KEEP CALM AND PRAY ON

Naples FL sunsetDon’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. [Isaiah 41:10 (MSG)]

The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,” your love, God, took hold and held me fast. When I was upset and beside myself, you calmed me down and cheered me up. [Psalm 94:18-19 (MSG)]

In 1939, on the eve of World War II, the British government produced three posters to be used in the event of war. Printed with the goal of reassuring the public of the nation’s ultimate victory, the posters featured a plain background, a small crown logo on top, and simple block lettering. The two posters that were distributed said, “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might” and “Your courage, Your cheerfulness, Your resolution will bring us victory.” The third poster, with its message to “Keep calm and carry on” was only to be issued in the event of a German invasion. Fortunately, it never was needed. In 1945, most of the “Keep calm” posters were destroyed and forgotten until some were discovered and popularized sixty years later. In spite of the unsettled political climate in our nation, freedom doesn’t seem to be in peril but, if there ever were a time we need, pluck, optimism, determination, and composure, it is now!

Since we’ve been invaded by COVID, I’ve seen several memes with variations on the “Keep calm” posters. They suggest everything from keeping calm and washing our hands, quarantining on, masking up, and staying home, to drinking wine, baking brownies, eating chocolate, blaming someone else, and calling Batman. One simply said “Now panic and freak out!” When faced with a disaster, misfortune, or major mess up, I admit to having done nearly all of those things (except call Batman) but none did much to calm my troubled soul. Perhaps the Christian’s versions of the original poster would have a cross on the top and include suggestions to keep calm and pray on, remember God loves us, or trust in the Lord and His plan. At least, those suggestions would work!

Let’s remember: Jesus stilled the water and waves on the Sea of Galilee with just a word! If He can do that, He is more than capable of calming our troubled hearts and quieting every storm in our lives, even a global pandemic! In the face of life’s predicaments, troubles, uncertainties, and calamities, let us choose to carry on with courage, cheerfulness, and resolution by keeping calm and praying on!

When we fight our battles on our knees, we win every time. [Charles F. Stanley]

You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan. [John Bunyan]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

RICH AND HEALED

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. [Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)]

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. [Matthew 19:29 (NIV)]

white peacock butterflySo, since God wants us to be prosperous, we’ll get 100 acres of land for every acre we give up or a return of $10,000 for every $100? Sounds too good to be true and it is. Logic tells us Matthew 19:29 can’t be taken literally—we can’t have one hundred fathers and none of us want one hundred children or wives! To make sure the disciples understood, Jesus made it clear that God is not our heavenly banker who dispenses gifts (especially monetary ones) to the most deserving with His parable of the Gracious Landowner. “Do I not have the right to do what I want to do with my own money? Does your eye make you want more because I am good?” asked the landowner. Jesus explained: “So those who are last will be first and the first will be last.” [Matthew 20:15-16] His message was clear: God’s grace can’t be earned or controlled. Moreover, the word often translated as “prosper” in Jeremiah 29:11 is shalom, meaning completeness, soundness, welfare, and peace rather than wealth. Biblical prosperity and prosperity theology are not the same!

Nevertheless, the health and wealth/name it and claim it/prosperity gospel movement would have us believe otherwise. Their distorted version of the gospel asserts that our words and actions can influence God with some sort of faith force so that we’ll get the health and wealth supposedly promised in today’s verses and others like it. Things like illness and financial troubles result from a lack of faith. If we just picture what we want, have enough faith, and ask for it in Jesus’ name, it’s ours! Thinking that we can somehow manipulate God to do our bidding, however, denies His sovereignty and God becomes more a heavenly vending machine than the ruler of the universe. Our hope is not in the power of our words or size of our faith; our hope is in the power of God alone!

 While we’d like the think that all we need for health and wealth is faith, Scripture tells us otherwise. Not everyone who deserved healing got it while some who didn’t deserve it did! Out of all the sick, blind, and lame people by the pool at Bethesda, Jesus asked just one man if he wanted to get well. Instead of answering the question, the man complained. Nevertheless, when Jesus told him to get up, pick up his pallet, and walk, the man was healed instantly. Censured by the Jewish leaders for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, he explained that he’d been told to do so by the man who healed him—a man whose identity he didn’t know! This sinner, who didn’t know Jesus, have faith in Him, and never asked for healing, was restored to health while the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh remained in spite of his faith, service, and devout prayers!

The gospels and epistles give us more guarantees of suffering and persecution than promises of health or wealth. Rather than a get rich plan, our sovereign God offers a plan for salvation. Our relationship with God is not a business transaction and giving us stuff or taking away our illness is not what makes Him good. God is good because He alone is God. He’s good whether we’re sick or healthy, in debt or flush with money, out of work or gainfully employed, infertile or pregnant, struggling in school or on the honor roll, have a child in rehab or one in seminary. God is good because, in Jesus, we are both rich and healed!

If you have everything but you don’t have Jesus. You have nothing. If you have nothing but you have Jesus, you have everything. He’s worth it. [Costi Hinn]

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. [2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)]

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IN GOD’S TIME

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:6-7 (NLT)]

Humility is the proper estimate of oneself. [Charles Spurgeon]

silk floss tree“Haven’t they ever seen this show? They’re sure to fail!” I exclaimed as we watched the two chefs attempt to make panna cotta in the final round of Chopped. An Italian dessert made of sweetened cream, gelatin, and flavorings, panna cotta usually requires a minimum of four hours to set. In spite of chefs using quick process gelatin, liquid nitrogen, or the blast chiller to speed things up, I don’t think there’s ever been a successful panna cotta on the show. In fact, Chopped judge chef Alex Guarnaschelli calls panna cotta “Chopped suicide!” Nevertheless, these two chefs were sure they would be the ones who could pull it off in the allotted 30-minutes. As expected, instead of ending up with a dessert resembling a Jell-O mold made with cream, they both served something more like melted ice cream. I wondered what made them think they were that much better than any of the other chefs in the twelve years the show has aired. Apparently, competitive chefs tend to be a little short in the humility department!

We may not be chefs who think they’re more skilled than everyone else but, sometimes, we think we’re more skilled than God! As unwilling as the chefs were to accept that gelatin needs time to set, we’re often as unwilling to wait for God to do His work, His way, in His own time. So, rather than humbly admitting that God knows best, we try to be God and make things happen our way and in our time.

“Pray as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you,” often is attributed to St. Ignatius and that advice may be wise in some cases. Nevertheless, there are times when we must humbly step back and leave it all to God. Just as it’s impossible to make a panna cotta in thirty minutes, we can’t make other people change. We can’t make them reconcile, forgive, love, heal, believe, or get sober but, sometimes, we act as if we can! Instead of using the blast chiller or extra gelatin, we try to nudge things along with intimidation, meddling, prying, interference, or concealment. Take it from one who’s learned the hard way, when we think our way is better and faster than God’s, the result is far worse than a runny panna cotta.

A certain amount of arrogance probably is necessary in cooking competitions. The chef needs to think he can achieve the impossible and, someday, a chef may prove victorious over 30-minute panna cotta. Prayer, however, is not a competition; it is a lesson in humility. It is admitting our powerlessness and handing the challenge to God for Him to deal with in His own time and way. Victory alone comes from Him!

We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of “good time” is seldom in sync with ours. [Oswald Chambers]

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. … 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. My victory and honor come from God alone. [Psalm 62:1,5-7a (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HALT

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” [John 6:35 (NLT)]

chicoryAlthough they were twins, Esau and Jacob were as different from one another as oil and water. Esau, the first born, was impulsive. An outdoorsman and hunter, he was his father’s favorite. Jacob was the quiet (and cunning) stay-at-home mama’s boy. Esau would have watched the Outdoor and Sportsman Channels while Jacob would have watched Food Network and HGTV.

Returning exhausted from one of his adventures and claiming he was starved, Esau asked for some of Jacob’s stew. Exploiting his brother’s hunger, Jacob offered to trade the stew for Esau’s birthright. The stew must have smelled delicious because Esau, who should have been outraged at the idea, accepted his brother’s offer. Foolishly, he relinquished his double share of their inheritance along with all the privileges and responsibilities due the eldest son simply to gratify his hunger.

Esau’s story reminds me of the acronym HALT which stands for hungry-angry-lonely-tired. Halt is what we should do before making a decision if we’re feeling any of those things! Esau was both tired and hungry when he made that life-altering decision. Granted, Jacob’s insistence on making a bargain before feeding his own brother was both sly and selfish of him. Still, the fault for that decision falls solely on the shoulders of Esau.

Esau wasn’t starving; his empty stomach may have been growling but he wasn’t malnourished or wasting away. Nevertheless, he was far more interested in immediately gratifying his hunger with a bowl of lentil stew than the ramifications of his choice. Like Esau, when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, we look to quickly meeting our needs without thinking about the consequences. In short, we’re blind to the enemy’s tactics and vulnerable to sin.

Our hunger may simply be for food, as it was for Esau, but it also can be for things like money, fame, attention, understanding, or acceptance. Simon the Sorcerer, for example, was so hungry for the power and authority of the Holy Spirit that he tried to buy it from Peter and John.

The time to make decisions is not when our emotions are on high alert. Acting in anger is dangerous and can lead to name calling, broken relationships, criticism, belittling, destruction, and even violence. Anger is what caused Moses to rashly smash stone tablets that had been written on by the hand of God! When insulted by Nabal, an enraged David immediately set out to kill every man in Nabal’s household. Fortunately, Abigail stepped in, pled for mercy, and cooler heads prevailed.

Making decisions when we’re lonely isn’t a good idea either. Feeling abandoned and alone, Elijah wanted to lie down and die. Being lonely, however, doesn’t necessarily mean being alone. We can feel isolated and disconnected even when surrounded by plenty of people. Perhaps, in spite of his wives and concubines, it was that sort of loneliness that caused David to desire Bathsheba. Halting helps us remember that God always is with us.

Being tired can be physical exhaustion, as it was with Esau, but it also can be a sense of being overwhelmed and drained. For forty years, Moses faithfully led the Israelites but it was his weariness and exasperation at their constant rebellion that caused him to disobey God and strike the rock at Kadesh. Sadly, his impulsive act meant the weary man never entered the Promised Land.

It’s been said that the difference between school and life is that, in school, you’re taught a lesson and then take a test but, in life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson! Let us learn the lesson about halting without having to make a mistake like Esau’s. As the old saying goes, “act in haste, repent in leisure.” Poor decisions come when we’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired. When you’re in one of those situations, halt and pray instead!

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. [2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. [Psalm 37:7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

TAILOR-MADE

When the sun went down, everyone who had sick people – all kinds of sicknesses – brought them to him. He laid his hands on each one in turn, and healed them. [Luke 4:40 (NTE)]

paper kite butterflyThinking of Jesus’ first miracle caused me to consider His other miracles. Along with general accounts of Him healing people in Capernaum, Gennesaret, and Jerusalem, the gospels mention 35 specific miracles He performed. When we consider the way Jesus healed the blind, His miracles seem almost tailor-made for the people blessed by them. John tells us that Jesus healed one blind man by mixing His spittle with dirt, rubbing the resulting mud over the man’s eyes, and telling the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. Mark tells of another occasion when Jesus took a blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Surely, they talked but we don’t know about what. Jesus then spit on the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him. Although the man regained his sight, he didn’t understand what he saw so Jesus did it again. Was that one miracle done in two parts or could it have been two miracles: one to restore the man’s sight and the second so he could comprehend what he saw? Another time, Jesus skipped the spit and merely touched two blind men to restore their sight. Then we have the healing of Bartimaeus: Jesus immediately restored His sight without spit, mud, washing, or touch.

Like Bartimaeus, many were healed just by Jesus’ word while others were healed by His touch or by touching His robe. Some, like the woman with the blood disorder, spoke with Him and others, like the Syrophoenician’s daughter and the Roman officer’s servant, never even saw Jesus. Some miracles, such as the raising of Lazarus were done quite publicly while others, like the raising of Jairus’ daughter, were done in secret. A deformed hand was made normal, a paralytic walked, a severed ear was restored, lepers were made whole, a storm was calmed, and demoniacs were freed of their demons. When we compare His miracle at Cana with the feeding of multitudes, we see that Jesus transformed in the first instance but expanded in the others. No two miracles were quite the same and no two lives were touched in quite the same way.

The gospels tell of Jesus healing many people in Capernaum. They’d waited until evening, when the Sabbath was over, to carry the sick to Jesus and gather around Him. Faced with a crowd of hurting people, Jesus didn’t wave His hand over them and do a mass healing. Luke specifically mentions that Jesus laid hands on each person in turn. He had a personal concern for each one and the healing received was a healing designed specifically for him or her.

As a petite woman, I hate “one size fits all” clothing; even the more honest “one size fits most” apparel never seems to fit. In a perfect world, I’d have a personal seamstress design and custom make my clothes. The world, however, isn’t perfect so I settle with good enough. Although the world isn’t perfect, our Lord is and His miracles tell us that ours is not a “one size fits all” God. Because he designed and created us, He knows us more intimately than a seamstress fitting us for a form-fitting gown or a tailor for a custom suit. Coming right into our lives, Jesus gets up close and personal and we never have to settle for good enough. Knowing our unique situation and needs, His answers to our prayers are tailor-made just for us.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. [Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT)]

What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. 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. [Luke 12:6-7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE CARES! (Cana – part 4)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. [Philippians 4:6 (NLT)]

sunflowerIn spite of the theological reasons I gave for the miracle at Cana, providing wine for a wedding still seems an odd choice for Jesus’ debut miracle. Compared to the rest of His miracles, it almost seems frivolous. While the situation was embarrassing for the host, it wasn’t as grave as a demon-possessed child, thousands of hungry people, a crippled woman, a paralyzed man, or a dead friend. When considering Jesus’ reason for performing this miracle, Max Lucado had a simpler explanation than mine. He suggests that Jesus was concerned about the dearth of wine at the wedding simply because it concerned Mary; He cared because she cared! Pointing out that God is there for both the great and small, Lucado asked, “If Jesus was willing to use divine clout to solve a social faux pas, how much more willing would He be to intervene on the weightier matters of life?” Lucado certainly has a point; since it mattered to Mary, it mattered to Jesus.

Do we ever vet our concerns and only hand God the critical ones? Thinking our prayers must have a certain weightiness or urgency, do we pre-qualify them before we consider them worthy of God’s ear? Shouldn’t we present all of our troubles to God and let Him decide what is important?

Three years ago, following hurricane Irma, contractors were in short supply in Southwest Florida. A friend’s rental property had been damaged. When the tile man called to say he’d start work that day only if the stove and refrigerator had been moved out to the deck, she didn’t dare object. The appliances were still in place and this small woman, on the far side of 70, had no idea how they’d get moved. Nevertheless, knowing that the window of opportunity with her contractor was narrow, she agreed. Wondering how she’d move the appliances or find people for the drywall and painting she’d need once the floor was done, she prayed, “God help me! ”

At the time, Irma was considered the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in history. Leaving a string of Caribbean islands devastated, it affected nine US states, turned streets into rivers, ripped down power lines, uprooted trees, and demolished homes and businesses. In our state alone, Irma took 87 lives and did $50 million worth of damage. If prayers were ranked by urgency or direness of circumstance, she knew hers would be low on His list. Nevertheless, the situation was important to her and she prayed as she drove to the condo.

As God would have it, when my friend pulled into the parking lot, two young men were standing by a truck. Mustering up her courage, she approached them and asked if they could help her. With time to spare before they started working on another condo, they moved her appliances. As the men were leaving her unit, my friend asked what sort of work they did. You guessed it; they did drywall and painting! Her prayer had been answered in full!

Billy Graham said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one bothered to ask.” If Mary hadn’t brought the wine problem to Jesus, the wedding celebration would have ended early and, if my friend hadn’t prayed about her dilemma, she might still be waiting for her condo repair! My point is simple: if it’s important to us, it’s important to God! Let us never limit Him by thinking we know what He can or will do.

Children do not find it difficult or complicated to talk to their parents, nor do they feel embarrassed to bring the simplest need to their attention. Neither should we hesitate to bring the simplest requests confidently to the Father. [Richard J. Foster]

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. [1 John 5:14 (NLT)]

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.