RAINBOWS OF JOY (Part 3)

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)]

rainbow at sunrise

While Joshua thought his 48-hour day was long, for most of us, these last seven months have seemed like a year. Unlike Joshua, we’ll need more than another 24 hours before declaring victory on the enemy. Back in March, I naively thought life would be back to normal about now. By the time May rolled around, I realized that what first seemed like a marathon run had turned into an Ironman triathlon. I now see it more as a grueling trek along the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails. It’s been a long haul with steep hills and dark valleys; without the end in sight, we’re growing weary and morale is low.

Be that as it may, it’s not all bad and there’s been some “trail magic” along the way. Trail magic is a term long-distance hikers have for those unexpected experiences along the trail that inspire awe or lift their spirits. It can be nature’s gifts like a rainbow after a day of rain, a field of wildflowers, or seeing a doe with her fawn on the trail. It also can be a kindness like an encouraging note or a cache of soda or candy bars left beside the trail. Rather than trail magic, a friend who’s been working from home since last March calls these moments “little rainbows of joy.” For her, one such rainbow has been having the opportunity to finally teach her 12-year old how to ride a bike and being able to take a daily ride with him.

A pastor friend found a rainbow of joy in in her new normal because it’s meant having more time with her children than she’s had in years. Another pastor friend finally found the time to adopt a dog. A corporate attorney, whose busy schedule had her on the train by 6:50 AM, expressed her joy at being home and able to make breakfast for her family (they love her French toast). An accountant friend finally had time to share his love of woodworking with his children and show them how to use tools. My son has been teaching his daughter how to use the sewing machine (and admits that reading blueprints is easier than sewing patterns). His wife has discovered a love of baking; she and the children have made some fantastic cakes. People are again finding time to fish, hike, bake bread, play games with one another, and garden.

There are rainbows of joy in the technology that allows on-line church, concerts, Bible studies, doctor’s appointments, book clubs, and even virtual happy hours with colleagues. Grandparents are playing Yahtzee or reading bedtime stories to their grands courtesy of Zoom or FaceTime. We’ve been reconnecting with old friends via email, phone calls, or video chatting. There was even a bit of trail magic in the Celebration of Life I attended last week. Even without COVID, the distance would have meant I couldn’t be there but, because of Vimeo, I could. A family member who couldn’t attend had her own trail magic when two eagles landed on a tree outside the window while On Eagle’s Wings was sung during her mother’s memorial. There are sprinkles of joy scattered throughout even our hardest days.

We are told to be thankful in all circumstances but it’s hard to be thankful unless we find some joy hidden in those circumstances. Regardless of what you call these blessed moments, the key is to find them in the midst of the darkness and challenges surrounding us. They’re found by lowering our expectations from the impressive to the inconsequential but beautiful experiences found in our everyday lives. They’re found by celebrating our little successes—whether it’s making spring rolls or pizza dough from scratch, finishing a 500-piece puzzle or building a bird house, defeating your spouse in a game of Rummikub or seeing a rainbow on the morning’s walk. Let us open our eyes and find the joy that is hidden in this long journey through COVID-19.

The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings! [Henry Ward Beecher]

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)]

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BENEVOLENT DETACHMENT

Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. [1 Peter 5: 7-9 (MSG)]

great blue heron“We’re just a big ball of frustration right now!” a public information officer for the San Antonio Police said while describing the rise in road rage and violent driver incidents in that city. Unfortunately that big ball of frustration isn’t limited to the road or San Antonio. Satan must be chortling in glee as he watches people’s virus-fueled anxiety spurring rising levels of aggression and hostility everywhere.

A Texas woman recently had a complete meltdown in the grocery store. After being asked to wear a mask, she went on an expletive-deleted tirade while flinging more than a dozen items out of her cart. Although she’d worn the mask while shopping, she’d removed it in the checkout line. While she chucked her pork chops, chicken, produce, and canned goods into the aisles with one hand, she held her mask in the other. Finally, abandoning the rest of her groceries, she stormed out of the store, screaming profanities and still waving her mask. The outburst gained her nothing but embarrassment as her outburst went viral and she still had to buy groceries (in a city with a mask mandate)!

Whether it’s fear, anger, depression, unease or frustration about health and safety, racial injustice, politics, government, cabin fever, unemployment, financial challenges, on-line schooling, working remotely, or isolation, tension is high and everyone is on edge. But, instead of dealing with our feelings, we seem to be lashing out at one another. While I haven’t thrown a tantrum or screamed at anyone yet, I admit to not liking my mind’s inner dialogue when I see people flaunting the mask order, hogging the sidewalk, wearing masks improperly, with a loaded grocery cart in the express lane, or committing numerous other minor social infractions that wouldn’t have aggravated me a few months ago.

People are wound tight and living that way isn’t good for our bodies or our souls. We need to let go of those petty annoyances along with our major concerns and give them all to God! Christian counselor and author John Eldredge calls this practice “benevolent detachment.” It’s a way to be kind to ourselves as well as to those around us. To practice this detachment, he’s developed an app called “One Minute Pause.” With soothing music in the background, it begins with a few deep breaths followed by God inviting us to give everyone and everything to Him. It continues with our response: “I give everyone and everything to you, God!” followed by a few Bibles verses and a brief prayer. Although I have the app, none of us need an app on our phones to benevolently detach from the world around us. We do, however, have to hit the pause button on our emotions! We need to unclench both physically and spiritually and release whatever is troubling us to God.

The request to put on her mask probably was the least of many things bothering that Texas woman but, as “the last straw,” it was what triggered her frenzy. What if she had made a practice of benevolent detachment—of regularly pausing long enough to hand her frustrations to God? Let us all make a concerted effort to let go of life’s minor vexations before they evolve into a complete meltdown or worse. Let’s regularly step back, take a deep breath, and redirect our attention to the One who is walking through this valley with us. We’re not in this alone! As we give God our fear, anxiety, irritation, exasperation, angst, and sadness, let us choose to trust Him.

Over time I’ve found no better practice to help clear out my cluttered soul than the practice of benevolent detachment. The ability to let it go, walk away — not so much physically but emotionally, soulfully. [John Eldredge]

Don’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 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE CARRIES US

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. [Psalm 68:19 (NLT)]

carrying his childMy daughter-in-law sent photos of the family’s day at the apple orchard. The grands picked apples, pet the farm animals, climbed the tractors, raced the pedal karts, did the zip-line, raced through the corn maze, traversed the goat bridge, and enjoyed their fill of donuts and apple cider. It was a fun-filled but exhausting day. The last picture was of my son carrying the youngest grand (who’d fallen asleep on the ride home) into the house.

The photo brought me back to my childhood when, like my grand, I’d fall asleep in the car on the way home from a family outing. Once home, my father would scoop me up in his strong arms to carry me into the house and up to my room. I remember feeling safe and loved as he carried me in his arms.

The oversized La-Z-Boy in our den was my father’s chair but, when he wasn’t home, my mother and I would snuggle there and talk for hours. I’d pour out my troubles, questions, hopes, and fears. She would quietly listen and then comfort, guide, encourage and pray with me. Holding me in her arms, she’d dry any tears and reassure me that life would eventually work out for the best.

Those childhood days are long gone; my parents passed away more than half a century ago and all that’s left are fond memories. Nevertheless, there still are times I’d like to shed the duties of adulthood and be a child again: to be the one carried instead of the one doing the carrying—the one falling apart instead of the one putting it together again. I don’t think I’m the only person who’s ever wanted to resign from adulthood. The responsibilities that come with maturity can weigh on us all.

In these troubled times, today’s responsibilities feel especially heavy. Every day seems to bring another challenge. We may be grown up but we haven’t outgrown the need to be nurtured, encouraged, comforted and restored. Many of us, however, seem to have outgrown the willingness to stop and admit our vulnerability and need. Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we can’t rest in the arms of our Heavenly Father and let Him carry us when we’re weary. Although we can’t return to childhood, we have a Father in Heaven who loves each of us as if we were His only child. He will hold and comfort us as only a loving parent can. Rather than bandaging skinned knees and feeding our bodies, He bandages wounded hearts and nourishes our souls. He may not carry us up to our rooms but He we will carry us close to His heart for the rest of our days.

Snuggle in God’s arms. When you are hurting, when you feel lonely, left out. Let Him cradle you, comfort you, reassure you of His all-sufficient power and love. [Kay Arthur]

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. [Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)]

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. [Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE PEACE STORE

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. [John 16:33 (NLT)]

Peace Store - Key West, FLBetween demonstrations that turn into brawls or rioting, incidents of mask rage, shootings, negative and misleading political ads, quarrelsome legislators, nations accusing one another of espionage and fraud, and the assorted armed conflicts throughout the world, I wish we could purchase peace as easily as we can items from Key West’s Peace Store. Actually, given the anger and nastiness so prevalent in the world today, I’m afraid wearing one of their tee-shirts politely requesting “Peace Please” or a face mask with the peace symbol could cause conflict rather than promote peace! Real peace, however, is more than the absence of conflict and it’s not something that can be purchased in Key West or anywhere else.

The Greek word usually translated as peace in the New Testament is eirēnē. In classic Greek, it meant the absence of war but, when found in the New Testament, eirēnē has a far broader meaning. This expanded meaning is because Jesus didn’t speak Greek and the word He would have used was shalom, which meant well-being in the widest sense of the word. In the Hebrew Scriptures, along with the lack of conflict, shalom was used for prosperity, physical health, contentedness both when going to sleep and at death, good relationships between nations and people, and salvation. When Gideon built an altar to the Lord, he named it Yahweh-Shalom, which meant “the Lord is peace.” For a Jew, shalom was the sense of general well-being that came from God alone.

When Jesus promised us peace or shalom, along with absence of discord, He included a sense of wholeness, health, welfare, safety, rest, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, freedom from care, acceptance, and harmony. If we could purchase any or all of those at the Peace Store, their website would crash, the line out the door would be a mile long, and the store owners would be among the Fortune 500!

We can’t purchase peace because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, purchased it for us; shalom is ours simply for the asking. That peace doesn’t mean lack of hardship, sickness, death, grief, or difficulties. In fact, Jesus pretty much guaranteed we’d have those. He did, however, promise peace in every one of those situations.

If you’re ever in Key West, you can check out the Peace Store where they say, “Peace is always in fashion.” If, however, you’re looking for true peace, the kind of peace that far exceeds our understanding, you’ll find that only in a relationship with God. If we remain in Christ, keep the Holy Spirit within us, are obedient to His word, study and pray, serve and love, the shalom promised by the Prince of Peace will remain bright within our hearts and souls. Calling Key West “the gateway to paradise,” the Peace Store was wrong; the true path to paradise is found only in Jesus and His gospel of peace.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. [C.S. Lewis]

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)]

This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. [Acts 10:36 (NLT)]

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A LONG SABBATH 

Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen. “Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!” [Luke 10:40 (NTE)]

madagasgar periwinkleNo one has remained untouched by the trials and misfortune of this challenging year. That’s why my friend admitted feeling uncomfortable when acknowledging that she’s come to enjoy the downtime and slow pace of sheltering in place and social distancing. I had to agree with her. You see, pre-pandemic, we’d been more like Martha than Mary and our lives were filled with activities and obligations. I never seemed to have quite enough time and often felt overwhelmed by obligations. In an odd way, we both feel blessed by the slower pace of this quieter time.

When Jesus came to dinner, Martha was honored to host the famous rabbi. Fulfilling cultural expectations, she busied herself with her domestic duties. Wanting to impress her guests, she probably did whatever the 1st century equivalent was of setting the table with the finest tablecloth, Lenox china, sterling silver, Waterford goblets, flower centerpiece, and candles while preparing a four course gourmet dinner and baking a triple berry pie from scratch. Breaching society’s expectations, however, her sister Mary sat with the men at the feet of Jesus.

Translated as distracted or frantic, the Greek word used to describe Martha’s state of mind is periespato. Meaning drawn away, it indicates being pulled in different directions at once, just as a hostess is when she’s got meat on the grill, rolls in the oven, a pot boiling on the stove, water glasses to fill, and guests in the living room! Not knowing which way to turn and thinking Mary was the solution, Martha complained to Jesus. When He told her only one thing mattered, He may have meant one simple dish was all the men needed. It’s more likely that He meant spending time in His presence was the important thing, which was what Mary was doing. While busy Martha was working to feed Jesus, contemplative Mary was feeding on His words.

Life has taken on a simpler shape during this pandemic and I’ve learned that activity doesn’t necessarily mean accomplishment. Like Martha, I’d become distracted while trying to serve the Lord. Now, with my calendar cleared of concerts, plays, date nights, guests, fund raisers, lectures, assorted appointments, classes, tours, and get-togethers, I’m taking the time to be like Mary: to be with Jesus at His feet.

On the seventh day of creation, God rested from His work, blessed the day and made it holy. When He gave us the Sabbath, it was to be a day of rest, refreshment, and recuperation dedicated to the Lord. Sheltering in place is like a very long Sabbath. Requiring us to depend on God’s provision, it affords us a beautiful opportunity to step out of our normal routine and into God’s presence. Let us all make the most of this extended Sabbath. May it become a blessed opportunity to become less like Martha and more like Mary.

“Martha, Martha,” he replied, “you are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42 (NTE)]

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HE EXISTS

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. [Genesis 1:31 (NLT)]

The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation. [Psalm 145:9 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronPeople often argue against God’s existence because of evil and suffering. With so much that is wrong in the world, they question how there could there be a god. Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was once an atheist who reasoned that such a cruel and unjust world proved the absence of God until he questioned where he got the idea of what was good or evil, just or unjust. He realized that something cannot be wrong or evil unless there is standard for what is right or good. In a universe with no God, there would be no standard for justice or injustice, good or evil, right or wrong: simply personal preferences. That standard, Lewis realized, is rooted in God. As a result, the very argument he used against God’s existence provided Lewis with proof of His presence!

Nevertheless, acceptance of God’s existence in a world with evil leads people to question how this loving God of ours could allow so much of it in the world. Unable to see how a loving, good and powerful God can coexist in world so filled with pain and suffering, people often ascribe any evil that befalls to God but none of the good. Granted, bad things happen but, if they’re used as evidence against a good God, then all of the good things that occur must be considered as evidence for Him!

The preponderance of the evidence tells us that there are more years of rain than drought, more harvests than famine, more fair weather days than hurricanes, more love than hate, and pandemics are not a regular occurrence. On a more personal level, I’ve encountered evil, injury and pain and, if I were asked to make a list of the suffering in my life, I could. But, if asked to record the good things I’ve experienced, I couldn’t—simply because there would be far too many to list! I’ve avoided more accidents than I’ve been in, favorable circumstances have aligned more often than not, more good people than bad have touched my life, my joys outweigh my sorrows, and God has accompanied me through every dark valley I’ve traversed. Moreover, I’d probably have to cross off most (or all) of the items on the list of bad things because God redeemed them by bringing good out of the pain and suffering.

When life feels anything but good, it’s easier to focus on evil and suffering than to remember that God is good. Yes, we live in a fallen world but it’s not the world God intended; our good God did not create evil and suffering. When man chose to disobey in Eden, both moral and natural evil entered into what was a perfect world. God may allow evil but it is our free will that has made it possible. We can’t hold God responsible for our mistakes.

Non-believers and believers alike wrestle with how a good loving God can allow the presence of evil and suffering. Nevertheless, the existence of suffering doesn’t negate God. In fact, it is God’s existence that gives meaning to our pain and suffering! We’ll never fully understand it. Nevertheless, when I think about those two lists and all that God has done for me, I know that God exists and that He is good!

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist. [Saint Augustine]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. [James 1:17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.