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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 ….]

USING A MIX

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! [Matthew 6:7-8 (NLT)]

tri-colored heron

While I enjoy cooking from scratch, I’ve never found recipes that produce better results than those from certain boxed mixes. Conceding that someone else has created better and easier recipes than mine for cornbread and brownies, I occasionally resort to using them. Nevertheless, I usually add chopped green chilies to the cornbread and chocolate chips or crushed Oreos to the brownies to make the finished product uniquely my own.

Like a boxed mix, there are times when we want to use a ready-made prayers when talking with God. Ready-made prayers are well written and, like Kraft mac ‘n cheese, comforting in their familiarity. They help us to convey thoughts we just can’t seem to find the words to express, clarify our concerns, or guide our prayers in God’s direction instead of in our own. Believing they kept him in touch with “sound doctrine” rather than his version of “religion” and fixed his focus on the long-range rather than the immediate, C.S. Lewis often used prayers from The Book of Common Prayer.

Just as I occasionally resort to a baking mix, like Lewis, there are times I use ready-made prayers like the ones found in the Psalms, The Book of Common Prayer, John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer, or The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. Sometimes other people’s way with words—their passion, vulnerability, repentance or joy—are more expressive than anything I could articulate. Reinhold Niebuhr’s words, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference,” say it better than I ever could.

Nevertheless, much as having the same recipe prepared the same way over and over again can get boring, saying the same prayers over and over again can get humdrum. The disciples were warned about the mindless repetition of prayers. Our prayers should never be dull and routine and we should be cautious of reciting words that are overly familiar or insincere. It helps if we’re sure to add a little something of our own thoughts to ready-made prayers just as we might do with a boxed mix of cornbread or brownies!

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you. O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry. I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me. [Psalm 86:1-7 (NLT)]

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LEAD US NOT

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [Matthew 6:13 (NASB)]

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when in is accomplished, it brings forth death. [James 1:13-15 (NASB)]

wrong wayWhen I was a little girl, I had a beautifully illustrated picture book of the Lord’s Prayer. I clearly remember the illustration accompanying these words: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” A beautiful angel stood at a crossroads in front of two children and blocked their way down the wrong path.

While we ask God to guide us away from tempting circumstances and situations, we also know that an angel doesn’t always block the way. Sometimes God allows or even leads us into temptation and trials. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by Satan [Matthew 4:1] and God tested the Israelites during their forty years in the desert to know whether or not they would keep His commandments. [Deut. 8:2] In the book of Job, God allowed Satan to tempt the man by mercilessly attacking him.

While God may allow us to be tempted, Scripture affirms that He never tempts us and He never will be the author or originator of evil. God can’t put evil desires into our hearts because there is no evil in Him. Nevertheless, God may bring us into situations that will sorely tempt us. When He does that, however, His plan always is for our good. Satan tempts in the hope of ruining us but God allows temptation to strengthen or test us. He doesn’t lead us into temptation to see us fail; he leads us into battle with evil so that we may be victorious.

We pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” because we know we are weak. Charles Spurgeon pointed out that a man who carries gunpowder on him wisely asks not to be led where sparks are flying. We may not be carrying gunpowder in our pockets, but things like pride, anger, fear, worry, despair, vanity, greed, and even lust are deep in our hearts and so we ask God not to lead us into situations where they might explode. But, in spite of our request, there are times that’s exactly where He leads us. That’s why, admitting our powerlessness to overcome evil on our own, we continue the prayer with, “deliver us from evil.” Life is a series of temptations and we ask God to give us the power and strength to withstand every temptation we face.

When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted, the Holy Spirit was with Him the entire time. When we find ourselves in that same wilderness, we have the Holy Spirit, as well. Rather than an angel blocking the way, the Spirit will deliver us from evil!

Temptation is the best school into which the Christian can enter; yet, in itself, apart from the grace of God, it is so doubly hazardous, that this prayer should be offered every day, “Lead us not into temptation;”’ or if we must enter into it, “Lord, deliver us from evil.” [Martin Luther]

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:13 (NASB)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HANDS

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. [Psalm 134:2 (NIV)]

handsWhile social distancing has put an end to breaking bread with friends and holding hands while sharing a table blessing, I recall a dinner several years ago when I held the hand of our pastor’s wife during grace. For a small woman, her hands were larger and stronger than I expected. After grace, I looked at them and, comparing her youthful hands with mine, admit to feeling a twinge of envy. Like her, I played the piano but, unlike her, I could barely span an octave. Her sturdy hands had incredible reach and, unhampered by arthritis, there was power in her touch on the keyboard. I was overwhelmed by the strength of her hands and the beautiful way she uses them to praise the Lord as the worship leader at our mountain church.

As I pondered hands, I thought of a friend who used her hands to sign for the hearing impaired, the men whose hands set up chairs for Bible study, people who use their hands to pack meals for the food bank, and the ones serving soup at the homeless shelter. Some people’s hands warmly greet people as they enter church, bake cookies for Bible study (and lonely neighbors), fold programs or pass out communion. I thought of the preschoolers’ hands acting out “Zacchaeus” or “This Little Light of Mine” and the adult hands making a joyful noise in the bell choir and band. I thought of the calloused hands that mow the lawn and shovel the snow at our northern church, the patient hands that help the church’s children create sheep from cotton balls and tongue depressors, and the little hands that make those crafts. I thought of the hands that comfort the sick and hospitalized, baptize new believers, are raised in praise during worship, or enthusiastically clap during a spirited song. I considered the hands that prepare meals for families in need, hold babies in the church nursery so their mothers can have a few quiet minutes during worship, and fold in intercessory prayer for their church family. I thought of the hands that knit or crochet for the prayer shawl ministry and those that went from sewing colorful pillowcases for hospitalized children to making masks during the pandemic. What of the hands that so freely drop money into the offering baskets and those that carefully count the money and keep the books? They may not be leading worship while playing a keyboard or strumming a guitar but those hands are doing God’s work in their own unique way.

Today I looked at my wrinkled hands with their short fingers and knobby knuckles—hands that ache at night, are stiff in the morning, struggle to open jars and no longer fly over the piano’s keys. Nevertheless, they are hands that still can serve God. Mother Teresa often defined herself as “a little pencil” in the hand of the Lord. Indeed, we all are pencils in God’s hands and leave his mark on those we touch.

Thank you, God, for our hands; show us what you want us to do with them so they bring glory to your name. While this pandemic means we can’t hold hands with one another, show us how we can use our hands and hearts to reach out to your children. Bless our hands, O Lord, to do your holy work.

I don’t claim anything of the work. I am like a little pencil in His hand. That is all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used. [Mother Teresa] 

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands. [Psalm 90:17 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE SCARLET CORD

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Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. [Hebrews 11:1-2 (NLT)]

One of only two women listed in the book of Hebrews’ “Hall of Faith,” Rahab married Salmon, was the mother of Boaz (who married Ruth), a great-great grandmother to David, and one of Jesus’ ancestors. Not an Israelite, she was a prostitute from Jericho who collaborated with her nation’s enemy. Yet, her faith is commended in Hebrews, Matthew makes specific mention of her in Jesus’ genealogy, and James speaks highly of her in his epistle. Why?

Rahab met many travelers in her dubious profession and heard how the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, defeated the Amorite kings Sihon and Og, and slaughtered all of their people. Recognizing the Israelites’ God as supreme, she anticipated Jericho’s defeat and the perceptive woman judiciously aligned herself with the winning side. After protecting two Israelite spies by hiding them from the king’s men, she requested the same loyalty to her that she’d given them and negotiated for the safety of herself and her family. As Rahab lowered the spies to safety on a scarlet cord, they warned that her protection was only ensured if she had that same cord visible on the day of their attack. True to their word, when Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were saved. Was it Rahab’s treason to Jericho that caused her to be mentioned so highly in a gospel and two epistles or was there more?

After leaving Rahab’s house, the spies hid in the hills for three days before returning to camp and reporting to Joshua. After that, the Israelites broke camp and moved to the banks of the Jordan where they stayed another three days before crossing the river. Once across, they erected memorials to commemorate their crossing by God’s power. Four days later, the people celebrated the first night of Passover and, at some point, all of the men were circumcised. While the Israelites observed the eight days of Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread and the men recovered from their surgery, the invincible city of Jericho closed its gates and readied itself for battle. By then, Rahab had waited at least two weeks for the Israelites and her rescue. Did she begin to doubt the two spies and their God? Had they forgotten about her or did she pick the wrong ally? Did she consider bringing in that scarlet cord and making an alliance with a protector in Jericho? Was she tempted to lose faith in the God of the Israelites?

Eventually, the Israelites set off to conquer Jericho but they didn’t assault the town or lay siege to it. Instead, seven priests blowing rams’ horns followed by 40,000 silent soldiers paraded once around the walled city with the Ark of the Covenant before returning to their camp. For six days, Rahab watched from her window as the Israelites marched once around Jericho and returned to their camp without ever lifting a weapon or shouting a war cry. Was her faith shaken by their strange behavior? Were the Israelites too afraid to attack? What kind of God used such a bizarre battle plan? On the seventh day, when she watched the Israelites parade seven times around the city, did she abandon all hope as she witnessed what appeared to be another day of even more pointless marching? Apparently not; that scarlet cord, the sign of her faith in the God of the Israelites, was still hanging from her window. When the army finally shouted, the walls of the unconquerable city collapsed and Rahab and her family were saved.

The walls of Jericho were leveled by faith in God. Rahab helped two strangers and kept that scarlet cord dangling from her window by that same faith. When God’s plan seems inexplicable or a long time in coming, do we exhibit a similar kind of faith? When things seem at a standstill, when we can’t see His plan, do we despair or do we hang out a scarlet cord of faith in God?

It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:30-31 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

KORAH’S SONS

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. [Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV) A Psalm of the Sons of Korah”]

monarch butterflyWhen researching their genealogy, most people hope to lay claim to ancestors who were nobility, war heroes, statesmen, historical figures or people who performed note-worthy deeds. Nevertheless, every tree has a few bad apples and we all probably have a few scoundrels in our line. For those seeking infamous rather than famous ancestors, several web sites provide access to court records, outlaw and criminal biographies, and lists of prisoners, convicts, executions, “pirates and buccaneers,” and inmates of asylums.

With the “sons of Korah” having written at least eleven of the psalms, the question of genealogy arises because we wonder about Korah’s identity. In Scripture, “son” has the broad meaning of descendants and Korah was the bad apple on their family tree. A Levite from the Kohathite clan, Korah’s story is found in Numbers 16. The Kohathites had the honor of transporting the most sacred objects of the tabernacle. Korah, however, wanted to serve as a priest—something that only could be done by Aaron and his family. Whether jealous of Aaron or resentful that the holy items had to be carried on his shoulders rather than transported on an ox cart, Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Along with two malcontents from the tribe of Reuben, he challenged their leadership. As a result, the rebel leaders were swallowed by a sinkhole, 250 of their followers were consumed by fire, and 14,700 people died in a plague. Korah’s three sons, however, were spared and, seven generations later, the prophet Samuel came from his line.

Scripture tells us that Korah’s descendants (Korahites) joined David in various military exploits and, when he was king, they led the choral and orchestral music in the tabernacle. Three of those sons are named: Heman the Ezrahite (grandson of Samuel), Asaph, and Ethan (or Jeduthan). Along with being David’s chief musicians, all three men served as “seers” or prophets. Once the Temple was built, the “sons of Korah” became doorkeepers and custodians for the tabernacle.

For those of us with rotten apples on our family tree, unless we publicize their sordid history, it’s our secret. Korah’s descendants, however, had no secrets; their ancestor’s rebellion was a significant part of their nation’s history. I wonder if, when they wrote of the earth giving way in Psalm 46, they remembered the story of their rebellious ancestor sinking into an abyss. Korah had been given a special ministry by God but didn’t appreciate it. Covetously, he wanted more and people died because of him. His “sons,” however, never allowed the infamy of their ancestor to keep them from faithfully serving both God and their king as doorkeepers and musicians and using their God-given gifts to magnify the Lord.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  [Psalm 84:10-11 (ESV) A Psalm of the Sons of Korah]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

RECIPE BASICS

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. [Mark 11:24-25 (NLT)]

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. [1 Samuel 15:22 (NLT)]

While creativity is encouraged in both cooking and prayer, there are certain procedures for both that should be followed to ensure good results. For example, before a cook even begins, his work surface, utensils, and hands should be clean. In prayer, instead of starting with clean bowls and spoons, we should wash ourselves of any resentment or anger and start with a forgiving heart.

Even the most creative chef knows there are some cooking rules that simply can’t be broken: egg yolks can’t get mixed in with whites in a meringue, fudge needs to be cooked only to the soft ball stage, and poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees. Prayer has rules, too. For example, a willing, obedient and thankful heart is a necessity. In addition, just as leavening of some kind must be added to any bread recipe, we must have faith in God and the power of our prayers. Without leavening, no matter how delicious the rest of the ingredients, the bread won’t rise. Without faith, no matter what we’ve said or how nicely we’ve said it, our prayers won’t rise to God’s ears!

Some recipes, like risotto, require patience and persistence in preparation and others, like a 20-pound turkey, take a long time to bake. We have to be patient and persistent in prayer as well. The answers to our petitions aren’t like instant potatoes—they often take time. Just as pans should be greased so baked goods won’t stick, we need to lubricate our prayers with a large amount of humility if we want them to come out easily. Any good chef knows to use only fresh wholesome ingredients. Self-righteousness and pride will spoil any prayer and are as vile to God as rancid nuts in granola.

Anyone who watches cooking competitions knows that presentation is judged. God however, doesn’t score our prayers on their aesthetic appeal and extra points aren’t awarded for fancy words as they might be for fondant flowers or a strawberry fan. If God judges our prayers at all, it would be on things like sincerity, motives, repentance, obedience and willingness to submit to His will!

Finally, a good chef doesn’t offend a gastronome with bland or tasteless food; he honors him with bold flavors. A true connoisseur of prayers, our God is awesome and capable of anything and everything. Let’s never insult Him with insipid or weak petitions. Like a gourmet chef, we must be bold with our offerings. When cooking in God’s kitchen, let’s give Him everything we’ve got!

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. [Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)]

He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” [Luke 18:27 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.