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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 ….]

SETTING THE BAR

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. [Hebrews 12:1-2a (NLT)]

nodding onion“How was work today?” asked the wife in the Born Loser comic strip (drawn by Chip Sansom). Her husband answered, “Horrendous!” adding, “It feels so good that it’s over, I’m almost glad it happened!” Having had times when my prayer was simply, “Lord, just get me through this!” I understand. Sometimes, life seems so challenging and exhausting that we’re willing to settle for merely getting through it. That, dear friend, is setting the bar far too low. God has better plans for us than just getting by and none of us are born losers.

Sarah wanted a baby so much that she was willing to settle for surrogate motherhood when, in fact, God promised that she’d give birth to a nation. When he fled to Midian, Moses just wanted to escape persecution for killing an Egyptian. God’s plans were that he would lead the Hebrews to freedom. The orphaned Esther probably just wanted to settle down with a nice Jewish boy. She never imagined that God’s plans included making her a queen who would save her people from genocide. Gideon, hiding in a winepress, just wanted to get the wheat threshed so he could feed his family. God’s plans were that he’d defeat the Midianites and become Israel’s fifth judge. The widowed foreigner Ruth just wanted to feed herself and Naomi with the leavings in Boaz’s field. She never dreamt of being great-grandmother to Israel’s second king and ancestor to the Messiah. The woman at the well just wanted to fill her water jug and go home without incident when she got the living water of Jesus. Zacchaeus, the tax man, would have been happy just to catch a glimpse of the rabbi from Nazareth. He got much more when God came for dinner and brought salvation with Him. What of the fishermen from Galilee who just wanted to catch enough fish to pay their bills and put food on the table? Did they ever imagine they’d break bread with God? Considering all that God can accomplish through us, it would seem that our hopes and dreams often are way too small.

The Apostle Paul doesn’t tell us just to get through the race—to schlep halfheartedly through the course set before us. He tells us to strip every weight that slows us down and run (not walk) with perseverance. Sin can trip us up but so can our attitude. Just hoping to make it through the day (week, month or even year) hinders our run by setting the bar too low. We must never be willing to settle for less than the best—less than the best that God has in store for us and less than the best that we have to offer Him!

Why just settle with merely getting through life? If God just met our expectations, He’d never have the opportunity to exceed them and exceed them He will! When we allow God to determine our dreams and obediently follow His plan, the result will surpass our wildest dreams. He didn’t promise a life of just getting by: He promised a life of abundance—not a life of riches—but a rich life.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. [Michelangelo]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 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. Amen [Ephesians 3:19-20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE NEVER CHANGES

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever. [Isaiah 40:8 (NLT)]

Lake Louise, - CanadaOur fast-paced world is ever changing. Reel to reel tape players, slide rules, cassette tapes, boom boxes, floppy discs, dial phones, land lines, film, and slide projectors are all things of the past. We traded in our VCRs for a DVD and then Netflix, the Atari for an Xbox, the family station wagon for a mini-van then an SUV, and the bank teller for an ATM. My kids don’t use maps or have record players and my grands have never used a library card catalog, encyclopedia, typewriter, or pay phone. My camera, maps, calculator, compass, checkbook, note pad, address book and Walkman all fit into my cell phone and my phone, fitness tracker, and heart monitor all fit into my watch! It’s not just technology; hemlines go up and down, lapels and ties get wider and narrower, and shoulder pads come and go. Since I can’t figure out if the latest style is flare, skinny, boot cut, or boyfriend, I just go with mom jeans!

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only thing constant is change,” and, in spite of my previous rant, I’d have to disagree. We change and the world around us changes but there is one thing in our lives that will never change: God. His truth, purpose and character remain the same in spite of technology, innovative trends, or style. The fancy word for that unchangeability is immutability.  Because God is the essence of perfection, no change could make Him any better and, being God, He will never become less than what He already is!

Since its introduction in 1985, there have been at least 14 versions of Windows, with each version supposedly an improvement on the previous one; my Windows 10 has been up-dated 28 times since its introduction in 2015. Fortunately, the original 1.0 version of God (introduced at the beginning of time) is all we need or want! Thank you, O Lord, for being the one constant in our lives.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. [Hebrews 13:8 (NLT)]

I am the Lord, and I do not change.  [Malachi 3:6a (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

HONING

As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion]. [Proverbs 27:17 (AMP)]

roserush wildflower

When I was growing up, the Sunday dinner roast would be placed in front of my father who would then reach for the bone-handled carving knife and honing rod. With dramatic flair, he would steel the slicing knife against the stropping iron before carving the meat. That steel rod really didn’t sharpen his knife; it merely realigned it. When a knife is used, its sharp edge begins to bend and catch on whatever is being cut. Running the blade along a honing steel pulls its edge back into an upright position so the knife can perform at its best. To actually sharpen a knife, a whetstone rubs away some of the knife’s metal and creates a brand new edge. The more often a knife is sharpened, the more it thins and the shorter its lifespan.

Just as there is a difference between a whetstone that grinds away part of a blade and a steel honing rod that realigns it, there is a difference between judging one another and offering constructive comments or correction. The conversation of good friends is more like a honing steel than a whetstone. It improves the person rather than wears him down. Sometimes, we’re called on to do a little honing of our friends. Rarely an easy task, we should proceed prayerfully and gently. Remember, we are merely smoothing out the rough edges, not grinding off any mettle.

While the knife has no choice about accepting that honing rod, we do. Solomon’s son Rehoboam received wise counsel about not burdening his people with heavy taxes. Not appreciating the honing, he chose to ask others until he got the answer he liked better. Unfortunately, his foolishness divided the kingdom of Israel. In contrast, when Moses’ father-in-law Jethro pointed out Moses’ error in thinking he could manage two million people by himself, he listened. Like a good honing steel, Jethro also offered excellent advice on how to delegate responsibility.

God puts wise people in our lives for a reason and it’s for more than encouragement. As Matthew Henry said, it is to “improve both others and ourselves…to provoke one another to love and to good works and so to make one another wiser and better.”

Like Rehoboam we can resist the honing and insist on doing it our way or, like Moses, we can accept the correction that comes from those who love us. Just as we are tested by the way we respond to praise, we are tested by the way we respond to constructive criticism. In both cases, we must remain humble and thankful.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the friends who realign us when we need some straightening!

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. [Norman Vincent Peale]

Better is an open reprimand [of loving correction] Than love that is hidden. Faithful are the wounds of a friend [who corrects out of love and concern], But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful [because they serve his hidden agenda]. [Proverbs 27:5-6 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SEND ME!

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. [Jonah 1:3a (NLT)]

cardinalJonah was told to go to the enemy nation of Nineveh and preach God’s judgment but, rather than obey, he ran away. Moses was also given a task—bring the Israelites out of captivity into the Promised Land. God was clear about the assignment but Moses was equally clear in his protests. Rather than run away, he listed all of the reasons he wasn’t qualified. Although God resolved every one of his concerns, Moses was still reluctant and spent a good part of the next forty years in complaint. Gideon was also given a task by God—rescue Israel from the Midianites. Like Moses, he protested that he was incapable and then dared to question (not once but three times) God’s promise to help him. Eventually, all three men obeyed God’s call but not without questions, complaint and protest.

Unfortunately, when God calls us, we usually react like Jonah, Moses and Gideon. Although we say we’ll gladly do His work, the task must be on our terms. There are places we won’t go (Africa), people we don’t want to touch (homeless), jobs we protest (speaking in public or dirtying our hands), and restrictions on our time (no more than one afternoon a week). Like our unenthusiastic Biblical heroes, when God calls us, we’re more than willing to list our inadequacies—we’re not smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, or good enough and surely someone else could do it far better! We forget that we don’t have to do God’s work under our own power. Rather than calling the qualified, God qualifies those He calls!

Isaiah heard the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” Without hesitation, he responded, “Here I am. Send me.” For this prophet, there were no questions, qualifiers, or objections. He readily said, “Yes,” without even knowing exactly what it was God wanted him to do or how he was supposed to do it.

I understand that in the army, after the drill sergeant says, “I need three volunteers,” he simply points and says, “You, you and you!” Obedience follows without argument or stipulations. We’re in God’s army and, as Commander-in-Chief, He’s not looking for excuses, limitations, exemptions, exceptions, or even questions when He calls us to action. Isaiah eagerly said, “Here I am, Send me!” How will we respond?

It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. [2 Corinthians 3:5 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

THE PRESCRIBED BURN

blue eyed grass- shooting star - rue anenome

I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “These are my people,” and they will say, “The Lord is our God.” [Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)]

The darkned soil, scorched bark, blackened remains of dead trees, and faint aroma of smoke indicated a prescribed burn occurred earlier this spring. But, even without those tell-tell signs, the abundance and diversity of wildflowers blanketing the forest floor told me there’d been one. Fire used to be a natural occurrence in our woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Nowadays, we suppress natural fires, and invasive plants crowd out native flowers and grasses. Planned and controlled, these prescribed fires defeat non-native plants, stimulate the growth of native ones, restore valuable nutrients to the soil and, by eliminating leaf litter and dead wood, reduce the chance of uncontrollable wildfires. When brush and small trees are checked by the fire, flowers and grasses get enough sunlight to grow and the native plants regrow from their roots. Unlike invasive species, native plants have deep tap-roots and thick bark that enable them to survive the controlled burn’s heat.

When something similar to a controlled burn happens to us, the Bible often refers to it as refining and likens this purifying process to separating out precious metals from ore, such as silver from lead. After the ore is melted over a hot fire, hot air is blown across the surface which changes the lead to powdered lead oxide. When this dross is blown away, pure silver remains. Being more a naturalist than metallurgist, I prefer the analogy of a prescribed burn to smelting metal.

While necessary for a healthy habitat and biodiversity, I’m not sure the plants and animals appreciate the fire when it happens. I know I don’t appreciate it when God refines me. Rather than impurities like lead or invasive weeds, He wants to eradicate offensive behavior, false ideas, and bad attitudes. When weeds like jealousy, self-reliance, self-centeredness, pride, covetousness, selfishness, materialism, intolerance, or impatience invade my heart, God has a way of refining me. Rather than fire, He allows things like challenges, trials, opposition, disappointment, loss, and even illness to eliminate my invasive unwelcome weeds.

Like the native plants in the forest, I have deep roots. Not only will I will survive the trials of a burn, but I also will thrive and (like both purified silver and the renewed forest) be all the better for the experience. I can reach up to the Son’s light and blossom with the flowers of God-dependence, hope, humility, thankfulness, love, joy, peace, patience, tolerance, generosity, compassion, self-sacrifice, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-discipline.

Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription. [Sir Isaac Newton]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:6-8 (NLT)]

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SWIMMING WITH HOPE

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1 Peter 1:3-5 (RSV)]

sabatiaIn a gruesome experiment done back in 1957 (before PETA existed), Curt Richter put wild rats in an enclosed jar of water. When the rats realized there was no chance for escape, they gave up swimming and drowned in about 15 minutes. In a second experiment, other rats were pulled out of the water after a few minutes and then re-immersed several times. Later, when these rats were placed in the water jar and not rescued, they didn’t give up in 15 minutes as did the first group. Instead, they lasted 40 to 60 hours before dying. (I said the experiment was gruesome!) Having experienced previous rescues, these rats had hope of being rescued again and so they kept swimming. Unfortunately, they eventually drowned in exhaustion. I suppose Richter’s study applies to people as well as rats—if we have hope, we can survive (or at least survive longer) but, without hope, we will surely give up and drown.

In chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote of the great three: faith, hope and love. Frequently read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 could be called the Bible’s love chapter. Perhaps Hebrews 11 would be considered the Bible’s faith chapter. In it, Paul both defines faith (”the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen…assurance about things we cannot see”) and then lists numerous people in what could be called the “Faith Hall of Fame.”

What then of hope; is there a definitive chapter on it? It could be 1 Peter 1. Directed to early Christians scattered throughout the world, Peter offers joy and hope in the midst of their many trials. He’s not writing about wishful thinking; he writes of a living hope—a confident expectation that our God is present, faithful and will do as He says. That hope is based on the facts and promises in the Bible. It isn’t just for today; it is for all time! Nevertheless, I don’t think there is a definitive chapter on hope—from the creation story through the last words of Revelation, the entire Bible is a message of hope (faith and love, as well).

After those preliminary rescues, the rats had hope. The scientists, however, were just manipulating them to see how they’d react. God isn’t toying with us and we aren’t subjects of a cruel experiment. He doesn’t give us hope only to snatch it away; the hope He gives us is both living and lasting. As Christians, we have good reason to keep swimming in the midst of our trials and difficulties. Even if we’re not rescued from our problems in this life, we still have hope. Whether we continue to swim or sink, we’ve already been saved and have another, far better life, yet to come!

Faith is not a contradiction of reality, but the courage to face reality with hope. [Robert H. Shuller]

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. … Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [1 Peter 1:6-7,21 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.