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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 ….]

THE SAMARITAN

Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. [Luke 10:33 (NLT)]

prairie false indigoAccording to the historian Josephus, around 9 AD, when Jesus was just a boy, some Samaritans snuck into Jerusalem on Passover and defiled the Temple with human remains. The hatred between Jews and the Samaritans, however, had been going on for centuries. In 930 BC, when Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) was king, the kingdom of Israel divided. The northern kingdom, known as Israel, eventually became known as Samaria. The southern kingdom, where Jerusalem and the Temple were, became known as Judah. Fearing a change of alliance if his people returned to Jerusalem to worship, the northern kingdom’s first king, Jeroboam, set up his own worship centers complete with golden calves. After they were conquered by Assyria in 772 BC, most of the Jews were taken into captivity and foreigners, bringing their pagan gods and beliefs, colonized the land. The remaining Jews began to worship idols along with the God of Israel and the Samaritan religion became a mix of idolatry and Judaism.

Samaritans were a continual source of difficulty for the Jews of the southern kingdom. Insisting that Moses said they should worship on Gerizim, they erected a temple there. Recognizing only the five books of Moses, Samaritans rejected most Jewish traditions, interfered when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and offered safe haven to Judah’s criminals. Controlling the land between Galilee and Jerusalem, they regularly harassed pilgrims on their way to worship in Jerusalem. Because of all the intermarriage between the Jews and Gentiles of Samaria, Samaritans were considered “half-breeds.” Seeing them as both racially and theologically contaminated, the Jews had a proverb: “A piece of bread given by a Samaritan is more unclean than swine’s flesh.”

This is the world in which we find Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan with the unlikely hero being a Samaritan (whose people were known to harass travelers). We know this parable was in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” but let’s back up one chapter to see what preceded it. Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. Rather than taking the longer walk around Samaria, they were walking right through it. When Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village to make sleeping and eating arrangements, they were not welcomed. Although Jesus had previously told the disciples to simply shake the dust from their feet if a town refused to welcome them, John and James suggested calling down fire from heaven to destroy the village. Luke says Jesus rebuked them but we don’t know what was said.

Part of their rebuke may have been the story of the Good Samaritan. The parable could have been as much for His disciples (especially James and John) as it was for the legal expert who asked the question. Jesus easily could have made his point with a Roman soldier as the story’s unlikely hero, but He didn’t. Although the Samaritans had been unneighborly in snubbing Him, Jesus deliberately chose a Samaritan to teach a lesson about neighbors! That parable told the disciples that, even when our neighbor is inhospitable and slights us, we still treat him as our neighbor. Whether or not someone helps us, we are to help them and, when someone offends us, we’re not to take offense. We do unto others as we would like them to do to us and not as they’ve done to us!

Although there are about 800 Samaritans still living in Israel, for most of us the word “Samaritan” refers to someone who helps other people, especially strangers, when they have trouble. How ironic that the despised “pagan half-Jews of the Old Testament” (as one writer called them) took a place of honor in the New!

Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! [Luke 6:30-31 (NLT)]

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TRUSTING GOD

This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. [Psalm 91:2 (NLT)]

The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? [Psalm 27:1 (NLT)]

During our western trip with the grands, I wasn’t the only one to step out of my comfort zone. The two youngsters (fifteen and eighteen) took some big steps when they did a four-hour “Treetop Adventure” – think Swiss Family Robinson crossed with the X-Games or Tarzan meets American Ninja Warrior. After ascending the mountain, they had a short safety briefing, suited up in body harnesses with tethers, and set off on their aerial adventure. They maneuvered through the tree tops on elements like swaying bridges, z-shaped balance beams, high wires, hanging ropes, swinging logs, and flying skateboards. They climbed ladders, scrambled up and through cargo nets, rode thirteen zip lines, tree top adventure - jacksonand literally jumped through hoops; all of this took place some twelve to eighty feet above the forest floor.

Their equipment included a safety belay system which, in theory, always kept them clipped to a safety wire. Although participants could fall, the harness and tethers would keep them from falling more than a few feet. While it would be difficult, they could pull themselves back up and continue the course. If unable to get back up, injured, exhausted, or faint of heart, there were a few guides scattered about who could effect a rescue and lower them down to the ground. In spite of all the safety precautions, the detailed waiver we’d signed that morning made it clear there was an element of risk to the activity.

As we watched (and prayed) from the ground while the teens progressed through the course, I thought of my granddaughter’s words earlier that day: “I know it’s dangerous and that I might fall, but I also know that I’m tethered to the cable and can’t fall far.” That’s the sort of confidence we find in the Psalms. David, of course, faced far greater challenges than a ropes’ course and zip lines and, rather than trusting a cable and safety harness, he trusted God. Trusting God doesn’t mean there’s no risk or that we might not fall. Trusting God means that, like the safety harness, we know God’s there to catch us! Trusting God doesn’t mean that our journey will be easy or effortless. Trusting God means that while our journey may be challenging, like the arduous ropes’ course, getting through it is possible. Trusting God doesn’t mean we’ll never find ourselves in a dark valley. Just as the guides were there to help in an emergency, trusting God means we know we’ll never be in that dark place alone; God is always with us.

The kids completed their adventure without mishap (Praise God!). Their confidence in facing that extreme course made me wonder why I so often am hesitant about taking on much lesser challenges: not challenges requiring a liability waiver or a tethered safety harness but challenges that simply require trusting in the Lord.

If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable. [John Newton]

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. [Psalm 23:4 (NLT)]

I entrust my spirit into your hand. Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. …  So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord! [Psalm 31:5,24 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LEAVING THE COMFORT ZONE

snake river raftingHe said, “That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.” [Luke 19:26 (MSG)]

If I am never tempted, and cannot even imagine myself being tempted, to gamble, this does not mean that I am better than those who are. The timidity and pessimism which exempt me from that temptation themselves tempt me to draw back from those risks and adventures which every man ought to take. [From “Reflections on the Psalms” by C.S. Lewis]

We were accompanied by two grandchildren, ages fifteen and eighteen, during part of our trip west. When my husband mentioned taking them on a raft trip, I pictured a scenic float down the Snake River and readily agreed. What got booked, however, was a white water adventure. Not a thrill seeker, adrenaline inducing adventures are not my thing. I was not happy about the scheduled activity and began thinking of ways to gracefully bow out of it. By coincidence (or what I call God-incidence), the above quote by C. S Lewis arrived in my email. I realized that my fear of stepping out of my rather narrow comfort zone was threatening to keep me from sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience with my precious grands. Lewis’ words (and some much needed prayer) convinced me that this was one adventure I should not miss.

Prayer got me in the raft and I bravely paddled through the rapids. Even after we tipped and lost six of the eight passengers on the third set of rapids, witnessing the grins on the kids’ faces as they were pulled back into the raft made both the dunking and the adrenaline spike worth it. All’s well that ends well and, in spite of the soaking in the rapids, the rafting wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I’d imagined. When asked to name the highlight of their twelve days with us, our grands both mentioned the raft trip—and to think I nearly missed sharing that experience with them! The pictures taken from the photographer’s spot on shore would not have captured their smiles and whoops of delight at the rapids or the thrill of the ride!

While a certain amount of caution is wise, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, there are certain risks and adventures that none of us should miss. Timidity, pessimism, faint-heartedness, fear, and anxiety can keep us from unsafe behavior like drugs, gambling, or adultery but they shouldn’t make us retreat “from those risks and adventures which every man [and woman] ought to take.” Consider what they would have missed if Peter had allowed fear to keep him from stepping out of the boat onto the water, if David had allowed faint-heartedness to keep him from facing Goliath, or if Moses and Gideon had allowed their pessimism to prevent them from accepting the tasks given them by God.

God invites us to participate in world-changing adventures that probably have nothing to do with white water rafting. We mustn’t allow a reticence to step out of our comfort zones prevent us from accepting His invitation to go on that journey. While the adventure may involve an element of risk, the rewards will be well worth it!

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. … Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. [Philippians 4:8-9,13 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL

Absarokas - Cody WyomingFor 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)]

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.
[“All Things Bright and Beautiful” by Cecil F. Alexander]

“When in doubt, trust your horse!” was the sign I’d seen earlier in the corral and so, as we slowly wended our way through the pinyon-juniper forest and up the mountain trail, I trusted my mount. After all, he didn’t want to fall down the ravine any more than did I. When we reached the ridge, I gasped—somewhat out of relief but more so out of wonder. The scenery was breathtaking! As I looked across the Wapiti Valley, I saw the incredible volcanic rock formations of the Absaroka Mountain Range and, when I looked down into the valley, I saw some of what Teddy Roosevelt called “The fifty most beautiful miles in America”. Surrounding us in the sage meadow on the ridge was an incredible array of wildflowers. An abundance of color, there were red Wyoming paintbrush, bright yellow mule’s ears and sunflowers, purple lupine, white snowbells, low pink bitterroot, tall green gentians, delicate bluebells, and a few pale yellow prickly pear cactus. Fritillaries and a white admiral red clover - beebutterfly flitted among the blossoms and a marmot peeked out from behind a rock. So as to not spook the horses or spoil the day for my fellow riders, I silently sang the chorus to All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Only able to remember the hymn’s chorus, I looked up the lyrics when I got home. The author is Cecil F. Alexander. An Irish woman known as Fanny to her friends and family, she lived in the mid-19th century and was married to a clergyman. It is said that she based her hymn on the words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth.” She easily could have been inspired by Psalms 19 or 104. I doubt she ever visited a ranch in Wyoming so she wasn’t thinking of the Absarokas and a colorful mountain meadow. Nevertheless, I imagine the Irish countryside can be just as extraordinary; perhaps Fanny’s inspiration came from visiting some place like Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher where she stood in awe of God’s handiwork.

I couldn’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words in the first chapter of Romans; we see evidence of God everywhere in His amazing creation and there is no excuse for denying His existence or not knowing Him. It doesn’t have to be majestic mountains and spectacular scenery; God’s workmanship is just as evident in our backyards in the exquisiteness of things like red clover and the wings of a bumblebee. Indeed, “How great is God Almighty, who has made all things well!”

Each little flow’r that opens, Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings.
The purple-headed mountains, The river running by,
The sunset and the morning That brightens up the sky. …
He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well.
[“All Things Bright and Beautiful” by Cecil F. Alexander]

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. [Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)]

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. [Psalm 104:24 (NLT)]

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UNCHANGING

Look up at the skies, ponder the earth under your feet. The skies will fade out like smoke, the earth will wear out like work pants, and the people will die off like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my setting-things-right will never be obsolete. [Isaiah 51:6 (MSG)]

Dragon's mouth springs - Mammoth Hot springs - yellowstone

The unstable, ever-changing, and even violent nature of this world in which we live is evident throughout Yellowstone Park. It’s disconcerting to see hot mud shoot out of a cavern, to smell sulphur and feel the hot spray as a geyser erupts, and to stand in the steam and hear the booming belch as water surges out of a hot spring. Yellowstone is actually a super-volcano that last erupted some 640,000 years ago and smaller eruptions of lava have occurred as recently (geologically speaking) as 70,000 years ago. The park is what geologist Robert Smith calls “a living, breathing, shaking, baking, caldera,” and those geothermal wonders that attract visitors are fueled by magma as hot as 1,500 degrees that lies just a few miles beneath the earth’s surface.

The abundant geothermal activity and the 1,000 to 3,000 small earthquakes that occur there every year mean that the park is always changing. For example, when my husband visited the park as a boy, there was no Quake Lake west of Yellowstone and the Steamboat Geyser had been dormant for nearly fifty years. A massive earthquake in 1959 created the lake and the geyser awoke in 1961. Since then, it’s been erratic in its activity but, after four years of dormancy, it began erupting again in March of this year. Shooting nearly boiling water up 345 feet, it has erupted ten times since then. The travertine terraces of Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs are like living sculptures and continually change shape as over 500 gallons of hot water are discharged every minute and two tons of calcium carbonate are deposited there every day. Even the beautiful Yellowstone canyon, the result of wind, water and earthquakes, speaks of change as the Yellowstone River continues to erode the bedrock. Fire also has changed the landscape; over 70,000 acres of lush forest that existed when we visited there a few years ago became nothing but charred remains in 2016.

In Yellowstone’s dynamic and unsettled landscape, even the ground around the thermal features is unstable and can collapse. Then again, you don’t need to be in Yellowstone to realize how nature is an unpredictable, ever-changing, and often dangerous force. That Thai soccer team discovered how quickly a dry cave can fill with water in a flash flood, residents on the island of Hawaii saw their lives change in May when Kilauea began erupting and sent lava over the streets and through their neighborhoods. Texans, Floridians, and Puerto Ricans certainly can attest to the power of last year’s hurricanes. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, drought, earthquakes, hail, thunderstorms, volcanic eruptions, blizzards, avalanches, sinkholes, lightning and fire: we all are vulnerable to disaster from the changing and volatile nature of this world in which we live.

Yellowstone is a vivid reminder of how the forces of nature can change the world as we know it: rock erodes, mountains crumble, geysers appear and disappear, volcanoes erupt, forests burn and ground can collapse. I take comfort in the knowledge that, while nothing in this world is constant and forever, God remains our everlasting and unchanging bedrock. The same yesterday, today, and forever, He is our firm foundation.

Consider what you owe to His immutability. Though you have changed a thousand times, He has not changed once. [Charles Spurgeon]

I love you, God—you make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. My God—the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout. I sing to God, the Praise-Lofty, and find myself safe and saved. [Psalm 18:1-3 (MSG)]

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UNIMAGINABLE  BUT TRUE

Then the rich man said, “O Father Abraham, then please send him to my father’s home—for I have five brothers—to warn them about this place of torment lest they come here when they die.” But Abraham said, “The Scriptures have warned them again and again. Your brothers can read them any time they want to.” The rich man replied, “No, Father Abraham, they won’t bother to read them. But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will turn from their sins.” But Abraham said, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even though someone rises from the dead.” [Luke 16:27-31 (TLB)]

A land of contradictions, a spectacular pageant, a world incomprehensible…a wonderful gift to men from a benign God—all this and more. [Olin Wheeler, 1914]

lion geyser - grand canyon of yellowstone

Although Native Americans have existed in the Yellowstone area for as long as 11,000 years, it took three major expeditions before the American public finally believed that the wonders in what is now Yellowstone National Park actually existed. The earlier descriptions of “fire and brimstone,” huge waterfalls, exploding geysers, boiling mud pots and other strange features of the region were met with unbelief until William Jackson’s photographs and Thomas Moran’s paintings from their 1871 Yellowstone expedition were presented to Congress. Once people had visual proof of the area’s bizarre geothermal wonders, they finally believed and Yellowstone became our nation’s first national park.

Indeed, having recently toured this park that sits on atop of the largest super-volcano in North America, I can understand how unbelievable those first mountain men’s stories must have seemed. In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have imagined either the beauty or the strangeness of Yellowstone—colored travertine terraces, mud volcanos, steaming caves, a 24-mile long canyon, over 200 waterfalls, and more than 10,000 geysers and hot springs. Other worldly, it is something that truly must be seen to be believed.

Jesus told the Pharisees a parable about two men: the unrighteous rich man who died and went to a place of torment and the beggar Lazarus who died and went to a heavenly banquet. The rich man wanted to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers to change their ways. His request was denied since, like him, his brothers had ignored the warnings found in the Law and the Prophets so they wouldn’t be convinced by someone returning from the dead. Indeed, even though Jesus did return from the dead, there are many who do not believe.

We often wonder what heaven and/or hell will be like. Jesus didn’t mince any words when he spoke of the final judgment and it doesn’t sound pleasant. When the Apostle John was given a glimpse of heaven, his words in Revelation seem almost as incomprehensible to us as the words the mountain men used to describe Yellowstone’s bubbling mud pots and hissing fumaroles were to nineteenth century Americans. Father Abraham didn’t send back Lazarus and no one is going to return from death with photographs or paintings to prove what happens when we take our last breath.

Words can’t adequately describe Yellowstone and the few Biblical descriptions of both heaven and hell don’t do them justice, either. Nevertheless, like the rich man’s brothers, we have all the information we need in Scripture. As the American public learned in 1871, just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t there!

Just as in this story the thistles are separated and burned, so shall it be at the end of the world: I will send my angels, and they will separate out of the Kingdom every temptation and all who are evil, and throw them into the furnace and burn them. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the godly shall shine as the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Let those with ears, listen! [Matthew 13:40-43 (TLB)]

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