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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. [Psalm 19:14] 

I’m sharing these daily devotions in the hope they will inspire you to read God’s word. I’m praying that they will help you find your way to a closer relationship with God.  [Read More ….]

MIX IT UP

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

hummingbird moth - sphinx mothThe men from the church were enjoying their monthly breakfast at their favorite diner. The new minister, Pastor Tim, decided to join them. Wanting to get to know the men better, he asked who would like to offer grace before the meal. John, a retired farmer from Iowa volunteered. After taking off his cap, he stood and said loudly, “Lord, I sure do hate buttermilk!” The old farmer then added, “And, Lord, I don’t care much for lard.” Pastor Tim wasn’t sure how to react but decided to see where this prayer was leading. Then John continued with, “Tell the truth, white flour doesn’t taste like much either and baking powder sure is bitter.” Pastor Tim started to stand up and take over saying grace when, in his booming voice, John added, “But, Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I truly do love those fresh biscuits! Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the biscuits, gravy, eggs, and bacon with which we are blessed this fine morning. Amen.”

Of course, this is just a bit of humorous and anonymous Internet fiction but it makes a good point. Lots of events will occur in our lifetimes that we’re not going to like very much. We won’t understand what God means by such difficult circumstances nor are we able to see how anything good can come out of such unpleasant, sometimes tragic, events. Even when things seem chaotic and inexplicable, we must remember that God is in control and He knows what He is doing. Just as John had to trust the biscuit baker, we must trust God for the end result. By themselves, challenges and difficulties can leave a bad taste in our mouths. After God is done mixing them all together, however, they can turn into something quite wonderful (and much better) than fresh buttermilk biscuits!

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. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen [Ephesians 3:20-21 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

UNFORGIVABLE

I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences. [Mark 3:28-29 (NLT)]

snowy egret“I’ll never forgive him!” I vowed in anger and fear. My husband and I had taken our three children shopping for school clothes. While I was busy with the eldest, my husband said he’d take the other two for a walk through the mall. Unknown to me, the four-year old had convinced his father that he’d stay at the store, sit quietly in a little cubbyhole by the entrance, and wait for his dad’s return. Unfortunately, having the attention span of a gnat, the little guy quickly grew bored watching shoppers. After wandering into the store to hide in the clothes racks, he looked for his brother and me. Not seeing us (since we were in a changing room), he decided we’d left without him and calmly went looking for us in the parking lot. While I was paying for our purchases, my husband returned with only one child in tow. Almost simultaneously, with panic in our voices, we asked one another, “Where’s Scooter?” While the saleswoman made the call to mall security, I thought, “I’ll never forgive him if something has happened to our child; our marriage will be over!” Fortunately, a concerned woman had spotted the boy and taken him to security where he was enjoying a red lollipop. Through God’s good graces, his misadventure had a happy ending but what if it hadn’t? While angrily deciding I’d never forgive my husband, it never occurred to me that he’d be hard put to forgive himself!

I thought of that incident when a friend’s grandchild died. Wanting to go on a ride with his dad, the toddler had quietly left the house. He was standing in the driveway behind the car when his father backed over the youngster. A tragic accident, it ended up destroying a family through divorce and then the father’s suicide. Apparently, neither parent could forgive the other nor could they forgive themselves. I sometimes think of how my husband and I narrowly escaped a similar ending.

Jesus spoke of only one unpardonable or unforgivable sin—blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. After seeing His miraculous works, the Pharisees had irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ power and yet they deliberately denied His identity and accused Him of being demon possessed. The only unpardonable sin today would be continued unbelief; for the repentant believer, all else is forgivable.

It is hypocritical for us to ask God to forgive our sins if we withhold forgiveness from anyone else. As mere mortals, we do not know the hearts of men nor do we have the privilege of deciding what, who or even when to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t easy; sometimes, it can seem nearly impossible. Nevertheless, we ask God to forgive us in the way we forgive others. Unless we want God to pick and choose among our sins and failings, we cannot pick and choose among the actions of those who’ve failed us. We don’t get to forgive the little transgressions and withhold forgiveness on the big ones unless we want God to do the same with us.

And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. … If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Matthew 6:12,14-15 (NLT)]

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. [Luke 6:37 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

COUNTING THE COST

If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. [Luke 14:26-28a (NLT)]

coreopsisHis cautionary words to the disciples are difficult to understand. How can Jesus, who told us to love our enemies and do good to them, tell us to hate our families? Do we have to despise our relatives if we want to be his disciples? Fortunately, after getting the disciples’ attention with that unusual statement, Jesus followed with a parable about a man who undertook a project without counting the cost and then couldn’t finish what he began. Hating our family is just a hyperbole; it’s a way of saying that anyone who follows Christ must love Him more than anything else. Christ is to be first and foremost in our hearts and minds. In comparison to our love for Jesus, we are to love them less (or “hate” them). To be His disciple, Jesus demands total commitment; we must be willing to give up everything for Him, even if that means the things and people we love. Sadly, when we choose Christ over loved ones, they might perceive our love of Jesus as a betrayal and may even hate us for that choice.

I was raised in a family of believers and married a believer so I never had to choose between Jesus and family. For a moment, however, consider the disciples and their families. When they left their jobs to follow Jesus, did they leave behind loved ones? Did their families disown them or distance themselves from what seemed fanaticism or membership in a strange cult? What about the Apostle Paul? Originally known as Saul of Tarsus, he came from a family of Pharisees and spent many years studying Scripture under the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel. If not already a member of the Sanhedrin, he was well on his way to becoming a member of the high council and was an active leader in persecuting the followers of Christ. Saul was probably everything a devout Jewish family would want in a good Jewish son until he became a Christian evangelist named Paul! Think of what it cost him to follow Jesus.

While some of us gave up a few bad habits or unsavory friends when we accepted Christ, Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi gave up far more. When this Pakistani-American gave up his Muslim faith, he gave up his loving family as well. His becoming Christian caused a devastating destruction of their relationship and it took nearly ten years for the healing to begin. I cannot begin to comprehend the difficulty of his choice to follow Christ and the pain experienced by both parents and son. When I read Qureshi’s story, I finally understood what Jesus meant when He said to count the cost before we give up our lives and pick up that cross.

How could I betray my family after all they had done for me? By becoming a Christian, not only would I lose all connection with the Muslim community around me, my family would lose their honor as well. My decision would not only destroy me, it would also destroy my family, the ones who loved me most and sacrificed so much for me. I began mourning the impact of the decision I knew I had to make.… “But Jesus,” I said, “accepting you would be like dying. I will have to give up everything.”… For Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die. [Nabeel Qureshi]

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. [Luke 9:23-24 (NLT)]

Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. [Mark 10:28-30 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OUR FOUNDATION

In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the Lord will be your treasure. [Isaiah 33:6 (NLT)]

Dear God, what misery I beheld! The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers. [Martin Luther]

Old World Wisconsin churchYesterday I mentioned getting an email with the subject, “How firm is your foundation?” Although it was an advertisement for a new study Bible connecting Biblical teachings to Christian beliefs, that very question has been the topic of discussion in our northern church for the last few weeks. The parish is doing a church-wide study of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Back in the 1500s, Martin Luther was appalled at the lack of knowledge of both pastors and their congregations. Not especially tactful, he accused some pastors of being “lazy bellies and presumptuous saints!” His words for their congregations, “simple cattle and mindless pigs!” were no more diplomatic. People who called themselves Christians had no idea what that meant. They didn’t know the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer, let alone anything else in the Bible. Last week, our Pastor asked us what Luther might say if he visited today’s churches. We agreed that his words for our pastors would be more complimentary but that his words for their congregations might be the same or worse!

To remedy the deplorable lack of knowledge he found, Luther wrote his Small Catechism in 1529. This little book of Christian instruction was written not for theologians and priests but for ordinary people. It covers the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, confession, Holy Communion, daily prayers and even offers a Household Chart of Bible passages describing the duties of people in various walks of life. Much of the catechism is done in question and answer form with the answer succinctly provided. For example, after listing the first commandment, it asks, “What does this mean?” and then explains: “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” In short, Luther’s Small Catechism is a 16th Century version of Christianity for Dummies. Surprisingly, given its age, it is amazingly straightforward. Without theological minutia or argument, it is easily understood and certainly not limited to the Lutheran church.

This brings me back to the question that appeared in my email yesterday, “How firm is your foundation?” Do you know and understand what it is you profess to believe? Do you know why you believe it? How firm is your foundation?

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled? [John Rippon]

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT’S YOUR GOLIATH?

Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come—when you’ll no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to try to remember him when the sun and light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among your clouds. For there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, your strong legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work, and there will be blindness too. [Ecclesiastes 12:1-3 (TLB)

“What’s the Goliath in your life?” was the subject line in an email advertisement for a new book. That question made me wonder what opposing force I face today that appears to have overwhelming odds in its favor. Of what am I afraid?

I realized my Goliath doesn’t look imposing, strong and powerful. Nowhere near nine feet tall, my Goliath has osteoporosis and is stooped, frail and weak. Rather than carrying a sword, my Goliath uses a walker and, instead of an armor bearer carrying a shield, this fearsome enemy has a caregiver who carries his glasses and cuts his meat. My Goliath doesn’t have a vast army behind him; he has outlived both his spouse and contemporaries and has trouble recognizing anyone else. My Goliath is old age.

When our Florida pastor asked who wanted to live to be 100, neither my husband nor I raised our hands. We’ve seen 100 (his mother is approaching 101) and it isn’t appealing; in fact, it is daunting. If we could physically and mentally remain as we are today, we would have raised our hands instantly. Unfortunately, we know that no matter how well we care for ourselves, our bodies and minds will be thirty years older and deteriorating the way milk does near its expiration date.

Someone asked if I was afraid of death and I quickly answered, “No!” Death is going home to God and will be wonderful. Dying, however, is another story; it can be a slow and painful process and that scares me. Granted, I can lob a few stones at Goliath in the way of healthy habits, but there is no way, short of death, that I can delay his arrival. Ecclesiastes 12 paints a vivid but grim picture of old age with its physical infirmities and loss of faculties.

Several hours after the Goliath question appeared in my email, a different question showed up in my inbox: “How firm is your foundation?” That question gave me pause. If my foundation is firm, nothing can defeat me! I had been thinking of old age as my Goliath instead of my David. David was small and weak, as I am fast becoming, and yet he overpowered Goliath. I can’t vanquish the indignities and decline of the oncoming years and I certainly can’t evade my body’s final defeat, but God will give me the power to rout that defeatist attitude. I’ll do that by having a firm foundation and doing as the writer of Ecclesiastes advises: fear God and obey His commandments. [12:13] My Goliath isn’t old age; it is fear of old age! With a firm foundation in God, I can trust His promises. Knowing He will never abandon me, I can face my enemy with confidence and defeat it as did David with Goliath. As long as God gives me breath, He will continue to calm my fears and give me both purpose and the power to achieve it.

 If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old. [James A. Garfield]

I have created you and cared for you since you were born. I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Savior. [Isaiah 46:3b-4 (TLB)]

But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him! [Psalm 92:12-15 (TLB)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IF SOMEONE ASKS

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. [1 Peter 3:15b (NLT)]

Yesterday, I echoed Paul’s words that, when witnessing, we need to speak our words with love. Of course, before that can happen we need to speak and, therein lies our problem. To speak, we need words and most of us are sure we don’t have them. Granted, the way we conduct ourselves is a continuous sermon but, if we never speak, no one will know what makes us the way we are. Actions may speak louder than words but that doesn’t mean words aren’t necessary.

We don’t have to go knocking on doors, stand on street corners with a sign, accost strangers, or go on a mission trip; we just have to be open to the opportunities that arise nearly every day to share our love of God. Peter instructed us to be ready to explain the reason for our hope; I think we’re asked that question more than we realize. There’s a good chance people have commented on your joy, peace, or calmness. In all likelihood someone may have said something like, “How do you do it?” or, “You don’t seem to worry,” or even, “I wish I had your life!” In reality, that person is asking about the source of your hope. Rarely have my answers to such comments revealed the true source of that hope, strength, peace and joy. I’ve chosen the innocuous reply rather than the true one simply because I didn’t think I had the right words to explain! When Jesus told us to go out into the world and be His witnesses, He promised we wouldn’t have to do it alone. Since the Holy Spirit will empower us to be His messengers, let’s allow Him to do His work! We can’t speak with love until we speak!

God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them. [George Whitefield]

But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! [Luke 21:13-15 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.