PRAY FOR PEACE

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. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

Saying your prayers is like brushing your teeth.
It’s a habit you form—a commitment you keep.
You should brush your teeth, both morning and night;
The same with your prayers, if you’re saying them right.
To not let your spirit or teeth decay
Be sure to pray and brush every day! [Anonymous]

water lilyAlthough I’ve prayed while folding laundry and washing dishes, it seemed almost sacrilegious to combine prayer with an electric toothbrush and Crest! Nevertheless, after asking, “What would happen if we all pray twice a day for peace?” my next “Abundance” assignment was to pray for peace while brushing my teeth!

The lack of a declared war certainly doesn’t define peace. According to the Global Peace Index, last year the United States ranked 128th out of 163 nations rated for their peacefulness (with Iceland maintaining first place as the most peaceful and Afghanistan replacing Syria as the least). The U.S. Peace Index ranked my state of Florida at 47th out of 50 (with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire as the three most peaceful states.) Considering the political tensions both here and abroad, tribal conflicts and civil wars, terrorist attacks, conflicts and division within the church, divorce and custody battles, road rage, and the violence on our streets, in our homes and even at our schools, praying for peace seems like a good idea.

Since being peacemakers and praying for peace is God directed, I wonder why we’re not more diligent about praying for an end to the strife in our world. Living in a world that is fractured along political, ideological, socio-economic, ethnic, and even religious lines, we probably should pray for peace more than two times a day. We wouldn’t have to do it while brushing our teeth but, since we may be more conscientious about our dental hygiene than prayer, at least we’d remember to do it!

While we can cast blame for the lack of peace on things like politics, injustice, prejudice, corruption, economics, or this pandemic, the fault also lies within each one of us. While brushing and praying, I remembered the words to a song I often sang in Sunday school: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Peace must begin with us. As we pray while brushing, rinsing and spitting, perhaps we should consider what comes out of our mouths. Do we allow words of anger, frustration, criticism, and blame to spill out rather than ones of love, compassion, encouragement, or forgiveness? Our prayers for peace are empty and meaningless unless that peace begins with us!

What could happen if all of Christ’s followers really did pray for peace twice a day?

Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony.
With ev’ry step I take, Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
[Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14b (NLT)]

balloon over serengettiAlthough the book of Esther never mentions God by name, His fingerprints are found throughout the story as it illustrates God’s providence in human affairs. The Jews were in captivity in Persia and the Persian King had banished the queen. Along with all the other beautiful virgins in the land, the young Jewess Esther is taken to the King’s harem. She finds favor with the king and is declared queen while the evil Haman plots the massacre of every Jew. When Esther’s cousin Mordecai requests her help in begging for the king’s mercy, she hesitates out of fear. Reminding Esther that she isn’t exempt from Haman’s evil plot, Mordecai asks, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

I thought of Haman’s question as churches around the world struggle to provide worship and study opportunities during this crisis. By the time our church, Coastal Fellowship Church, was a year old, we’d developed a free App providing more than calendar, prayer requests, devotions and online giving. Through strategic partnerships, it provided preschool video Bible adventures and material from the Bible Project that now includes videos on reading Scripture, the Bible’s books from Genesis through Revelation, wisdom topics, and a word study. More recent offerings include a number of short videos showing where sports and faith connect and two series from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

At the time, I’m sure people wondered why a church like ours – brand new, without a building, with minimal financial support, and a small congregation of mostly senior citizens (some of whom still use flip phones) – became so committed to 21st century technology and developing an App. Our pastor felt God’s call to do an App and, as he led, the congregation, without clearly understanding its importance, followed in obedience to God’s urging. If anyone wondered why we did it, the last few weeks gave us the answer. Rephrasing Mordecai’s words, “Who knows if the App was developed for just such a time as this!”

We didn’t know over a year ago that online resources and platforms would be essential to serving the Church during this global pandemic. Distanced geographically, we remain connected by faith. We are a global church serving a global God and the App allows us to do just that!

The technical expertise acquired while creating the App enabled us to stream services within a few days’ time and develop a permanent platform for services and Bible study by the second week. Because the App received 30 awards for everything from logo to video and animation, it’s had international exposure; available on several platforms, there have been 40,000 downloads from all over the world. The strategic partnerships that started with the App led to more partnerships, including one with N. T. Wright, and expanded our offerings to better serve the global community. Our first Sunday service was viewed by people throughout the world with 2,182 viewings in the first week! What’s really important is that 88% of those viewers watched the entire service! (I’m not sure 88% of a congregation stays awake during a live sermon!)

As mortals, we don’t know God’s long range plans; even if we did, we wouldn’t understand them. Joseph didn’t understand why he ended up a slave in Egypt until he saved his entire family from famine. Moses didn’t know why he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter until God spoke to him from a burning bush. David didn’t know why he kept doing target practice with his sling until he came face to face with Goliath. Esther didn’t understand why she became queen until she saved an entire nation and I never knew that sending a daily Bible verse to a few women would morph into a daily devotional. Even though we don’t see God’s vision, like Abraham, we follow His lead. Once we get wherever God has taken us, we’ll know why we’re there. God will tell us, “For just such a time as this!”

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. [Hebrews 11:18 (NLT)]

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE WORDS OF OTHERS

Numbers 6:24-26By accident, this morning’s devotion was published yesterday afternoon. Rather than post another this morning, I thought I’d share words written by others. The first is a request by Bishop Jeff Clements of the Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA calling his flock to pray together at noon each day until May 13 about this global pandemic. We certainly don’t need to be Lutherans to join in his prayer. Whether you do it right now, at noon, or tonight, please stop and take a moment to pray (and continue to pray daily), not only for your own church family and denomination, but also for our sisters and brothers throughout this troubled world.

Pray for your members. Pray for yourself. Pray for the ill, the frightened, the vulnerable, and the poor. Pray for the dying. Pray for world leaders and our own elected leaders. Pray for our healthcare workers. Pray for researchers. Pray for the unemployed, underemployed and laid off. Pray for all students from college to kindergarten who have been forced away from school. Pray for your pastor or whomever leads your congregation. [Bishop Jeff Clements]

This next is a poem that has gone viral—the good kind of viral. Its author is Laura Kelly Fanucci who writes a syndicated column, Faith at Home, published in Catholic newspapers nationwide.

When this is over,
may we never again
take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors
A crowded theater
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine checkup
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
Life itself.
When this ends may we find
that we have become
more like the people
we wanted to be
we were called to be
we hoped to be
and may we stay
that way — better
for each other
because of the worst.
[Laura Kelly Fanucci]

While this is a time of social distancing, it is not a time of social disengagement. Let us continue to find ways to love one another so we become more like the people God wants us to be. God’s peace and joy to you all, j

 

 

PICTURING HIM

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When may I come to see God’s face? [Psalm 42:2 (GW)]

But you can’t see my face, because no one may see me and live. [Exodus 33:20 (GW)]

“He’s not at all what I expected!” I said after seeing a well-known radio personality in person. Nowhere near as attractive, suave and elegant as he’d sounded on the air, he was much better in my mind’s eye. Older, heavier, less stylish and bald, I was disappointed. The imagined was so much better than the reality.

Do you ever try to visualize God? Would he look like George Burns, the kindly white-haired old man in the movie Oh, God? whose first words to John Denver’s character were, “Eh, not what you expected?” He certainly wasn’t! Maybe God would sound and look more like Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty and appear in an elegant white suit. Perhaps He’d be more like David Strathairn in Interview with God, who, in true rabbinic fashion, answered questions with questions of his own during three interviews. In The Shack, God was portrayed by Octavia Spencer, a heavy-set soft-spoken African-American woman who went by the name of “Papa.” Of course, none of these characterizations come anywhere close to personifying God.

Nevertheless, even though we know God is spirit and without a physical body, we continue trying to visualize Him. Even the most creative mind is incapable of clearly picturing a God, unrestrained by time or space, who can be everywhere at all times: a God who sees, hears and knows all, not just in the present, but in the past and future as well. Our limited imaginations can’t come close to comprehending such an unlimited being who always has been, is now, and forevermore will be. The enormity and power of God is incomprehensible. I’m overwhelmed even thinking about it. That, however, is what I think God wants: for us to be awed and overcome by His amazing presence.

Even though God walked on earth for thirty-three years, we have no physical description of Him and Scripture used few adjectives. While John, Peter and James saw Jesus’ face shine like the sun and His clothes become white during the Transfiguration, they had but a glimpse of His great God glory! Since Judas had to point out Jesus to the soldiers in the garden, when living as a man, Jesus must have looked quite similar to every other Jewish Galilean.

Fortunately, while we may not know exactly what God looks like, we can know Him. Scripture tells us what He was like and, even though we can’t see Him, we know He is there. Moreover, when we eventually do come face to face with our Heavenly Father, we won’t be disappointed (as I was with that radio personality). It’s a guarantee; the reality will be far better than anything we possibly could imagine.

The throne of God and the lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him and see his face. His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night, and they will not need any light from lamps or the sun because the Lord God will shine on them. They will rule as kings forever and ever. [Revelation 22:3b-5 (GW)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BE LOVE TO SOMEONE

Children, let us not love in word, or in speech, but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:18 (NTE)]

lilyEven though we live 1,400 miles away, I still stay in touch with our northern church; after all, it was our church home for forty-six years. Over the last several months, I’ve joined them in a weekly abundance exercise, the purpose of which is to realize the abundance in life promised by Jesus. Reminding me that “love is an action word,” my abundance assignment was: “Be love to a family member or an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.” I was to call or visit someone with whom I’d fallen out of touch and the reconnect was to be more than a quick note or text. Since my calendar was already crowded with meetings, guests, deadlines, chores, and other obligations, I griped that the last thing I wanted or needed was another task (even if it was as simple as meeting an old friend for lunch). With an abundance of items on my to-do list, I certainly didn’t need one more to have an abundant life! I figured this exercise could wait for a more convenient time.

That was my frame of mind when, the following day, I learned that the pastor at my northern church has metastatic cancer. There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to put things into proper perspective. While I’d been complaining that showing a little love to someone was inconvenient and disruptive, he’d been given a diagnosis that truly was inconvenient, disruptive, and life-changing!

While grumbling about the inconvenience of the exercise, I’d missed the whole point: love. Indeed, love is an action word and rarely is there anything convenient about it. Selflessness, generosity, patience, kindness, bearing all things, and enduring all things: none of that sounds convenient and sacrifice always comes with a cost! In the ultimate act of love, God sacrificed His only Son for us yet I dared to grumble about arranging a lunch date! Out of love, Jesus laid down His life for us sinners but I didn’t seem to have time to spare for a friend! Yes, love often is inconvenient, even challenging, but we must never consider love to be a burden.

The pastor’s troubling diagnosis and the unexpected news I received the next morning that my sister died are vivid reminders of why we should reconnect with those we’ve let drift away. We don’t know if there will be a more convenient time tomorrow, next week, or the week after because we don’t know what the future will bring either for them or for us. There never will be a better time to be love to someone than today! Ann Voskamp said, “You love as well as you are willing to be inconvenienced.” Is there someone to whom you should be love? There’s no better time than right now to do it!

Three keys to more abundant living: caring about others, daring for others, sharing with others. [William Arthur Ward]

“I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” John 13:34 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NO QUID PRO QUO

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

persicaria maculosa - redshankWe recently heard a great deal about quid pro quo, a Latin phrase which means “something given or received for something else.” Although every bribe is a quid pro quo, not every quid pro quo is a bribe and there’s nothing inherently wrong with giving something to get something in return. After all, a quid pro quo occurs every time we exchange money for goods at a store! When Jesus gave us what we know as the Golden Rule, however, He didn’t mean quid pro quo. He expects us to give while expecting nothing in return or pro bono, meaning “for the sake of the greater good.”

After quoting Matthew 7:12, another abundance exercise told me to “Let someone ahead of you in traffic.” When I received the task, it was high season here and the roads were clogged with snowbirds and spring breakers—all of whom seemed to have left their driving manners at home! Nevertheless, I willingly yielded the right of way in a roundabout to a driver who should have yielded to me.

Unfortunately, as people cope with the new normal of this pandemic, rather than the “Golden Rule,” a sort of “Me first!” mentality has set in, not just on the roads, but everywhere. Ignoring the government’s specific request to do their part in protecting the most vulnerable, spring breakers have packed restaurants, bars, and beaches while partying shoulder to shoulder en masse. Granted, the young are less likely to die from COVID-19, but they can pass it on to those at greater risk, including our first responders and health workers who selflessly put themselves at jeopardy for the greater good! It’s not just the young; in spite of requests not to hoard, store shelves are picked clean as people grab case after case of paper goods and soap. Sadly, along with every story of spirit and generosity, we find another one of people selfishly putting their wants above the good of their community with things like price gouging and excessive shipping fees. Some casinos, exempt from state orders, have irresponsibly chosen to remain open while equally irresponsible people are gathering there!

Even when it just entails yielding the right of way to another driver, doing unto others as we would have done to us is easier said than done. While extending grace to family or friend is relatively easy, extending it to strangers often depends on convenience, mood, or the possibility of quid pro quo. Jesus, however, tells us to love others as he loved us, which is sacrificially—expecting nothing in return—pro bono.

Sacrificial love entails far more than letting someone into traffic. While we need a generosity of spirit in all places and at all times, if ever there was a time we desperately need the Golden Rule, it is now! Our response to God’s grace must be to extend His grace to others, not because we benefit from it, but because we should. Rather than our good, let us consider the greater good! May His Spirit enable us to treat others as we want to be treated: with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

Nobody should seek their own advantage, but the other person’s instead. [1 Corinthians 10:24 (NTE)]

Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:3-4 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.