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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 ….]

ONLY HE CAN MAKE A TREE FROG

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:20 (NLT)]

A friend sent a link to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world; you’ve probably gotten a similar one and been amazed by photos of the northern lights in Iceland, the red and orange pillars of Bryce Canyon, or the Glowworm caves in New Zealand. Awestruck by God’s amazing creation, I thought of how He makes Himself known through all that He’s made. Unfortunately, we tend to hear God better when He shouts with the exceptional and impressive than when He whispers with the small and familiar. obedient plant (false dragonhead) - green tree frogWe’re sure to notice God in the Grand Canyon, the multitude of stars in the night sky, or when watching two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelles migrate through the Serengeti. We sense Him in extraordinary or exotic things like the peacock’s splendid tail, Devil’s Tower, or spectacular sunsets and sunrises. But do we notice Him in the commonplace and unremarkable?

Yesterday, I watched, spellbound, as several bees visited the flowers I was photographing. A bee would enter one of the purple tubular blossoms and disappear as it inched its way deep into the corolla to gather pollen and nectar. After backing out, it would move on to another bloom. A perfect fit, it was as if bee and flower had been designed for one another (and they were). The flowers’ scent attracted the bees and, while the bees gathered food for their hive, they pollinated the plants. What was happening in these ordinary flowers growing wild by the road was truly extraordinary!

God’s grandeur is revealed in the giant trees of the redwood forest but His attention to detail is found in the one billion bacteria that live in just one gram of the forest’s soil. His greatness is made known in the 1,600 miles of the Great Barrier Reef but also in the 1,500 species of fish, 5,000 species of mollusks, 17 species of sea snakes and 6 species of turtles living there. We see our ingenious Creator in the enormous African elephant but also in the oxpeckers and cattle egrets that ride on its back and in the lice, ticks and parasites living on the elephant that are eaten by those birds. God’s artistry is revealed in the 28,000 species of orchids and but also in His amazing design of the wasps, bees, flies, moths, ants and gnats that pollinate them.

God teaches us, speaks to us, and provides for us through his creation. Let’s not fail to see His marvelous work in the everyday and mundane: wasps building a nest, mushrooms appearing on the lawn after a rain, maple leaves turning red in autumn, raindrops glistening on a flower petal, or a squirrel gathering nuts. You may remember the first line of Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees: “I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.” The last line reads: “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” Only God can make a tree, but He’s also the only one who can make the lichens and fungi living on its bark, the small tree frog hiding in its leaves, and the sparrow nesting in its branches.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Nature is the living, visible garment of God. [Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe]

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures, great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all. [Cecil Francis Alexander]

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. … I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath! May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. [Psalm 104:24,33-34 (NLT)]

 Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SPINNING

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. [Psalm 32:5 (NLT)]

great blue heronHaving just returned from the East Coast, I had a lengthy “to do” list and thought I could fit in a few errands before picking up my mother-in-law for her doctor’s appointment. As I pushed the cart through the store, I glanced down at my watch to check the time and gasped. To my dismay, I’d lost an hour! I should have been picking her up right then; there was no way we would make it to the doctor’s on time. Leaving the cart in the aisle, I rushed to my car. Rather than think how to save the situation, my first thought was how to spin it! Other than my own carelessness and stupidity, what valid excuse could I have for my tardiness? As I started the car, I glanced at the clock on the dash and realized that hour hadn’t disappeared; I’d left it back East. While my watch was still on EST, my car, mother-in-law, the doctor and I were in CST and there was still plenty of time.;

Rather than a complete fabrication, spinning is selectively gathering facts, omitting relevant truths, and then shaping them to support our version of the story. Spinning reshapes people and events with half-truths, diversions, exaggeration, inaccuracies, emotion-laden words, attacks and euphemisms. Spinning gives us “alternative facts.” It calls bombs “lethal defensive weapons,” cheating on emissions tests “possible non-compliance,” adultery an “inappropriate relationship,” embezzlement a “personal failing,” and information we don’t like “fake news.”

Although spinning is just a nicer way of saying deceiving, we all do it. Sometimes, we spin to save someone’s feelings but, far more often, we do it to save ourselves from a reprimand, consequences, embarrassment, or humiliation. The first spinners, of course, were Eve and Adam who spun the apple story to shift the blame. Eve said it was the serpent’s fault and Adam placed the blame on both Eve and God (for giving him the woman in the first place)! Detouring around a troublesome question, Cain spun when he answered God’s question as to the whereabouts of his brother with a question of his own. We spin so we don’t have to admit our failings. Aaron spun the golden calf incident by blaming the evil Israelites rather than his weak leadership.

When we can’t make an accusation disappear, we spin it to explain that what we did wasn’t really that wrong. Told to completely destroy everything in the Amalekite nation, Saul disobeyed by sparing the king’s life. His troops destroyed only what was worthless and took the rest for themselves. When confronted by Samuel, rather than admitting his greed and disobedience, Saul spun the story. Making no mention of the monument he’d set up for himself, he claimed the prohibited plunder was to be a sacrifice to God. Sometimes, we spin when it isn’t even necessary. When Jesus asked the crippled man at Bethesda if he wanted to get well, rather than a simple yes or no, the man blamed his disability on those who wouldn’t help him to the pool.

David had a perfect opportunity to put a spin on his adultery with Bathsheba. When confronted by Nathan, the king easily could have blamed the beauty for seducing him or Joab for misunderstanding his directions regarding Uriah’s fate. Instead, David did what all of us are expected to do: confessed and said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Although we prefer making excuses and laying the blame for our failures elsewhere, let us never forget that we, like David, must always take full responsibility for our actions.

But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. [Luke 18:13-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ONLY JESUS SAVES

God saved you by his grace when you first believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. [Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)]

viceroy butterflyUnlike the bruised and broken butterflies in yesterday’s devotion, this one looked perfect as it lay on the trail. When we approached, the Viceroy fluttered its wings but only managed to skim a few inches across the gravel. As intact as it looked, one wing was entirely useless. To protect it from walkers’ feet and speeding bicycles, we managed to get the creature off the trail into the grass. Unfortunately, without some sort of butterfly super-glue to reattach the loose wing, while we could help, we couldn’t save it.

Although it was easy to see that saving the butterfly was not within our purview, I’m not sure we understand that about our friends and loved ones. As much as we might want to, we can’t save the people around us. We can’t keep Terry from gambling, stop Mary from dating abusive men, make John quit drinking, or salvage Joan’s failing marriage. Seeing their potential and possibility, we want their lives to be better; they, however, are not our repair projects and their transformation is not our job. We can’t fix our loved ones, change their lives or save them from their own bad decisions. What we want for others is meaningless unless they want it for themselves. We can love them, share God’s word, help to bear their burdens, refuse to enable their destructive choices, and counsel, encourage and pray for them. What we can’t do is save them.

Just as we can’t save the addict from his addiction or the fool from his decisions, we can’t save non-believers from their non-belief. When we share the gospel message, we can impart knowledge but we can’t make people think; we can show people the truth, but we can’t make them believe. Just as we can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink, we can lead people to Jesus but can’t make them drink of His living water. We can give our testimony, but it is God who opens their hearts. We can sow the seed (and even water and fertilize it) but it is up to that seed and God as to whether or not it will sprout. Let us remember that Jesus will save anyone but not everyone will choose to be saved. Unfortunately, many will reject His offer of salvation. We can witness and pray for their salvation but we can’t save them. We aren’t their savior—Jesus Christ is! In actuality, He’s already done the saving; it’s just up to people to receive His gift of grace.

You will find all true theology summed up in these two short sentences: Salvation is all of the grace of God. Damnation is all of the will of man. [Charles Spurgeon]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. … And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment. [John 3:16-17, 36 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DAMAGED GOODS

But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” [Mark 2:16-18 (NLT)]

white peacockWhile looking through the day’s photos, I came to several of a white peacock butterfly. As I enlarged the photos, I realized this butterfly had seen better days; its once beautiful wings were ragged after a run-in with some predator. Damaged goods, I didn’t think the flawed creature’s photos worth editing and began to delete them (just as I have of similarly damaged butterflies).

Broken things and damaged goods—we tend to discard them without giving them another thought. What if God deleted us because of our imperfections and defects? What if He stopped caring for us when we no longer were flawless and beautiful? It’s not lizards or hungry birds that leave their marks on us but rather things like illness and injury, loss, dysfunctional families, abuse, broken relationships, addiction, financial crises, and sin. The resulting damage is less visible; instead of tattered wings, we are marred by pain, shame, regret, rejection, disappointment, anger, apathy, loneliness and fear. Let’s face it; we all are damaged goods. Our scars may not be as obvious as the butterfly’s; nevertheless, they are there.

Rather than abandoning them, Jesus loved and forgave damaged goods: sinners and outcasts, the woman caught in adultery, the traitorous taxmen Matthew and Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the demon-possessed, the repentant thief on the cross, the sinful woman who anointed His feet, the disciple tiger swallowtailwho denied Him, the one who doubted Him, and even the one who betrayed Him. Jesus didn’t come for the perfect; He came for the broken, damaged, and sinful. Although the butterfly’s wings will never heal, Jesus can heal the brokenness in our hearts and souls.

When I’d taken the photos, I hadn’t detected the creature’s ripped wings; it flitted about so quickly that I barely had time to focus before it flew off to another flower. It may have been damaged, but it certainly wasn’t defeated. I took another look and saw its battle scars as things of beauty. That ragged butterfly was as exquisite as any of its untouched brothers and sisters; perhaps more so, because it hadn’t allowed its tattered wings to deter it from making the most of the sunny day. Instead of hiding under a leaf feeling sorry for itself and complaining about the unfairness of life, it had been dancing in the flowers and sipping sweet nectar! If a butterfly can have purpose and fortitude, this one certainly had it! Rather than being deleted, it belonged in a butterfly hall of fame.

Now, when I come across a damaged butterfly, I’m reminded that God loves all of His beautiful children, imperfect and broken creatures that we are. No matter how flawed, He will never discard us or toss us in the trash heap! Moreover, wounded butterflies remind me never to surrender to life’s challenges. I can be battered by this world but, because God’s grace is more than sufficient, I won’t be broken. If tattered wings can carry a butterfly through the flowers, I know God can carry me through anything.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BEWARE THE YEAST

purple prairie clover“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [Matthew 16:6 (NLT)]

In Biblical days, rather than using a packet of Fleishman’s yeast for leavening, people kneaded a small amount of old fermented dough called a starter or seor into fresh dough. When a yeast starter gets contaminated by bacteria, however, it gets a moldy odor of decay and, if mixed into new dough, its foulness will spread; the resulting bread will be unpleasant and inedible.

We’re all familiar with Jesus’ warning to the disciples to beware the yeast of the Pharisees. They weren’t bakers so what was their yeast? I’d always thought of it as the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and false teachings. And, while both of those can spread and spoil like bad leavening, I think there’s more to his caution.

The Pharisees and Sadducees, disregarding all of Jesus’ previous miracles, had demanded an impressive miraculous display from Him. Jesus wasn’t an entertainer and His miracles were never for show. Knowing nothing would convince the religious leaders, He refused and left. Shortly after that, Jesus and the disciples departed to the other side of the lake. It was when the disciples realized they’d failed to bring provisions that Jesus first warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees. Thinking He was talking about bread, they then started arguing with one another about not having anything to eat. Imagine their conversation as they pointed accusing fingers at one another for having no food—each man trying to shift the blame for the oversight to someone else. Totally misunderstanding Jesus’ warning, they were bickering about bread and worrying about their next meal when Jesus had just fed thousands with only a few loaves and fish. Our Lord was probably rolling His eyes at their blind foolishness. Like the Pharisees, what part of His many miracles didn’t they understand? Twice they’d ended up with several baskets of leftovers after feeding a multitude; certainly lack of bread shouldn’t pose a problem for just twelve men. Reminding them of His previous miracles of provision, Jesus told them He wasn’t speaking of bread. When He again told them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, they finally understood He was speaking of their unbelief.

Although Jesus warned them of this very thing before they’d started to argue, like the Pharisees, they ignored what they knew of Him and His miracles. Instead of allowing their belief to grow into trust, they allowed doubt to taint their faith and their relationship with one another in the same way that bad yeast contaminates bread. A little bit of uncertainty and skepticism swelled into fear, anger, and criticism. They were squabbling about bread for supper when they had the bread of life right beside them.

We all must beware the yeast of the Pharisees: not just false teaching and hypocrisy but also lack of trust!

Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation. [D. Elton Trueblood]

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. [John 6:35-36 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NOT REMEMBERING

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. [Matthew 18:21-22 (RSV)]

Several authors tell the story of a friend of Clara Barton who reminded the nursing pioneer and Red Cross founder of a spiteful act someone had done to her years earlier. When Barton acted as if it had never happened, her friend asked, “Don’t you remember it?” She vehemently replied, “No! I distinctly remember forgetting it.” Forgiveness isn’t easy and it requires real (and continued) determination on our part. Sadly, without our deliberate effort to put the offense aside, it’s easy for past hurts to weasel their way right back into our hearts and minds.

When Moravian missionaries first came to the Arctic, they found no word in the Inuit language that properly captured the Christian concept of forgiveness. Using Inuit words, they came up with issumagijoujunnainermik meaning “not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.” That’s what forgiveness is; it’s choosing not to let the thoughts of that harmful person or their harmful deeds consume our thinking. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting; it’s deciding not to remember.

In writing about forgiveness today, I came across another interesting word: ilunga.  Found in the Tshiluba language spoken by the Bantu of the Congo, it is considered by linguists to be the most difficult word to translate. Ilunga describes a person who is ready to forgive and forget any first offense, will tolerate it a second time, but will neither forgive nor tolerate it a third time. It’s a three-strikes-and-you’re-out kind of person whose attitude changes with each offense. Jesus, however, didn’t tell us to forgive only once; He said to forgive seventy times seven times (or endlessly)!

When asked if she was ever troubled by past offenses, either hers of those of others, an elderly Christian lady is said to have replied, “Never!” She explained that if Satan troubled her about her sins or other people’s offenses, she simply sent him east. If he returned, she sent him to the west. Recalling the psalmist’s words that God “has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west,” [103:12] she explained that by sending Satan back and forth, from east to west and back again, she never allowed him to stop at her house.

The choice is ours. Will we choose to be like an ilunga or like that Christian lady and Clara Barton, people who practice issumagijoujunnainermik?

Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. [Lewis B. Smedes]

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.