THE SONG OF HOPE

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. [Romans 12:12 (NLT)]

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. [Psalm 62:5-6 (NLT)]

northern mockingbirdA family of mockingbirds has moved into a nearby bush and they frequently serenade us from their vast repertoire of songs. Hearing their exuberant and joyful warbles is a perfect antidote to the sameness of life during this pandemic. While being charmed by their avian concerts, I thought of Emily Dickenson’s poem “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers.”

What exactly is hope? In the world’s view, hope is like wishful thinking: an “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I hope it will be something good!” attitude. We hope for a cure, a job, a raise, or a phone call without knowing if we’ll receive them. Worldly hope can fail us—the cure isn’t found, the job falls through, the raise doesn’t materialize, or the phone doesn’t ring. We live in a fallen world where we will be disappointed and our hopes often are dashed.

Biblical hope, however, never disappoints because it is based on God’s promises; it is confident that something will come to pass because God has promised it! We may hope our circumstances will improve while knowing they might not but that uncertainty about our circumstances or how God will answer our prayers doesn’t mean we don’t have hope. Ours is a living hope; while it looks to the future, it is grounded in the present. We put our trust in God because His promises became a reality in Jesus. We don’t have to dream of a better life tomorrow because Jesus had given us a better life today. Our Christian hope is a confident expectation that God will work “for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” [Romans 8:28] It tells us that eventually God will deliver us and that our salvation is secure.

Although raised in a Christian family, Emily Dickenson never made a public profession of faith in Jesus, explaining, “I feel that the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel that I could give up all for Christ, were I called to die.” She was, perhaps, more honest than many of us. Nevertheless, several of her poems reveal her Christian roots. I think she understood a Christian’s hope in her metaphor of hope as a bird. Just as a bird perches on a branch, hope rests in our soul. Like a bird, Christian hope sings its pleasing song endlessly and, undeterred by hardship, hope’s song sounds sweetest in a storm. The bird’s song can be heard from the coldest land to the strangest sea and Christian hope can be found from the bleakest of conditions to the most inexplicable of situations. Even in the harshest circumstances, the bird never asked anything of Dickenson and our hope, the hope offered by Christ, asks nothing of us. We can’t earn it or buy it; it is there for the asking if only we believe!

For many right now, this is a time of darkness and fear and it seems like hope has taken flight. It hasn’t! God doesn’t change—He’s still there—the promises He made yesterday hold true today. God promises to be with us—both on the hilltop and in the valleys. Promising provision, His grace is sufficient for us. Promising to empower us, He tells us that, when we are weak, He is strong. As I listen to the mockingbirds’ songs, it seems as if they know God’s eyes are upon them and that He will take care of them. [Matthew 6:26,10:29] They remind me to live with hope perched in my soul.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
[Emily Dickenson]

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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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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PRAY FOR PEACE

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

Saying your prayers is like brushing your teeth.
It’s a habit you form—a commitment you keep.
You should brush your teeth, both morning and night;
The same with your prayers, if you’re saying them right.
To not let your spirit or teeth decay
Be sure to pray and brush every day! [Anonymous]

water lilyAlthough I’ve prayed while folding laundry and washing dishes, it seemed almost sacrilegious to combine prayer with an electric toothbrush and Crest! Nevertheless, after asking, “What would happen if we all pray twice a day for peace?” my next “Abundance” assignment was to pray for peace while brushing my teeth!

The lack of a declared war certainly doesn’t define peace. According to the Global Peace Index, last year the United States ranked 128th out of 163 nations rated for their peacefulness (with Iceland maintaining first place as the most peaceful and Afghanistan replacing Syria as the least). The U.S. Peace Index ranked my state of Florida at 47th out of 50 (with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire as the three most peaceful states.) Considering the political tensions both here and abroad, tribal conflicts and civil wars, terrorist attacks, conflicts and division within the church, divorce and custody battles, road rage, and the violence on our streets, in our homes and even at our schools, praying for peace seems like a good idea.

Since being peacemakers and praying for peace is God directed, I wonder why we’re not more diligent about praying for an end to the strife in our world. Living in a world that is fractured along political, ideological, socio-economic, ethnic, and even religious lines, we probably should pray for peace more than two times a day. We wouldn’t have to do it while brushing our teeth but, since we may be more conscientious about our dental hygiene than prayer, at least we’d remember to do it!

While we can cast blame for the lack of peace on things like politics, injustice, prejudice, corruption, economics, or this pandemic, the fault also lies within each one of us. While brushing and praying, I remembered the words to a song I often sang in Sunday school: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Peace must begin with us. As we pray while brushing, rinsing and spitting, perhaps we should consider what comes out of our mouths. Do we allow words of anger, frustration, criticism, and blame to spill out rather than ones of love, compassion, encouragement, or forgiveness? Our prayers for peace are empty and meaningless unless that peace begins with us!

What could happen if all of Christ’s followers really did pray for peace twice a day?

Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony.
With ev’ry step I take, Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
[Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

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LET IT GO (Part 2)

frost aster - northern cataulpaInstead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:32 (NLT)]

After writing about forgiving ourselves as a step to experiencing the abundance of Christian life, I came across some classic Peanuts comic strips (drawn by Charles Schulz) that illustrate the importance of forgiving others, as well. In the first one (originally published Christmas Eve, 1972), Charlie Brown tells Snoopy that Poochie is coming for a visit. Snoopy responds that “it would be like getting the mumps twice! …You don’t forgive someone who does to you what she did to me!” The sulking Snoopy then whines, “Just what I didn’t need…a Poochie Christmas.”

A week later, Snoopy is lying on the roof of his doghouse when Charlie Brown tells him of Poochie’s arrival. “I don’t want to see her!” replies the dog. Saying that beagles have long memories, Snoopy relates his last encounter with Poochie. He was just a puppy when she tossed a stick for him to fetch. Eager to please the girl, he retrieved it just in time to see her walk away with an English Sheepdog. When Charlie Brown expresses amazement that Snoopy remembers the incident so vividly, the beagle replies, “How could I forget?” Showing the boy what he’s holding, Snoopy explains, “I still have the stick!” The following week, the story continues with Poochie’s visit. Wearing his sunglasses, Snoopy puts on his “Joe Cool” persona and snubs the little girl. Refusing even to speak with her, there is no reunion or reconciliation and a disappointed Poochie leaves.

Peanuts looks like kid stuff but Schulz’s characters show us what it’s like to live in a world of disappointments—where our baseball team never wins, the football is yanked away, kites get tangled in trees, big sisters boss around little brothers, people suffer from unrequited love, grudges are held, and a security blanket often seems like a good idea. Charles Schulz portrays the kind of world in which we live: one where we’re more likely to lose than win.

Almost certainly, the embittered Snoopy fretted about Poochie’s visit all through the Christmas holiday right into the new year and he probably spoiled another week or more reliving their unsatisfactory meeting. Although we don’t see it, I’m sure Snoopy still has that stick and continues to bears a grudge against the little girl who chose an English Sheepdog over him!

Snoopy is just an imaginary character, living in a comic strip, but he’s not much different from us. Granted, we may not keep a stick we fetched as a puppy but we often keep other mementos of heartbreak and disappointment, use social media to stay connected with the people who hurt us, or make ourselves miserable by replaying an offense in our minds or revisiting it in our conversations. Intentionally holding onto our grievances is like rubbing salt into our own wounds!

Being hurt by people, even people we love and trust, is part of life, but dwelling on what happened in the past can only rob us of today’s joy. If we ever want to experience the abundant life promised by Jesus, if we want to be filled with His joy, if we ever hope to enjoy His peace that surpasses understanding, we must love others in the same way He loved us. We have to let go of the stick and forgive!

When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. [John 15:10-12 (NLT)]

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IT’S JUST BEGINNING

We know that our body—the tent we live in here on earth—will be destroyed. But when that happens, God will have a house for us. It will not be a house made by human hands; instead, it will be a home in heaven that will last forever. [2 Corinthians 5:1 (NCV)]

butterweedI can’t understand why a young mother lies on her deathbed when an elderly Alzheimer’s victim whose mind is long gone remains in this world. I will never comprehend why one person suffers a debilitating disease for years and another person breezes through life with nary an ache or pain. I wonder how a young family can be wiped out in a car accident when the drunk driver who caused the crash survives without a scratch. I will never grasp why some people are in such despair that they take their lives while others bravely fight to take each breath. I don’t know why one child is born with multiple birth defects when his sibling is the picture of perfect health or why one child is abused and another one is cherished. Life often seems incredibly unfair!

How can we make sense of the wicked prospering while the godly suffer let alone understand random shootings or terrorist attacks? How can we make sense of a world that makes absolutely no sense? It’s not fair and yet we can’t even cry “foul!” There was nothing fair about Jesus suffering and dying for our sins!

The answer to my query is that, because mankind sinned, we live in a broken world: a world that is not as God meant it to be. That’s not a very satisfying answer but, if we truly believe that God is good and that it is He (rather than some cosmic roulette wheel) who is sovereign over the world, we must trust Him. There are divine reasons for all that passes through His hands and those reasons are not ours to know. It is God who is the treasure and not the various blessings He bestows on any of us in this life. The trials endured by us or others do not permit us to put God on trial.

While the here-and-now makes little sense to me, there is one thing I do understand: our trials are short-lived but the blessings of the godly are eternal! Whatever happens in this world is just a small part of the rest of our lives. We’re merely in the preface of the best book ever written or viewing the trailer for the greatest movie ever produced. We’re seeing only a rehearsal of the finest ballet ever danced and have heard just the prelude to the most beautiful symphony ever composed. We’re in the lobby of the grandest hotel ever built and have tasted but a bite of an appetizer in the most delicious feast ever prepared. We’re barely out of the driveway on an extraordinary never-ending journey. Let us take comfort in knowing the best is yet to come!

Life would be void, senseless and of no portent if our existence here for 70 years or more were to end as we draw our last physical breath. Our life on earth is but a drop of a moment in the ocean of time. To dis-acknowledge God would be to admit the futility, the hopelessness of existence. It would be to place reliance merely upon flesh, the physical body and the physical structure of man … It would be to deny the presence and existence of a soul. [Lionel Luckhoo]

The Lord All-Powerful will prepare a feast on this mountain for all people. It will be a feast with all the best food and wine, the finest meat and wine. On this mountain God will destroy the veil that covers all nations, the veil that stretches over all peoples; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away every tear from every face. He will take away the shame of his people from the earth. The Lord has spoken. [Isaiah 25:6-8 (NCV)]

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.” The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” [Revelation 21:3-5 (NCV)]

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DON’T CRY OVER SPILLED MILK DAY

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1 John 1:8-9 (ESV)]

red-bellied woodpeckerWhile “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” isn’t one of Solomon’s proverbs, that wise advice is several centuries old. “No weeping for shed milk,” appeared in a book of English proverbs back in 1659 and some historians believe the saying dates back to medieval days. Superstitious, people left spilled food for the fairies or elves to eat and drink. If someone cried over spilled milk, it was feared that the fairies might think the offering was begrudged and bad luck would visit the house.

For some unknown reason, today (February 11) is designated as “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day” and is a day dedicated to not letting the little things get us down. We all have a long list of past mistakes, large and small, over which we’ve shed a few tears. While a dog or cat might lap up spilled milk, no elves or fairies are going to come along to correct our mistakes and our tears accomplish nothing! Rather than lamenting over our blunders and missteps, our job is to clean up the mess we’ve made before it starts to stink! Before we get out our mops and pails, however, we’ve got to forgive ourselves. If God can forgive us, we should be able to forgive ourselves!

In actuality, for most of us, spilled milk is the least of our problems. We all make mistakes; sadly, we’ll continue to make them. There’s no point beating ourselves up and reliving past errors. The milk can’t go back in the bottle, the words can’t return to our mouths, the money can’t get unspent, the email can’t be retrieved, and the expletive can’t be deleted! When possible, we make right what we can, as soon as we can, and then forge on ahead, hopefully more prudently. Learning from our mistakes makes more sense than crying over them!

Just as we mustn’t let the little things get us down, we can’t let the big ones take us down either. Perhaps every day should be dedicated to not crying over milk that has spilled as we take a positive attitude, forgive ourselves (and others), fix what we can, accept what can’t be changed, and move forward.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. [Lamentations 3:21-13 (ESV)]

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:13b-14 (ESV)]

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