RECIPE BASICS

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. [Mark 11:24-25 (NLT)]

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. [1 Samuel 15:22 (NLT)]

While creativity is encouraged in both cooking and prayer, there are certain procedures for both that should be followed to ensure good results. For example, before a cook even begins, his work surface, utensils, and hands should be clean. In prayer, instead of starting with clean bowls and spoons, we should wash ourselves of any resentment or anger and start with a forgiving heart.

Even the most creative chef knows there are some cooking rules that simply can’t be broken: egg yolks can’t get mixed in with whites in a meringue, fudge needs to be cooked only to the soft ball stage, and poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees. Prayer has rules, too. For example, a willing, obedient and thankful heart is a necessity. In addition, just as leavening of some kind must be added to any bread recipe, we must have faith in God and the power of our prayers. Without leavening, no matter how delicious the rest of the ingredients, the bread won’t rise. Without faith, no matter what we’ve said or how nicely we’ve said it, our prayers won’t rise to God’s ears!

Some recipes, like risotto, require patience and persistence in preparation and others, like a 20-pound turkey, take a long time to bake. We have to be patient and persistent in prayer as well. The answers to our petitions aren’t like instant potatoes—they often take time. Just as pans should be greased so baked goods won’t stick, we need to lubricate our prayers with a large amount of humility if we want them to come out easily. Any good chef knows to use only fresh wholesome ingredients. Self-righteousness and pride will spoil any prayer and are as vile to God as rancid nuts in granola.

Anyone who watches cooking competitions knows that presentation is judged. God however, doesn’t score our prayers on their aesthetic appeal and extra points aren’t awarded for fancy words as they might be for fondant flowers or a strawberry fan. If God judges our prayers at all, it would be on things like sincerity, motives, repentance, obedience and willingness to submit to His will!

Finally, a good chef doesn’t offend a gastronome with bland or tasteless food; he honors him with bold flavors. A true connoisseur of prayers, our God is awesome and capable of anything and everything. Let’s never insult Him with insipid or weak petitions. Like a gourmet chef, we must be bold with our offerings. When cooking in God’s kitchen, let’s give Him everything we’ve got!

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. [Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)]

He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” [Luke 18:27 (NLT)]

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THE HALLEL

Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever. Everywhere—from east to west—praise the name of the Lord. [Psalm 113:1-3 (NLT)

Southern MockingbirdSeveral years ago, our mountain church hosted a concert sponsored by the small Jewish congregation in town. I vividly remember the end of the program as Jews and Gentiles sang Hava Nagila, joined hands, and danced the hora around our large sanctuary. Impressed by the performer’s energy, passion, and love of God, I purchased one of his recordings. Yesterday, after sorting through some old books and CDs, I listened to it for the first time in over 10 years. The music was composed and performed by a man who still performs today but the Hebrew words he sang were those of the Hallel and over 2,000 years old.

Hallel means “praise” and the Hallel is a liturgical prayer found in Jewish prayer books today that consists of all or parts of Psalms 113 through 118. Considered the cornerstone of Jewish liturgy, it testifies to the glorious miracles performed by God. Except for the solemn days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the jubilant Hallel is said or sung on all major Jewish holidays.

The author or authors of the six psalms of the Hallel are unknown but the psalms share a common theme: the events surrounding the exodus, God’s covenant with Israel, and the people’s obligation of praise and thanksgiving for God’s loving-kindness and sovereignty over Israel and all nations.

It opens with the simple song of praise found in Psalm 113 which begins and ends with “Hallelu yah” meaning “Praise the Lord.” Psalm 114 follows with a poetic description of the exodus and all of nature reacting in dance to God’s great work. Psalm 115 is an appeal for God’s assistance, not for Israel’s sake, but to bring honor and glory to God’s name among the pagan nations. The next psalm is one of gratitude by someone who, in a time of trouble, called upon God and was saved. Ending with a commitment to serve the Lord, it is followed by the shortest of all the psalms with a call for all nations to praise the Lord. The final psalm, 118, begins with thanksgiving followed by recounting God’s salvation in troubled times. It echoes the words Moses and the people sang after crossing the Red Sea: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.” [Exodus 15:2] This last psalm ends as it began—with thanksgiving.

Until now, I don’t think I appreciated the psalms as what they are: an ancient hymnbook. Reciting or singing the Hallel was a well-established part of the Jewish Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkoth celebrations by the first century. When I’ve sung or spoken the psalms in unison at church, I didn’t think about Jesus singing or saying those very same words (in Hebrew, of course). That Jews continue to sing the same hymns of praise sung by Jesus and the disciples when they worshiped—the same songs they sang together during the seder on the night He was betrayed—is mind boggling. That we still have those beautiful words of praise and thanksgiving, words we can say or sing any time, is a blessing. Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord, all you nations. Praise him, all you people of the earth. For his unfailing love for us is powerful; the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. Praise the Lord! [Psalm 117]

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TRUE FREEDOM – INDEPENDENCE DAY 2020

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. [Romans 6:14 (NLT)]

fireworksTomorrow, as we commemorate our nation’s birthday, the celebration will be a little different. Beaches are closed and the brat fests, chicken roasts, band concerts, parades, fireworks, neighborhood picnics, rodeos, and ice cream socials typical of this national holiday have been cancelled. Friends and family won’t be joining us to light sparklers, have a water balloon fight or baseball game, catch fireflies, eat popsicles and watermelon, or enjoy s’mores around a campfire.

Restrictions because of this pandemic have made some people bristle at their loss of personal freedom and these last few weeks have put a spotlight on both the shortcomings of our nation and the imperfections of our national heroes. Nevertheless, regardless of our nation’s faults and problems, we have an incredible amount of personal freedom. Here, we are free to disagree but, in nations like Syria, Turkmenistan, South Sudan, North Korea, and even our close neighbor Cuba, those demonstrations would never have taken place. There we’d have suppression of political opposition, restrictions on internet use, a one-party political system, government controlled media, prohibitions on worship, and harsh authoritarian rule with even more injustice and inequalities. While we’re far from perfect, we’re better than most!

As thankful as I am for the statesmen and patriots (flawed as they were) who made this great nation a reality, I am even more thankful for Jesus and his small band of Apostles who made it possible for us to live in true freedom! True freedom has more to do with belief in Jesus than it does with a Declaration of Independence or a Bill of Rights. Without Christ we will never truly be free because, no matter where we live or what kind of government we have, we will still be in bondage to sin. The Liberty Bell rang out for our nation’s freedom but it was the cross and an empty tomb that gave us our spiritual freedom. Our nation’s freedom began with its Declaration of Independence 244 years ago; our spiritual freedom came when we accepted Jesus and learned to live in dependence on Him.

We lift up our hearts, O God, on this day of celebration in gratitude for the gift of being Americans. We rejoice with all those who share in the great dream of freedom and dignity for all. 

With flags and feasting, with family and friends, we salute those who have sacrificed that we might have the opportunity to bring to fulfillment our many God-given gifts. 

As we deny all prejudice a place in our hearts, may we also clearly declare our intention to work for the time when all people, regardless of race, religion, or sex, will be granted equal dignity and worth. 

Come, O gracious God, who led your children Israel from slavery, keep us free from all that might hold us in bondage. 

Bless our country and join our simple celebration that we may praise you, our Source of freedom, the One in whom we place our trust. [Edward Hays, “A Pilgrim’s Almanac”]

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. [2 Corinthians 3:17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MEMORIALS – Memorial Day 2020

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. [John 15:12-23 (NLT)]

9/11 MemorialLast fall, when New York City was a bustling and untroubled city, our family gathered there to celebrate my son’s birthday. Only staying for a few days, we rushed to do the things tourists are expected to do in the “Big Apple.” When we walked onto the grounds of the 9/11 Memorial, however, the hubbub of the city disappeared and a hush descended. People’s silent tears fell on the bronze parapets inscribed with the names of the dead that edge the memorial as they reverently looked down at the twin waterfall pools disappearing into nothingness. According to their architect, Michael Arad, the pools represent “absence made visible.” Although the water flows continually into the voids, they never can be filled. Indeed, the loss of a loved one leaves a void that cannot be filled this side of eternity.

As we left the park, we passed six large low stone monuments. Inlaid with steel remnants from the World Trade Center, these monoliths recognize the courage, selflessness, and perseverance of the tens of thousands of men and women from across the nation and throughout the world who contributed to the rescue and recovery effort. This Memorial Glade honors the continuing sacrifice of those rescue, recovery, and relief workers (along with the survivors and members of the lower Manhattan community) who have died or remain sick from exposure to toxins at the site in the aftermath of 9/11.

Along with weddings, births, and deaths, there are certain dates that stand out in our memories—that mark the before and after of our lives. For many, it is the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For my mother-in-law, it was Black Tuesday, October 29, 1919, and the start of the Great Depression. For others, it is the “date which will live in infamy”—December 7, 1941, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For many in my generation, it is November 22, 1962, and John Kennedy’s assassination. While the exact date will be unclear, I don’t think there is a person alive today who will not see the spring of 2020 as another dividing line much like 9/11: a line between what once was and now is.

As I think back to that 9/11 Memorial, I wonder if eventually another memorial will be erected in New York City, this time dedicated to the police officers, first responders and medical personnel throughout the nation who put their health and lives on the line during this COVID-19 pandemic. While serving on the front-lines, they were over-worked, under-staffed, under-supplied, and under-paid; sadly, some lost their lives in the process.

Today is Memorial Day, a day traditionally dedicated to honoring the men and women who died while serving our nation in the armed forces. While not minimizing their military service or the loss of their lives, today I also will remember the police, first responders, and medical personnel who lost their lives (and continue to lose them) while trying to save ours from COVID-19. Like their fallen sisters and brothers in the armed forces, they lost their lives in a battle. They, too, were in combat; it’s just that their enemy was invisible and seemed unbeatable.

Because they selflessly chose to serve rather than be served, today is a day to remember all those who have fallen, whether to bullets, bombs, toxins, or disease. They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and friends. Whether military or civilian; whether they wore scrubs, fatigues, combat helmets, hazmat suits, N95 respirators, isolation gowns, or turnout gear; whether they carried stethoscopes, AEDs, or weapons; whether they served in the desert, the ambulance, or the ER: we have been served and protected by them. Let us honor their sacrifice.

Lord, we remember and thank you for those who put the welfare of others ahead of their own and, in doing so, gave their lives to protect our freedom, safety and health. Please protect those who continue to serve us; may your loving arms keep them from harm. Grace them with your peace, provision, wisdom, and strength.

O God, you yourself have taught us that no love is greater than that which gives itself for another. These honored dead gave the most precious gift they had, life itself, for loved ones and neighbors, for comrades and country – and for us. … Though their names may fade with the passing of generations, may we never forget what they have done. Help us to be worthy of their sacrifice, O God, help us to be worthy. [J. Veltri, S.J.]

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. [1 John 4:9-12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FAVORITE COLORS – MOTHER’S DAY 2020

tropical water lilies
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

“Who has been the most influential woman in your life? Who encouraged you to be the best version of you?” was the question asked in a Mother’s Day devotion I read. Typically, one would reply his or her mother. My mother, however, died when I was fifteen. She certainly got me started in the right direction but, in the nearly sixty years since her passing, many women added to what she left undone.

I remember the camp counselor who gave me some tough (and much needed) words of correction; the widowed aunt who demonstrated that a woman alone can do anything; the acquaintance who shared her story of molestation when she recognized the signs of mine; the college roommate who proved one could be both godly, virtuous and popular; my husband’s aunt who embraced her difficult circumstances without complaint and lived her life with joy; my mother-in-law who taught me what it means to be a wife; my mother-in-law’s caregiver who defined compassion and patience; and my daughter who has shown true grace under pressure. I remember the many women who generously and patiently taught me new skills, those who challenged me to reach far beyond where I thought I could, and those who encouraged me when I thought I could go no further. I’ve been made better by women who remained calm in chaos and whose faith endured in overwhelming storms. I’ve been deepened by women who stumbled and got back up, who cried and smiled again, who gave when they had little to give, who loved the unlovable, forgave the unforgiveable and laughed in the face of tragedy. Out of all the women who have touched my life in such positive ways, who would I pick?

The women who influenced me are a bit like a fabulous collection of crayons. I can’t select a favorite from among the 120 colors Crayola offers, so how could I pick just one woman among the many who have made me who I am? Each woman colored the canvas of my life in her own unique way. While my canvas may have a preponderance of colors like Mountain Meadow, Turquoise Blue and Cornflower (with a touch of my mother’s Granny Smith Apple and sister’s Bittersweet), I have been enhanced by the Razzmatazz, Shocking Pink, Unmellow Yellow, Vivid Tangerine, Cotton Candy, Wild Strawberry, Razzle Dazzle Rose and Outrageous Orange that were added by other women who blessed my life. I’m nowhere near complete and colors keep being added that will make me a better version of myself.

While all of the women who’ve helped color me are unique, like crayons that share the same box, they have something in common; they all were women of faith—women who believed in the power of Jesus Christ. They saw His light and knew the truth of His words. There is, however, a huge difference between those who just see the light and those who become His light. Those who merely see the light may know the truth but don’t leave their mark; those who become His light, live the truth, color the world with their beauty, and cause us to be better versions of ourselves.

Thank you, God, for the women (and men) who shed your light on us and color us with their love, concern, wisdom, faith, and good examples. They help make us all that You mean for us to be.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

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THE OPEN DOOR

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:28 (NLT)]

weggis - switzerland - mudslide chapel

When this pandemic first began, many thought of it as a Chinese virus. We now realize it’s not a Chinese, Italian, or even a New York thing; it’s affecting everyone everywhere, if not directly then indirectly. Lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing, face masks, make-shift hospitals and morgues, silent streets, shortages, closed churches, along with shuttered stores, schools and businesses and the financial fallout from those closures: these have altered the lives people across the globe. COVID-19 is no respecter of borders; as of yesterday, the number of confirmed cases was more than two million in at least 177 different countries.

Acknowledging that there is nothing typical about church during this pandemic, we didn’t air a typical church service on Palm Sunday. Instead, we chose to host a global celebration of our global Savior and offered messages and music from Britain, Ireland, Scotland, India, South Africa, South Korea, China, and Cuba, along with words and music from across the U.S. As I watched an Englishwoman recite a poem about prayer, witnessed a couple raise their voices in praise from a rooftop in a strangely silent Havana, joined a family as they sang from their living room in India, and shed a tear while a South Korean violinist played Ave Maria in an empty room, I realized how much this pandemic has brought us together across the world.

As beautiful and inspiring as were Palm Sunday’s musical offerings, I was touched most by the words of a man in China who thanked our church for its free App. His words reminded me that Jesus can be as contagious as COVID and that faith, hope and love can cross borders as easy as a virus. Coronavirus reminds us that, rather than an isolated community, we are part of a global community. We are not one church or one denomination; we are not Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox. We are one Church—the global Christian Church—and we follow one Savior—Jesus Christ!

While unable to attend church, we can continue being the Church and our congregation is larger than we think! My church has fewer than 70 people but in their first 24-hours, our Palm Sunday service was seen by over 5,700 people and our Easter one by over 7,800 (with over 80% of those views out of the U.S.!) Just as borders can’t stop COVID-19, they can’t stop Jesus. Let us thank God that today’s technology allows us to reach much further than we ever thought possible.

Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another opens.” The rest of his quotation is, ”But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Lament over the closed doors to our churches must not blind us to the digital door that has opened. Imagine the possibilities if, instead of being a single church or denomination, we acted as one family and all of Christ’s followers reached out virtually to join hands with the rest of the world. We serve a global Savior; indeed, in Christ there is no east or west!

In Christ there is no east or west, In him no south or north,
But one great fam’ly bound by love Throughout the whole wide earth.
In him shall true hearts ev’rywhere Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord Close binding humankind.
In Christ now meet both east and west, In him meet south and north,
All Christly souls are one in him Throughout the whole wide earth.
[John Oxenham (1908)]

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. [Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)]

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