A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? [Psalm 13:1-2 (NLT)]

The BadlandsWhile some of us may have become couch-potatoes during his time of sheltering in place, that’s not truly the sin of sloth. Thought of as one of the seven “deadly sins,” sloth originally was two sins: acedia (meaning absence of care) and trisitia (meaning sorrow). A 4th century monk, Evagrius of Ponticus, listed them (along with gluttony, lust, greed, anger, vainglory, and pride) as the “terrible temptations” of life. Acedia and sadness were seen as particularly dangerous threats to the ascetic life of a monk living in the Egyptian desert, as was Evagrius. The monks easily could grow despondent, lonely, weary or discontented as they prayed, fasted, and labored in their harsh and isolated setting.

While not in a desert monastery, the new normal of COVID-19 can seem as desolate as one and tempt us with sloth’s spiritual lethargy. With the pandemic’s disruption of routine—the unstructured time, depressing news, monotony, isolation, financial challenges, uncertainty, and loss of purpose and community—acedia and tristia can set in as it did for those ancient monks. We may experience worry or fear, dullness to our prayers, emptiness in our hearts, unproductive study, an inability to give thanks in all things, and even apathy toward God’s word. Joy can seem but a distant memory.

Unlike wrath, lust or greed, sloth is subtle and difficult to spot until it has taken hold. During a dark time several years ago I struggled with sloth. Calling it compassion fatigue, I was emotionally spent and felt hopeless, discouraged, and despondent. I imagine I’m not the only person facing this “terrible temptation” again today.

Jesus told us the most important commandment was to love God but sloth keeps us from doing that. It makes us focus on ourselves and our emptiness rather than God and His abundance. When discussing this sin, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God.” Sloth’s rejection of God’s gift is like a slap in His face—it’s no wonder Evagrius called it a “terrible temptation.”

David’s psalms indicate that he frequently experienced spiritual emptiness. In Psalm 13, we find him asking God, “How long?” not once, but four times in a row! Having lost the sense that God was there, life felt like an endless struggle; troubled and discouraged, he’d begun to doubt God’s plan. Yet, after asking God to “restore the sparkle to my eyes,” [13:4] he finished the psalm with words of trust and even joy.

In times like these, the enemy tries to steal our zeal, keep us from experiencing the joy of the Lord, and sabotage our sense of purpose with spiritual lethargy and inner emptiness. Whether or not sloth will be allowed to linger, however, is our choice. Like David, let us trust in God (even when it seems He isn’t there) and persevere in praying for relief from our emptiness and despair. He will restore the sparkle to our eyes!

But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me. [Psalm 13:5-6 (NLT)]

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. [Psalm 28:7 (NLT)]

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FAVORITE COLORS – MOTHER’S DAY 2020

tropical water lilies
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

“Who has been the most influential woman in your life? Who encouraged you to be the best version of you?” was the question asked in a Mother’s Day devotion I read. Typically, one would reply his or her mother. My mother, however, died when I was fifteen. She certainly got me started in the right direction but, in the nearly sixty years since her passing, many women added to what she left undone.

I remember the camp counselor who gave me some tough (and much needed) words of correction; the widowed aunt who demonstrated that a woman alone can do anything; the acquaintance who shared her story of molestation when she recognized the signs of mine; the college roommate who proved one could be both godly, virtuous and popular; my husband’s aunt who embraced her difficult circumstances without complaint and lived her life with joy; my mother-in-law who taught me what it means to be a wife; my mother-in-law’s caregiver who defined compassion and patience; and my daughter who has shown true grace under pressure. I remember the many women who generously and patiently taught me new skills, those who challenged me to reach far beyond where I thought I could, and those who encouraged me when I thought I could go no further. I’ve been made better by women who remained calm in chaos and whose faith endured in overwhelming storms. I’ve been deepened by women who stumbled and got back up, who cried and smiled again, who gave when they had little to give, who loved the unlovable, forgave the unforgiveable and laughed in the face of tragedy. Out of all the women who have touched my life in such positive ways, who would I pick?

The women who influenced me are a bit like a fabulous collection of crayons. I can’t select a favorite from among the 120 colors Crayola offers, so how could I pick just one woman among the many who have made me who I am? Each woman colored the canvas of my life in her own unique way. While my canvas may have a preponderance of colors like Mountain Meadow, Turquoise Blue and Cornflower (with a touch of my mother’s Granny Smith Apple and sister’s Bittersweet), I have been enhanced by the Razzmatazz, Shocking Pink, Unmellow Yellow, Vivid Tangerine, Cotton Candy, Wild Strawberry, Razzle Dazzle Rose and Outrageous Orange that were added by other women who blessed my life. I’m nowhere near complete and colors keep being added that will make me a better version of myself.

While all of the women who’ve helped color me are unique, like crayons that share the same box, they have something in common; they all were women of faith—women who believed in the power of Jesus Christ. They saw His light and knew the truth of His words. There is, however, a huge difference between those who just see the light and those who become His light. Those who merely see the light may know the truth but don’t leave their mark; those who become His light, live the truth, color the world with their beauty, and cause us to be better versions of ourselves.

Thank you, God, for the women (and men) who shed your light on us and color us with their love, concern, wisdom, faith, and good examples. They help make us all that You mean for us to be.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

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GROUNDHOG DAY…AGAIN

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. [James 1:2-4 [(NLT)]

ground squirrel - chipmunkWith each new day feeling like yesterday, we decided to watch the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. In it, the discontented TV weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, is trapped in a time loop and keeps reliving February 2. At first, he takes advantage of never having to reap the consequences of his selfish actions but grows tired of his hedonistic life. When the predictability of the day causes boredom, depression, and cynicism to set in, he commits suicide several times—only to wake again and again on the same February 2. Eventually, Phil comes to grips with his situation and decides to make the most of it. Among other things, he learns to to play jazz piano, speak French, memorize the life story of everyone in town, sculpt ice, and master the art of flipping cards into an upturned hat. As he betters himself, he begins to better the lives of the people around him. The time loop eventually ends when the changed man finally gets the day right by caring more about others than himself.

Although many people have tried to estimate how many Groundhog Days Phil experienced, even co-author Danny Rubin wasn’t sure. He said the point of the movie “was that you had to feel you were enduring something that was going on for a long time… I don’t know. A hundred years. A lifetime.”  Psychologists actually have named the feeling that we’re caught in a rut the “Groundhog Day Syndrome” and, with this self-quarantining, we may feel as trapped as was Phil Connors.

Even though they can’t agree on what it means, people from various religious backgrounds view Groundhog Day as a spiritually meaningful movie. Buddhists see samsara or continuing rebirth and Hindus see reincarnation. With good deeds begetting more good deeds, Jews see the fulfilling of the Torah’s 613 mitzvoth while Roman Catholics see Phil’s situation as purgatory. Psychiatrists see it as a metaphor for psychoanalysis, soldiers as a film about boredom, motivational speakers as an illustration of transformational self-improvement, and one film critic saw the groundhog as symbolic of the risen Christ! Sometimes, however, a movie is just a movie.

Perhaps the meaning of Groundhog Day comes down to the words in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” After all, even though Phil changes, his circumstances and the people of Punxsutawney don’t. But, once Phil starts changing the only thing over which he does have control, which is himself, the weatherman finds that his circumstances eventually do improve.

Whether it was Max Lucado or Mark Batterson who originally said, “The circumstances we ask God to change are often the circumstances God is using to change us,” they’re right. Phil’s circumstances changed him for the better and God can use our circumstances to change us—if we let Him. Let us remember that, until our last day, we are works in progress; even though we can’t change what is happening around us, our hearts and minds can change. As they do, we may just find the world around us changing, as well. COVID-19 will still be here, just as Punxsutawney and the groundhog were still there for Phil. Nevertheless, Phil’s life changed and, just as he found joy in his circumstances, we can, too!

We have little control over the circumstances of life. We can’t control the weather or the economy, and we can’t control what other people say about or do to us. There is only one area where we have control—we can rule the kingdom inside. The heart of every problem is the problem in the heart. [Warren Wiersbe]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:6-7 (NLT)]

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

CATALOG OF JOY

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. [Psalm 100:1-2 (ESV)]

The surest mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy.[ Samuel M. Shoemaker]

great blue heronWhen we retired, we joked that our pill boxes were the only way we knew the day of the week. Now that we’re sheltering in place, that is more true than funny. For young and old alike, the days are blending one into the other with the only difference between yesterday and today being the news (which just seems to gets worse).

While COVID-19 is an enemy lurking at our door, chances are another enemy has already entered our lives: common garden variety depression—what I call the glums and gloomies. As the days wear on, it’s harder to see the bright side of life. Built for community, we now live in a world where kisses are weapons and we show our love by staying away from one another! Instead of hoarding toilet paper and bleach wipes, we wish we’d stockpiled hugs. We’d happily trade a bottle of hand sanitizer just to cuddle with a grand for a minute or shake a friend’s hand.

This prolonged isolation reminds me of a winter spent at our mountain home back in 1997. Having broken my knee the first day on the slopes, my mobility was severely limited. In spite of having hung up my skis for the season, I maintained good spirits until my husband and son departed for two weeks on business. Although they left me well stocked with food and a stack of library books, it was just me, my crutches, and the four walls for the duration and the glums and gloomies descended in full force. In one of those beautiful God-incidences, I happened upon an Oprah show about keeping a gratitude journal. Since my days were all the same, writing down five things for which I was grateful every day was a challenge at first. But, once I started, it got easier as I found joy in little everyday things: seeing a cardinal on the back deck, getting a phone call, reading a good book, or sipping cocoa by the fire on a snowy night! That gratitude journal was my life-line to sanity (and continues to be one today) because it moved my focus from me and my misery to God and His goodness.

When the glums and gloomies visited one of my friends fourteen years ago, she made a list of the things that gave her joy and ended up with about fifty things—none of which cost money. As with my gratitude journal, her entries weren’t deep spiritual thoughts: just simple things like hearing her little grand’s giggle, balancing her checkbook on the first try, or seeing her golf ball miss the water hazard. Although she’s made a few revisions and additions to the list through the years, she still pulls out her catalog of joy whenever she feels depression knocking at her door! I imagine she’s been looking at it a lot nowadays.

It’s easy to be grateful when life is good but, when life takes a downhill slide into discouragement or despair, gratitude doesn’t come naturally—certainly not easily. Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort. Even though the world has gone topsy turvy, we can be thankful because our sovereign God, a God who loves and cherishes us, is firmly in control. We can be thankful that, even though we are apart from one another, we are not alone; we are united in Christ with other believers. We can be thankful because we have the hope given to us by Jesus. We may not feel grateful for all that has occurred but we can be grateful by choosing to look beyond our circumstances. We don’t have to be thankful for this pandemic but we can practice being thankful in the midst of it.

Between the horror of this pandemic and the sameness of our days, we must be intentional about gratitude and joy and open our eyes to God’s many blessings. An attitude of gratitude, even in our trials, is what distinguishes us as Christians. What would you write in a gratitude journal today? What would be in your catalog of joy?

The Christian who walks with the Lord and keeps constant communion with Him will see many reason for rejoicing and thanksgiving all day long.[Warren Wiersbe]

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.  [Psalm 100:4-5 (NLT)]

 Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

REFLECTING HIS LIGHT

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)] 

super moonDid you happen to see the full moon last week? It was considered a super moon because it came within 90% of the moon’s closest approach to earth. Its nearness (221,772 miles) made it appear about 7% larger and much brighter than a typical full moon. When I saw its brilliance through the window, I stepped out on the lanai to view the glowing orb in the sky. Don’t be disappointed if you missed it, there will be another one, nearly as bright, on May 7!

Saying I saw the moon’s bright light is misleading—the moon itself has no light and doesn’t glow. It simply borrows its light from the sun and reflects it down to us as would a mirror. With the moon’s dark grey surface and bumpy landscape, it’s a poor mirror and only reflects between three and twelve percent of the sun’s light. Even that little bit, however, was enough to brightly light our lanai that night.

Even if the moon were perfectly white, it still wouldn’t appear as bright as the sun because the light would reflect off in all directions instead of straight back to us. Astronomer Roger Sinnott of Sky & Telescope theorizes that, in order to appear as bright as the sun, the moon would need a 2,160 mile-wide flat mirror to directly reflect the sun’s light back toward us on earth.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to let our lights shine so that people see our good deeds. Even if we shine as brightly as the full moon, like the moon, that light isn’t ours; it is God’s Holy Spirit within us and we’re not the ones who should get the credit. Let us never forget that our good deeds are done not to enhance our reputations but rather to glorify our Father in Heaven. It’s His light that is seen and not ours. When people experience our love, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, joy, peace, patience, thoughtfulness, integrity, faithfulness, and self-control, they see God’s beautiful light.

As Christ’s followers, we are to let God’s glory reflect through us. We may not be able to light up a lanai like the moon but we can bring His light to the world around us. Moreover, even without an enormous flat mirror, I think we could do better than the moon’s paltry three to twelve percent when it comes to reflecting God’s glory in our lives!

Poor world! What a faint light it receives from most Christians! The lighthouse, if its light is not burning is a peril instead of a safeguard. [Matthew Henry]

Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” [Luke 11:35-36 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DAY IS DONE

sunsetGod makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome! The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. [Psalm 19:4-6 (MSG)]

Being an early riser, I’m often out walking as the sun rises. Each new day brings amazing new opportunities and, while the mocking birds loudly sing their praises and the mourning doves coo their peaceful song, I thank God for yet another day on this side of the grass. While the morning’s soft pastels are beautiful, it’s the sunsets in our part of the world that are spectacular.

Our Florida lanai faces west and every evening, shortly before sunset, we try to stop whatever we are doing to admire the western sky. We breathe in deeply of God’s glory and majesty as He paints the heavens. We considered turning sunsets into something like an Olympic event and awarding points to God for each day’s sunset. The vibrant red ones that make the sky look as if it’s on fire might get nine or even ten points while a gray one having just a bare hint of pink might get only a two. After discussing it, however, we realized that sunsets, regardless of their colors, are truly magnificent and a cause for thanksgiving. Every sunset, no matter how colorful or dull, is a gift from God deserving of a perfect score and a reason for rejoicing. Sunsets mean we’ve made it safely through yet another day. They bring closure; we know that the day and whatever came with it, both good and bad, is over and done. But they also bring the promise of tomorrow and the wonderful possibilities that will come with a new day. Even our very last sunset will bring the assurance of dawn on the other side: it will be a time when we’ll truly see the Son.

Looking at the sun setting in the west, I recall my years at summer camp when I’d hear the solemn call of the trumpet at sunset and I silently sing the words to “Taps.” Indeed, all is well and I can safely rest because God is near. Tonight, at sunset, wherever you happen to be, pause, if only for a moment, and thank God for the privilege of one more blessed day.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Thanks and praise for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky.
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
[Horace Lorenzo Trim]

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop, they’ll stare in awe, in wonder. Dawn and dusk take turns calling, “Come and worship.” [Psalm 65:8 (MSG)]

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