There Should Be Some Discomfort

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As I craft this devotion, it is 3:33am, and I am sitting in the nearly empty Baltimore/Washington airport headed for Boston, waiting for a 6:20am flight that is scheduled to board at 5:50am. Why am I here so early? That’s the crazy story.

            Yesterday morning, I left my house at 7:15am, picked up breakfast at Chick-fil-A, and headed to the Long Beach, CA, airport to meet Tracy who was flying in from Oakland, CA. We had what was supposed to be a 3-hour wait for leg one of our journey to a publishing retreat. We timed it perfectly. Just as I pulled up to the curb, Tracy was walking down the sidewalk. I unloaded my luggage from the car, kissed my husband goodbye, and Tracy and I headed into the brand-new terminal to check our large suitcases.

            Once at the gate, we settled in to talk and eat our chicken breakfast burritos (with extra cheese). Right away, things started to turn. Our flight was delayed 20 minutes. There was enough time in the schedule to still get us to Denver to catch our connecting flight, so we shrugged our shoulders and “let patience have its perfect work.”

            In the meantime, we met Yvonne. This lovely little 72-year-old lady who loved Jesus, told us she recognized Christian sisters when she saw us, and recounted the great visit she had just experienced with her 3 siblings—all over 70. We learned their dad had been a pastor and she was now dating a gentleman who would probably be her 3rd husband, after two long marriages that had left her widowed before. We celebrated Yvonne for still knowing how to catch a man!

            All the while, time was marching on, and our flight’s delay continued to lengthen. Our gate then changed and after everyone’s mad dash to the new location, Tracy’s and my names were called over the loudspeaker. The agent told us we definitely would not make our connecting flight, so she was going to reroute us. Nothing was simple. Because of the 3-hour time difference from the West to East coast, the later it got, the more impossible it would be for us to get into Boston that evening. Our Long Beach to Denver to Boston trip morphed into Long Beach to Dallas to Baltimore to Boston—the next morning!

            But before the gate agent finished rerouting us, she told us the reason why the original plane was delayed. Someone had suffered a heart attack and died on board the flight.

            Yes, the plans of about 200 people were disrupted, but something far more tragic had happened. A life was gone. Think of that person’s family, friends, and acquaintances. One does not plan and go on a trip thinking the destination will never be reached. There should be discomfort upon receiving such news. The inconvenience that lay in front of us paled in comparison to such a report. Tears sprang to Tracy’s eyes. Any anxiety that may have been mounting in me immediately quelled. Although rattled, the airport personnel maintained their professional demeanor and did their best to serve us. The day kept moving but it seemed like there should have at least been a moment of silence. After all, a life was gone.

            In the midst of all our hustle and bustle (and what better place to witness hustle and bustle but in an airport), let’s always be able to make room for and put what’s really important in perspective. Take time to cultivate the important relationships in our lives. Make new friends. Love again after loss. And recognize that other’s lives matter.

(C)2022 LifeThatMatters.net

By Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott, all rights reserved. Permission is granted to use any or all of this devotion as long as the copyright and bylines are attached. Thank you.

Golden Tumors and Rats: Seriously?

I Samuel 6:1-5 opens as the Philistines are trying to figure out how to get rid of the plague they have been experiencing since stealing the Ark of the Covenant. First, the statue of their god, Dagon, could not stand when the Ark was placed in the same room with it. Then the people were stricken with tumors. So, the Philistine leaders wisely decided to send it back to the children of Israel–actually they say they are returning it to God (see verse 4)–but they wanted to send it with an offering. The best they came up with was “five golden tumors and five golden rats” because these were “images…that ravage the land.” Their advisors thought “perhaps He will lighten His hand from you, from your gods, and from your land.”

Golden tumors and rats: seriously? That’s what they thought God would want? Did they apologize for stealing the Ark in the first place? No. Did they return the land they had taken? No. Did they stop hassling the children of Israel? No. People who don’t know God don’t know how to worship Him. They think God wants us to gold-plate our problems and show Him we’re acknowledging what we’ve done.

Oh, wait a minute, that sounds familiar. Don’t some of us do the same thing? Instead of confessing and turning from our sin, we simply gold-plate it and show God our golden wretchedness, figuring He’ll be pleased with our acknowledgement.

As we read into the next chapter of I Samuel, we find that although the Philistines returned the Ark, there was deep trouble with God’s people that would not allow them to enjoy God’s presence which the Ark represented. Samuel spoke the remedy to the people in chapter 7, verse 3. He said, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”

Not enjoying the fulness of God’s presence? Perhaps we gold plating rather than turning from our sin. God doesn’t want our golden tumors and golden rats, He wants our hearts. Let’s confess and turn, shall we?

(c)2022 Life That Matters Ministries

Dollars or Difference

366 Glimpses of Thankfulness and Celebration – January 8

The Sermon on the Mount spoken by Jesus is often referred to as His Manifesto of the Kingdom. In it, Jesus relates some drastic ideas, one of which is that we should not be so concerned with money. Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In our society that elevates money and those with money to a high status, these verses certainly seem like they are espousing an archaic, old-fashioned, and quite frankly, a notion that’s simply out-of-step with the reality of the way things are these days.

However, Jesus is not telling us it’s a bad idea to have a savings account; nor is He teaching us we shouldn’t use wisdom when planning and setting aside monetary resources for ourselves and our children’s futures. No, this whole passage is discussing priorities and whom we ultimately trust and depend upon. Immediately following this passage, Jesus tells us to be sure we are looking to the right source – the light – to know what we should do with our lives. If our “eye is good,” in other words, if we’re looking to the right source, then our “whole body will be full of light” (verses 22-23). Continuing the teaching, Jesus goes on to remind us that we cannot serve two masters – God and mammon/money (verse 24).

The question is this: where are our priorities and whom do we trust to take care of us? If we spend more of our waking hours worrying about making money, keeping money, investing money, saving money, and spending money, we are wasting our time by trying to store up earthly treasures. Moths can eat it, rust can ruin it, and thieves can steal it. We may say we trust God, but we’re really serving our money. But, if we spend quality time concentrating on what pleases God, we’re involved in both what’s important and in what’s eternal. Moths can’t eat it, rust can’t ruin it, and thieves can’t steal it. Our ultimate dependence is on God. We’re storing up treasures in heaven; we’re serving Him.

So, what’ll it be? Would you rather serve the almighty dollar, or serve the Almighty in order to make a difference? Serve the dollar or live to serve God so your life makes a difference? You can’t do both.

PRAY – God, I celebrate making a difference as I serve You while I also celebrate watching You take care of my physical needs.

PONDER – What needs to happen to allow you to stop worrying about a monetary problem? If there is anything you can do about this, do it. If there is nothing you can do about this, how is it helping you to worry?

PUT PEN TO PAPER – Divide a piece of paper the long way. On the left side, list how you are involved in serving God. On the right side, list how you are involved in making money. Make your personal evaluations.

PUSH DEEPER – Read the following verses to see some of what the Bible has to say about money. How do you relate to any of these verses? Ecclesiastes 5:10, Romans 13:8, Proverbs 13:11, Malachi 3:10, Matthew 6:21. For further study, Google “Bible verses about money” and do a personal study on the verses and passages listed there.

(c)2022 Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott

Half Right?

366 Glimpses of Thankfulness and Celebration – January 7

I’ll admit it. I like being right. And I’m not by myself. I don’t know anyone who likes being wrong. We like being right so much that we’ll settle for being half right rather than admit the wrong that is our part of the problem, conversation, or situation. I thought about this as I read Proverbs 19:11. It says, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (NKJ). The New Living Translation renders the verse this way, “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” You see, I have no problem with the “slow to anger” part of this verse. In that respect, I’m in the right, but the “overlooking wrongs” part is another story. So I’m half right. I want to see wrongs fixed, and when others insist upon “wronging” me, or holding onto grudges, etc., that just gets my goat. I cannot look at them with the same level of respect I once had until the burr under my skin is relieved. And for me, that relief comes through a conversation in which I feel I am totally heard and respected, one from which I can depart knowing my views were seriously taken into consideration.

Although I struggle with one of the two aforementioned concepts, God talks about being slow to anger and overlooking a transgression in the same breath. Our inner ability to control our anger makes us sensible people, and that sensibility and discretion has an outward manifestation, which is the ability to overlook wrongs. We then gain the reputation of respectability. In other words, we lose respect when we do not demonstrate that we have overlooked a wrong. And we hold onto wrongs because we have not let go of our anger about being wronged in the first place.

So upon further inspection, I’m not really half right when I say I’m slow to anger but I find it hard to overlook wrongs. In truth, I may be slow to anger, but once I’m angry, that’s it, baby. I’m holding that person in the vice of my anger until the conversation can be had on my terms to get things right. So my failure to let it go cancels out any gain I may have received for being slow to get angry in the first place.

Letting go means extending forgiveness and restoring relationships. Wouldn’t we rather be all right with God than half right, or even none right, with our spouse, kids, other family members, friends, and co-workers? We’re fooling ourselves if we believe that we can forgive without restoration. God’s forgiveness of us was for the sole purpose of restoring us into a right relationship with Him. And He tells us we are not forgiven and restored to Him unless we forgive and restore others. Matthew 6:15 is clear, “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (NKJ).

With whom do we need to make amends? We’re better together. You be the one to make the first call. That will make you 100% right.

PRAY – God, thank you for teaching me how to totally forgive.

PONDER – With whom did you have a great relationship in the past, but you’ve allowed incidents to come between you that have ruined your love and respect for each other? If you stood before God to justify your case, would your explanation please Him? If not, do something about it.

PUT PEN TO PAPER – Write down the offenses you will let go. Make a copy of the list and entrust it to an accountability partner. Now destroy your list, symbolically indicating your God and yourself that you will NEVER mention nor hold these things against the people involved again.

PUSH DEEPER – Apply the following verses to the situation in which you are struggling to forgive. Colossians 3:13, James 5:16, Ephesians 4:31-32.

(C)2022 Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott

No Doubt About It

366 Glimpses of Thankfulness and Celebration – January 6

I want to be known as a woman of my word. When I had my children, one of the things that was especially important to me was to pass on to them the importance of truth, so I was careful to make promises only when I was reasonably sure I could keep them. When they asked for something, like if we could go to the park or if they could have ice cream later on, I would usually answer, “We’ll see.” That way, if situations occurred that would stop me from taking them to the park or getting ice cream cones, I wouldn’t be breaking a promise. Mark, my youngest, picked up on my habit, and realizing that I was steering clear of turning his request into a promise remarked, “‘We’ll see’ means ‘no’.”

Although I couldn’t always make a promise—a covenant—with my boys because I could not be absolutely sure of its fulfillment, God is not like that. When He makes a promise, He will make it happen, no doubt about it. After the Flood, God made a promise to Noah and his descendants (that includes us, by the way). Genesis 9:11 quotes God and says, “Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (NKJ). This was not a “we’ll see” comment. God even invented a special reminder for Himself. “The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth… This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth” Genesis 9:16-17.

When I could see clear to get something done for my boys, then I’d say, “I promise.” By operating this way, I could emulate for my children what God’s word was like. His word can always be believed. I wanted my boys to understand that they could always trust that the fulfillment of God’s promises is a sure thing. “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen” Second Corinthians 1:20 (NKJ).

When it comes to any promise in God’s word, there’s no doubt about it.

PRAY – God, I celebrate each and every one of Your promises.

PONDER – Can others depend upon your word? Ask three close friends, your spouse, and your children if they feel they can depend upon your word.

PUT PEN TO PAPER – We lie by what we say and by what we neglect to say. List those things you have verbally lied about. Journal about why you did so. List the ways you have lied by not saying something—by allowing someone to believe a wrong conclusion. Journal about why you did so.

PUSH DEEPER – What has God promised in the following verses? How do these promises apply specifically to your present situation? Isaiah 41:10, John 16:33, Psalm 32:8, Psalm 37:23-24, II Corinthians 12:9-10, Isaiah 54:17, James 1:5, James 4:7.

God’s Got Your Back

366 Glimpses of Thankfulness and Celebration – January 5

My brother Nick is the oldest in our family and I’m the youngest; there are 14 years between us. When I was entering kindergarten, he had already started his Marine Corps career. At 5-years-old, I didn’t know much about how all the military worked, but I knew my big brother was a Marine, protecting the country, and that meant he was protecting me. I carried the notion in my mind that no bully would ever be able to intimidate me because all I needed to do was call my brother and the power of the United States Marine Corps would instantly come to my aid. Because of the relationship I had with my brother, no one could have convinced me otherwise.

Whenever I read Psalm 3:3, I think about my brother. The Psalmist identifies God as a shield around him, his glory, and the one who lifts his head. Since God is no respecter of persons, He is those things to us as well. God surrounds us as a protective fence—literally, a shield. He is the reason we can hold our heads high and allow His light—His glory—to shine through us. If you read the context of the entire Psalm, the writing is praising God because there is chaos going on all around him, but he can operate in peace because he understands God has got him.

Don’t let anybody scare you out of trusting God. It doesn’t matter what they say or how loud they say it to the contrary, God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. The latter part of Hebrews 11:6 makes this plain, “…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (NKJ). God has got your back.

PRAY – God, I celebrate the fence that You are around about me.

PONDER – Go through one day paying attention to how many times you can identify God’s protection at work in your life. (For example, today I drove a two hour round trip on L.A. freeways and streets and I arrived where I was going and back home safely. God protected me on the highway. Another day has gone by without my being affected by Covid. God has protected me from the invisible virus.)

PUT PEN TO PAPER – Write a letter to God in your journal exposing to Him the things you are afraid of right now. Despite your fear, begin to tell God every day that you trust Him to handle whatever is causing your fear.

PUSH DEEPER – Read the following verses and comment on what they mean to you regarding celebrating God’s protection. Isaiah 41:10, Jeremiah 17:7-8, Psalm 94:18-19, Psalm 91:14-16

Build an Altar

366 Glimpses of Thankfulness and Celebration – January 4

            The very first altar mentioned in the Bible was built by Noah when God told him he could exit the ark after the Flood. Read Genesis 8:20-22. Noah did this before God gave him a cool new diet (people could eat meat and fish now, see Genesis 9:3), and before God made him an amazing promise—a covenant—never to flood the earth out again. It seems the reason for the altar was simply the outpouring of overwhelming thankfulness for having lived through the event that devastated the earth and wiped out every other living land animal and person. You think?

            Our knee-jerk reaction to God’s blessings should be immediate, demonstrated thanks. Noah didn’t just say, “Hey, thanks God.” No, he thought it appropriate to go much further and celebrate what God had done in an open display others could see. He spent time and energy building an altar and offering a sacrifice that God could openly appreciate. The LORD “smelled a sweet savor” of the offering and accepted it, leading Him to respond to do even more for mankind.

            “Grace” means “getting what we don’t deserve.” God has designed His grace toward us to start a blessing cycle that need never end. God blesses us, we thank Him, He responds to our thanks with another blessing, we thank Him, He responds… you get the pattern. So, the next time you realize God has blessed you, build an altar to Him. Write a note about it in your journal, light a candle, paint a small rock to keep as a remembrance and place it in your rock garden. Whatever way you choose to build that altar, let it be accessible to others symbolizing how your thanks and celebration are outward for all to see.

PRAY – God, I thank you for opportunities to thank you openly for how you bless me.

PONDER – Besides the suggestions given above (journal, candle, rock), what are some modern-day types of altars you can build altars of thankfulness to God?

PUT PEN TO PAPER – For just 3 days to a week, keep a log of blessings you receive from God.

PUSH DEEPER – Look up three more instances when people built altars in the Bible. What were the circumstances? What do you learn from each instance that you can incorporate into your life?

(c) 2022 Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott

The Stand-out

366 Glimpses of Thankfulness and Celebration – January 3

            On one of my trips to Washington D.C., I visited Arlington National Cemetery While touring Robert E. Lee’s confiscated mansion, I “met” Mrs. Selina Norris Gray through the memorial photograph displayed in the slave quarters. Mrs. Gray was Mary Lee’s (Robert E. Lee’s wife) personal slave who saved many of the priceless Washington papers and artifacts that were housed in the mansion. When Union soldiers had started to help themselves to the artifacts once the property was seized from the Lee family during the Civil War, Selina stopped them by reporting the thefts to the government.

            Why am I sharing this? Selina’s maiden name was Norris and she hailed from the Washington D.C./Maryland area. My father, Vincent Norris, was from Baltimore, Maryland. Since Norris is not that common of a surname for a Black family, could it be that I’m a descendant of Selina Norris Gray?

Whenever I read the Bible’s genealogies, I think about my own ancestors. How I would love to have known them. What I realize of all the family trees I’ve ever studied is the fact that a few people through the years stand out among the rest. When the stories are told, the narrator takes detours to explain in detail about a few special relatives. This one started the business that has sustained the family for generations. That one eloped with the love of her life and ended up as the queen of a small country. Another disappeared after being rumored to have been involved in questionable illegal activity.

            The Genesis record in chapter 5 tells us of two stand-outs: one focus is on Enoch and the other is on Lamech. After other names are simply mentioned as being born, having kids, and dying, verses 22-23 stops to point out that Enoch “walked with God” so closely that He walked into heaven without dying! Then verses 28-29 stops again as Lamech spoke blessing over his son Noah, identifying him as the one who would “comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed.”

            Familial qualities, both positive and negative, pass to our children. My loyalty, patriotism, and interest in history could stem back to my possible familial connection to Mrs Selina Norris Gray. She was a stand-out.

            Are we living as a blip of a mention on the family tree, or as one of the family stand-outs?

PRAY – God, I thank You for my ancestors—both the natural and the spiritual ones. I celebrate them. And thank you for adopting me and grafting me into Your family.

PONDER – What characteristics, quirks, and interests connect you to your current older family members and your ancestors? Thank God for the positive ways you are a stand-out for your family. Thank God for His ability to help you turn from the negative ways you stand-out.

PUT PEN TO PAPER – Sketch out your family tree. Interview your family elders and write down their stories.

PUSH DEEPER – Read all of Genesis chapter 5. What else do you find in the chapter that makes you thankful? Read the following verses and celebrate how you can be a part of what they say: Deuteronomy 6:5-7, Deuteronomy 32:7, Psalm 145:4, and Exodus 34:6-7.

No More Vindictiveness

366 Glimpses of Thankfulness and Celebration – January 2

            Many times, we allow trauma, arguments, and misunderstandings to truncate what could have been long, precious, rewarding relationships. We give a haughty, “Humph,” roll our eyes, and shut people out of our lives proclaiming our superiority by announcing, “They’ll need me before I need them.” Without another thought, we dismiss a human being and one of God’s children as unnecessary.

            Well, neither God nor the first humans acted that way when the biggest trauma in all of time—the Fall of Man—took place. Read Genesis 3:20-21. After their sin had been found out and God had meted out discipline, Adam was not vindictive against Eve for having convinced him to eat from the forbidden tree. The first thing he did after hearing his punishment was give his wife the loving name by which we know her—Eve, the mother of all living. And the first thing God did after answering Adam and Eve’s pass-the-buck confessions was to clothe their nakedness. And even before He was finished, He had promised their ultimate forgiveness through Christ (see Genesis 3:15). God didn’t proclaim like we do, “I gave you everything you needed, and this is how you repay me? For showing me no love and respect, our relationship is over!”

            If God can forgive the Fall of Man, actually chasing after us to shower us with His love, surely, we can reconcile with our loved ones and work to make those relationships vital and vibrant again.

PRAY – God, I thank You for Your love and forgiveness shown through how You refuse to be vindictive toward us.

PONDER – Think about the many, many times you have not given God the respect He deserves. What condition would you be in if God had been vindictive toward you and if He had not forgiven you, cutting off His relationship with you?

PUT PEN TO PAPER – Who have you written off? List the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of people with whom you should reconcile—those you need to truly forgive, and those to whom you need to apologize. Thank God for the opportunity to make these relationships right and then do so.

PUSH DEEPER – Read Genesis chapter 3, Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 6:12-15, Colossians 2:13-14, and Psalm 103:12. What else do you see that you can thank God about and celebrate God for in these verses?

Good Light

366 Glimpses of Thankfulness and Celebration – January 1

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day” Genesis 1:3-5 (NKJ).

God knows how to judge light from darkness and He is still able to divide one from the other. God judged that the light He created was good. That’s why He tells us to walk in the light (see I John 1:7). After all, every good and perfect gift comes to us from God who is the Father of lights (see James 1:17). We can depend on God to always be good.

God is good all the time, and

All the time, God is good.

PRAY – God, I thank You for Your goodness and celebrate the fact that You will shower that goodness on me!

PONDER – It is easy to say God is a good God when things are going well in our lives. How can you still justify believing God is a good God when trouble comes, hard times hit, and grief rears its ugly head?

PUT PEN TO PAPER – List at least 3 ways God has been good to you.

PUSH DEEPER – Read Genesis chapters 1 – 2, I John 1:7, and James 1:17. What other truths do you discover about God’s goodness?