SHED THE SHROUD

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” [John 11:43-44 (NLT)]

red-spotted purple admiralWhen Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, the once dead man emerged from the tomb with his face wrapped in a head cloth and his body bound in burial garments. Jesus commanded people to unbind him and free him from the trappings of the grave. Something tells me that, after four days in a tomb, Lazarus left behind more than some linen cloth soiled with the detritus of the tomb and death. While we don’t know what he experienced during those days, He must have returned to life with a new perspective. As he walked into the sunlight he never expected seeing again and inhaled the air he never anticipated breathing again, can you imagine how much he appreciated his new lease on life? Given a second chance, he probably wasn’t about to bring any regrets, resentment, anger, or guilt with him. Raised from the dead, he probably shed much of his past along with that shroud as he stepped from the tomb’s gloom.

Unlike Lazarus, we haven’t physically died. Our family didn’t wash us with warm water, rub us with spices and oil, wrap us in a burial garment, lay us in a tomb, and mourn our passing. Like Lazarus, however, we were dead before answering Jesus’ call. Born again into a new spiritual life, we are no longer spiritually dead and our grave clothes are no longer necessary. Lazarus shed his, why can’t we? We tend to carry the detritus and debris of our yesterdays with us when we come to Christ. Instead of putting on the new clothes of salvation and righteousness, we stay wrapped in the shroud of the past that’s stained with betrayals, anger, disappointment, loss, and hurt and embellished with remorse and disgrace. Even when we think we’ve donned the fresh clothes of a new life in Christ, we often tuck a pang of guilt or shame into a pocket. We can’t believe we’ve been forgiven, but we have; we can’t believe we’re good enough, but we are; we can’t believe He could possibly love us, but He does!

When Lazarus stepped into the light from that dark tomb, he shed his shroud. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we were given a new spiritual life; let us shed our past and clothe ourselves with joy and the presence of Jesus Christ.

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. [Galatians 3:27 (NLT)]

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. [Psalm 30:11 (NLT)]

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COMPASSION FATIGUE

Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” [1 Kings 19:4 (NLT)]

hibiscusMost of us think of sloth as laziness: a dislike of work or any physical exertion. Having watched the local zoo’s sloth in action (or, rather, inaction), I think the sluggish animal is appropriately named. Spiritual sloth, however, is far different than being a couch potato. Originally, the sin of sloth was two sins: sadness and acedia. Compiled by Evagrius of Pontius, 4th century monk, these two “capitals sins” were part of a list of eight he believed to the greatest threats to devout monasticism.

We know what sadness is and it’s important to remember that the sadness which Evagrius found problematic for his monks was not clinical depression; it was that despondency or gloom that easily came upon a monk living an ascetic life of prayer, fasting and labor in the middle of the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. It was unhappiness with one’s present situation and the melancholy that comes from longing for something different. It was distress at one’s circumstances and the inability to give thanks in all things. In this troubled world, we certainly don’t have to be monks to suffer that kind of sadness.

Acedia comes from the Greek and means without care or concern. Rather than laziness, it is apathy or a fatigue of mind and soul. A spiritual boredom or weariness, acedia results in listless prayers, study or service. In the midday heat, the monks were tempted to let their minds wander during study and prayers and then fall asleep causing Evagrius to call acedia the “noonday demon.” Seeing the correlation between sadness and acedia, in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory combined the two sins into sloth .

A few mornings ago, I fell victim to compassion fatigue and began to understand spiritual sloth. The previous night’s discussion in Bible study had been disheartening. We’d talked of the recent hurricanes (with yet another one on the horizon), Mexico’s earthquakes, Puerto Rico’s devastation, Korea’s threat, the horrendous carnage in Las Vegas, a polarized nation, and the unrest in the Middle East. As I added that night’s heartbreaking prayer requests to my already burgeoning and depressing list, I grew numb with grief. “What’s the point? I wondered as I listed a two-year old just diagnosed with metastasized stomach cancer, a woman who may lose her feet because of nursing home neglect, and a friend’s suicidal son. “What difference can I make? Why bother?” I cried. At that point, my heart was so weary with grief that I no longer wanted to care or pray. I probably felt as Elijah did when, while fleeing Jezebel, he sat down under that broom tree and said he wanted to die. That’s spiritual sloth and it’s not just monks and Old Testament prophets that can be afflicted with it. The enemy wants us all to become so downhearted and world-weary that we fall into spiritual inactivity or sloth.

Elijah was cured of his spiritual sloth by food, rest, and a talk with the Lord. Although I didn’t eat, I was nourished by Scripture. I didn’t sleep but I rested in the words I read and then, like Elijah, I had a prayerful chat with God. God whispered to Elijah and gave him new strength. He whispered to me and refreshed me with his words of love, comfort, reassurance and hope.

I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. [Psalm 94:18-19 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8 (NLT)]

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DOWN BUT NOT OUT

No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is unhealthy, your body is filled with darkness. 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 11:34-36 (NLT)]

broken lightTo avoid the southwest Florida heat, I waited until dusk to take my walk. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, most of the street lamps in my neighborhood don’t work. For a light to function, electrical energy has to be converted into light energy and both a source of electricity and a working connection are needed. For many of the lights, the connection was broken when blowing debris shattered their bulbs. For others, Irma’s 150 mph winds broke the connection when it blew off their tops, wrapped their poles around trees, or knocked them to the ground. Without a connection to their source of power, those street lights are useless—they’re just a tangle of wires and a pile of glass, plastic and metal. Even though they don’t work, people have been cautioned to remember that their exposed wires are live. It’s not the electricity that is missing; it’s the connection that is inoperative. Two poles, however, were down but not out. Even though they’d been flattened by the storm, neither wires nor bulb had broken. In spite of the storm’s violence, they remained connected and were beacons in the night’s darkness.

When the storms of life batter us and knock us down, like those street lamps, we can lose our connection, not to electricity, but to God. Our minds may get so caught up in anger, worry, fear, depression, or self-pity that we become separated from our true source of power—Jesus. He told us to let our lights shine but we can’t shine if we’re not connected to Him. When our lives go dark, we should remember that God hasn’t gone anywhere—like the electricity, He’s still there. We’re the ones who are broken. Unfortunately, no Florida Power & Light truck is going to arrive and reconnect us to God.

Reconnecting is a choice we have to make. Reconnecting is trusting God and ceding to His will. It is prayer and reading the Bible; it is praise, thanksgiving and worship. Reconnecting is turning to God and choosing joy over misery, light over darkness, love over hate, forgiveness over rancor, peace over anger and service over selfishness. Fortunately, we’re not alone in this. We may not have FP&L but we have something more powerful (and far more dependable)—the Holy Spirit! If we allow Him, He will reconnect us to the light of the world. We may be down, but we don’t ever have to go out! By His power, our lights can continue to shine.

Remember this. When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people withdraw from God. [Augustine]

And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. [Luke 24:49 (NLT)]

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)]

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MINDSET

dawn - Duluth HarborDon’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. [Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)]

The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. [C.S. Lewis]

The above words are from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. For Lewis, those first moments of wakefulness were the most important ones of the day because they set one’s frame of mind. When God is our first thought of the day, we begin the morning with a sense of peace and power – peace because we know it all is in His hands and power because we know that through Him we can get through anything the day throws at us. It’s as if an invisible barrier has been set up between us and the desires, troubles and cares of the world in which we live.

Unfortunately, some days that barrier doesn’t get erected. When that happens, it’s as if the world uses a battering ram to crash into our thoughts and things like anxiety, annoyance, outrage, stress, pain and fear come stampeding through our minds. For the rest of the day, we struggle to find that peace God promised. When Lewis wrote those words about shoving back our thoughts and ceding our minds to God, he added, “We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us.”

Some sixteen years later, Lewis truly knew how difficult it was to shove back the world’s thoughts and let God’s voice come flowing into his mind. His wife Joy had again been diagnosed with terminal cancer and a second miraculous recovery did not appear to be in God’s plan. When writing to a friend about Joy’s cancer, Lewis said the following: “The dreadful thing, as you know, is the waking each morning—the moment at which it all floats back on one.” Sixteen years after writing about those first waking moments, he was still struggling to turn his thoughts over to God. We all do.

When life goes awry, dark troubling thoughts bombard our minds at the crack of dawn. Instead of dedicating our thoughts to God, we think things like, “Oh God, not another day like yesterday…not another day of pain and trouble…not another day of bad news…Please God, no more!” Surely, Abraham woke to dark thoughts the morning he was to sacrifice his beloved Isaac. David, knowing his infant son would die, must have had those dark thoughts every morning during the seven days of his boy’s illness. Perhaps even Jesus, knowing what lay ahead for Him, struggled with dark thoughts when he woke that Maundy Thursday morning.

As Lewis so wisely said, “We are Christians, not Stoics.” Anxiety, worry, and even fear are part of being human and yet they sap our strength and undermine our faith. The first moments of our day, however, can make a tremendous difference in our journey. It’s a darn sight easier to erect a dike before the flood, shore up a wall before it starts to cave, and turn the day over to God before its troubles start barging in. We’ll still have the challenges of the day but we’ll have the power and strength to face them. As Lewis discovered, it’s not easy but it’s worth a try!

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. [Philippians 4:8-9(MSG)]

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WHAT’S YOUR GOLIATH?

Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come—when you’ll no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to try to remember him when the sun and light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among your clouds. For there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, your strong legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work, and there will be blindness too. [Ecclesiastes 12:1-3 (TLB)

“What’s the Goliath in your life?” was the subject line in an email advertisement for a new book. That question made me wonder what opposing force I face today that appears to have overwhelming odds in its favor. Of what am I afraid?

I realized my Goliath doesn’t look imposing, strong and powerful. Nowhere near nine feet tall, my Goliath has osteoporosis and is stooped, frail and weak. Rather than carrying a sword, my Goliath uses a walker and, instead of an armor bearer carrying a shield, this fearsome enemy has a caregiver who carries his glasses and cuts his meat. My Goliath doesn’t have a vast army behind him; he has outlived both his spouse and contemporaries and has trouble recognizing anyone else. My Goliath is old age.

When our Florida pastor asked who wanted to live to be 100, neither my husband nor I raised our hands. We’ve seen 100 (his mother is approaching 101) and it isn’t appealing; in fact, it is daunting. If we could physically and mentally remain as we are today, we would have raised our hands instantly. Unfortunately, we know that no matter how well we care for ourselves, our bodies and minds will be thirty years older and deteriorating the way milk does near its expiration date.

Someone asked if I was afraid of death and I quickly answered, “No!” Death is going home to God and will be wonderful. Dying, however, is another story; it can be a slow and painful process and that scares me. Granted, I can lob a few stones at Goliath in the way of healthy habits, but there is no way, short of death, that I can delay his arrival. Ecclesiastes 12 paints a vivid but grim picture of old age with its physical infirmities and loss of faculties.

Several hours after the Goliath question appeared in my email, a different question showed up in my inbox: “How firm is your foundation?” That question gave me pause. If my foundation is firm, nothing can defeat me! I had been thinking of old age as my Goliath instead of my David. David was small and weak, as I am fast becoming, and yet he overpowered Goliath. I can’t vanquish the indignities and decline of the oncoming years and I certainly can’t evade my body’s final defeat, but God will give me the power to rout that defeatist attitude. I’ll do that by having a firm foundation and doing as the writer of Ecclesiastes advises: fear God and obey His commandments. [12:13] My Goliath isn’t old age; it is fear of old age! With a firm foundation in God, I can trust His promises. Knowing He will never abandon me, I can face my enemy with confidence and defeat it as did David with Goliath. As long as God gives me breath, He will continue to calm my fears and give me both purpose and the power to achieve it.

 If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old. [James A. Garfield]

I have created you and cared for you since you were born. I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Savior. [Isaiah 46:3b-4 (TLB)]

But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him! [Psalm 92:12-15 (TLB)]

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STORMS

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! [Psalm 46:1-3 (NLT)]

great blue heronThe damage done by Hurricane Harvey seemed unbelievable until Irma hammered the entire state of Florida. Fortunately, our Florida home was prepared and we were safely situated in the Midwest during Irma’s tirade. Would that all the storms of life announced themselves a week in advance to give us time to put up storm shutters and evacuate to safety.

Unfortunately, most of life’s storms are more like tornadoes and hit with little or no warning. Yesterday, sixteen years after 9/11, we were again reminded how unpredictable and precarious life can be. Plywood, sand bags, flashlights, batteries, generators, and stores of fuel, water, and canned goods are of no use when a plane crashes into a building, a spouse has a disabling stroke, a car careens into a crowd, or a stray bullet hits. Addiction, Alzheimer’s, job loss, divorce, cancer, mental illness or a drunken driver don’t warn us before wreaking havoc with our lives. We cannot escape from life’s tempests and trials and they can be far more destructive than any hurricane with its accompanying storm surge.

Someone asked if I had a digital record of our property and another if I was worried about losing anything. Possessions were the least of my concerns; “It’s just stuff!” was my response. We did our best to protect our Florida home and belongings but they are things. I can’t take them with me at the end so, if I lose them now, what difference does it really make? Perhaps I’m being cavalier; it’s our second home so, even if everything is destroyed, I still have a place to rest my head. Nevertheless, although most of those affected have only one home, the same holds true for us all; it really is just stuff. Eventually, power will be restored and homes and businesses will be rebuilt; life goes on.

The question about what I didn’t want to lose got me wondering about my answer—if not house and possessions, to what am I attached? The answer is my faith and relationships, neither of which can be insured or replaced. In the last few days I’ve heard from friends far and near, checking on us and offering their help. These are people who already have more than enough on their plates and yet they offered us both moral support and helping hands. I would mourn losing relationships like those far more than anything in my houses. As for my faith, I’d like to think it will take more than a hurricane or even a terrorist attack to topple it.

Our Florida home was built to withstand a hurricane and should have survived the storm’s onslaught; I don’t yet know. The more important question is whether my faith and relationships can survive the sort of pounding that Irma inflicted on Florida. Are they strong enough to survive gale force winds? Rather than taking pictures of stuff, shuttering the windows or putting furniture up on blocks, what am I doing to reinforce and protect both my faith and relationships to make sure they survive whatever storms come my way?

Heavenly Father, thank you for keeping us strong during life’s storms. Let your written word and the Spirit’s voice bolster us when we start to waver in the wind. Thank you for the gift of friends and family—the people who love and strengthen us so we can survive the squalls, challenges, and losses of our troubled world. Help us be the kind of friends who can be counted on to encourage, reinforce and sustain those around us.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. [Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)]

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