TURNING A DEAF EAR

Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand? Are you deaf to the words of God— the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant?… Listen, you who are deaf! Look and see, you blind! [Isaiah 40:21, 42:18 (NLT)]

the Shanahan sistersMy Great-aunt Camilla began to lose her hearing as a girl and was completely deaf by the time she reached adulthood. Although she didn’t sign, she did lip-read quite well. In spite of her deafness, as long as we were face-to-face, we were able to converse without much difficulty. However, if Camilla didn’t want to continue the discussion or disagreed with us, she’d simply turn away and refuse to look at us. Tug as we might at her sleeve, she’d not turn back to rejoin the conversation until we’d convinced her that the subject had changed to one she preferred or that we agreed wholeheartedly with her opinion.

Thinking back to her, I wonder if we all might be a little like my aunt. We don’t have to be unable to hear to turn a deaf ear to someone. People do that all of the time when they ignore a doctor’s advice; recommendations to eat less and exercise more frequently fall on deaf ears. Most of us will hear only what we want to hear when we want to hear it. What should be heard is another matter and, just as the people of Israel did, we frequently turn a deaf ear to God. As long as everything is going our way, life is pleasant, and the future looks rosy, we keep our eyes and ears on Him. But, when we hear the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, God’s plan differs from ours (as it frequently does), or life takes a nosedive, we often turn away from Him. We only turn back with complaint or demands. We readily accuse God of being deaf to our pleas when, in actuality, we are the ones not hearing Him.

When my deaf aunt turned away from us and refused to listen with her eyes, she won. The topic was changed and we spoke of what she wanted. God, however, is persistent. We just need to look at the Old Testament to see the various (and often severe) methods He used to get the attention of His chosen people. When they refused to listen to His prophets, God took measures that were not as easily ignored.

Faith is trusting God’s words and actions, even when we don’t like them. Faith isn’t turning a deaf ear to God; it is turning to Him and listening closely to what He is telling us. When life isn’t working out, He’s probably telling us something important so it’s best to listen carefully. God can speak to us in a whisper or a shout; as for me, I’d rather hear His whisper!

None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see. [Matthew Henry]

Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings. O Israel, if you would only listen to me! [Psalm 81:8 (NLT)]

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! [Matthew 11:15 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

EXTEMPORANEOUS PRAYERS

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

great egretIn our pastor’s absence, I led worship for two Sundays. For me, giving the sermons was far easier than leading the prayers. Our pastor has a way with words that inspire, enlighten and lift my spirits and his extemporaneous prayers appear to flow effortlessly from his heart through his mouth to my ears and up to God. He always seems to have the perfect Bible verse up his sleeve, the wisest thoughts in his mind, and the power of the Holy Spirit in his words. The Holy Spirit has truly given him a beautiful spiritual gift and our entire congregation is blessed by it.

While I’m often the one asked to give a table blessing, saying grace among friends or family is a far cry from leading the congregation in opening and closing prayers and Communion. Knowing I’d be leading prayers, I spent nearly as much time composing the days’ prayers as I did writing the sermons and I was fully prepared those Sundays with a well-written script.

More often than not, however, we don’t know when we’ll be called on to say a prayer. We frequently have opportunities to offer a spontaneous prayer with family, friends, and even strangers. Sadly, we may let those opportunities slip by simply because we don’t think we have the right words.

As a writer, I like to carefully select, arrange, rearrange, and edit my words before committing them to paper. Feeling at a loss for the perfect words when leading an impromptu prayer, I used to tell someone I’d pray for them rather than offer to pray with them right then and there. Intercessory prayer, however, isn’t about me and finding the perfect most expressive words; it about the other person and lifting their concerns to God. I’ve finally realized that God isn’t bothered by awkward prayers and hesitant delivery and I doubt that whoever we’re praying for minds either.

When giving a gift, we’re often told, “It’s the thought that counts.” That philosophy goes for prayers, as well. While we may not be gifted at spontaneously leading prayer, we all can pray. While we might not readily inspire others with our language, we can encourage them with our faith. We may not be able to remember the perfect Bible verse for every situation, but we can take the words of the Bible into our hearts and souls and let them guide our prayers. While we may not speak fluent Holy Spirit, we can let Him speak for us.

Prayer is talking with God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. [Josh McDowell]

Prayer is simply talking to God like a friend and should be the easiest thing we do each day. [Joyce Meyer]

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. [Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MARA

He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink. [Lamentations 3:5 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtailTo explain her sisters’ bitterness and sour outlook on life, my mother-in-law would say, “Well, their lives didn’t turn out the way they’d hoped.” Those women had no reason to complain when comparing their lives to Naomi (the mother-in-law in the book of Ruth).

Talk about things not turning out the way you’d hoped! Naomi endured famine, a move to an enemy nation, pagan daughters-in-law, no grandchildren, the death of her husband and then the death of her two sons. Poverty stricken, with no relatives to help her in Moab, Naomi decided to return to Israel. When her two daughters-in-law started back with her, she tried to deter them, telling them to go back to their parents where there may be another marriage in their future. While one woman returned home, Ruth stayed with her mother-in-law.

Widowed and childless, neither woman’s life seemed headed for a “happily ever after.” When the bereaved Naomi arrived back in Bethlehem, she told her old friends to call her Mara, meaning “bitter.” She explained that, “The Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord brought me home empty.” Like my husband’s aunts, Naomi was resentful that life hadn’t turned out as she’d expected. What she didn’t understand was that God was busy at work behind the scenes. Her bitterness even blinded her to fact that she didn’t come home empty—she’d come home with Ruth, a woman described by Naomi’s friends as “better to you than seven sons!”  Embittered, Naomi didn’t see her blessing in a daughter-in-law who loved and honored her and would labor in the fields for her.

You know the rest of the story. Ruth gleaned grain in the fields of Boaz. He took on the role of “kinsman redeemer,” purchased land that had belonged to Naomi’s husband, and married Ruth. The couple had a son, Naomi became a grandmother, and that little boy would be grandfather to the future King David.

We all have been given reason to call ourselves bitter. But, as followers of Jesus, we can become better rather than bitter and not because a kinsman redeemer buys our land, marries us, pays our bills, solves our problems, and takes us away from our troubles. We don’t become bitter because we have a Redeemer God who walks with us through our trouble and enables us to find joy in our new normal. We don’t become bitter because we know our life is better than we ever dared hope. We don’t become bitter because we know life, in the world yet to come, can only be better!

We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. [2 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NLT)]

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” [Lamentations 3:22-24 (NLT)]

MAMA BIRDS – MOTHER’S DAY 2019

My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction. Keep their words always in your heart. Tie them around your neck. When you walk, their counsel will lead you. When you sleep, they will protect you. When you wake up, they will advise you. [Proverbs 6:20-22 (NLT)]

The mother eagle teachers her little ones to fly by making their nest so uncomfortable that they are forced to leave it and commit themselves to the unknown world of air outside. And just so does our God to us. [Hannah Whitall Smith]

wrensWhen writing yesterday’s devotion about what I called “concierge” parents, I couldn’t help but think about how birds parent their young. We once had a birdhouse hanging from the eaves and, every spring, a wren family would move in. Once their eggs hatched, I could hear the wren chicks chirping away, demanding food from the crack of dawn until dusk. Those who’ve had the patience to observe them estimate that wren parents make about 1,000 trips a day to provide room service for their hungry brood; my wrens were no exception. Mom or Dad would disappear inside and stay only long enough to drop off dinner before reappearing and flying off again. Back and forth, the pair flew as they delivered caterpillars, beetles, seeds, crickets, berries, snails and spiders to their youngsters.

As the nestlings grew, the demanding chicks got noisier. Nearly as big as their parents, they would stick their heads out and loudly call for dinner. Every few return trips, however, instead of entering the nest with their meal, Mama would come right up to the opening with a mouth full of goodies and then fly away. This must have been her way of telling the youngsters that room service soon was coming to an end. If they wanted to eat, they were going to have to come out and get it; she knew, if they got hungry enough, they would! Less than three weeks after hatching, the birds would leave the nest. At first, I’d see the little guys franticly flapping their wings as they flew close to the ground around the yard. Soon, however, they were flying high with no apparent effort and then off they went, ready to fend for (and feed) themselves.

I don’t know if Hannah Whitall Smith’s words about the mother eagle making the nest uncomfortable for her young are true, but I do know that the eaglet, like the baby wrens, will never fly until he leaves the comfort of the nest. Like them, we will never become the people God wants us to be until we leave our comfort zones and, sometimes, like the birds, we may need a little nudging.

This Mother’s Day, let us be thankful for the men and women in our lives who didn’t coddle us: the ones who gave us a spoon to feed ourselves even though it meant more food got on than in us; the ones who let us put on our own shoes, even though they ended up on the wrong feet, and allowed us to pick out our clothes, even though they frequently were mismatched; the ones who let us spill the milk when we first poured it, lose when we played Old Maid or Parcheesi, and fall when we learned to roller skate; the ones who made us do our own homework, pick up our messes, clear the dishes, write thank you notes, apologize when we were wrong, and earn the money for the expensive designer jeans we just had to have; the ones who disciplined us when we misbehaved, let us make mistakes and face their consequences, and loved us enough to nudge us out the nest! Let us thank our mothers (and all the other people in our lives) who taught us how to fly!

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. [Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE’S NO CONCIERGE

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” [Hebrews 12:5 (NLT)]

Canadian geese and goslingsWe’ve heard of helicopter parents—those over-involved and over-protective parents who hover over their children, taking responsibility for their experiences and protecting them from failure. With the college admission scandal in the news, we now see helicopter parents on steroids. Called lawnmower, snowplow, or bulldozer parents, they don’t just hover over their youngsters. Not wanting to see their children struggle, they mow down challenges, plow through hurdles, and demolish any obstacles facing them.

Those parents are now reaping what they’ve sown. Having spent 18 years clearing the road for their children, they’ve failed to prepare them for the bumps in the road of adulthood! Instead of sitting in the backseat of their adult children’s lives, they remain in the driver’s seat. The New York Times and Morning Consult (a technology/media company) recently conducted a poll of a nationally representative group of parents of adult children (aged 18 to 28). It found that 76% of the parents remind their children of deadlines they need to meet, 74% make their appointments for everything from haircuts to doctors, 15% call or text them to make sure they don’t over-sleep, 11% will call their child’s employer if there is an issue at work, and 8% had contacted a teacher on behalf of their child! These aren’t first-graders needing guidance; they’re adults who should be able to accomplish these simple tasks on their own! 12% of those same parents even give their adult children more than $500 a month for rent or expenses. I have a neighbor who pays his grown son’s credit card bill. That might be understandable if he were a struggling student but this young man, out of law school for two years, is gainfully employed and totally debt-free! Apparently, with all that education, he hasn’t yet figured out how to budget! I know of another woman whose son had difficulty adjusting to dormitory life and waking up for class. Rather than letting him learn how to acclimate to new circumstances and reap the consequences of missing class, she moved to his college town so he could live with her and commute to class (after she’d awakened and fed him). Perhaps a better name for parents like these would be “concierge.” They provide the wake-up calls, get the reservations, arrange the transportation, solve the problems, make the phone calls, and figure out the logistics of their children’s lives.

All parents want their children to succeed but, when they repeatedly eliminate every obstacle and challenge, they’ve left their children unequipped for the challenges of adulthood. The prodigal would never have returned home if he’d had a concierge parent! Mom and Dad would have paid his bills, smoothed out any legal difficulties, provided groceries during the famine, and told the farmer their son was too good to slop pigs! Not having to experience the consequences of his profligate lifestyle, the son would never have seen the error of his ways.

When we read the exodus story, it becomes clear that our heavenly Father is no concierge parent. The God who parted the Red Sea certainly could have destroyed the Philistines with a snap of His fingers and taken his people on the direct route to the Promised Land. Instead, He took them the long way around and a three week journey took two years while He prepared the Israelites for the challenges of Canaan. Then, when they rebelled, rather than coddle and coax them, God let them suffer the consequences. For the next thirty-eight years, they learned the painful lesson of missed opportunities.

Believing in on-the-job training, God allows us to experience failure and frustration, not because He wants us to be failures but because He wants us to learn how to solve problems, make decisions, resolve differences, assess risks, and turn to Him. Like any parent, God wants us to be successful but He also wants us to understand the weight of our decisions and learn both humility and the importance of surrendering to his will. As Adam and Eve learned when leaving Eden, free will is not a gift to be taken lightly and there are consequences to our choices. Wanting us to grow in wisdom, discernment and strength, God lets us make mistakes, face opposition, lose battles, and experience His discipline. If He protected us from challenges, set-backs and trials, we’d think we were the ones responsible for our success. It is in our pain, disappointment, loss, and failure that we truly see how much we need Him.

When we come to Jesus, we come as baby Christians. While He lovingly accepts our imperfect immature selves, He doesn’t want us to stay that way! Let us thank God for the numerous opportunities (many of which we didn’t enjoy) that He’s given us to mature in our faith and grow more like Christ.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

RETRIBUTION THEOLOGY CONTINUED

The Lord curses the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the upright. [Proverbs 3:33 (NLT)]

The godly eat to their hearts’ content, but the belly of the wicked goes hungry. [Proverbs 13:25 (NLT)]

Backsliders get what they deserve; good people receive their reward. [Proverbs 14:14 (NLT)]

blue flag irisWhen writing about the faulty theology of Job and his friends, I thought of when Jesus’s disciples questioned why a man had been born blind. Showing their belief in retribution theology and never considering that sin might have nothing to do with it, they asked whether the man’s blindness was because of his sins or those of his parents. Jesus’s answer, however, makes it clear that no one’s sins were the cause: “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” [John 9:3] After Jesus restored his sight, the man testified before the Pharisees that, “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” [John 9:33] Disliking that answer, retribution theology reared its ugly head again when the Pharisees accused the once blind man of being born a sinner and threw him out of the synagogue.

People made wrong assumptions about the Apostle Paul’s troubles when he was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. A snake bit him as he gathered sticks and laid them on the fire. Seeing the viper hanging from his hand, the islanders automatically assumed he was an escaped murderer and that dying from a snake bite would be exactly what he deserved. Paul shook the snake into the fire and, when the snake’s venom didn’t kill the Apostle, he proved their first assumption wrong. Then, because Paul survived unscathed, they assumed he was a god! Wrong on both counts: neither snake bite nor miraculous recovery indicate sinner or saint!

A quick reading of the blessings and curses in Proverbs can make us think that retribution theology is correct. Rather than God’s promises, however, Solomon’s proverbs give us wide-ranging wisdom on life. Generally speaking, godly living usually results in a good life and what goes around often comes around when it comes to wickedness, but there’s no guarantee of either on this side of the grass. That sightless man didn’t deserve to be born blind any more than Job deserved his suffering, Joseph deserved being sold into slavery, Jeremiah deserved getting thrown into a mud-filled cistern, Naomi and Ruth deserved widowhood, James deserved beheading, Stephen deserved stoning, or Paul deserved the snake bite, imprisonment, beatings, or the “thorn in his flesh.”

Although the concept of sowing and reaping is Biblical, we must be wary of being like the people of Malta, the disciples, and Job’s friends by judging people’s righteousness (or unrighteousness) by their external circumstances. There is no easy explanation for human suffering and we can’t possibly see into people’s hearts to know the depth of either their wickedness or righteousness. We must never presume guilt before innocence, assign blame without reason, assume people have caused their own troubles, or make presumptions based on stereotypes. Let us never forget that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to the bad. Someday, God will judge the world and there will be perfect justice. A day will come when every man will reap exactly what he’s sown but, until then, let’s be cautious in our assumptions about guilt and innocence.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. [Galatians 6:7-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.