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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 ….]

PATIENCE

In that day the people will proclaim, “This is our God in whom we trust, for whom we waited. Now at last he is here.” What a day of rejoicing! [Isaiah 25:9 (TLB)]

Come, Thou long expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee. [Charles Wesley]

giftMy daughter has become quite adept at hiding Christmas gifts from her husband. If she doesn’t, he will find the presents and open them early; patience is not one of his strong suits. It wasn’t one of Sarah and Abraham’s either. Although they’d been promised a son and many descendants, they grew impatient waiting and took matters into their own hands. Sarah gave Abraham her maidservant Hagar with whom to make a child. Although she made the offer, he didn’t have to accept—but he did. The boy Ishmael was the result of their rashness and the rivalry and strife that continue today in the Middle East came from that impatience. Like Sarah and Abraham, when my son-in-law knows a gift is coming, he just can’t wait until the correct time to receive it. Fortunately, while his wife may get annoyed when he takes matters into his own hands, his impulsiveness hasn’t resulted in centuries of international conflict.

Consider the people of Judah—they’d waited centuries for God’s promise to be fulfilled with the Messiah and most of them completely missed their gift. Tired of waiting, some lost faith and hope; they stopped looking for Him. Having anticipated royalty rather than an itinerant preacher, others didn’t recognize Him. Wanting someone to conquer Rome rather than sin, still others didn’t accept Him. Fortunately, my son-in-law isn’t like that. Even when he’s unsuccessful in his search for the gift, he never gives up. He knows it eventually will appear. Moreover, unlike the Judeans, he won’t ignore the package if it isn’t wrapped in fancy paper with an elaborate bow or reject it because it doesn’t fit his expectations.

David had to wait for God’s promise to materialize but, unlike Like Sarah, Abraham, and Judah, he waited patiently and never gave up hope. After being anointed by Samuel, he had to wait about fifteen years until being crowned king. He didn’t spend that time trying to force his kingship to happen nor did he sit idly and twiddle his thumbs impatiently. He wisely trusted God. The shepherd boy used his waiting time to prepare for the challenges of kingship by growing physically, intellectually, and spiritually so he was ready to receive his crown when God gave it to him.

Unlike David, Sarah, Abraham, and the Jews, my son-in-law knows exactly when his Christmas gifts will arrive—December 25! Unfortunately, when waiting on God to act, we rarely have a calendar marked with His delivery date and we certainly don’t know the date of Christ’s return. Needing patience, we can’t be like Sarah and Abraham who tried to make things happen before the appointed time. Needing faith, we can’t be like the Jews who stopped looking and believing in God’s promised provision. Instead, we must be like David who waited with patience and faith while readying himself for the receipt of God’s promised provision.

When He returns is not as important as the fact that we are ready for Him when He does return. [A.W. Tozer] 

Don’t be impatient. Wait for the Lord, and he will come and save you! Be brave, stouthearted, and courageous. Yes, wait and he will help you. [Psalm 27:14 (TLB)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WAITING WITH HOPE

Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. [Mark 13:26-27 (NLT)]

advent wreathIt’s less than a month until Christmas. This Christmas will be vastly different from past ones for us as I imagine it will be for you. Traditionally, our holiday season has been a busy and festive one of concerts, friends, church, fellowship activities, volunteering, entertaining, and family but being in the midst of a pandemic has changed all that. In an attempt to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in what has been a dreary and disappointing year, I’ve started decorating for the holiday and playing Christmas music. Christmas, however, is more than decorations, carols, presents, parties, and peppermint bark. Perhaps not having all of the fun-filled extras of this season will help us focus on its true meaning.

When I was young, I always had a special Advent calendar with a nativity scene and 24 little numbered “windows.” Starting December 1, I opened a window every day to find a special picture or Bible verse that helped tell the Christmas story. Advent, however, isn’t just a way to count down the days until Christmas. In the 4th and 5th centuries, the season of Advent wasn’t about Christmas at all. Lasting 40 days, it was a season of penance, prayer, and fasting in preparation for the baptism of new believers on the Feast of Epiphany (January 6). By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the coming of Jesus—but not His first arrival in Bethlehem. Coming from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming,” Advent was about Christ’s second coming—when the one who arrived as a lamb would return as a triumphant lion. It was not until the Middle Ages that four Sundays became Advent’s length and the season was linked to both Christ’s first and second comings along with His presence among us through the Holy Spirit.

Although the custom of an Advent wreath began with Lutheran and Roman Catholic families in 16th century Germany, it didn’t spread to churches until three centuries later. The wreath is a circle of evergreen branches; its circular shape, with no beginning or end, symbolizes the immortality of the soul and God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, are arranged around the wreath; sometimes, a fifth candle is in its center. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas with the fifth candle lit on Christmas.

The season of Advent begins this Sunday and, while COVID-19 keeps us from our liturgical church and its Advent wreath ritual, it can’t prevent us from observing Advent at home. We will read the pleas for a savior found in Isaiah 60 and Psalm 80, Jesus’ words about His return in Mark 13, and Paul’s assurance that Jesus will return in 1 Corinthians 1. While it doesn’t seem Christmassy to read about Jesus’ return before He’s appeared in Bethlehem, these readings are reminders that ours is an in-between time—a time between Jesus’s first arrival and His final return. After the readings, we’ll light the first candle on our Advent wreath: the candle of hope, often called the “prophecy candle.” We’ll say a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of hope that came with the Messiah. This first candle will remind us that we wait with hope for His return: for the time when Satan is defeated, God’s final judgment occurs, all things are made new, and all of God’s promises come true! May the candle of hope stay lit in our lives!

Let us be alert to the season in which we are living. It is the season of the Blessed Hope, calling for us to cut our ties with the world and build ourselves on this One who will soon appear. He is our hope—a Blessed Hope enabling us to rise above our times and fix our gaze upon Him. [A.W. Tozer]

However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert! … Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. I say to you what I say to everyone: “Watch for him!” [Mark 13:32-33,36-37 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES – THANKSGIVING 2020

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation. [Psalm 100: 4-5 (NLT)] 

turkeyWhen an irrevocable law was signed that prohibited praying to anyone but King Darius, Daniel prayed! Knowing he’d be thrown into a den of lions for doing so, the devout man went home, opened the windows, and prayed to God just as he always had done. Rather than starting with a fervent plea for God’s help, however, Daniel began with a prayer of thanks. His prayer of thanksgiving showed Daniel’s faith in a good God who was present in all circumstances!

Back in the 1630s, in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War when all of Europe was in turmoil, a Lutheran minister named Martin Rinckart also understood the importance of thanking God in all circumstances. Life seemed hopeless, especially in the walled city of Eilenburg where Rinckart lived. Refugees overcrowded the city, people were starving, and the city was surrounded by enemy soldiers. Poverty, famine and disease reigned. Mercenary soldiers committed atrocities, looted, and extorted tribute. Rinckart had to quarter soldiers in his house and endure their plundering of his possessions and stocks of grain. Diseases like typhus, dysentery, and scurvy already were widespread when the plague took control and devastated the population in 1637. And we think we have it tough in 2020!

Rinkart faithfully served the sick and dying. As the last living pastor in town, he performed as many as fifty funerals a day and buried over 4,400 townspeople, including his own wife. It was during this horrific time, one of the darkest in Europe’s history, that Rinckart counted his blessings and wrote a beautiful family prayer of thanksgiving. We know that joyful prayer as the popular Thanksgiving hymn Now Thank We All Our God. Martin Rinckart, like Daniel, offered thanks to God in the midst of challenging circumstances. Can we do anything less?

I saw a cartoon in which the heavy-set husband, after looking down at his skimpy plate of dieter’s salad, looked up at his wife and said, “You better say grace this time. If I do it, God will know I’m lying.” Unlike Daniel and Martin Rinckart, most of us are like him: blind to the blessings of life and deficient in our thanks to God for those blessings, however great or small. Today, as we celebrate our national day of thanks, let us remember that every day should be a day of giving thanks—even if, instead of sweet potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and pumpkin pie, our plates have only lettuce, carrots and celery!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace, and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills, in this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
the Son, and him who reigns with them in highest heaven;
the one eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore. [Martin Rinckart)]

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)]

Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. [Psalm 95:1-2 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HOLIDAY GATHERINGS

zebras - serengettiAvoid foolish controversies, arguments about genealogies, quarrels, and fights about Moses’ Teachings. This is useless and worthless. [Titus 3:9 (GW)]

Four years ago, our Thanksgiving weekend was a busy one, in large part to the celebration of my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday. While the results of the presidential election weren’t disputed four years ago, the political mood that November was just as divisive as it is today, making for some awkward and challenging gatherings. Today’s contentious political climate can be problematic at holiday get-togethers this year, as well. With the rhetoric even more heated, conspiracy theories running wild, and the prevalence of vicious postings on social media, even Zoom calls with family could be challenging!

Recognizing that the next several weeks will require diplomacy, tact, restraint, and a great deal of love, I thought I’d repeat the following devotion that was first published on Thanksgiving eve, 2016.

“Our days are few, and far better spent in doing good than in disputing over matters which are, at best, of minor importance,” were the words in my morning’s devotion by Charles Spurgeon. Although they were in reference to Paul’s words to Titus regarding divisive arguments in the early church, they are words to remember as we gather with family and friends at our tables tomorrow. Let’s face it, for the next several weeks, we’ll be thrown together with a wide assortment of people, all of whom will have at least one opinion that differs from ours. Moreover, while we share genealogy and genes with family members, we often have little else in common. Some people say Thanksgiving dinner without an argument or two is like turkey with no stuffing or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade without helium balloons. Nevertheless, I’m not so sure acrimony has to ruin our day of national thanks. Remembering Paul’s words to Titus can help us through tomorrow and the rest of the holiday season.

All of us have dropped our anchors on certain issues and we’re not about to change our opinions on those. Let’s honor the rights of others to drop anchor on their beliefs, as well. There are, however, far more issues where, rather than dropping anchor, we could tie up to the pier and quietly listen to the person berthed across the dock; we just might have more in common than we realize. Fearless listening occurs when we’re not afraid to truly hear another person’s point of view.

Keep in mind that holiday get-togethers are not debate stages or battle grounds and a friendly discussion should remain amicable. Although a friendly discussion is never about winning, I have one friend who actually prepares for disputes by packing news articles supporting her viewpoints in her purse and suitcase. Although out-of-tune pianos can be tuned, some minds can’t be changed and it is foolish to even try. Moreover, even when people have well-founded opinions, many differences will never be reconciled. Wisdom is knowing when to stop a discussion and true wisdom is knowing enough not to start!

We will gather with twenty-eight people tomorrow and seventy-five the following day. In spite of the old saying never to talk about religion or politics, considering the recent election, there is sure to be discussion of at least one of those topics. In addition to people with diverse (and strong) opinions, any holiday gathering has its share of conspiracy theorists, whiners, complainers, nitpickers, and over-indulgers. Getting through a holiday dinner can be like traversing a mine field!

Being a vegetarian, I’m used to politely saying, “Thank you, no,” when the shrimp, turkey, gravy and sausage stuffing are urged on me. Being a follower of Christ, I’ll silently say, “Thank you, no!” every time an opportunity for dissension, anger, criticism, pettiness, or insult comes passing my way. I’ll also pray a lot! Personally, I’ve found, “Please, God, put your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth!” to serve me well.

Blessings, peace, and joy to you tomorrow!

Our business is neither to ask nor answer foolish questions, but to avoid them altogether. [Charles Spurgeon]

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments. You know they cause quarrels. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel. Instead, he must be kind to everyone. He must be a good teacher. He must be willing to suffer wrong. [2 Timothy 2:23-24 (GW)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE SLANDERED (Psalms of Ascent – Part 2)

wild phloxRescue me, O Lord, from liars and from all deceitful people. … How I suffer in far-off Meshech. It pains me to live in distant Kedar. I search for peace; but when I speak of peace, they want war! [Psalm 120:2,5-6 (NLT)]

When we are slandered it is a joy that the Lord knows us, and cannot be made to doubt our uprightness he will not hear the lie against us, but he will hear our prayer against the lie. [Charles Spurgeon]

While many of the fifteen psalms designated A Song of Ascents display the sense of joy and pride in Israel that we’d expect from people returning to their homeland, a few express distress, looming peril, or trials. One such psalm is the first in the collection: Psalm 120. It is the individual lament of someone who seems to have become the victim of slander—the prayer of someone who is surrounded by warlike people.

While I’ve never been the victim of slander, I have a friend who was. His reputation was deliberately damaged by falsehoods, misrepresentations, and innuendo. Until I studied this psalm, I don’t think I truly understood how isolated and defenseless he must have felt. Like the psalmist, he longed for peace but felt like a stranger in the midst of a hostile nation.

The psalmist expresses his distress at such deceit and pleads for relief. He then describes the destiny of the liar’s tongue: being pierced by fiery arrows, like those used in sieges to set places on fire. This is a bit of irony since Scripture frequently likens deceivers’ tongues to a bow that shoots out harmful words. In effect, the psalmist is asking that his enemies receive a dose of their own medicine! Having shot their vindictive words at him, in a bit of divine justice, God will shoot his own flaming arrows of judgment at them!

What follows is a lament about living in both Meshech and Kedar among people who hate peace. The psalmist is speaking figuratively since these pagan nations were in opposite directions and he couldn’t be in both places at once. The people of both nations, however, were ferocious and aggressive barbarians. Living among the ungodly—people who prefer war to peace—the psalmist feels like an outsider. The psalm’s final line expresses the psalmist’s desire for peace and the deceitful people’s desire for war. Maligned and slandered by people who wanted to make his life difficult, the psalmist asks the Lord for peace, for His shalom.

It’s easy to wonder why such a psalm would be among this collection of hopeful and encouraging psalms until we realize that, unlike most psalms, this one is somewhat backwards. Instead of beginning by stating his plight and following with a plea for deliverance, the psalmist begins by telling us that God already has answered his prayer. From the first verse, we know that the Lord has dealt with the problem and delivered him from his enemies. Rather than a lament, this is a psalm of thanksgiving. The psalmist found refuge and peace in a hostile world because God answered his prayers. Let us take comfort knowing that we have a God who answers our prayers!

When we fight our battles on our knees, we win every time. [Charles F. Stanley]

I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. [Psalm 120:1 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OUR KEEPER (Psalms of Ascent – Part 1)

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. [Psalm 121:1-4 (RSV)]

zion - court of the patriarchsPsalms 120 through 134 have the superscription A Song of Ascents. What that means exactly, no one really knows. The original word translated as ascent was “stair” or “step” and some scholars believe the title refers to the temple’s fifteen steps leading from the Court of the Women into the Court of the Sons of Israel. Jewish tradition holds that Levites sang a different one of these psalms as they climbed the steps to the temple. Other scholars posit that the title of the psalms has to do either with the rising moods or thoughts in the psalms’ words or their rising pitch as they were sung.

Written by several different authors and ranging from the time of David to post exile, these fifteen beautiful psalms were at one point a separate temple songbook that later was incorporated into the Psaltery. Some scholars attribute the collection to King Hezekiah who, when laying on his deathbed, was granted another 15 years of life. He supposedly compiled these 15 psalms to represent those additional years. Psalm 126, with its reference to returning from exile, disproves that theory since it had to have been composed after Hezekiah’s death.

Because Jerusalem was on a hill, all roads leading to it went uphill and some scholars believe these psalms were sung during the journey back from Babylon as the exiles ascended the hill to Jerusalem. Another commonly held belief is that these psalms were brought together to be sung by Jews returning to Jerusalem to celebrate the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

One of my favorite psalms, Psalm 121, is in this collection. Perhaps giving credence to the theory of pilgrims walking up to Jerusalem’s gates, the psalmist looks to the hills and asks from where his help comes. When he asked that, was he looking at the hillside with its threats from wild animals, pagan enemies, and bands of robbers? Or, was he confidently looking up toward Mt. Moriah and the temple? With his answer of, “My help comes from the Lord,” I think he was looking beyond the mountains to the God who made them. The psalmist is so confident in the Lord, the one who “keeps” Israel, that he doesn’t even mention what is troubling him!

In this eight verse psalm, the Hebrew word shamar is used six times. Usually translated as keep or preserve, it meant to have charge of, protect and guard as would a watchman. For many pilgrims, the trip to Jerusalem was an arduous one taking several days. With its promise that the one who watched over them never slumbered, this psalm would have been reassuring to the pilgrims as they made camp in the wilderness each night.

We’re not Levites ascending the temple’s stairs nor are we pilgrims journeying up to Jerusalem and we’ll never know why these psalms are songs of ascents. Nevertheless, we’re all on a journey that often seems like an uphill climb. The psalmist’s faith and strong conviction that God will come to his aid certainly makes my spirit ascend. Let us take comfort in knowing the Lord is our keeper, watchman, and protector; He is the God who never sleeps!

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore. [Psalm 121:5-8 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.