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)]

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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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NOT WHAT THEY WANTED – Palm Sunday

For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. [Zephaniah 3:15-17 (NLT)]

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. [John 1:10-11 (NLT)

blue jayWith palm branches waving, the people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. News of Jesus’ miracles, especially the resurrection of Lazarus, had spread through town. They shouted “Hosanna!” at the man they thought would overthrow the Romans, establish peace in the nation, and retake David’s throne. Expecting a political liberator rather than a spiritual savior, they wanted deliverance from the Romans rather than redemption from sin—a conquering king rather than a suffering servant. More concerned about the here and now than the forever after, they wanted power and might rather than love, peace, humility, forgiveness or eternal life. Jesus, however, didn’t come to change their circumstances; He came to change their lives and, when He didn’t give them what they wanted, they rejected Him.

I sometimes wonder if we do the same. Are we fair-weather followers like the people of Jerusalem? Those cries of “Hosanna!” became calls to crucify Him when the miracles stopped. Like them, do we turn away from God when He doesn’t fulfill our expectations? If God delivered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a fiery furnace, why won’t He deliver us from cancer, marital problems, or debt? God answered Elijah’s prayers with rain, so why won’t He answer ours with an end to this pandemic? He freed Peter from his prison cell, so why won’t he free us from debt, pain, or addiction? When God doesn’t deliver what we want, do we turn our backs to Him as did the people of Jerusalem? Let’s remember that while Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were delivered from the furnace and Peter escaped from prison, not everyone got what they wanted: Stephen was stoned, John beheaded, Isaiah sawn in half, and James slain with a sword.

When God doesn’t meet our expectations, we may start to doubt. Instead of believing that God is good, we ask, “What good is God?” We don’t have to earn God’s love with our works and yet we expect Him to prove His love through His blessings. Our faith cannot be tied to His fulfillment of our desires and expectations; it must be tied to His word. His business is transforming us and not our circumstances.

Let’s never confuse our desires with God’s promises. He will always deliver what He’s promised—peace, love, forgiveness, salvation, the Holy Spirit, eternal life, His grace, and sufficiency. Whether they recognized Him or not, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, God was fulfilling His promises and meeting their greatest need: deliverance, not from the Romans, but from sin. God continues to be true to His word today. He will always deliver what He’s promised but, like that itinerant rabbi from Nazareth riding on a donkey through the streets of Jerusalem, often it is not what we expect or think we want!

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. [Deuteronomy 7:9 (NLT]

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? [Numbers 23:19 (NLT)]

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DAY IS DONE

sunsetGod makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome! The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. [Psalm 19:4-6 (MSG)]

Being an early riser, I’m often out walking as the sun rises. Each new day brings amazing new opportunities and, while the mocking birds loudly sing their praises and the mourning doves coo their peaceful song, I thank God for yet another day on this side of the grass. While the morning’s soft pastels are beautiful, it’s the sunsets in our part of the world that are spectacular.

Our Florida lanai faces west and every evening, shortly before sunset, we try to stop whatever we are doing to admire the western sky. We breathe in deeply of God’s glory and majesty as He paints the heavens. We considered turning sunsets into something like an Olympic event and awarding points to God for each day’s sunset. The vibrant red ones that make the sky look as if it’s on fire might get nine or even ten points while a gray one having just a bare hint of pink might get only a two. After discussing it, however, we realized that sunsets, regardless of their colors, are truly magnificent and a cause for thanksgiving. Every sunset, no matter how colorful or dull, is a gift from God deserving of a perfect score and a reason for rejoicing. Sunsets mean we’ve made it safely through yet another day. They bring closure; we know that the day and whatever came with it, both good and bad, is over and done. But they also bring the promise of tomorrow and the wonderful possibilities that will come with a new day. Even our very last sunset will bring the assurance of dawn on the other side: it will be a time when we’ll truly see the Son.

Looking at the sun setting in the west, I recall my years at summer camp when I’d hear the solemn call of the trumpet at sunset and I silently sing the words to “Taps.” Indeed, all is well and I can safely rest because God is near. Tonight, at sunset, wherever you happen to be, pause, if only for a moment, and thank God for the privilege of one more blessed day.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Thanks and praise for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky.
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
[Horace Lorenzo Trim]

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop, they’ll stare in awe, in wonder. Dawn and dusk take turns calling, “Come and worship.” [Psalm 65:8 (MSG)]

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BE THE CHURCH!

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

Shepherd of the Hills - Schapville IL

Shutting their doors last Sunday was not an easy choice for church boards or parishioners. We are designed for community; gathering together for prayer, praise, instruction, fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper is part and parcel of being a Christian. Suddenly, our worship experience, traditions, rituals, and church family were taken from us with this new concept of “social distancing.” What it comes down to is simple: Jesus’ command to love one another. Right now, the best way to love one another is to avoid putting anyone, most especially those at high risk, in danger. Unfortunately, that means no longer meeting together in houses of worship.

I imagine Satan was chuckling in devilish glee last week as church after church cancelled services and closed their doors. What Satan doesn’t understand is that, while a church is a building, the Church isn’t! Scripture likens the Church to being a family, a flock of sheep, a body, and the “bride” of Christ. Whether a cathedral or a gazebo at the beach, the Church isn’t where we go, it’s who we are! Simply put, the church is a body of believers who live out the Gospel in their words and actions. We don’t need walls, pews, sound systems, kneelers, hymnals, programs, and video screens or an altar, stage, organ, choir, sanctuary, sacristy or narthex to do that!

Not attending church services or Bible study doesn’t mean we stop worshiping, praying, learning, or serving. We just have to do it another way by taking advantage of 21st century technology with things like streaming, pod casts, conference calls, FaceTime, App offerings, and on-line studies. Granted, it’s difficult to be the church when we can’t meet together, even in small groups. Nevertheless, we can still check on and encourage one another, paying special attention to those who live alone or may be without any support system. When necessary to leave our homes for supplies, we can continue to be Christ’s hands and feet by picking up necessities for house-bound neighbors. We even can evangelize by sharing our church’s online services with others. Although we all have suffered economically, some are better off than others. For those who are still able, continued (or even increased) support of our churches, missions, and relief organizations is a must. The need doesn’t go away when church doors shut! We’ll have to be creative, but we can continue to love and serve our sisters and brothers—even from a distance.

We can seek the hidden blessings in our isolation. Between closures and cancellations, I deleted forty events from my calendar for the next thirty days. My habitual complaint has been lack of time but, now that my calendar is free and I have nowhere to go, I have plenty of it! Let us endeavor to look at this forced isolation as a blessing rather than a curse!

Even though we can’t meet together, we must continue to encourage one another by finding joy in our trials and inspiring others to do the same. Using WhatsApp to spread the news, a Spanish trainer held a workout class on a low rooftop. Looking down through their windows, his class did jumping jacks and squats while sequestered in their apartments! Locked-down Italians have been having impromptu concerts from their balconies: a guitar and flute duet was presented in Turin, a man performed a trumpet solo in Trapani, and the streets of Siena and Salerno were filled with song as housebound people sang to one another. Last Friday, the term “flash mob” took on a new meaning when thousands of confined Italians stood on their balconies or hung out windows and made music with whatever they could find. A quarantined magician aboard the Diamond Princess is offering a daily televised magic show to his fellow room-bound passengers!

Most of us can’t lead an exercise class, sing from our balconies or make quarters disappear (except into vending machines), but we all can find a way to be the church. For example, the young people from a Colorado SK8 church are making grocery and pharmacy runs for the community’s elderly and housebound. As Christ followers, we continue to praise God, find joy in our circumstances, and bring light into darkness! While church doors are closed, our hearts and minds remain open to receive the joy of the Lord. We will pass that joy and His good news on to others because we are the church!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.