LEAVING THE NEST

anhinga chicksMy child, pay attention to what I say. … Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. … Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. [Proverbs 4:20a,23, 25-27 (NLT)]

This past spring we watched an anhinga family who’d nested near the swamp boardwalk. At first, mom and dad provided around the clock nest service for their brood of blind and helpless chicks. When the chicks were about three weeks old, rather than returning to the nest with food, the parents would perch nearby. If the youngsters wanted dinner, they had climb out of the nest and hop along a branch to get it. As the babies grew, mom and dad perched further and further from the nest until, at about six weeks, their chicks had to fly for their supper. Within two months of hatching, the youngsters were flying across the pond and the nest was abandoned. Mom and dad, however, were never too far away; perched nearby, they watched their brood learn to fend for themselves around the swamp. I wonder if they worried about their youngsters becoming dinner for an alligator while they fished or sunned on a log. Nevertheless, mom and dad knew their young ones had outgrown the nest; it was time to let them lead their own lives.

Today, my eldest grand receives her high school diploma. An honor student, she’s a delightful young woman and I know her parents are immensely proud of her many accomplishments. That pride, however, is combined with a fair amount of apprehension on their part. Later this summer, this young woman will leave the nest and move 5,500 miles to London where she’ll spend her freshman year of college. Although her parents won’t be worried about alligators, there will be plenty of other concerns that might keep them awake at night.

Our children: we love them, teach them, correct them, encourage them, support them, lead them, and guide them in an effort to prepare them for adulthood. As a mama, I know how difficult it is to let our children go, but let them go we must. After all, parenthood is a job that is supposed to become obsolete; it’s when our children are confident enough to leave home that we know we’ve done our job well. Let us praise God when we see them spread their wings and fly. No matter how far away they go, however, we still have the job of acting as prayer warriors for our children and we’ll do that for the rest of our lives.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of children and the privilege of leading them into adulthood. Reassure those parents who are struggling with letting go; may their tears of sadness become ones of joy as they watch their children take their next steps. As we release our children to your tender care, we ask you to wrap your loving arms around them and protect them from the dangers of the world. May they always walk in your ways and grow in courage, strength and wisdom. Let your Holy Spirit fill them with faith, hope, and love. Teach them, guard them, lead them and lift them so that they soar!

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence. [Hodding Carter]

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. … Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:1,5-7 (NLT)]

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. [Numbers 6:24-26]

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WHEN GOD REMODELS

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6 (ESV)]

tiger swallowtailMany years ago, we did some major remodeling on our lake house. The original structure was gutted: carpets ripped up, paneling pulled off, decks knocked down, stairs demolished, walls cut open, and our landscaping ruined. Filled with fear and misgivings, I stared at the gaping hole in the hillside and what was left of the original dwelling. The architect/builder kept reassuring me that, having drawn the plans, he knew how everything would eventually fit together. Me? I just saw the ruined house, a deep pit and piles of dirt. I hadn’t expected this devastation; it had seemed so simple on paper. How this mess was ever going to become the house we’d pictured, I didn’t know. I simply had to trust the builder and leave it in his hands. Seven months later, I stood in the same spot, thrilled with the final result; it was better than I’d ever expected!

Life can be like that remodeling project. Change can be unpleasant; at times, it may even look downright ugly and hopeless. We can rest easy when God is in charge; we’ll find that all will be good in its proper time. When God is finally finished, everything will make sense. We have to trust Him and not judge His work before it’s complete. He is a master architect and builder; let Him do His job!

Father, thank you for the beauty and joy you can salvage from our messed up lives. Help us trust your plan and timeline; give us patience and faith as we grow and change into the people you want us to be.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. [C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)]

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)]

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TABLE SCRAPS

Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter. Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” [Mark 7:25b-27 (NLT)]

dogYears ago, I often baby sat my granddaughter and dog sat my son’s dog at the same time. The grand in her highchair would push her food around the tray while trying to feed herself. Since fine motor skills are lacking in toddlers, a fair amount of whatever she was eating would end up on the floor. What my grand didn’t get in her mouth became a feast for the dog who waited patiently beneath her for the bits and pieces that fell.

I think of my grand and the dog whenever I read about Jesus and the mother of the demon-possessed girl. When this Gentile woman begged Jesus to help her, He gave her an odd reply. At first look, Jesus seems to insult her by comparing her to a dog. A derogatory term often used by Jews for Gentiles, His response seems very un-Jesuslike. Although the word Jesus used can also translate as “little dog” or “puppy” rather than mangy mutt, a dog is a dog and His response seems harsh. He’d never withheld healing before this, why now? Where was His compassion and love?

As unfeeling as it seems, Jesus’s response was correct. Parents would never take food from their children’s mouths and then throw it to the dogs (regardless of whether they are pedigree puppies or wild strays). I never would have fed the dog first and given my grand whatever was left in the dog bowl. My priority was feeding my granddaughter and Jesus’s priority was giving his message to the Jews; Israel was to come before any Gentile nation. The woman, however, didn’t take offense. She humbly agreed with Him; in effect, she said, “You’re right! I may be a dog because I’m not a Jew, but I’m like the little dog that waits under the table for scraps.” Jesus came as a Jew to be the King of the Jews and yet His own people couldn’t recognize the promised Messiah. This Gentile woman, however, knew Him. She was just asking for a scrap from the man who’d fed a multitude with next to nothing and ended up with leftovers. She knew that even the smallest crumb of His grace would be enough to heal her daughter.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says, “Good answer!” and the child is instantly healed. Is it because the determined mother’s logic convinced Jesus to change His mind? On the other hand, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Your faith is great.” Is the healing because she passed a test of faith? Perhaps, it was both. After all, stumbling blocks are often put before us to test both our determination and faith in God. Could their exchange also have been a lesson for the disciples who would shortly be spreading the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles? This was prophesized centuries earlier when God told Abraham, “All the families will be blessed through you.” Their exchange shows that it is determined faith, not Jewishness, that brings the blessings of God.

As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:11-13 (NLT)]

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COUNTING THE COST

And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, “There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!” … So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. [Luke 14:27-30,33 (NLT)]

Jesus carrying cross - Cathedral church St. Francis - Santa FeRecently, friends toured a model home in a new community. A beautiful house, it had every feature they wanted and seemed to be in their price range. It was only after sitting down with the salesman to go over the purchase details that they discovered the true cost. The granite countertops, energy-efficient stainless appliances, and pull-out pantry seen in the model home were not included in the base price, nor were the paddle fans, bar sink, under cabinet lighting, pool, pool cage, tile backsplash, rheostats, recessed lighting, soaker tub, crown molding, or the tray ceiling in the dining room. After counting the base price and the expense of all the desired upgrades, my friends realized the cost was too great for them.

When Jesus said “count the cost,” unlike a salesperson, He wasn’t giving us a list of options with a matching pricelist. Counting the cost for following Jesus is more like hiring the best builder in town and giving him complete freedom as to the size, design and décor of the house. After agreeing to pay for both his time and material, we hand him a blank check that gives him unlimited access to our bank account. Knowing it would probably cost us everything we had, that’s not a deal most of us would make.

Fortunately, unlike that model home, God’s grace is free. Nevertheless, we must agree to certain terms if we’re going to accept it. Being a disciple of Jesus means we’re giving him a blank check with our lives and resources. Like that fictitious builder, He’s the one who determines the finished product. He takes our old selves and rebuilds us as the people we’re meant to be (which may not be what we thought we wanted to be). Giving Him carte blanche, we don’t get to say, “I’ll take the love, the usher job at church, and weekly Bible study but I’ll skip the self-denial and obedience. I’ll keep my independence and pride and take a pass on both the trials and martyrdom.” Although costly, discipleship is an excellent value and the best investment we could ever make. When we give Him our all, we get His priceless gifts of salvation and eternity with the Holy Spirit thrown in for good measure. Just sign on the dotted line.

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? [Mark 8:34-37 (NLT)]

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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)]

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SEND ME!

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. [Jonah 1:3a (NLT)]

cardinalJonah was told to go to the enemy nation of Nineveh and preach God’s judgment but, rather than obey, he ran away. Moses was also given a task—bring the Israelites out of captivity into the Promised Land. God was clear about the assignment but Moses was equally clear in his protests. Rather than run away, he listed all of the reasons he wasn’t qualified. Although God resolved every one of his concerns, Moses was still reluctant and spent a good part of the next forty years in complaint. Gideon was also given a task by God—rescue Israel from the Midianites. Like Moses, he protested that he was incapable and then dared to question (not once but three times) God’s promise to help him. Eventually, all three men obeyed God’s call but not without questions, complaint and protest.

Unfortunately, when God calls us, we usually react like Jonah, Moses and Gideon. Although we say we’ll gladly do His work, the task must be on our terms. There are places we won’t go (Africa), people we don’t want to touch (homeless), jobs we protest (speaking in public or dirtying our hands), and restrictions on our time (no more than one afternoon a week). Like our unenthusiastic Biblical heroes, when God calls us, we’re more than willing to list our inadequacies—we’re not smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, or good enough and surely someone else could do it far better! We forget that we don’t have to do God’s work under our own power. Rather than calling the qualified, God qualifies those He calls!

Isaiah heard the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” Without hesitation, he responded, “Here I am. Send me.” For this prophet, there were no questions, qualifiers, or objections. He readily said, “Yes,” without even knowing exactly what it was God wanted him to do or how he was supposed to do it.

I understand that in the army, after the drill sergeant says, “I need three volunteers,” he simply points and says, “You, you and you!” Obedience follows without argument or stipulations. We’re in God’s army and, as Commander-in-Chief, He’s not looking for excuses, limitations, exemptions, exceptions, or even questions when He calls us to action. Isaiah eagerly said, “Here I am, Send me!” How will we respond?

It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. [2 Corinthians 3:5 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

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