WHAT IF HE HADN’T? (Zacchaeus – part 3)

Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. [Psalm 90:12 (TLB)]

climbing asterWhen Jesus stopped in Jericho, He was on His way to Jerusalem; His trial and crucifixion would soon follow. Although our Lord knew He would not pass that way again, no one else did; certainly not Zacchaeus. What if the publican had been too busy collecting taxes that day to go and see Jesus? What if it looked like it might rain or he was just too tired to make the effort? What if Zacchaeus had been discouraged by the large crowd and his inability to get a good viewing spot? Thinking he always could see Jesus the next time He passed through Jericho, what if he hadn’t run ahead and climbed that tree? Zacchaeus would have missed meeting Jesus and accepting His call.

Jesus once told a parable about a rich man so focused on the here and now that he concentrated on amassing earthly wealth rather than developing a rich relationship with God. One night, while planning to build even bigger barns to store his wealth, he died! The rich fool had waited too long to make provision for his soul!

In a different parable, Jesus told of another wealthy and selfish man who died. While suffering in torment, the rich man saw the pitiful beggar he’d callously ignored while alive; the beggar was being comforted in the arms of Abraham at a heavenly banquet. The rich man wanted Abraham to warn his brothers that, unless they changed their greedy ways, they would end up in torment, too. Refusing, Abraham told him they’d already been sufficiently warned. There are no second chances once we’re gone.

One of my husband’s favorite songs is “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce and he once said that he’d like it sung at his Celebration of Life. In this song, Croce wishes he could save time in a bottle “till eternity passes away” just to spend it all with his love. “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do, once you find them,” he adds regretfully. In response to my husband’s request, I reminded him that we can’t save time in a bottle or wishes in a box; we must make the most of the time we have. When we’re dead and gone, it’s far too late to regret poor choices and missed opportunities.

Let us never make the mistake of being so occupied with the stuff of life or so sure of tomorrow, that we miss the opportunities of today—whether it’s meeting Jesus, showing compassion to those in need, or merely spending time with those we love. Like the rich fool’s brothers, we’ve been warned!

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Etienne De Grellet]

My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you. Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. [Psalm 39:5-7 (TLB)]

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LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP

Fireflag - Alligator FlagEven Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve. [2 Corinthians11:14b-15 (NLT)]

With its enormous leaves and delicate purple flowers, one of my favorite native Florida plants is the Thalia geniculata; its common name is Fireflag. The plant can be as tall as ten feet and its huge leaves are visible from a distance. Since it grows in standing water, the leaves can indicate or “flag” an area where one might find safety in case of fire. Fireflag has another name, as well: Alligator-Flag. Anyplace in Florida where there is enough standing water for Thalia geniculata to grow also has enough standing water for alligators! If one is ever caught in a fire in the Everglades, it would be wise to remember both names of this plant before seeking refuge amidst its leaves! We wouldn’t want to jump out of the frying pan into the fire or, in this case, out of the fire into a gator’s mouth!

This plant reminds us that we need to be cautious when a firestorm of trouble descends. In an effort to escape our problems, it’s easy to jump into even more difficulty. It’s not just alligators that lurk in what appears to be a safe refuge; Satan does too! He knows when we are most vulnerable and he’s right there to offer his version of safety and comfort. As we attempt to flee from our trouble, there will be temptations to seek solace in the wrong people, listen to poor advice, compromise our morals or abandon our faith. That “angel in disguise” offering comfort, assistance or easy answers may well be a fallen angel!

Rather than taking refuge in alligator infested waters or other treacherous places, we must turn first to God. With Him at our side, we are never alone nor is there a need to run away from our problems. He will comfort and guide us so we can face our troubles with confidence, hope, and even thanks.

Trust is not a passive state of mind. It is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelms us. [Jerry Bridges (Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts)]

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. [Isaiah 43:2 (NLT)]

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. [Psalm 91:14-15 (NLT)]

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IT AFFECTS MORE THAN YOU

The prudent understand where they are going, but fools deceive themselves. [Proverbs 14:8 (NLT)]

great blue heronAlthough God ordered the Israelites not to seize any plunder for themselves after the battle of Jericho, Achan stole a beautiful garment, silver coins and a wedge of gold. Confident after their Jericho victory, the Israelites went out to conquer the city of Ai but were so overpowered that they turned and fled and thirty-six Israelites died in battle that day! When Joshua asked God why they’d been defeated, God told him it was because Israel had defied His command about not looting Jericho. Achan’s guilt was discovered and he and his entire family were stoned to death. Clearly, Achan hadn’t thought about the consequences of his sin, not just for him but for his family and thirty-six other families, as well.

I recently ran across a quote but wanted to check out the author before using it. A quick search of his name told me that he’d been involved in a public scandal of infidelity and deception. As apt as the quote was, there was no way I was going to use it. In my research, I happened upon an article the man wrote shortly after the scandal. He mentioned walking into a bookstore and seeing a new book by a Christian author. The disgraced pastor had gotten an advance copy and a blurb with his recommendation was on the book’s cover. Realizing that his tarnished name would now hurt rather than help book sales, he finally understood how many people were paying the penalty for his dishonorable actions. He’d wounded not just his family, another family, and his entire church but an unsuspecting and innocent author, as well.

As both Achan and the fallen pastor realized, the way we conduct our lives affects not just us but everyone associated with us. The father who smokes, ignoring the health dangers, might say it his life to do with as he wants while overlooking the dangers to his family of second-hand smoke. He’s not thinking about the possibility he may get cancer or emphysema, saddle his family with huge medical bills, and the loss they’d suffer were he to die. The wife who has an illicit affair disregards the damage her infidelity could have on her marriage and children or the ramifications of a divorce. Inevitably, people will be hurt, relationships destroyed and finances strained. The salesman who neglects a customer is indifferent to the impact that a client’s dissatisfaction could have on his employer. A disgruntled customer may spread word of poor service or cancel orders; lay-offs or even business failure could result. Even little failings have a way of touching the lives of others. Bad language is often copied by one’s children, yet they are the ones punished at school. Lies and negativity have an uncanny ability to spread and affect the morale of those around us and then to the people around them.

We need to remember the lessons taught in the Old Testament: good behavior brings blessings but bad behavior can bring disaster not just to us but to others. Sadly, as Achan learned too late, the people we hurt the worst often are the ones we love the most.

Trouble chases sinners, while blessings reward the righteous. [Proverbs 13:21 (NLT)]

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THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Virginia CityDon’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise. [Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NLT)]

When talking with my centenarian mother-in-law, we often spoke of the “good old days.” She sometimes indulged in what I came to call “wishful remembering” and her past became more like a Hallmark movie than reality. I suppose, to some extent, we all do the same. The sledding hill grows steeper, the house bigger, the friends nicer, the grades better, the paycheck larger, and the success greater while any failure, disappointment, blame, pain, or drudgery diminishes. Not every memory we have, however, is a correct one; rather than an accurate record, our memories are actually what we tell ourselves about the past. Given the choice, it’s far nicer to have wishful good memories than ones of bitterness, regret and sorrow and I never corrected my mother-in-law’s. Nevertheless, we must be cautious of becoming too attached to our memories, especially if our less than accurate version of yesterday keeps us from moving into tomorrow.

Less than a month after God’s parting of the Red Sea and their song of victory and triumph at the defeat of Pharaoh, the Israelites had a serious case of wishful remembering and started to grumble. Instead of recalling the slaughter of baby boys and the back-breaking labor of Egyptian slavery, they remembered sitting around in comfort eating all the bread and stew they desired. Months later, they again complained about their hardships while recalling free fish, fruit and vegetables instead of the price they paid in sweat for that food. Rather than oppression, they remembered the “good old days” of Egyptian provision.

Sodom was the place where a gang of men wanted to attack Lot, sexually abuse his guests, and, for reasons beyond our understanding, Lot offered his virgin daughters to a mob of depraved men. When Lot’s family was told that Sodom was to be destroyed, they were urged to flee immediately and specifically warned to neither stop nor look back. Nevertheless, stopping and turning back is exactly what Lot’s wife did. According to the Moody Bible Commentary, the Hebrew word used for her looking back (vathabbet) has a very specific meaning of looking at something with desire or approval. Lot’s family left their home, possessions, friends, and even their sons-in-law behind. Choosing not to recall the evil, Lot’s wife turned, remembered the “good old days,” and longed for what had been and was no more.

When we follow God, we’re not promised an easy journey; in fact, Jesus pretty much promises we’ll encounter hardships. Stepping out in faith often means moving from comfort, convenience, and familiarity into the disruption, trials and vulnerability of the unknown. In light of new challenges and burdens, it’s easy to repaint the past with wishful memories of “the good old days.” As bad as the past may have been for either the Israelites or Lot’s wife, for them it seemed preferable to their unknown tomorrows. Those wishful memories, however, cost the Israelites an extra 38 years and Lot’s wife her life!

While wishful memories can make the past more palatable, they also can prevent us from experiencing the blessings of the future. We must never remember the good old days at the expense of failing to trust God with the new ones.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)]

But I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

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THE BEST WE CAN

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. [James 1:19-21 (MSG)]

Thompson's gazelleAs a teen and young adult, it was easy to be critical of my parents and their parenting. Vowing I’d never say or do some of the things they did, I was sure I’d never make any of their mistakes. Once I became a mother, however, I became far more forgiving and sympathetic. I understood that, all things considered, my parents had done the best they could. Granted, they didn’t always make the right decisions but I believe they thought they were the correct ones at the time. Parents want to keep their children from heartbreak, disappointment and harm; they want more and better for their children than they had. As a result, in spite of their best intentions, they can be over-protective, judgmental, enabling, dictatorial or stubborn. And, yes, I made some of the same mistakes my parents did (and plenty more of my own). Yet, looking at the finished products, I did just fine! Now, as parents, my children have the opportunity to make their own share of mistakes.

The vast majority of people don’t wake each morning intending to be unforgiving, unsympathetic, intractable, or indifferent. We don’t plan on being selfish, temperamental, hypercritical or rude. Rather, most of us probably wake up wanting to be kind and loving people. Unfortunately, we’re not always good at doing that! None of us are perfect; being human, we all make plenty of mistakes. People hurt us and we hurt others, but rarely do we or they do it on purpose. I never started the day planning to yell at my children or lose my temper, yet I often did. I certainly never begin the day intending to be impatient, inconsiderate, or negative, but that happens far too often. My prayer each morning is simply to be a better person that day than the one I was the day before and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that is slowly happening.

When we remember that sometimes our best efforts are not nearly good enough, it becomes much easier to forgive others for their failings. Forgiveness doesn’t mean those actions are right or good; it doesn’t mean we approve of them or accept them. It simply means we forgive them. While we’re forgiving others, we should forgive ourselves for our shortcomings as well. Let’s release our regrets; we all could have done better, but what’s done is done. If God can forgive us, we ought to be able to do so, too.

Father, lift any hidden resentment and regret from our hearts and replace them with love and forgiveness. Help us accept that flaws, both ours and those of others, are part of being human. Show us how to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we can be better people today than we were yesterday, and even better ones tomorrow.

Some days, doing “the best we can” may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect – on any front – and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else. [Fred Rogers]

I was wrong before. I’m smarter now. [Chris Bohjalian]

Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. [1 Peter 4:8 (MSG)]

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped. [Psalm 130:3-4 (MSG)] 

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LET THERE BE PEACE – Memorial Day 2019

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. [Isaiah 2:4 (NLT)]

Commissioned in 1946, the USS Midway served the entire length of the Cold War, during the Vietnam War, and in Operation Desert Storm. Decommissioned in 1992, this retired Naval aircraft carrier is now a museum in San Diego. It was fascinating to wander through this floating city and see the flight deck, bridge, hangar bay, engine room, crew quarters, ready room, and sick bay and inspiring to speak with vets who actually served aboard the ship. Unfortunately, not all of the sailors who boarded that ship during its 46 years of service walked off it. For some, if they returned home at all, it was in a box.

While in California, we also visited the Mt. Soledad National Veteran’s Memorial. Set on a hill with panoramic views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean, an impressive 27-foot concrete cross rises from its center. This unique memorial honors veterans from the Revolutionary War all the way to the current global war on terror. Over 3,500 black granite plaques are etched with the name of a veteran and most include a picture and a brief summary of the vet’s military experience. Although many of those named on the plaques safely came home, the stories on those plaques told me that some were killed in action.

In our Florida town, we often walk at a park where banners hanging from the light posts honor those who served in the armed forces. Names and dates of service are on the banners and most of those honored by the banners returned after serving our country. I hadn’t given them much thought until I looked up and noticed a banner honoring a beautiful young woman whose dates included “KIA.” This young woman was probably no more than thirty when she died in 2011. I don’t know if she was married or had children. I only know that she left behind some people who loved her enough to honor her with that banner.

I never knew any of the people who died while serving on the USS Midway or whose names were on those granite plaques. I never met the young woman whose face smiled down at me or any of the other dead whose pictures grace those banners. More important, not one of them knew me or you. Nevertheless, they gave their lives for us so that we can have the freedom to travel, walk in a local park, read or write a blog, donate to our favorite causes, vote the way we want, disagree with the government and one another, worship freely, and read whatever newspapers, books or magazines we want to read.

Memorial Day is more than a holiday to enjoy free time. It’s a day to remember people like that young woman and all those others who sacrificed their lives to help preserve the many freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Recently, five new walls were built at Mt. Soledad to accommodate 2,400 more names. Let us pray for peace so that, someday, we won’t have to keep adding plaques and banners to memorials!

Hear our prayer for those who put the welfare of others ahead of their own and give us hearts as generous as theirs. Hear our prayer for those who gave their lives in the service of others, and accept the gift of their sacrifice. Help us to shape and make a world where we will lay down the arms of war and turn our swords into ploughshares for a harvest of justice and peace. [Austin Fleming]

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