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 ….]


Great blessings belong to those who don’t listen to evil advice, who don’t live like sinners, and who don’t join those who make fun of God. Instead, they love the Lord’s teachings and think about them day and night. So they grow strong, like a tree planted by a stream—a tree that produces fruit when it should and has leaves that never fall. Everything they do is successful. [Psalm 1:1-3 (ERV)]

wood sorrel - shamrockTomorrow we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and I’m inclined to think the revered bishop who brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century wouldn’t recognize this day in his honor. A once religious feast is now a day of parades, sales, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirts, corned beef and cabbage, music, dancing, and lots of green (including the Chicago River, milk shakes, and kegs of beer.) St. Patrick, however, would recognize the common symbol of this day: the shamrock. Of course, to Patrick, with its three leaflets bound by a common stem, the shamrock was a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. Those three leaflets also came to symbolize faith, hope, and love; luck is said to come only if a fourth leaflet is present.

We usually think “the luck of the Irish” means good fortune. Yet, it’s hard to see how a people who were invaded by Vikings, suppressed at the hand of England, suffered a potato famine, failed at every revolution, and were treated like third class citizens upon their arrival in the U.S. could be called “lucky.” According to Edwin T. O’Donnell of Holy Cross College, it originally was a demeaning phrase dating back to the 19th century. During the silver and gold rush days, some of the most successful miners were Irish or Irish/American. Saying a miner’s success was “the luck of the Irish” meant that it was mere happenstance and had nothing to do with the hours of drudgery he endured, the danger he faced, the sacrifices he made, the loneliness he suffered, or his skill with a pick and shovel.

A young mother in our small group told of her daughter’s recent school assignment in which the girl and her parents were to paste pictures of the things that made them lucky on a large green construction paper shamrock. A woman of faith, she didn’t want to be one of those parents who make a mountain out of every molehill encountered in public school. Nevertheless, she credits God (not luck) with their blessings so she and her daughter pondered how to proceed with the assignment in a way that honors God. They pasted photos of their family on their “Lucky Family” shamrock and then wrote these words: “No luck involved! We are blessed by the grace of God to be a happy family!”

Attributing their happy family to luck would be as insulting to God as “just Irish luck” was to a successful miner who’d struggled in difficult circumstances to stake his claim. That shamrock, however, does symbolize the things that enable their family to happily live with joy, peace, forgiveness, and confidence: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who govern and fill their lives. Moreover, the happiness of their family has much to do with their faith, hope and love (both for God and for one another). There was no”lucky” fourth leaflet on that shamrock. Indeed, luck has nothing to do with it; God, however, does!

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and it cannot be made angry easily. Love does not remember wrongs done against it. Love is never happy when others do wrong, but it is always happy with the truth. Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ERV)]

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Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet: “I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.” [Matthew 13:34-35 (NLT)]

irisYesterday I wrote about Albert Einstein. The physicist was famous for his ability to replace complex scientific ideas with real-life scenarios called gedankenexperiments (thought experiments). For example, imagine that you have an identical twin. Immediately following birth, he is launched into space and travels through the universe nearly at the speed of light. When he returns, he’d be in his teens while you’d be planning your retirement. Time moved slower for your twin because the closer to the speed of light something travels the slower time moves for it. Never having studied physics (and not caring to start now), I think his scenario demonstrates the theory of relativity!

Gedankenexperiments is just a fancy German word for what Jesus did when he told parables; He took complex theological concepts and simplified them into everyday scenarios. When the Pharisees couldn’t understand why the ostracized, outcast and sinful were welcomed by Jesus as His followers, He could have given them a long-winded theological explanation. Instead, Jesus told them three parables. The first was about a shepherd who left his ninety-nine sheep safely in the sheepfold to search for one sheep that strayed. When the shepherd found it, he joyfully returned home with it and celebrated its rescue with friends. Jesus then told of a woman who lost one of her ten coins, searched carefully until she found it, and rejoiced when she did. Just in case the Pharisees didn’t get the point, He then told the parable of the lost son in which the rebellious son repents and returns home to his forgiving and loving father who also throws a party at the recovery of what had been lost. The second part of that parable, in which the elder brother begrudges the celebration welcoming his prodigal brother, was directed at the Pharisees. Did they see their resentment of the sinners at Jesus’s feet in the attitude of the self-righteous and unforgiving brother?

Like Einstein, Jesus used fictitious stories to illustrate a point or teach a lesson. That God doesn’t want to lose one of us, that He loves each of us so much that He seeks us, and that heaven rejoices at the repentance of one sinner were not new concepts to the Pharisees. Jesus presented these simple scenarios so they would understand that sinners are as valuable to God as lost sheep, money, and children are to shepherds, housewives, and fathers. Like Einstein’s thought experiments, however, His parables often weren’t understood. Their understanding, however, had nothing to do with either IQ or righteousness. Both Gedankenexperiments and Jesus’s parables were told in a way that only those who cared would ever understand them. The people who understood the parables, like those who understood Einstein, were the ones who cared enough to ask what they meant (which explains why the Pharisees never did get the point and I still don’t understand relativity!)

Christ taught in parables. Thereby the things of God were made more plain and easy to those willing to be taught, and at the same time more difficult and obscure to those who were willingly ignorant. [Matthew Henry]

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” [Mark 4:23-25 (NLT)]

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He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” [Luke 6:39-40 (ESV)]

roseate spoonbill - corkscrew swampIn Pieces of Eight, columnist Sydney Harris tells the story of a dinner party at which an elderly Albert Einstein was seated next to an eighteen-year-old girl. Unaware of his identity, she asked the famed professor what he did for a living. “I devote myself to the study of physics,” he responded. Shocked that he still studied physics at his age, she told him she’d finished her physics studies the previous year! Without a doubt, Albert Einstein knew more about physics than anyone else of his time and yet he continued to study physics until his death. Harris’s explanation is that the physicist recognized that what he didn’t know far outweighed all that he did.

In Jesus’s day, the word disciple referred to a student or apprentice and was usually associated with people who devotedly followed a religious leader or philosopher. Christian writer Dallas Willard suggests replacing the word disciple in our Bibles with apprentice or student to get the true meaning of the word. Just as Einstein continued to be a student of physics, if we are true disciples of Christ, we must continue to be His students. Discipleship doesn’t end with accepting Christ; it begins. It requires commitment to be with and know Him, to grow more like Him, and to continually learn from Him.

Einstein continued to spend time in his physics laboratory. We must continue spending time with Jesus through prayer and Bible study. In studying the Gospels and Acts, we find His words, repeat His words, and reflect on them. In the Epistles, we learn how to apply those words. We then turn our attention from the New to the Old Testament to learn our history and how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies. Finally, we fulfill the commission given to the original disciples. The students are to become the teachers and find new students. Since the blind can’t lead the blind, we will continue to study and, after reading from Genesis to Revelation, start over again! We are life-long disciples who, like Albert Einstein, recognize that what we don’t know far outweighs what little we do.

Any fool can know. The point is to understand. … Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it. [Albert Einstein]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

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My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. [James 2:1 (NIV)]

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. [1 Samuel 16:7 b (NIV)]

house wren

Unless a bird is impressive and memorable, I give it little notice and classify it broadly by size and color. Yesterday’s devotion reminded us that people aren’t nameless/faceless little brown birds to God. I then asked myself if they are to me. Do I truly see the people around me for the unique and beautiful individuals they are or are some just little brown birds? Think of the quiet unobtrusive people we see every day but barely notice: the bagger at the grocery, the busser at the restaurant, the lady with the schnauzer, the fast food cashier, the fellow stocking shelves, the landscaper, the old man at the coffee shop, or the parking lot attendant. Do we simply look past or even through them without a second glance? I hate to admit how many times wait staff and sales clerks have introduced themselves only to have me immediately forget both their names and faces.

Do we only take notice of the eagles, cardinals, and great blue herons of life? When Samuel anointed Israel’s first king, it was Saul. Described as the most handsome man in Israel and taller than anyone else in the land, he may have been as impressive as an eagle but he was a weak leader and a cowardly king. In contrast, Israel’s next king, David, was more like a little brown bird. He may have been handpicked by God but he was overlooked and ignored by everyone else. When Samuel came to Jesse in search of a new king, he invited Jesse and all of his boys to a sacrifice. It was only after every one of Jesse’s sons was rejected by the Lord that Samuel learned the youngest boy, David, hadn’t even been invited to the feast. In spite of being anointed by Samuel, David continued to be insignificant to his father and brothers until he defeated Goliath. It was the little brown bird rather than the showy eagle who saved the Israelites with a slingshot and a few well-placed stones.

A pharmaceutical ad begins with psoriasis patients saying the words, “See me.” It’s not just people with skin conditions who want to be seen as individuals; we all want to be seen as the unique people we are. Consider Jesus; there were many who met a poor itinerant rabbi, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, and never really looked at Him or listened to His words. That unimpressive little brown bird they so easily dismissed was God!

We don’t need a scope or telephoto lens to help us see the little brown birds of daily life and we certainly don’t need an Audubon book to learn their identities. We just have to open our eyes to the people around us, really look at them, acknowledge their presence, and listen to their words. In actuality, rather than elegant egrets or gaudy peacocks, most of us are more like little brown birds—ordinary, inconspicuous, and easy to overlook. Nevertheless, we are extraordinary in our own ways and we all want to be seen for who we are. God doesn’t judge by outward appearance and neither should we. After all, it’s the little brown birds that sing the sweetest songs in the forest.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. [Isaiah 53:2-3 (NIV)]

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O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! [Psalm 139:1-6 (NLT)]

house sparrowRomper Room, a children’s program that first aired in 1953, was like a televised pre-school/kindergarten class. At the end of every show, the hostess would pick up her magic mirror and recite the words, “Magic Mirror, tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play?” Looking through an open frame shaped like a hand mirror, she’d then call out various children’s names: “I see Johnny had a special day today, Olivia had a special day yesterday, and I see Bonnie, Tammy and Gregory had special days, as well, and Brandon, you know I see you…” For forty years, small children patiently sat in front of their TVs hoping to hear their names called. While that illustrates the naiveté of youngsters back then, it also demonstrates how much we all want to be noticed and recognized.

When the man at the park asked me what kind of bird it was, I identified it as an LBB and explained that meant “little brown bird.” Chances are it was one of the twenty kinds of sparrows around here. Then again, it could have been some sort of wren or finch. Had it been a little larger, it would have qualified as the equally vague BBB (bigger brown bird). As much as I enjoy spotting the peepers in the trees and even taking their pictures when they remain still long enough, I don’t care enough about them to know their names or the songs they sing.

Fortunately, God knows not just our names but all there is to know about us: our hopes, needs, fears, and concerns. There are no LBBs (little boring biddies), LOLs (loud old ladies), BFMs (big fat men), TWAs (teens with attitude), TTs (troublesome tots), CCs (chronic complainers), or PWPs (people with problems) in His kingdom. To God, we all have distinctive names, faces, personalities and voices. Unlike me, He doesn’t need a field guide with our pictures or a CD with our songs to know who we are. Unlike the Romper Room hostess, He doesn’t pretend to have a magic mirror that allows Him to see us or know how we feel. The author of our days, He knows what today was like for us and what tomorrow will bring to us. God not only sees each and every one of us but He sees into us—into our very hearts and souls—and, somehow, He still manages to love and value us as only a father can.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. [Matthew 10:29-31 (NLT)]

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murning dovesBut whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians3: 11 (NLT)]

Last Sunday, while worshipping in the beach gazebo, my attention was drawn to a nearby tree. A pair of doves kept disappearing into the branches only to reappear a few moments later. Back and forth they went, building their new house one twig at a time. Like the doves, those of us in the gazebo are slowly building something—a new church. Rather than twigs or bricks, we’re building it with people—one person at a time.

After worship two Sundays ago, we saw a fellow sitting alone on a park bench strumming his guitar. My husband walked over to him, listened for a while, and, introduced himself. The men chatted and the guitarist, Jimmy, said he was in the park that morning for his NA meeting. My husband then invited him to bring his guitar and join us for worship the next week. Self-taught, Jimmy is not much of a musician and both his story and attire told me that, while he’s not exactly homeless, he lives on the fringe of society. Lord, forgive me, I wasn’t happy about that invitation nor was I especially thrilled Sunday when our new friend was there at the gazebo. I’m ashamed to admit that I was afraid Jimmy’s presence would offend others in attendance.

While watching those doves build their nest, however, the Holy Spirit did some much needed work on my heart and I saw how judgmental and self-righteous I’d been. The birds didn’t examine each twig to see if it was perfect or ask its history or lineage. They just kept bringing twigs into the tree. Wondering how to build a church, I’d forgotten about the cornerstone: the first stone set into a foundation, the stone that keeps the walls upright and strong. The church’s cornerstone is Jesus and the answer to how to build a church is simple: Do what Jesus would do.

Jesus brought healing to the sick, forgiveness to the condemned, hope to those in despair, faith to those who doubted, and love to the unloved. Jesus neither ignored nor tolerated sin but He welcomed all sorts and conditions of people. He didn’t ask Peter, John or James about their pasts before calling them and not everyone around Him was what could be called “respectable.” Criticized by the Pharisees for the company He kept, He welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes, the unclean, zealots, Gentiles and Samaritans. He gladly spent time with sinners who wanted to learn from him or put their faith in him. Jesus welcomed me and I’m no different than Jimmy—my tarnished past just hasn’t taken the heavy toll on me that it has on him. Moreover, I still have plenty of work to do on the sin of self-righteousness!

So, how do we build a church? We do it by living the truth of the gospel, connecting with one another, serving, and speaking and acting in love. Most of all, we build a church by seeking the lost and welcoming all who come! When I asked my husband why he invited Jimmy, he answered, “That’s what Jesus would have done!” and he was right. Sunday, after Communion, I wondered how long it’s been since Jimmy felt welcome and appreciated, took the Sacrament, or was reminded that God loved him enough to die for him. As we finished our service and gathered our things to leave, his NA group came in to use the gazebo. We offered them our remaining coffee and rolls and invited them all to join us for worship next week. “Hope to see you next Sunday,” I called to Jimmy and, this time, I meant it!

For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost. [Luke 19:10 (NLT)]

Jesus answered 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 and need to repent.” [Luke 5:31-32 (NLT)]

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