspiring music. Indeed, even if we’re sick or sad, homeless or heart-broken, despairing or discouraged, frustrated or frightened, drained or disheartened, bewildered or broken—even then, we are blessed because we have Jesus! No matter the circumstances, may we always enter His gates with thanksgiving and His court with praise!

Blest am I, that I have Jesus! O how tightly I cling to Him,
So that He delights my heart when I am sick and sad.
I have Jesus, who loves me and gives Himself to me as my own;
Ah, therefore I will not let go of Jesus, even if my heart is breaking.

Jesus shall remain my joy, my heart’s comfort and sap;
Jesus shall fend off all sorrow. He is the strength of my life,
The delight and sun of my eyes, the treasure and wonder of my soul;
Therefore I will not let Jesus go out of my heart and sight.
[Martin Janus (1661)]

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 ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.