HE CARES! (Cana – part 4)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. [Philippians 4:6 (NLT)]

sunflowerIn spite of the theological reasons I gave for the miracle at Cana, providing wine for a wedding still seems an odd choice for Jesus’ debut miracle. Compared to the rest of His miracles, it almost seems frivolous. While the situation was embarrassing for the host, it wasn’t as grave as a demon-possessed child, thousands of hungry people, a crippled woman, a paralyzed man, or a dead friend. When considering Jesus’ reason for performing this miracle, Max Lucado had a simpler explanation than mine. He suggests that Jesus was concerned about the dearth of wine at the wedding simply because it concerned Mary; He cared because she cared! Pointing out that God is there for both the great and small, Lucado asked, “If Jesus was willing to use divine clout to solve a social faux pas, how much more willing would He be to intervene on the weightier matters of life?” Lucado certainly has a point; since it mattered to Mary, it mattered to Jesus.

Do we ever vet our concerns and only hand God the critical ones? Thinking our prayers must have a certain weightiness or urgency, do we pre-qualify them before we consider them worthy of God’s ear? Shouldn’t we present all of our troubles to God and let Him decide what is important?

Three years ago, following hurricane Irma, contractors were in short supply in Southwest Florida. A friend’s rental property had been damaged. When the tile man called to say he’d start work that day only if the stove and refrigerator had been moved out to the deck, she didn’t dare object. The appliances were still in place and this small woman, on the far side of 70, had no idea how they’d get moved. Nevertheless, knowing that the window of opportunity with her contractor was narrow, she agreed. Wondering how she’d move the appliances or find people for the drywall and painting she’d need once the floor was done, she prayed, “God help me! ”

At the time, Irma was considered the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in history. Leaving a string of Caribbean islands devastated, it affected nine US states, turned streets into rivers, ripped down power lines, uprooted trees, and demolished homes and businesses. In our state alone, Irma took 87 lives and did $50 million worth of damage. If prayers were ranked by urgency or direness of circumstance, she knew hers would be low on His list. Nevertheless, the situation was important to her and she prayed as she drove to the condo.

As God would have it, when my friend pulled into the parking lot, two young men were standing by a truck. Mustering up her courage, she approached them and asked if they could help her. With time to spare before they started working on another condo, they moved her appliances. As the men were leaving her unit, my friend asked what sort of work they did. You guessed it; they did drywall and painting! Her prayer had been answered in full!

Billy Graham said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one bothered to ask.” If Mary hadn’t brought the wine problem to Jesus, the wedding celebration would have ended early and, if my friend hadn’t prayed about her dilemma, she might still be waiting for her condo repair! My point is simple: if it’s important to us, it’s important to God! Let us never limit Him by thinking we know what He can or will do.

Children do not find it difficult or complicated to talk to their parents, nor do they feel embarrassed to bring the simplest need to their attention. Neither should we hesitate to bring the simplest requests confidently to the Father. [Richard J. Foster]

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. [1 John 5:14 (NLT)]

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. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BENEVOLENT DETACHMENT

Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. [1 Peter 5: 7-9 (MSG)]

great blue heron“We’re just a big ball of frustration right now!” a public information officer for the San Antonio Police said while describing the rise in road rage and violent driver incidents in that city. Unfortunately that big ball of frustration isn’t limited to the road or San Antonio. Satan must be chortling in glee as he watches people’s virus-fueled anxiety spurring rising levels of aggression and hostility everywhere.

A Texas woman recently had a complete meltdown in the grocery store. After being asked to wear a mask, she went on an expletive-deleted tirade while flinging more than a dozen items out of her cart. Although she’d worn the mask while shopping, she’d removed it in the checkout line. While she chucked her pork chops, chicken, produce, and canned goods into the aisles with one hand, she held her mask in the other. Finally, abandoning the rest of her groceries, she stormed out of the store, screaming profanities and still waving her mask. The outburst gained her nothing but embarrassment as her outburst went viral and she still had to buy groceries (in a city with a mask mandate)!

Whether it’s fear, anger, depression, unease or frustration about health and safety, racial injustice, politics, government, cabin fever, unemployment, financial challenges, on-line schooling, working remotely, or isolation, tension is high and everyone is on edge. But, instead of dealing with our feelings, we seem to be lashing out at one another. While I haven’t thrown a tantrum or screamed at anyone yet, I admit to not liking my mind’s inner dialogue when I see people flaunting the mask order, hogging the sidewalk, wearing masks improperly, with a loaded grocery cart in the express lane, or committing numerous other minor social infractions that wouldn’t have aggravated me a few months ago.

People are wound tight and living that way isn’t good for our bodies or our souls. We need to let go of those petty annoyances along with our major concerns and give them all to God! Christian counselor and author John Eldredge calls this practice “benevolent detachment.” It’s a way to be kind to ourselves as well as to those around us. To practice this detachment, he’s developed an app called “One Minute Pause.” With soothing music in the background, it begins with a few deep breaths followed by God inviting us to give everyone and everything to Him. It continues with our response: “I give everyone and everything to you, God!” followed by a few Bibles verses and a brief prayer. Although I have the app, none of us need an app on our phones to benevolently detach from the world around us. We do, however, have to hit the pause button on our emotions! We need to unclench both physically and spiritually and release whatever is troubling us to God.

The request to put on her mask probably was the least of many things bothering that Texas woman but, as “the last straw,” it was what triggered her frenzy. What if she had made a practice of benevolent detachment—of regularly pausing long enough to hand her frustrations to God? Let us all make a concerted effort to let go of life’s minor vexations before they evolve into a complete meltdown or worse. Let’s regularly step back, take a deep breath, and redirect our attention to the One who is walking through this valley with us. We’re not in this alone! As we give God our fear, anxiety, irritation, exasperation, angst, and sadness, let us choose to trust Him.

Over time I’ve found no better practice to help clear out my cluttered soul than the practice of benevolent detachment. The ability to let it go, walk away — not so much physically but emotionally, soulfully. [John Eldredge]

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT’S YOUR ORANGE?

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. [Luke 18:22-23 (NLT)]

orange“What’s your orange?” the teacher asked her remote learning class. Before having them answer, she explained the “monkey trap.” In Southeast Asia, hunters capture monkeys by drilling a hole in a pumpkin. The hole is just large enough for a monkey’s hand but too small for his fist. They secure the pumpkin to a tree, put a piece of sweet juicy orange inside the gourd, then retreat and wait. Eventually, an unsuspecting monkey comes along, smells the orange, and reaches through that small hole into the pumpkin. Once he’s grabbed hold of the orange, however, his fist can’t get back through the same hole. The monkey pulls and pulls but can’t free his hand. While he’s struggling to pull out his orange-filled fist, hunters easily throw a net over him. Not understanding that he can’t have both his freedom and the orange, he loses them both. After telling this story, the teacher again asked her students, “What is your orange? What is it you can’t release?”

This lesson was part of an expanded on-line curriculum at my grand’s high school. Its purpose is to address the emotional issues encountered by the teens in this strange time of social distancing and on-line classes. Whether the “monkey trap” is an actual technique or simply a parable, its lesson applies to Christians as well as pandemic teens. Do we have an orange (or two)?

We’ve all asked God to save us from one predicament or another but, after promising we’ll do anything He asks, we often add a condition to that prayer and tell God not to ask us to give up the “orange.” We’re deep in debt but we tell God not to ask us to sell the boat or downsize the house. When our marriage is in trouble, we tell God not to ask us to give up the internet flirtation or the nights out with the guys. We’re having ethical challenges at work but tell God not to ask us to give up the well-paid position. Like the orange, some things are a whole lot easier to grab than to let go!

Like the monkey, we’re often held hostage by whatever our “orange” is: whether it’s alcohol, drugs, food, gambling or another addiction; an unhealthy relationship, money, possessions, or prestige; or emotions like resentment, worry, anger, arrogance, remorse, pain from past hurts, guilt, or self-doubt. Whatever we’re holding tightly in our heart keeps us from being truly free to enjoy the abundance and peace Jesus offers. Until we let go of that “orange,” there’s no room for God’s blessings.

The gospels tell of the rich young ruler who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer that he must give away all his wealth makes us all uncomfortable. Does God really expect us to give away everything? Giving away all we possess, however, isn’t a universal requirement and Jesus didn’t ask that of anybody else. What Jesus asked the man to do was to give up the thing that possessed him: his orange. That’s what He asks of us, as well. Every person has his own “orange;” we must recognize it for the trap it is, open our hands, and let it go. The rich young ruler’s “orange” was his wealth; what’s yours?

If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead. [William Law]

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:33 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

CARKING CARE

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. [Psalm 55:22 (NLT)]

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers spanning from the sixteenth through the late nineteenth centuries. Having grown up with the King James Bible, its antiquated thees and thous along with verbs forms like wilt, didst, and makest don’t bother me. Their formality actually adds to the beauty and charm of the prayers. Although context usually explained outdated words like nethermost, subserve, and extenuations, I had to look up a few new words like peradventure.

Although I’d never seen the word carking, I immediately knew what the author meant when writing, “Deliver me from carking care…” Sounding like a crow’s unpleasant cry, the phrase “carking care” sounds as disagreeable as what it describes: oppressive worry!

The word cark comes from the Old North French carkier (to load, burden) from the Late Latin carcare (to load a wagon or cart). Carcare is also the source of the word cargo. In English, carking literally means putting on a load or burden and carking cares are concerns that have become burdensome. It’s as if we’ve loaded all of our worries into a wagon and are carting around that troubling cargo. Although we grow weary of the heavy burden, we continue carrying it in our hearts and souls.

Right now, I imagine we all have some major concerns. We fret about children who have missed out on school and family members who must fly, care for the sick, or meet the public in their jobs. We’re in another unpleasant season of politics and the media is filled with incidents of mask rage, protests, civil unrest, and financial woes. If we’re not out of work, we have friends or family who are. Loved ones remain isolated in retirement and nursing homes, bills are piling up, supply chains are broken, businesses are closing, and some people still haven’t gotten their unemployment checks. Vacations, weddings, reunions and even memorial services have been put on indefinite hold, no one knows how schools will function safely, and the COVID dashboards seem to have nothing but bad news. Here in Florida, with hurricane season upon us, we also have the dubious honor of being called the “epicenter” of the latest coronavirus surge. We find ourselves weighing the risks before having a repair man in the house, getting carry-out, or venturing out to the beach or grocery. We’re moving into our fifth month of this pandemic and, with no end in sight, people everywhere are feeling assaulted on all sides. Regardless of their faith, I doubt that anyone feels completely free of cares.

Living in a fallen world, we always will have troubles and concerns. The good news is that they don’t have to be carking ones—we don’t have to carry that cart of cares because God will carry them for us. For that to happen, however, we have to unload our wagon of cares and give them to God through prayer. John Calvin wrote of believers relieving “themselves of their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom…that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things.” As we pour our concerns into God’s bosom, let us join with the anonymous writer in his prayer: “Deliver me from carking care, and make me a happy holy person….Teach me to laud, adore, and magnify thee, with the music of heaven, And make me a perfume of praiseful gratitude to thee.”

Perhaps what our Father would have us learn is that worry is not for Him to take away, but for us to give up. [Kathy Herman]

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)]

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. [Romans 8:38 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

PROTECT THEM, LORD

I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. [Psalm 18:1-3 (NLT)]

mockingbird chick

Back when parks were open and the world seemed a safer place, we witnessed a parent’s nightmare. While the father was changing his toddler’s diaper, his four-year old daughter wandered away and disappeared in the zoo! We saw him frantically asking people, “Did you see a little girl in a pink bike helmet?” As he went racing down the path toward the alligators and lions, we went toward the lemurs and play area. Fortunately that pink helmet made her easy to spot as she stood watching the black bears lumber through their enclosure. While walking her back to her father, I said a prayer of thanksgiving that she would return safely home that day.

I thought of that anxious father the following day when reading Pearls Before Swine, a comic drawn by Stephan Pastis. Goat was extending sympathy to Pig for his grandma’s death when Pig carried him off. In the next few frames, Pig carted off his friends Duck and Cat. All of Pig’s friends were stuffed in a box labeled “Bad things stay away!” A sign above them read, “SAFE PLACE WHERE I CAN KEEP AN EYE ON EVERYONE I LOVE SO NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN TO THEM.” In the last frame, Goat tried to explain that life doesn’t work that way but Pig said, “Don’t distract me. I’m standing guard.”

Like Pig, I wish I could keep bad things from happening to those I love. Of course, if parents and grandparents could, we’d erect a wall of protection around our loved ones to shield them, not just from death, but also from pandemics, heartache, injury, disappointment, and pain.

It would be a miracle if the worst that happens to that little girl is getting lost at the zoo. While her pink bike helmet may protect her when she falls off her trike, it’s of little use elsewhere! We live in a fallen world: a world with disease, defiance, pain, sorrow, falseness, mistakes, greed, betrayal, loss, violence, malice, and death. Chances are that our children and grands will wander further astray than to the bears’ enclosure at the local zoo.

We protect our gates, are cautious of what we allow into our homes, wear masks, sanitize, wash our hands, and stay alert to the dangers around us but what about when our loved ones leave home to lead their own lives? Unlike Pig, we can’t stuff those we love in a box and stand guard over them night and day. Instead, we teach, encourage, warn, guide, lead, love, discipline, forgive, pray, equip them, and then let them go. Although we provide them with God’s armor, we can’t make them accept or wear it. Sadly, there is no fool-proof way to protect our loved ones from Columbines or Sandy Hooks any more than we can from pandemics, disappointment, grief, cancer, mental illness, rejection, failure, or death.

I used to ask God to be with my children and grands until I realized how silly my request was; He’s with them always! I now ask God to guard them from evil by making His presence known to them and His voice heard by them. As I pray God’s blessing of protection over my loved ones, I give them to Him, trusting that He will bring them safely home, if not in this world, then in the next!

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love. [Psalm 5:11-12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.