STILL IN EGYPT

But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:20-24 (NTE)]

Abiquiu NMBack in 1963, Bob Luman sang “You can take the boy from the country, But you can’t take the country from the boy.” Along the same line, Brookes & Dunn sang that while you could take the girl out of the honkey-tonk, you couldn’t take the honkey-tonk out of the girl. I wonder if Moses thought about singing, “You can take the people out of Egypt, but you can’t take Egypt out of the people!”

When the Israelites departed Egypt, they brought more than their flocks, tents, matzo, possessions, and the Egyptians’ gold and jewelry. Egypt’s influence was still in their hearts and minds. After the ten plagues visited on Egypt clearly demonstrated Yahweh’s supreme power and the impotence of Egypt’s assorted gods, it’s difficult to understand how they still doubted Him. Nevertheless, even though God was guiding them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night, they panicked at the first sign of trouble. Seeing Pharaoh’s army approaching, they complained that slavery in Egypt was preferable to dying in the wilderness.

After they’d safely crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army drowned, they were free physically but not mentally! Within a month after departing Egypt, rather than trusting their powerful God for provision, they again longed for the meat and bread of Egypt. By the time they arrived in the Sinai wilderness the next month, along with the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, God had provided Israel with water, quail, manna, and victory over the Amalekites. Nevertheless, they still carried their 400 years of Egyptian bondage in their hearts and minds.

During the forty days Moses was receiving the Law from God, the people began to fear that he was lost. Remembering the gods of Egypt, they wanted a god with a face: one they could see and touch, one who could lead them on their way. Within forty days of their acceptance of God’s covenant that specifically prohibited idolatry, the Israelites were fashioning an idol of their own. While the choice of a golden calf seems odd to us, it wouldn’t have been to them. There were several bovine deities in Egypt. The Egyptian goddess Hathor, for example, was depicted as a heifer and her powerful son, Apis, as a bull. A golden calf was the obvious choice for people who’d brought their Egyptian bondage with them!

The purpose of all those laws God gave Israel was to take Egypt out of His people—to teach them a new and better way of living. Yet, more than a year later, we again find Israel complaining and craving the “good things” of Egypt. When the scouts returned from exploring Canaan, we see how little they progressed. These were God’s chosen people who had not suffered one defeat during their travels through the wilderness. Yet, with the mind set of slaves still in bondage, they were so afraid to cross the Jordan that they wanted to pick another leader to take them back to Egypt! It took forty years and an entirely new generation before the Israelites finally rid themselves of Egypt and entered the Promised Land.

What about us? When we became Christians, did we leave the old life behind and allow God to transform us into something new or, like the Israelites, are we still in bondage: bondage not to Egypt but to the past’s sins, habits, attitudes, and mistakes? Jesus brought us through the wilderness and set us free from our slavery to sin. Rather than looking in the rear view mirror at what has been and the way we were, let us look ahead to Christ’s promises of what will be!

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. [John 8:34-36 (NLT)]

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. [Romans 6:6 (NLT)]

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ATTENDING TO THE PRESENT

dawnYet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

C.S. Lewis’ religious satire The Screwtape Letters consists of 31 letters written by the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of acquiring the soul of a young man. Screwtape’s suggestions of ways to cause the fellow’s damnation could be described as a self-help book in reverse. As the diabolical demon advises Wormwood in methods of temptation, the reader learns Satan’s assorted strategies and ruses and what not to let happen. While walking the other morning, I thought of Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood regarding the young man’s focus of attention.

To beat the heat of Southwest Florida, I start my walk while it still is dark. When crossing one of our bridges, the previous night’s full moon was on my left and the coming day’s sunrise on the right. Caught between the day that was and the day yet to come, I thought of Screwtape’s words that God prefers man to be concerned with either the present or eternity rather than yesterday or tomorrow. When in the moment, he is “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, [or] giving thanks for the present pleasure.”  When considering eternity, he is meditating on God. Wanting neither of those things, Screwtape advises Wormwood to get the young man to live in the frozen past or the unknown future.

Of the two methods, Screwtape prefers getting him to live in the future: either in perpetual anticipation of the rainbow’s end or in constant fear of the horrors tomorrow may bring. Clarifying his point about the future, Screwtape explains that God expects man to make plans but planning for tomorrow’s work actually is today’s duty. God, however, doesn’t want man to place his expectations in the future. Naïve optimism and unrealistic expectations inevitably end in disappointment while anxiety and distress rob the present of joy. Unlike God, the demons want man to be “hagridden by the future” and so obsessed by images of either a surefire windfall or a pending catastrophe that he will be willing to do anything to attain his pipe dream or prevent the disaster. If there ever were a time we’re tempted to live in a pre-pandemic yesterday, ignore reality and view tomorrow with rose-colored glasses, or be so fearful of the future we can’t face it, that time is now. When we focus on yesterday or tomorrow, we’re playing right into our enemy’s hands.

Standing on the bridge, I knew God wanted me to attend to the present—to leave yesterday behind and accept with faith what tomorrow brings. As I walked forward, however, I remembered that He also wants me to attend to eternity—to look beyond time to Him: the Eternal One who holds yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity in His loving hands.

God has set Eternity in our heart, and man’s infinite capacity cannot be filled or satisfied with the things of time and sense. [F.B. Meyer]

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT)]

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EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? [Luke 17:15-17 (NLT)]

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. [William Arthur Ward]

roseWhen writing yesterday’s message (“Jehovah Rapha”) about my ski accident, I thought about the ten lepers healed by Jesus. Only one returned to thank Him. Did the others assume they would see Jesus some other day and could express their gratitude then? Jesus, however, was on His way to Jerusalem. The lepers had a week’s worth of purification ceremonies, cleansing, isolation, and offerings ahead of them and that “other day” would not come. By not returning immediately, they missed a precious opportunity to thank Jesus.

We were seasonal residents of our Colorado mountain town so, after my accident, we didn’t return to the Rockies until winter. At our first church service back, I found myself behind the woman with the healing hands. During greetings, she turned back, looked at me intently, held my hands in hers, and asked, “How are you!” Hers wasn’t just a cursory church greeting and her question peered deep into my soul. I looked at her with a smile, squeezed her hands and, thinking we’d talk later, simply said, “I am well.” Although the previous months had been challenging in many ways, I finally was physically, emotionally and spiritually well. The music resumed and she turned back to face the pastor and worship leader. When the service ended, she immediately was surrounded by others. Not wanting to interrupt and anxious to get home, I decided to wait until the following week to thank her. I didn’t see her the next week and, one week later, our pastor told the congregation that she’d been killed instantly in a car accident in Denver.

I’d missed the opportunity to speak with this woman, share my testimony, and thank her. Making the mistake of thinking there always was time, like those nine lepers, I’d let life get in the way of my gratitude. Instead of personally telling this beautiful woman how much her compassion, touch, and prayers had meant, not just to my body, but to my soul, I ended up telling her husband in a letter of sympathy. I hope my words gave him some comfort in the depth of his sorrow. His wife was loved by all who knew her and her departure left a huge gap in our church family.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for our unspoken words of thanks, both to you and to those acting on your behalf. Thank you for your servants: the life lines, rescuers, spiritual first responders, and healers that you send into our lives. As your emissaries, they offer their prayers, hands, compassion, and encouraging words. They inspire, comfort, lead, teach, and lift us. Let us never delay expressing our gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon us.

It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do. [Tim Keller]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. [1 Chronicles 16:8-9 (NLT)]

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FOR THOSE WHO LABOR

If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. [Galatians 6:3-5 (NLT)]

Old World WisconsinLabor Day was my least favorite holiday when I was a girl (and not just because school started the next day)! For the Smith family, Labor Day meant work. We spent the entire day helping my father as he climbed up and down a ladder to exchange the screens (that had been mounted the previous Memorial Day) with the external storm windows. It was several years before I understood that Labor Day was not a special day dedicated to this yearly ritual of washing windows, lugging screens and windows to and from the garage, and otherwise spending my last day of summer vacation working. Energy efficiency and fuel bills were of no interest to me and, selfishly, it never occurred to me that my father probably didn’t enjoy the holiday ritual any more than did his children. I certainly never thought to thank him for working so hard to provide us with the house (and storm windows) that kept us safe and warm all winter long!

In 1894, Labor Day became a federal holiday to honor the contributions workers make to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our nation. Nowadays, rather than the storm window ritual, most people celebrate with barbecues and shopping the Labor Day sales. They probably don’t give much thought to the people whose labor makes all that we have and do possible. This year, however, I have a new appreciation for our nation’s workers.

While my husband and I can remain safely at home to limit our exposure to other people and COVID-19, many workers can’t. They continue to harvest food, manufacture products, package goods, deliver boxes, stock shelves, work cash registers, keep the utilities running, prepare the dishes, serve the food, repair what’s broken, cut our hair, teach our children, care for the sick, put out fires, fill prescriptions, and protect our safety. Being in contact with others puts them at a higher risk of infection and many are working under challenging conditions. They deal with daily temperature checks and health screenings, masks, sanitizing regimens, new procedures, irate customers, anxious parents, testy co-workers, fearful patients, and child care issues while schools teach on line. Although safer, working remotely from home offers its own set of challenges. It’s not easy to give the sermon to a computer screen week after week, be isolated from the rest of your management team, have the kitchen table do double duty as your office and your child’s schoolroom, or make your business video-chats from the bathroom because it’s the only private spot in the house! Keeping the attention of a classroom of first-graders while teaching remotely from your bedroom on Zoom, discussing investments with a client when the dog is fiercely barking at the Amazon delivery man, or closing a deal when your toddler calls for help going potty is problematic!

This Labor Day is more than the end of summer and beginning of pumpkin spice everything season. It is a time to pray for our workers: both those still employed and those who’ve lost their jobs.

Lord, we thank you for the gift of work and for all who labor in our communities, many of whom we never see or thank. We lift in prayer those who labor and ask that you keep them safe. May they always be treated fairly and properly compensated for their work. For those who long for employment, we pray for their perseverance as they seek work and for success in finding it. Make us attentive to the needs and appreciative of the efforts of the workers we encounter. May their work always glorify you.

O God, you have bound us together in this life. Give us grace to understand how our lives depend on the courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity of all who labor. May we be mindful of their needs, grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Reinhold Niebuhr]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

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HIS CRAFTSMANSHIP

dawnThe heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. [Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)]

As I looked at the morning sky, I had to agree with the psalmist: the heavens do proclaim the glory of God. My photo can’t do justice to the magnificence of today’s sunrise. Although I had a good night’s sleep, like many of us during this time of isolation, loss, and unrest, my soul was weary. Nature, however, has a way of restoring weary souls and the vibrant colors of the breaking day lifted my spirits. They reassured me of God’s eternal power and divinity.

It’s not just the skies that display God’s amazing craftsmanship. From the smallest insect to the largest mountain and the heavens above, God continually reveals himself through his amazing creation. His power and might are visible in oceans, mountains, blizzards, rainstorms, lightening, and even mighty hurricanes like Laura. Yet, one look at a spider’s web, butterfly’s wings, dandelion puff, or violet tells us He has a gentle touch as well.

Although life sometimes feels random, illogical, and unpredictable (as it does right now), nature assures us that God is not arbitrary, capricious, unthinking or careless. A Creator who made flowers that lure bees with nectar and pollen so they’d be pollinated and the bees could then make honey definitely had a plan. The God who gave every one of us a unique set of fingerprints and every zebra a distinctive design of stripes without repeating himself is limitless and certainly attentive to detail. A master at creativity, He gave us eggs that turn into chicks, legless tadpoles that become hopping frogs, acorns that grow into giant oaks, and enabled water and wind to wear away rocks. He knows what He’s doing!

Creation is more than a witness to God’s eternal power and divinity; it tells us about Him. Without a doubt, the designer who covered a rat with armor and made an armadillo, assembled the wildebeest from what appear to be spare parts, fashioned the long snout of the anteater, and provided kangaroos with built-in pockets has a sense of humor and believes in laughter. The One who gave us the sound of waves crashing on the beach, the smell of a pine forest, the feel of a gentle breeze, and the fragrance of sweet honeysuckle and gardenias wants us to enjoy His creation. When He decorated our world, God boldly used every color on his heavenly paint palette and His abundance is evident in the fall colors, rainbows, orchids, painted buntings, and glacial lakes He’s given us to enjoy.

Not every sunrise is as flamboyant as was this morning’s nor is every sunset as gaudy as was last night’s. Nevertheless, one look at the sky is more than enough to assure us of God’s existence. Rest assured that the One who painted spots on the ladybug, gave the peacock his showy tail, and put the sweet taste into strawberries has not forgotten His children. Let us open our eyes to His creation and sing the words penned by Maltbie Babcock more than 100 years ago: “This is my Father’s world; Oh let me not forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet!” As fallen and broken as the world seems, it still belongs to God! He’s at large and in charge!

Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes: Forbid that the lure of the market-place should ever entirely steal my heart away from the love of the open acres and the green trees: Forbid that under the low roof of workshop or office or study I should ever forget Thy great overarching sky: Forbid that when all Thy creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, I alone should wear a dull and sullen face.

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. [Romans 1:20a (NLT)]

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ASSERT ONLY LOVE

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Ephesians 5:21 (NLT)]

 

While being in lockdown for months may have given some couples a chance to reconnect, that connection wasn’t welcomed by all. Once their mandatory 10-week lockdown was lifted, Italian lawyers reported a 30% surge in couples starting divorce proceedings and both China and Saudi Arabia showed a similar rise when couples emerged from quarantine. For some couples, 24/7 togetherness for weeks on end exacerbated typical martial issues like money, housework, drinking, child care, screen and phone time, and dirty dishes in the sink. With the additional stressors of homeschooling, job loss or working at home, apprehension about the future, and trying to navigate safely in a COVID-19 world, even the best marriages have been tested.

We may have married our spouses for better and worse, in sickness and health, but none of us expected this much togetherness for such an extended time. Before we complain, let’s remember our friends who live alone. With the exception of the pizza delivery man or the cashier behind a plastic shield at Walgreen’s, their contact with the outside world has been from a 6-foot distance. FaceTime or Zoom replaced visits from friends and family and it’s been months since they’ve gotten hugs from anyone. Their isolation puts our petty spousal complaints in perspective!

There always will be disputes in any relationship but, in a good relationship, both parties understand the importance of negotiation and concession. Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly polarized society and the world’s divisiveness seems to have crept into our homes. Lines get drawn in indelible marker (or even cement) and people often think of compromise, trade-offs, finding the middle ground and deference as signs of weakness.

Today, my husband and I celebrate our anniversary. Rather than the traditional romantic dinner, weekend getaway, or family party, we’ll celebrate with a Chicago-style pizza our children sent us and a feel good movie on Netflix. The one tradition we’ll keep, however, is reading 1 Corinthians 13: the same words that were read at our wedding 53 years ago. Paul wasn’t writing about romantic or eros love. As delightful as romantic love is, that’s not what gets people through cancer, job loss, financial worry, Parkinson’s, a disabled spouse, an addicted child, or months of sheltering in place. Paul was writing of agape love—sacrificial unconditional love: the kind of love that carries people through pandemics (and decades of marriage)!

We’re often told to assert ourselves. What if, instead of asserting ourselves, we asserted our love? What if we remembered (and followed) Paul’s words: “love does not demand its own way.” Our love for one another is far more important than almost anything about which we disagree. When faced with disputes, let’s allow love and God to be our guides.

 What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility. [Leo Tolstoy]

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. [1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NLT)]

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