THE DASH

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)]

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years. [Linda Ellis]

clock - ChicagoAfter scrutinizing the website for the umpteenth time in a futile search for the perfect gift for my daughter-in-law, I closed the iPad and announced, “What a waste of time! This is why God created checks and gift cards!” I remembered last Friday when both Linda Ellis’s poem “The Dash” was read and the recently deceased David Cassidy was mentioned. The former Partridge Family heartthrob’s last words were: “So much wasted time.” Indeed, too much time is wasted in unproductive activities or agonizing over what, in actuality, are trivial matters. Searching the same website, over and over, and expecting to find something different was certainly one of those.

Last Friday morning, I made better use of my time; after looking at a photo of a friend’s niece, I prayed for her. This two-year old, bald from undergoing chemotherapy for stage 4 cancer, was asleep in her mother’s arms and doesn’t understand that the chemicals making her so miserable are a last ditch effort to destroy the cancer that has ravaged her body. Later that day, I attended a Celebration of Life for a man who, less than a week earlier, set out for an afternoon ride on his motorcycle never knowing that would be his final ride in life. Absent from that memorial service were our senior pastor and his wife. They’d been in a car accident earlier in the day. Like the toddler and the motorcyclist, they never expected what came hurtling into their lives. One child is fighting for her life, one man lost his life, and one couple escaped with their lives.

Many of us might say we have too little time but the quantity of time granted us and our loved ones, whether just days or several decades, is exactly the right amount of time and has been determined by someone far greater than we are. The way we spend those precious moments, however, is our choice alone. Unfortunately, David Cassidy had it right: “so much wasted time.” When the book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a season for everything, wasting time is never mentioned as one of them. We can fritter away our minutes in all sorts of futile ways—anger, nitpicking, regret, lethargy, worry, complaint, conflict and fretting are just a few—or we can use them generously, joyfully, thankfully and with love.

This week we celebrate my mother-in-law’s 101st birthday; her dash has been long and well spent. While she has been blessed with exceptional longevity, last Friday was a reminder that we all have expiration dates and none of us know that day. In many cases, it will be far sooner than expected. The dates we are here, however, are not as important as how we spend the time between those dates. How will we spend our dash?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE CHAIR

What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. [Isaiah 31:1 (NLT)]

The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—for all its strength, it cannot save you. [Psalm 33:16-17 (NLT)]

Lake LouiseThe small chair looked quite inviting but there was a note on it: “Broken—do not use.” That note has been resting on the same chair for several years. Had the chair been mine, it would have been repaired or at least hidden out of the way. As it is now, the chair is useless and an invitation to disaster. Just a slight breeze might blow the warning off the chair; the next person to come along could sit there and end up sprawled on the floor surrounded by splintered wood.

In contrast to the precarious antique chair at my friend’s house, is the large leather arm chair in our family room. It’s not there for looks—it’s there for support and comfort. Oversized and well-built, it’s strong enough to hold my weight and that of all the grands as they pile on it with me. It’s durable, comfortable, welcoming and dependable.

Some people depend on things as fragile as that broken chair—things that look nice but can’t be trusted like wealth, career, appearance, possessions, power, contacts, intelligence, or fame. They may appear sturdier than that broken chair but, like it, they can easily shatter and collapse when we need them most. Our circumstances can change in an instant and what we had yesterday may not be here tomorrow. The Old Testament is filled with stories showing the danger of relying on the wrong things. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah suffered for their dependence on idols, other nations, and themselves rather than God; we will, too. When we depend on anything as weak as a rickety old chair, eventually it will collapse and we’ll be left to pick up the broken pieces. As for me, I’d rather depend on a God who is like our arm chair—strong, steadfast and indestructible! Ours is a rock-solid God who won’t fail us, no matter how much weight we place on Him.

On who or what do you rely? Is it reliable….as reliable as God?

But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone. [Psalm 33:19-22 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BOTH SEEN AND HEARD

And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. … Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”  [Genesis 16:11,13a (NLT)]

sparrowThe slave woman Hagar felt invisible. It was Sarah who was loved by Abraham; Hagar was just a substitute womb. Of course, Hagar wasn’t entirely blameless. Once pregnant, she taunted her mistress with her fertility and Sarah retaliated by treating her harshly. Abraham washed his hands of the whole thing when he told Sarah the way she treated (or mistreated) the maid was her business, not his. After all, Hagar was little more than a brood mare; the powerless victim of Sarah’s scheme, she meant nothing to Abraham so she ran away. Invisible, unappreciated and unloved—she sat by a spring of water in the wilderness. The angel of the Lord heard and saw her, comforted her, gave her hope of a future and sent her back to her mistress. From then on, Hagar referred to the Lord as El-Roi: the God who sees me.

Fourteen years later, Sarah bore a son—Isaac. Animosity and jealousy between the women and sibling rivalry between the boys made a bad situation even worse. Now that the promised son was born, Sarah demanded that Abraham get rid of both Hagar and Ishmael. Although Abraham was upset about losing his first son, Hagar continued to be invisible, unappreciated and unloved by him. After strapping some food and water on her back, he sent mother and son off into the wilderness. Their water supply was soon depleted and, at death’s door, Ishmael lay under a bush and cried. His name meant “God shall hear” and, indeed, God did. Hearing her boy’s cries, God again reassured the distraught woman of her son’s future and opened her eyes so that she saw a well and a means of survival.

We have a God who sees and hears us. If He could see an invisible unloved slave woman in the wilderness and hear her unwanted son’s cries, He can see and hear us. If He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, He knows when we need Him. It may seem that we’re invisible and unheard by those around us but we are never invisible or unheard by Him. He will open our eyes to possibilities and give us hope and a future.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 (NLT)

But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears. [Psalm 18:6 (NLT)]

Why should I feel discouraged, Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely, And long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? A constant friend is He;
His eye is on the sparrow And I know He watches me.
[“His Eye Is On the Sparrow” by Civilla D. Martin]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOD-INCIDENCES – Thanksgiving 2017

The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. [Psalm 103:19 (NLT)]

mountain bluebirdMost of us live rather ordinary and somewhat predictable lives that are occasionally interrupted by major life events (some welcome and some not). It is life’s little surprises—its happenstance and serendipity—that keep our lives from becoming humdrum. On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s give thought to those little blessings we call coincidences.

We probably have no problem crediting God with the big blessings of life—things like the birth of a healthy child, the benign biopsy, the successful surgery, the spouse he gave us, the better paying job or His gifts of salvation and forgiveness. On the other hand, we tend to think of the little unexpected blessings—the butterfly or bluebird, the chance meeting, the phone call from a loved one, the sermon that spoke to our need, or the humorous email that arrived when we were in the dumps—as mere coincidence or luck. After all, our God is almighty and far too busy running the universe to deal with the minutiae of our everyday lives. Make no mistake; nothing is unimportant to a God who sees every sparrow fall and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our universe is not run by random chance and God can multitask better than a one armed paper-hanger or a mom with triple toddlers! Nothing escapes His notice!

We speak to God in prayer but often chalk up His answer to luck or coincidence. Although He speaks audibly, I think he also speaks through a seemingly random Bible verse, a fortuitous encounter, words in a book we happen to pick up, a picture we see, or even sunsets, sunrises, flowers and animals. When we credit the little blessings of life to coincidence, we’re happy. When we credit them to their orchestrator, we become thankful. While we’re surprised by these seemingly random or chance events, our God never is! Both the big important incidents and the unimportant trivial ones come from His hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we will give thanks for our food, family, health, homes and all the major blessings of life. Let us also give thanks for the little blessings, the godsends, that make our ordinary lives so extraordinary: the ones that encourage us when we want to give up, put smiles on our faces, fill our hearts with joy, answer our questions, or remind us how much we’re loved. Along with all the big things, let’s be sure to give him credit for the little ones—the God-incidences—that he scatters throughout our days. His fingerprints are everywhere we look!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

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

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MARA

Monarch butterfly - queen anne's laceBut she said, “Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined me.” [Ruth 1:20-21 (MSG)]

The final lesson of learning to be independent – widowhood…is the hardest lesson of all. [Anne Morrow Lindberg]

When we first meet her in the book of Ruth, the widowed Naomi does not seem the sort of unpleasant meddlesome mother-in-law about whom jokes are made; she is much loved and respected by her daughters-in-law. After great tragedy strikes their family, Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law Ruth chooses to leave home, return with her to Israel, and adopt the God of the Israelites. Naomi must have been a very special woman to have a daughter-in-law so determined to stay at her side. By the time the widows arrive in Bethlehem, however, we see another side to the older woman. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she says, telling people to call her Mara, meaning bitter. For Naomi and Ruth, circumstances improve when Ruth meets and marries Boaz and presents her mother-in-law with a grandchild. Unfortunately, not every widow has a Boaz to act as her redeemer and provide a happy ending to the story.

I have a group of widowed friends who, if comparing tragic sob stories with Naomi, could put hers to shame. They lost as much or more and have endured as many hardships and challenges as did Naomi. Nevertheless, in spite of having their lives turned upside down by their losses, none of them would call themselves bitter. While they have their moments of complaint, sorrow and loneliness, their faith strengthens them and allows them to face their new reality with an eagerness and joy that does not depend on outer circumstances. Their grief hasn’t left them bitter; if anything, it has made them better. They radiate a sense of peace, purpose and zest for life because their redeemer isn’t a relative who has chosen to take care of them; their Redeemer is Jesus Christ!

I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to lose a spouse but I imagine it’s like being ripped in half. Someday, either my husband or I will face the grief and uncertainty that comes with widowhood. When the “we” of our lives becomes just “me,” loneliness, anger and resentment can easily follow. We can become bitter or allow our faith to fill us with hope. Death may take away a spouse, but Jesus will take that spouse away from death! I pray that, in our grief, we will be strengthened by our faith in God’s purpose and receive the consolation offered by our Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

Most loving God, you know the pain and sorrow of death; mercifully hear our prayer for those who mourn the death of their beloved. The nights are lonely and the days are too long. Comfort them and bring an end to the days of tears. Bless them and bring an end to their days of sorrow. Renew them with the joy of life and bring to an end their days of mourning. Let the bond of love which you have for your people be the foundation of their hope that love never ends and that precious moments with our beloved are forever held dear in our hearts. Amen. [Vienna Cobb Anderson]

The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. [John 14:26-17 (MSG)]

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. [Matthew 5:4 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE ENEMY – FEAR

Laudermilk Park Naples FLWe, therefore, can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ [Hebrews 13:6 (PHILLIPS)]

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address. It was 1933 and the nation was in the dark days of the Great Depression. Although the reason for our nation’s darkness differs, his words still hold true.

Like many others, our church spent last week discussing and implementing security measures. How can a house of worship—a place that welcomes the lost and the least, the weary and the burdened—protect itself from the violence that increasingly surrounds us? As so many schools do, should we require everyone to have laminated ID cards for entrance through our doors? Do we pat down people or pass them through metal detectors? Should we carry guns in shoulder holsters and purses? Do we cease welcoming strangers? Will we refuse entry to anyone involved in a domestic dispute lest their angry spouse chooses to vent his anger on our doorstep?

Will we allow fear to stop us from attending church? If we do, we might as well stop going to concerts, schools, theaters, shopping centers, street festivals, airports, parades, marathons, or sporting events—all of which are perfect targets for both terrorists and the mentally ill. No place is entirely safe, especially when cars and trucks can become weapons with just a turn of the wheel and a little pressure on the gas pedal.

I admit to being more cautious nowadays. I look for exits and avoid confrontations but that’s being sensible rather than afraid. Told to say something if we see something, I am attentive to my surroundings but for what are we supposed to look? The concert goers in Las Vegas never saw the shooter and, by the time the parishioners in Texas saw the gunman, it was too late. Once it was easy to identify the deranged—they were the ones talking or screaming to themselves, gesturing wildly, or dancing to their own inner music. Now, because of cell phones, blue tooth, and iPods, many on the street seem unbalanced when they aren’t and terrorists don’t wear t-shirts announcing their hateful plans.

Admittedly, we live in a world of random violence but it’s not nearly as violent as we think it is. The odds of dying of either heart disease or cancer are more than 30,000 times greater than dying at the hands of a terrorist. While those odds are of no comfort to the families who have lost loved ones to terror, they tell us to be watchful rather than afraid.

There is more to FDR’s quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to turn retreat into advance.” When we allow fear to keep us from our daily routine, when fear keeps us from attending  our children’s football games or  flying on a plane, when we become too afraid to go the beach or even to church, we are retreating from the real enemy—Satan. Rather than arming ourselves with weapons, let’s put on the armor of God and, as Christ’s soldiers, bravely advance onward into battle.

Never be afraid of those who can kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction! [Matthew 10:28 (PHILLIPS)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.