CAUGHT IN THE HEADLIGHTS

He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. [Luke 22:41-43 (NLT)]

deer“It never occurred to me,” my friend said, “that I could outlive my wife.” Several years older than his spouse, overweight, diabetic and nearly blind, he always thought she’d be there to care for him. That, however, was before she suffered a stroke, had complications from carotid artery surgery, was diagnosed with cancer, had another surgery, and started a regimen of chemotherapy (all within a few months’ time.) Like a deer caught in the headlights, he was almost frozen in disbelief, bewilderment, and fear.

At some point in time, a “deer in the headlight” moment like that will happen to us all. Disease, disability, adversity and misfortune will slam into us and turn our version of life upside down. I think of a friend who was swindled by his trusted business partner and another one who was betrayed by her husband; neither of them ever envisioned such duplicity. When the young couple was told to expect twins, it never occurred to them that neither child would live to see his second birthday. When a friend’s wife beat cancer, her family never foresaw that, fifteen years later, it would return with such a vengeance that she’d be gone in less than a year. Such scenarios were never pictured by any of these people when asked about their hopes and dreams.

Although we are the main character in our life story, we eventually realize that we aren’t writing the script—God is the author and we don’t get consulting or editing privileges. We can’t choose the setting, rewrite the parts we dislike, dictate the ending, or decide the length of the tale. As Christians, we know that the play’s sequel will take place in God’s presence in heaven, where there will be no death, pain, crying or mourning. Nevertheless, sometimes that knowledge is of little consolation as we (or those we love) struggle to make it through the present act. All we can do is trust that our loving God will give His children the courage and strength necessary to get through it all, one day at a time.

Father, some of us are suffering and others of us are crying for those who are in the midst of difficult circumstances. If it is at all possible, please take away their cup of suffering. If not, help us all to accept what seems so unacceptable and to understand what seems so unreasonable. Strengthen our faith with trust and let us see hope on the horizon.

The truth is, in this world it’s a 100 percent guarantee that we will suffer. But at the same time, Jesus Christ is 100 percent certain to meet us, encourage us, comfort us, grace us with strength and perseverance, and yes, even restore joy in our lives. Your Savior is 100 percent certain to be with you through every challenge. [Joni Eareckson Tada]

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:20b (NLT)]

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

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THE BEST TIME TO MEET HIM

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. [John 11:25-26 (NLT)]

In commenting about the unexpected death of a young man, the pastor said, “The best time to meet God is when you’re right with God!” For a good part of his brief life, the young man about whom he was speaking had been a troubled unbeliever but, shortly before his death, he came to know Christ. While he will be missed by his grieving family and friends, they can find comfort in knowing his final destination. Since they, too, are believers, they know they will see him again in the future.

The pastor’s comment made me remember a sympathy note written by C.S. Lewis in 1944 to the wife of fellow professor at Oxford. After expressing how much he missed the man, Lewis told the new widow how deeply the professor’s funeral had affected him. Mentioning the many times he’d heard the same service read for non-believers, he admitted to a sense of relief at hearing those same words said for a true man of faith: “a man not unworthy of the service.” Lewis admitted that, “In some queer way it enormously strengthened my faith, and before we filed out of chapel I really felt…a kind of joy—a feeling that all was well, just as well as it could be.” Understanding that the best time to meet God is when you’re right with God, Lewis knew the professor had been welcomed home by his Father in Heaven.

I think of a friend, whose husband is nearing the end of his life.  As non-believers, she knows a religious service would be hypocritical and has been pondering what sort of funeral she might have for her husband when the time comes. For a non-believer, there is little comfort in hearing that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and His believers will never die or that our bodies “buried in brokenness…will be raised in glory.” Scripture’s words of assurance that Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house or that nothing can separate us from Christ’s love are meaningless to someone who doesn’t know Jesus.

Believers and non-believers alike experience grief but it was the faith C.S. Lewis shared with his fellow professor that allowed him to experience joy at his friend’s funeral. The words of a traditional Christian funeral/celebration of life service are only comforting to a believer if the dearly departed was a believer.

When my friend’s husband dies, I don’t know how she will mark his passing, but it won’t be with words of Scripture, prayers, psalms, or hymns. When that day comes, I will choose my words of sympathy carefully; they probably will be something innocuous about hoping her memories bring her comfort and solace. (Her lack of faith certainly won’t!) No matter how nice the memorial program or beautiful the music, I will not feel a kind of joy as I depart because I know that the best time to meet God is not when you deny His existence. The best time to meet God is when you’re good with Him!

Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. [1 Corinthians 15:43-44 (NLT)]

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PERMANENT RECORDS

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. [Psalm 103:12 (NLT)]

I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again. [Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)]

great southern white butterfly

When I was a girl in elementary school, the teachers would speak ominously of our permanent records. While the threat that Santa knowing if we’re good or bad only worked during December, a teacher’s threat of, “This is going on your permanent record!” scared us into obedience the entire year! Perhaps elementary schoolers in the 1950s were more naïve than today’s youngsters, but my friends and I were convinced that each of us had a permanent record that logged test scores, grades, and attendance records along with every infraction or disciplinary action. Every time we used our outside voices inside, chewed gum in class, forgot the hall pass, passed notes, got in a spat, lost our lunch money, or were sent to the office, the transgression was documented for posterity. Passed from teacher to teacher and school to school, that record might even follow us from job to job.

Nowadays, the dreaded permanent record no longer may be a threat and yet, with social media postings, today’s youngsters are far more likely to have a real permanent record of their assorted transgressions than I ever was!

Fortunately, God doesn’t keep a permanent record of our transgressions. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid for our sins (past, present and future) once and for all. Once we repent and accept Jesus, our sins are both forgiven and removed. Erasing them from our permanent record, God chooses not to remember them. His forgiveness, however, doesn’t mean we’ll never sin; just as we didn’t get 100% on every test in school, we won’t do life perfectly. But, because of Christ’s sacrifice and our faith, our sins no longer have any bearing on our salvation. When we repent and ask forgiveness, God’s loving grace forgives us and yesterday’s mistakes have no bearing on today. God gets out his holy eraser again and again and wipes them away. Along with the Apostle Paul, we can forget what is behind us and look forward to what lies ahead.

If seven times a day we offend him and repent, does he forgive? Ay, that he does. This is to be unfeignedly believed, and I do believe it: I believe that, often as I transgress, God is more ready to forgive me than I am ready to offend, though, alas, I am all too ready to transgress. Hast thou right thoughts of God, dear hearer? If so, then thou knowest that he is a tender father, willing to wipe the tear of penitence away, and press his offending child to his bosom, and kiss him with the kisses of his forgiving love. [Charles Spurgeon]

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, 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)]

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. [2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)]

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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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