NO REGRETS

Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)]

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 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. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. [1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtail butterfly on bergamotWhen writing yesterday’s devotion (“It’s Curtains”), I couldn’t help but feel a brief pang of regret because I never had those conversations with my parents before they died. The thoughts, “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you,” may have been assumed but never were spoken. I was fifteen when my mother succumbed to cancer. I saw her that day in hospital but, when I walked out that afternoon, I was sure I’d see her again when I visited the following day. I never thought the next time I saw her she’d be lying in a casket. When people would say, “She looks so good,” I wanted to shout at them and say, “She doesn’t look good; she looks dead!” Five years later, I was in the same funeral home and surrounded by many of the same mourners. That time, it was my father’s body lying so still in the front of the room. Two day earlier he’d been hunting pheasants when his heart failed; he died in the middle of a corn field. I’d seen him just a few weeks before that and never thought our farewell was the final one. Did my parents know how much I loved them? Did they know how sorry I was for my failings? Did they know I forgave them for theirs? Did they know how thankful I was for the life they gave me?

If we’d had those conversations at that time, however, I’m not sure how satisfying they would have been. I was far too young to have any concept of what it meant to be a parent and make the difficult choices parents do. I was too immature to have a real appreciation of the sacrifices they made for me or to understand the depth of parental love and the pain that so often accompanies it. And, I was far too young to acknowledge how wrong I’d been in so many ways. I think of the Apostle Paul’s words, “I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.” Indeed, I did. Now, more than fifty years later, I have the blessings of faith, maturity, perspective, and experience but those conversations cannot take place. Surely, like me, there are others whose final farewells were nonexistent or less than satisfactory. Nevertheless, they were final.

Although I expect to meet my parents in heaven, I think we’ll be too busy joyfully worshipping God to bring our regrets with us to the afterlife. What’s done is done and those last farewells, as unsatisfactory as they were, will have to do. The past is just that—passed! There really is no room in our lives for regret or looking backward. After all, we still have a race to run.

To dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present. Is that Christianity? Of course it is not. [Martyn Lloyd-Jones]

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 3:13b-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IT’S CURTAINS

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

Death never takes the wise man by surprise; He is always ready to go. [Jean de La Fontaine]

PEONYWithin a week of one another, two friends joined the ranks of widowhood. One was not surprised when she joined this club. Her husband surrendered to cancer several months ago when they chose to stop all treatment and make the most of their remaining time together. The other woman was caught by surprise; she went to bed a wife and awoke the next morning a widow. Her husband, who appeared to be the picture of health, had suffered a fatal heart attack during the night.

I thought of these women when reading an article in Prevention magazine by Dr. Ira Babcock. His experience as a palliative physician taught him the value of making four statements before saying our last good-byes: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Although the first family had an opportunity to prepare for that last good-bye, the second family did not.

We may picture a peaceful ending with family gathered around the bedside affording us an opportunity to say and hear whatever needs to be said or heard. In actuality, that’s probably not the way the last act of life will be staged. Any forgiveness that needs to be asked for or extended, any thanks that should be offered, and any words of love to be spoken cannot wait for the last act. We may not even know the play is nearly finished, the people to whom we want to speak may not be present, or conversation may not be possible.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. They’re all thoughts that shouldn’t wait to be expressed until we or the people we love are at death’s door. In their last moments, did either of those husbands regret having left something unspoken? When the casket was closed, did their family members weep because of words they’d left unsaid? I’d like to think the first husband and his family had expressed their forgiveness, thanks and love. As for the second husband—as he was gasping his last few breaths, did he wish he’d said “I love you!” before his wife went to bed? Do his children regret not apologizing for something or failing to express their love and appreciation for all he did? Does his wife wish she’d told him how much she loved him that night? Does she regret their morning argument or wish she’d thanked him for his incredible patience?

Lazarus died and was resurrected. If he or Martha and Mary left anything unsaid the first time he died, I imagine they didn’t the second. Unlike Lazarus, we don’t get a second chance at dying and, unlike Martha and Mary, we don’t get a second opportunity to say farewell to our loved ones.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. We don’t know when the curtain will close. Is there anyone to whom we should say those words before it does?

Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it…If we did, we would do things differently. … Forgive yourself before you die, then forgive others. [Morrie Schwartz in “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. [Psalm 39:4-5 (NLT)]

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SETTLING THE ACCOUNT

Buena Vista, Iowa
Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from me will shame you. You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him. I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! [Jeremiah 2:19 (NLT)]

One autumn day, the atheist farmer told the minister that he’d plowed, disked, fertilized, planted, cultivated and harvested all of his fields on Sundays. He bragged that he had the biggest crop ever while defying the Biblical command to rest on the Sabbath. Moreover, he’d cursed the minister’s nonexistent God the entire time he worked. “Explain that!” challenged the farmer. The minister calmly replied that God doesn’t always settle his accounts in October!

For much of the year, I live in southwest Florida in an area with one of the highest life expectancies in the nation—83.5 years. That’s more than four and a half years longer than the average American and more than ten years longer than someone in Gasden, Alabama. Among other things, statistics show that the fatter our wallets and the thinner our bodies, the longer we’re likely to live. Nevertheless, no matter where we reside, how much we weigh, how well we eat, how many doctors we visit, or how wealthy we are, we will all say farewell to our life here on earth; life is terminal. We never know when God will settle his accounts but we do know that, someday, He will!

In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the destitute and diseased beggar, we are warned about eternal judgment and that once we reach our journey’s end, there are no transfers. Hell is a real place and our final destination is final. When death arrives, and it will, what we’ve accumulated here on earth will mean nothing. Neither richness nor poverty is of importance; what matters will be our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Like the rich man in the parable, we are free to ignore the cries of those around us, but we’d better be prepared to do some crying ourselves. Like the farmer in my story, we are free to reject the message of Christ but, if we do, we must be ready to face the consequences of that choice. God is not to be disregarded or treated carelessly. Our loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell; He just honors the sinner’s choice. If we wish to live apart from Him in this world, He will be happy to oblige us in the next.

 If you board the train of unbelief, you will have to take it all the way to its destination. [Erwin W. Lutzer]

And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” [1 Peter 1:17 (NLT)]

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. … Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:14,17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE GLAD GAME (HIDDEN BLESSINGS- Part 1)

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)]

squirrelDo you remember Pollyanna, the fictional heroine in Eleanor Porter’s book by the same name? When the Ladies Aid society sends a pair of crutches instead of the doll she’d wanted, Pollyanna’s missionary father teaches the disappointed girl the “glad game.” Telling her to look at the good side of things, he points out they can be glad because she doesn’t need the crutches! The girl continues to play the game until her optimism is sorely tested when she becomes paralyzed. Admitting the game isn’t as much fun when it is so hard to play, she eventually finds some good in her plight—she still has her legs. Indeed, the “glad game” is much harder when the issues are greater than getting crutches instead of a doll. Nevertheless, it is a game worth playing.

It’s hard to imagine how God can bring anything good out of our afflictions and sorrow. Moreover, as Pollyanna discovered, the more challenging the troubles, the harder it is to see the blessings in them. It is our faith that helps us accept difficult, even tragic events, because we know that, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” [Romans 8:28] Whether we call it optimism, playing “the glad game,” or searching for hidden blessings, looking for God’s loving hand in our lives is the only way we can have joy, not in spite of our troubles and sorrow, but because of them.

…there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it. [From “Pollyanna” by Eleanor H. Porter]

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! … Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:4,6-7 (NLT)]

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MARRIAGE VOWS

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. [Isaiah 54:5 (NLT)]

But you have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel! You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband. I, the Lord, have spoken. [Jeremiah 3:20 (NLT)]

JUST MARRIEDThroughout the Bible, marriage is often used as a metaphor for man’s relationship with God. His covenant with Israel is seen as a form of marriage, their unfaithfulness as adultery, and their alienation from God as divorce. The book of Hosea is a story of a prophet with an unfaithful wife that parallels God’s relationship with his unfaithful people. Some scholars say the entire Song of Songs is an allegory of God’s love for Israel or the church. In the New Testament, John the Baptist describes the Messiah as a bridegroom and Jesus refers to himself as the groom in wedding parables. Marriage was ordained by God and the marital bond illustrates God’s relationship with His people.

In light of the many Biblical references to our spiritual marriage, I started to evaluate how I’ve done keeping my wedding vows with God. When a bride, I promised to love, comfort and honor my husband and to forsake all others, keeping myself only for him as long as I lived. I took him for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and to love and cherish until we were parted by death.

Although I’ve done a pretty good job of doing all that I promised to my husband, I’ve not done so well with my God. In times of health, wealth and contentment, I often forgot who made those good times possible. Moreover, I was often distant or angry with God in times of sickness, scarcity and sorrow. I’m not sure I even forsook all others for Him. I followed my peers, often took the easy rather than right routes, and listened to the enemy when I should have listened to Him. Like a mistress or prostitute, I seemed to love Him for his gifts and often came to Him only because I wanted something. While I can’t comfort our Almighty God, I’ve probably caused Him a fair amount of discomfort and grief. Fortunately, there was nothing about obedience in my wedding vows because obedience hasn’t been my strong suit with God. While I haven’t failed completely as a spiritual wife, I haven’t fully kept our covenant relationship.

On His part, God, like the perfect husband, has been faithful and loved me in all circumstances. Knowing my every fault, He’s seen me at my worst but continued to love me. If I stopped believing in Him, He never stopped believing in me. If I rejected him, He never rejected me. No matter how unfaithful I have been, He has remained faithful to me. He’s been loving and true to me at my sickest, poorest, and most contemptible. He gave me unconditional love when my love often depended on circumstances. God asked Hosea to buy back his adulterous wife and continue to love her. God has redeemed me, as well. The gift of His only Son to save my sorry soul is evidence of that. As Hosea welcomed back Gomer, so God welcomes me.

At landmark anniversaries, people often remake their wedding vows. Our vows to God need to be retaken not just every ten years but every day. Merciful God, thank you for your unconditional and lavish love. Forgive us for being less than you deserve and thank you for giving us more than we could ever desire. In all circumstances, may we love, honor, cherish and obey you, now and forever.

Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. [Isaiah 62:4-5 (NLT)]

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NEVER TO FORGET

Oh, how sweet the light of day, And how wonderful to live in the sunshine! Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted. Take delight in each light-filled hour, Remembering that there will also be many dark days And that most of what comes your way is smoke. [Ecclesiastes 11:7-8 (MSG)]

viceroy butterflyIn a “Family Circus” cartoon, written by Bil and Jeff Keane, Dolly wakes up and says, “I hope today is one of those days I never wanna forget.” Amen to that, girl! Isn’t that what we all hope for every day? What will it take for Dolly to have one of those days? What will it take for us to have a day we never want to forget?

With far more days behind me than are ahead, I want every day to be worth remembering. Nevertheless, some days are better than others and get pulled out of the memory file more often. Oddly, they aren’t the red-letter days—the weddings, graduations, birthdays, performances or holidays. Maybe it’s the unrealistic expectations or busyness that often accompany special occasions, but we rarely enjoy them as much as we thought we would. The kind of days about which Dolly is speaking, the days we never want to forget, usually come when we least expect them.

I had one such day last week as the family gathered together in California. It wasn’t, however, the special anniversary dinner party hosted by our children when everyone was dressed up and on good behavior. It came later in the week when our children and grands frolicked in the pool and had a water fight. Armed with water blasters, the youngsters squealed with delight as they soaked their parents and were drenched in return. My eyes leaked joyfully as I watched my loved ones laugh and play; it was raucous, rowdy, chaotic and absolutely wonderful. That was “one of those days” and it has been tucked within easy reach in my memory file. Then again, seeing two goldfinches perched on my windowsill first thing this morning was memory worthy, as well. In the end, it’s really not the events that make the day; it’s our attitude toward them!

As for those days we’d rather not remember—I confess to having had days, weeks and even a few months I’d rather not remember. While not exactly forgotten, by the grace of God, those memories have lost their sting and hurt no longer. They’re simply “once was enough” experiences that helped make me who I am. Placed in the back of my memory file, they’re retrieved only when absolutely necessary. Until then, I’ll enjoy today and, with God’s love and guidance, make it one of those days I’ll never want to forget.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the gift of this day—guide us in our walk so that we make it a day truly worth remembering.

Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning. Don’t skimp on colors and scarves. Relish life with the spouse you love Each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange For the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed. [Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (MSG)]

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