IN EVEN THE BEST FAMILIES

mute swansBut Samuel’s sons did not live the same way he did. Joel and Abijah accepted bribes. They took money secretly and changed their decisions in court. They cheated people in court. [1 Samuel 8:3 (ERV)] 

Not all dads did as well with their boys as did my father-in-law. Eli and Samuel, for example, were both high priests and judges; while they were good at their jobs, neither is known for his parenting skills. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, were corrupt judges who took bribes. Eli’s boys, Hophni and Phinehas, were no better. They took advantage of their position to appropriate the best portion of every sacrifice for themselves and to have sexual relations with the sanctuary’s serving women. Even David had problems with his boys: Amnon was a rapist, Absalom a murderer and rebel, and Adonijah tried to seize his brother Solomon’s crown.

Clearly, being a godly parent doesn’t guarantee godly children. Were Eli and Samuel so busy with their temple duties that they failed to spend time with their boys? David had at least nineteen sons and probably several more with his concubines. Between the battlefield and his obligations as king, did he neglect being a father to his many children? In their busyness, did these men overlook their obligation to train their children in proper values? Were they as attentive as they should have been? I’m not pointing fingers because, at some time or another, we all have disregarded some of our parenting duties and short-changed our children with our time, attention, and affection.

Eli and Samuel knew their sons were corrupt and David knew of Amnon’s rape of his sister but the men did nothing about these offences. Perhaps, not wanting to face the unpleasant truth about their boys, they ignored their parental responsibility to discipline. At some time or another, in spite of evidence to the contrary, most of us have refused to believe our children are anything less than perfect, as well. Sometimes, we find it easier to ignore the elephant in the room than to address it.

These fathers were far from perfect but, then again, so are we. Nevertheless, we must remember that the failings of a child are not necessarily because of poor parenting. Even the best parent makes plenty of mistakes. We just do our best and pray (a whole lot). We’ll never know exactly what went wrong with those boys. After all, Solomon came from the same household as his malicious elder brothers and the same home that produced the honorable President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel peace prize winner, gave us his troubled and somewhat embarrassing brother, Billy.

Home may be a child’s first classroom but he continues to learn when he steps into society. As the church, we need to fill the voids in the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of our community’s children. Not all of us are parents, but we all share in the awesome responsibility of raising the next generation.

Lord, guide us in our homes, community, and churches so that all of your children become people of faith and good character.

My son, remember your father’s command, and don’t forget your mother’s teaching. Remember their words always. Tie them around your neck and keep them over your heart. Let this teaching lead you wherever you go. It will watch over you while you sleep. And when you wake up, it will give you good advice. [Proverbs 6:20-24 (ERV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FATHER’S DAY – 2018 

the old man and the sea
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. [Deuteronomy 6:-7 (NLT)]

I lost my first father the same year I gained my second one: my father-in-law. Although I only had my birth father for twenty years, I was blessed to have my father-in-law for thirty-seven! I think I married my husband out of my love for his parents as much as for my love for him! Dad J lived his life well: with faith, vigor, enthusiasm, joy and a whole lot of love. Compassionate and generous, responsible and helpful, good-humored and resourceful, he was a man of absolute integrity (with a touch of mischief on the side). The Bible might describe him as a man after God’s heart.

My father-in-law died nearly fourteen years ago as the result of a car accident. His injuries necessitated him being air-lifted to a distant hospital. It troubled me that in his final hours, Dad was alone in a strange place. There was no one to tell him his wife had survived the crash and no loved ones to hold his hand or pray with him. Then I realized that he was never alone; Dad always walked with God. As he walked through that dark valley, the Good Shepherd was with him, His rod and staff protecting and comforting my father-in-law the entire journey home.

If, at any point in his ninety-six years, Dad had been told that he had only one day left in which to live, he would have lived that last day in the same way he lived every other one. He had no regrets, no grudges, no scores to settle, and no debts to repay. There was no one to whom he owed an apology, no amends that had to be made, no deeds left undone and no loving words left unsaid. He was an example of how life should be lived and an inspiration to us all. In the words of Will Rogers, Jr., “His heritage to his children wasn’t words or possessions, but an unspoken treasure, the treasure of his example as a man and a father.” Indeed, he was as close to an ideal husband and father that any mortal man could be. I enjoy the benefit of his example in my husband and our boys. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree and there’s a beautiful bit of Dad in them all.

On this Father’s Day, join me in thanking God not just for our fathers, but also for our fathers-in-law, step and foster dads, uncles, coaches, mentors, big brothers, teachers, pastors and all the other men in our lives who have been examples of how to live a Christian life.

Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice. [Charles F Kettering]

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. [Psalm 127:3b (NLT)]

The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them. [Proverbs 20:7 (NLT)]

Those who fear the Lord are secure; he will be a refuge for their children. [Proverbs 14:26 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

muscovy ducklings - floridaNow they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” [Luke 18:15-16 (ESV)]

In the comic strip Baby Blues, done by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, Daryll and Wanda’s daughter Zoe has been reading Charlotte’s Web. “Think she’ll be traumatized by the ending?” Daryll asks his wife. (Spoiler alert—Charlotte dies.) In comes Zoe who loudly announces, “Today at school we had a shelter-in-place drill, an active shooter drill, and a hazardous materials evacuation drill. It was fun!” When Wanda replies, “I think she’ll be fine,” the stunned Daryll announces, “I’m not!” Not long after seeing that comic, Moderately Confused, drawn by Jeff Stahler, continued the theme. As a mother looks at her son’s schoolwork, he proudly declares, “At least I passed my active shooter lockdown drill.” When shotguns, rifles, pistols, and pipe bombs regularly find their way into our schools and threaten our children, I find no humor in these comics; they are only a sad commentary on the nation in which our children live.

When I sent my children off to school, I thought they were going to a safe place; at that time, they were. They may have returned home with the sniffles, chicken pox, hurt feelings, a skinned knee or even a black eye from a playground scuffle, but they returned home. When a student at the Santa Fe High School in Texas was asked if she was surprised by the violence, her reply was chilling: “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here.” Violence in schools should be the exception rather than the expectation! We’re barely 22 weeks into the year and yet, according to CNN, there have been 23 school (K through university) shootings where someone has been hurt or killed. (That doesn’t include incidents that were resolved without injury.) No wonder our children aren’t surprised by the violence around them.

During last week’s Indiana shooting, a 7th grader texted to his mother: “Mom, there’s an intruder, I just wanted to tell you I love you.” No child should have to be hiding in a classroom behind a door barricaded with chairs and, fearing he has only a few minutes left to live, texting what he thinks are his final words. He should be writing essays not last words and worried about a pop quiz in biology rather than a schoolmate wielding a gun. Middle schoolers should be busy with math drill worksheets rather than active-shooter drills, a diploma should not be accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder, and, when a child leaves school, it shouldn’t be in an ambulance or a body bag. We are called to care for, nurture and protect the children God has given us—not just those in our homes but also in our communities, nation and throughout the world. Sadly, we’re not doing a very good job of it.

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, a cynical meme circulated on the Internet that showed an empty van with the caption: “Excellent news. The first truckload of your thoughts and prayers arrived.” We often say our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these tragedies but thoughts and prayers are not enough; we must take action. Whether it is gun control legislation, better mental health services, metal detectors, mentoring programs, security cameras, RFD badges, locked doors, armed security guards, or armed teachers—I won’t pretend to know the solution. Nevertheless, I must seek to find it and work to implement it. Let us all prayerfully consider what each one of us can do to give our children a safe and secure future.

Father in heaven, forgive us for our failure to protect the ones you have entrusted to our care. Guide us in our actions so that we protect them not just from illness and injury but also from abuse, neglect, bullying, and violence. Show us what we can do so that they thrive and blossom rather than wither and die.

Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer. … Prayer and action must always be profoundly united. [Pope Francis]

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. [Psalm 82:3-4 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NEVER FORGET – MEMORIAL DAY 2018

Freedom Park - Naples FL
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. [Psalm 34:18 (ESV)]

When I was a girl, regardless of the day of the week, Memorial Day was always May 30. It was when we took off the storm windows, put on the screens, could start wearing white shoes, and got out the grill. Nowadays, we no longer have the twice a year storm window/screen exchange or the silly “no white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day” fashion rule, we grill all year long, and Memorial Day means a three-day weekend. As the “official” start of summer, it’s when city pools open, families and friends gather for picnics, the kids get out the bubbles and sidewalk chalk, bicycle tires get pumped up, flowers are planted, and we relax in the yard with a cool lemonade while the ribs cook on the grill.

Memorial Day, however, is a day of remembrance—of remembering the more than 1.3 million American military men and women who, over the last 242 years, paid the ultimate price for our freedom to enjoy this pleasant holiday. That number, however, only reflects those who lost their lives in combat. Many more, like the nine who died in Georgia earlier this month, lost their lives in training.

People have paid for this three-day holiday weekend with their lives. Yet, with less than one percent of our population on active duty or in the reserves, most of us are distanced from the true cost of war. When we don’t know any military personnel, it’s easy to become unappreciative or complacent about their sacrifice. Let’s never forget that we continue to have American men and women in harm’s way. Since 2001, nearly 7,000 American troops have lost their lives in Operation Enduring Freedom/Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom alone and there seems to be no end in sight. Each one of those fallen soldiers left behind loved ones who still mourn their loss. For some people, today means placing flowers on a grave rather than a cook-out with hot dogs and s’mores. For them, every day is Memorial Day.

As we celebrate the start of summer, let’s pause to remember those who died in the service of their country, thank God for their sacrifice, pray for their families, and, most of all, pray for peace. Father in Heaven, we thank you for this nation in which we are blessed to live. Thank you for those who went before us, making our freedom possible and those who continue to battle for our country’s safety and survival. Just as we must remember that our salvation was because of your sacrifice, let us never forget that the freedom we enjoy as a nation came at a great sacrifice, as well.

Heavenly Father, on this Memorial Day, we pray for those who courageously laid down their lives for the cause of freedom. May the example of their sacrifice inspire in us the selfless love of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Bless the families of our fallen troops, and fill their homes and their lives with your strength and peace. In union with people of goodwill of every nation, embolden us to answer the call to work for peace and justice, and thus, seek an end to violence and conflict around the globe. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Archdiocese of Detroit]

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. [John 15:13 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SETTING THE BAR

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. [Hebrews 12:1-2a (NLT)]

nodding onion“How was work today?” asked the wife in the Born Loser comic strip (drawn by Chip Sansom). Her husband answered, “Horrendous!” adding, “It feels so good that it’s over, I’m almost glad it happened!” Having had times when my prayer was simply, “Lord, just get me through this!” I understand. Sometimes, life seems so challenging and exhausting that we’re willing to settle for merely getting through it. That, dear friend, is setting the bar far too low. God has better plans for us than just getting by and none of us are born losers.

Sarah wanted a baby so much that she was willing to settle for surrogate motherhood when, in fact, God promised that she’d give birth to a nation. When he fled to Midian, Moses just wanted to escape persecution for killing an Egyptian. God’s plans were that he would lead the Hebrews to freedom. The orphaned Esther probably just wanted to settle down with a nice Jewish boy. She never imagined that God’s plans included making her a queen who would save her people from genocide. Gideon, hiding in a winepress, just wanted to get the wheat threshed so he could feed his family. God’s plans were that he’d defeat the Midianites and become Israel’s fifth judge. The widowed foreigner Ruth just wanted to feed herself and Naomi with the leavings in Boaz’s field. She never dreamt of being great-grandmother to Israel’s second king and ancestor to the Messiah. The woman at the well just wanted to fill her water jug and go home without incident when she got the living water of Jesus. Zacchaeus, the tax man, would have been happy just to catch a glimpse of the rabbi from Nazareth. He got much more when God came for dinner and brought salvation with Him. What of the fishermen from Galilee who just wanted to catch enough fish to pay their bills and put food on the table? Did they ever imagine they’d break bread with God? Considering all that God can accomplish through us, it would seem that our hopes and dreams often are way too small.

The Apostle Paul doesn’t tell us just to get through the race—to schlep halfheartedly through the course set before us. He tells us to strip every weight that slows us down and run (not walk) with perseverance. Sin can trip us up but so can our attitude. Just hoping to make it through the day (week, month or even year) hinders our run by setting the bar too low. We must never be willing to settle for less than the best—less than the best that God has in store for us and less than the best that we have to offer Him!

Why just settle with merely getting through life? If God just met our expectations, He’d never have the opportunity to exceed them and exceed them He will! When we allow God to determine our dreams and obediently follow His plan, the result will surpass our wildest dreams. He didn’t promise a life of just getting by: He promised a life of abundance—not a life of riches—but a rich life.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. [Michelangelo]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Amen [Ephesians 3:19-20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NOT A DRY EYE

You learn more at a funeral than at a feast – After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover something from it. [Ecclesiastes 7:2 (MSG)]

black swallowtail - butterflyAt my age, I’ve attended a fair share of funerals and they’ve run the gamut from full-blown productions complete with video presentations and choirs to a few mourners on a windy ski slope with a bag of ashes. Some ministers knew the deceased well and others couldn’t even pronounce the name correctly. There have been inspiring prayers and eulogies and some with no prayer at all. They’ve taken place in jam-packed churches and nearly empty mortuary chapels. Solomon was correct; there is a lot we can learn at funerals.

I’ve learned how much we miss when we don’t take the time to truly know someone. I discovered more about one woman from her obituary and eulogy than I did from 30 years of socializing with her. Her funeral showed me how little we really know about people we call “friends” and how superficial our friendships can be.

I’ve learned how empty some lives have been. When asked to do the eulogy for a distant family member, I was given a list of the five things of which he was most proud, the high point being a 4-H trophy awarded some seventy years earlier. He made no mention of family, friends, faith, or love. As I looked out over the mourners, there were no friends and only a few family members who attended out of a sense of obligation.

As we released butterflies following the joyous and love-filled celebration of life of another family member, I learned about courage and how much faith, love, family and friends can guide someone in life and through the dark valley of death.

I’ve learned how much a parent’s love and guidance can influence his children after hearing a son speak eloquently at his father’s funeral. I was reminded of how fragile life can be and, upon returning home, called every family member just to tell them I loved them.

I’ve learned that communities can come together with offerings of food, comfort and support and that families can be torn apart by resentment, jealousy, and greed. A funeral not only reminds us all of the inevitability of death, it can teach us how to live. If nothing else, we return home appreciating each day just a little more.

Good and brave men buried Stephen, giving him a solemn funeral—not many dry eyes that day! [Acts 8:2 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.