HEIRLOOMS

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:20-21 (NLT)]

CamillaWe’re selling our northern home and, with limited space in Florida, I must winnow out our 52 years of accumulated possessions. “How can I give them away?” I wondered while looking at the beautiful hand-painted Bavarian dinner and dessert plates that belonged to my mother and her mother before that. My fondness for the plates, however, has less to do with their beauty than with their provenance.

When my mother died, I was only fifteen. I remember sitting with my older brother and sister as my father read her hand-written note to us. He tried to hold back his tears as he spoke her words of farewell that passed along various family heirlooms to each of us children. Mentioning her joy at never having broken a plate in the 23 years she’d used them, my mother gave her mother’s china to me. When I look at what is little more than clay, bone ash, flint, feldspar, glaze, paint, and gold gilding, I don’t see plates—I see my mother’s exquisitely set table, the two of us setting it, our family gathering together for a holiday dinner, and my father reading her farewell words to me.

Later, when sorting through books, I came to some that had been my mother’s. Inside the front covers, she’d carefully written her name and home address. “How can I give away these books that meant so much to her?” I thought. Many of them were written by C.S. Lewis and I suspect my affinity for the author comes from her. She belonged to a women’s guild at our church—sort of the 1950’s version of a small group. The women gathered twice a month for fellowship and service and often met at our house. They would sit around the dining room table and sew something called “cancer pads.” My mother couldn’t even thread a needle and her poor eyesight and clumsiness with a needle probably made her more of a hazard than a help in the women’s work. What she excelled at, however, was reading aloud, analyzing the written word and leading discussions. When the women realized that busy hands didn’t keep their mouths from minding other people’s business, my mother suggested that she read to them while they worked.

As I ran my finger over her name, I decided to save just one of her books. The rest of them will go to the church’s library so they can bring someone else pleasure and knowledge. Then, realizing that I don’t need the china to remember the beautiful woman who gave me life, I decided to keep just one of the dessert plates and give away the rest. Rather than hold onto things, I will hold on to my memory of a woman who, recognizing her limitations, wisely used the gifts God gave her.

While the Old Testament speaks of material inheritance and even gives guidelines to ensure the financial welfare of the family, the New Testament speaks of a spiritual inheritance. Rather than worrying about amassing things here on earth, Jesus told us to store up treasures in heaven. Granted, we want our families cared for once we’re gone but more crucial than passing along possessions is the passing along of good character, love, and faith in God.

The important thing is not to hold on to material possessions but to remember the people we associate with them, the love they offered, and the lessons they taught us. I think of the words of Morrie Schwartz (in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie) who said we continue to live on in the hearts of everyone we’ve touched and nurtured while we were here. “Death ends a life, not a relationship,” said the wise old professor. My children don’t need old china or books to know my mother; they know her through me!

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. [1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)]

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WHERE IS HE?

As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?” [Psalm 42:1-3 (NLT)]

white-tailed deer - FloridaNot so long ago, it was hard to face my computer with any enthusiasm. Every beginning led to a dead end or took me down a rabbit hole of confusion. The paragraphs over which I’d struggled had come to nothing and my hours at the keyboard seemed an exercise in futility. It’s as if I had little scraps of useless fabric but couldn’t find a way to quilt them together. I wondered where God was when I so desperately needed His guidance.

The best place to go when feeling hollow or hopeless is God’s word and Psalms is where I usually begin. David certainly had plenty of times of downheartedness and he wasn’t afraid to express his exhaustion, frustration, or despair and yet there always seems to be a ray of hope in his words. I turned to Psalm 42 and, having hit a “dry spell,” I knew what the psalmist meant when comparing himself to a deer panting for water and thirsting for God. Like him, I felt like I was dying of thirst.

It was the psalm’s mention of enemies with their taunts of, “Where is this God of yours?” that really hit home. I don’t share David’s flesh and blood enemies but all of us share a common unseen enemy: the doubt and anxiety that comes from spiritual depression.

The palmist asks why God has forgotten him and I think we all know that feeling. While I can get it when I’m staring at an empty page, that sense of desolation may visit others as they wait for the return of a prodigal, sit in a hospital room, endure chronic pain, look at the empty chair once occupied by a spouse, or have too much month left at the end of their money. We’ve all had times when it feels like God has turned a deaf ear to our prayers or has closed His eyes to our situation.

“Where is this God of yours?” is the enemy’s voice. Wanting us to lose faith or wallow in despair, he causes us to question God’s presence in our lives. God hasn’t forgotten about us; even the psalmist, as depressed as he was, acknowledges that God pours out His unfailing love each day. Nevertheless, sometimes, it feels as if God is looking the other way. Feeling defeated, discouraged, lonely, weary, or insecure, it’s easy to forget that our feelings can’t always be trusted. God, however, always is steadfast and trustworty!

In a gentle reproach, the psalmist asks why he is so downcast and reminds himself of the hope he has in God. That we don’t sense God’s presence, feel His love, see His hand, or hear His voice doesn’t mean that our loving God isn’t there. When asked, “Where is this God of yours?” let us never forget that He dwells, not just in heaven above, but also in our broken spirits. There always will be dark valleys to traverse but we are never alone; we have hope in God and, for that, we praise him.

A loss of the present sense of God’s love is not a loss of that love itself; the jewel is there, though it gleams not on our breast; hope…expects the promised boon though present providence stands before her with empty hands. [Charles Spurgeon]

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! [Psalm 42:11 (NLT)]

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WHAT DO YOU HAVE? (Elisha – 4)

“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”
“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied. [2 Kings 4:2 (NLT)]

swamp lilyRemembering that Elisha burned both plow and oxen to become an itinerate prophet for the Lord, let’s rethink the way he may have said “What can I do to help you?” With no home or money and possessing only what he could carry, how does the widow expect him to help? In the very next sentence, however, Elisha tells her to take stock of what she already has. Although she expected Elisha to solve her problem, he showed her how to solve it herself (with God’s help, of course). As it turned out, with a little work on her part and God’s intervention, the little she had was more than enough; she didn’t just pay her debts, she had money left over.

When God asked Moses what he had in his hand, the man thought his staff was just a piece of wood. When presented to God, however, that staff became a snake, brought forth Egypt’s plagues, parted the Red Sea, and made water spring from a rock. When offered to Jesus, six empty stone jars were filled with vintage wine. When offered to God’s prophet, another poor widow’s resources of only a little flour and few drops of oil were enough to feed three people for three years! When surrounded by hungry crowds, Jesus asked His disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” After taking stock of their resources and being blessed by the Lord, they had enough to feed a multitude.

What has God given you? The widow didn’t think she had enough but, in God’s hands, it became more than enough. If a small flask of oil can turn into gallons, think of what God can do with our resources (whether money, time, possessions, skills, experience, influence, or talent) if only we offer them to Him. Consider what God did with twelve Jewish men, ordinary people just like us, when they offered themselves to the Lord! When we take a step of faith and willingly offer what little we have to God, He will use it, sometimes in supernatural ways, but always in wonderful ones.

Elisha asked the widow, “What do you have?” God asks us the same question.

Trust God for great things; with your five loaves and two fishes, he will show you a way to feed thousands. [Horace Bushnell]

When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?” “Twelve,” they said. “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said. [Mark 8:19-20 (NLT)]

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DOES HE OWE US ANYTHING? (Elisha – 3)

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” [2 Kings 4:1 (NIV)]

roseate spoonbillWhen writing about Elisha, the widow, and the oil, I thought the first conversation between the prophet and distraught woman worth a deeper look. From their exchange, it is clear that the prophet either knew or knew of the widow’s husband. One of Elisha’s followers, the widow reminds the prophet of how much her husband revered and feared the Lord.

While Scripture doesn’t name her husband, other sources do. Both the 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus and the Targum (an Aramaic paraphrase and explanation of the Hebrew Bible) identify him as the Obadiah mentioned in 1 Kings 18. Although he was in charge of Ahab’s palace, Obadiah remained faithful to Jehovah and hid 100 of God’s prophets in two caves during the time Jezebel was killing them. Both Josephus and Jewish tradition suggest that Obadiah sustained these men at his own expenses and, when his money was spent, the man borrowed money to continue to feed them. It was because of this debt, incurred in the Lord’s service, that the widow’s sons were to be taken as bondservants. Whether the woman was Obadiah’s widow or the widow of another faithful follower of Jehovah we really don’t know. Nevertheless, the widow appears to think that, because her husband faithfully served the Lord, Elisha should do something about his debt.

Does God owe us anything for our service? If we look at Luke 17, it would seem that Jesus is telling us that, even when we’ve done absolutely everything God commands, we should not expect an earthly reward. We are God’s unworthy servants and have only done our duty. He is our master and His job is not to make our lives easier; our job is to do His work and build His kingdom. Whatever the widow’s husband did for God, Elijah, or Elisha, he did as God’s servant; it was only what he should have done! Our good actions are never a favor for God. Righteousness, worship, generosity, forgiveness, sacrifice, and even suffering aren’t extraordinary; they are expected of us!

Fulfilling our duties and obligation to God is not a business transaction. God owes us nothing but we owe Him everything. We are to serve the Lord with gladness, out of love and gratitude. What He may or may not give us is from His grace; it is neither payment nor reward. While we’re on this side of the grass, we should never expect to profit or gain from serving Him. As God did with the widow, He may choose to fill our jars with oil but, never forget, He doesn’t owe us even one ounce of it!

Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” [Luke 17:7-10 (NIV)]

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FINAL DESTINATION

I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, “Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.” And do you know what I am going to say? “You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.” [Matthew 7:22-23 (MSG)]

While speaking of salvation, our pastor suggested that there are four kinds of people we might find in any church. While sure of their salvation, the people in the first group are not secure in it. It’s not that they’ve lost their salvation; they never had it! Often called nominal or cultural Christians, their faith is in religion rather than Jesus and they mistake sitting in a church pew for having a relationship with God. Thinking they can purchase their ticket on the glory train with money or works, Christianity is an insurance policy for the hereafter rather than anything affecting heart or soul. They don’t understand that looking like a Christ follower, even with impressive God talk and charitable acts, isn’t the same as being one. There is a vast difference between true faith and false professions.

The second group is made up of people who know that, because they don’t believe, they’re not saved. They know about Jesus and believe He existed but they neither believe nor disbelieve that Jesus is the Son of God and sacrificed His life in atonement for their sins. Because they’re unsure about God and Jesus and unwilling to commit to Christ, they’re not secure in their salvation. These fence sitters, however, have an advantage over the first group; at least they won’t be surprised on Judgment Day!

Although secure in their salvation, the third group remains unsure of it. Unable to be sinless and perfectly obedient, they doubt their salvation. There’s a lurking fear that, if they fail or disappoint God, He won’t welcome them through those Pearly Gates. Wondering how their sins truly can be forgiven, they can’t get their heads around God’s amazing grace. At times, I think even the firmest believer has moments of insecurity when we fear God’s power, wrath and rejection. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives strengthens and reassures them. In spite of their fears, Jesus will know them when the time comes.

The fourth group is both sure of their salvation and secure in it; they know that Jesus has put their names on His guest list. This group, however, must be cautious. There’s another group equally sure of their salvation who Jesus won’t know when they come to the Heavenly Gate.

While we can be wrong about going to San Francisco or Paris, we don’t want to be wrong about our eternal destination. Missing the train to Chicago isn’t the same as missing the glory train to Heaven! Which group are you in? Will Jesus know your name?

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile. [Billy Sunday]

God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! [Romans 8:16-17 (MSG)]

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FREEDOM OF RELIGION – Independence Day 2019

American FlagsWe are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. [2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

In 2014, I wrote about Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Sudanese mother of two who, at that time, was facing execution for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. Eight months pregnant when she appeared in court on charges of apostasy and adultery, she was given three days to reject Jesus and accept Islam. Upon her refusal, she was found guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death under Sudan’s Sharia law. Meriam, however, had never rejected Islam; she’d always been a Christian. Although her father is Muslim (technically making her Muslim), he was absent during her childhood and she was raised as an Orthodox Christian by her Christian mother. Under Sharia law, marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is illegal and Meriam, married to a Christian man, was also found guilty of adultery and sentenced to flogging (100 lashes). Muslim law did not allow her execution while was pregnant and the shackled woman waited in prison for her child’s life to begin and hers to end. When writing about her, I wondered if I’d be as strong as Meriam and reminded readers that Christian persecution did not end in ancient Rome.

Curious as to her whereabouts today, I learned that the time the pregnant woman waited for her execution saved her life. It allowed Meriam’s plight to be made public and, because of international pressure, she was eventually released and settled in New Hampshire. Later that year, however, two Christian pastors from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church were charged with spying and undermining the constitutional system. Facing death sentences, they were imprisoned for eight months. In June of 2015, Christian girls walking home from church were charged with indecent dress and forced to strip out of their trousers and skirts. Five of the girls received fines and one girl had to suffer through twenty lashes. Since then, Sudanese Christians have continued to face discrimination and persecution; churches were demolished and Christians intimidated, attacked and arrested. Although Sudan’s brutal president Omar al-Bashir left office in April of this year, there is no assurance that his replacement will be any better. Unfortunately, it’s not just in Sudan where Christianity is illegal, forbidden, or punishable. Rounding out the top ten countries where human and religious rights are being violated are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran and India. According to Open Doors, 2018 saw 4,136 Christians killed for their faith; 2,625 Christians detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned; and 1,266 churches or Christian buildings attacked. They estimate that one in nine Christians experience “high levels of persecution worldwide.”

Many of our nation’s first colonists came here to escape religious persecution in their homelands. On this day, when we celebrate our nation’s Declaration of Independence and our “inalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” may we truly appreciate the freedom of religion we enjoy. In our nation, no one is a second-hand citizen because of religion, no regime tries to make any of us renounce our faith, nor must we conceal our beliefs to be safe. My Jewish friends can wear a Star of David pendant as openly as I wear my cross. As freely as I observe Easter and Christmas, my Muslim friends can observe Ramadan, my Jewish friends Passover and Hanukah, and my Hindu friends Diwali, while my atheist neighbors can choose to believe in nothing.

On this national holiday, let us thank God for the freedom we have to worship Him openly and without fear. May we never take that freedom lightly. As we count our numerous blessings, remember to pray for those who don’t enjoy the many freedoms we often take for granted.

Our prayers can go where we cannot… There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray. [Brother Andrew (founder of Open Doors)]

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. [1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)]

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