THORNS AND THISTLES (Soil – Part 3)

Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. [Mark 4:7]

nodding - musk thistleSome of the farmer’s seeds fell among the thorns (probably what we’d call thistles). Prolific seed producers, thorny plants like thistles can grow in the harshest environment. While they may have been cut down and no longer were visible to the farmer, their seeds and roots remained. With their deep roots, thistles are masters of survival and can flourish in adverse conditions. Stealing the moisture and sunlight from the plants around them, they stunt their growth and, if allowed to grow, can overtake a field.

The farmer’s seed was good, it took root, and started to grow but, because of the thistles, it never developed into maturity. The thistles represent the material concerns of the world—the cares, riches and pleasures that distract us from God’s word and, like a thistle’s roots, are deeply seated in our hearts. Rather than robbing us of water, sunlight, and nutrients, they stunt our growth by keeping us from God’s living water, the light of Christ, and the nourishment of His church. The busyness, distractions, and cares of life; the challenges of work and tending a family; the pursuit of wealth; the desire for possessions, status, amusement, contentment, and even revenge: all of these distract us from letting God’s Word bear fruit in our lives.

The faith of Judas was like a field with thistles. He heard the word and followed Jesus as a faithful disciple and yet he betrayed our Lord. We never know exactly why. Perhaps, it was simply for riches. John tells us he was a thief who stole from the disciples’ purse and we know he received money for his betrayal. Judas also may have been distracted by politics and a desire to be among the elite when Jesus defeated the Romans. Disillusionment may have set in when he realized that wouldn’t happen. Whatever it was, like a field of thistles, those distractions allowed Satan to enter him

In God’s perfect plan, there were no weeds and He didn’t mean for thorns or thistles to be in hearts, either. Weeds and sin both came with the fall. Ridding a field of thistles and other weeds is nearly impossible but, with diligence and hard work, it can be done. It takes continual inspection of the field and, once spotted, the weeds must be eradicated. The questions we must ask are simple ones. What are the thistles or thorns in my life? What is holding me back? What is keeping me from bearing His fruit? Is my faith genuine?

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. [2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)]

When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it. [Hebrews 6:7-8 (NLT)]

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FAVORITE COLORS – MOTHER’S DAY 2020

tropical water lilies
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

“Who has been the most influential woman in your life? Who encouraged you to be the best version of you?” was the question asked in a Mother’s Day devotion I read. Typically, one would reply his or her mother. My mother, however, died when I was fifteen. She certainly got me started in the right direction but, in the nearly sixty years since her passing, many women added to what she left undone.

I remember the camp counselor who gave me some tough (and much needed) words of correction; the widowed aunt who demonstrated that a woman alone can do anything; the acquaintance who shared her story of molestation when she recognized the signs of mine; the college roommate who proved one could be both godly, virtuous and popular; my husband’s aunt who embraced her difficult circumstances without complaint and lived her life with joy; my mother-in-law who taught me what it means to be a wife; my mother-in-law’s caregiver who defined compassion and patience; and my daughter who has shown true grace under pressure. I remember the many women who generously and patiently taught me new skills, those who challenged me to reach far beyond where I thought I could, and those who encouraged me when I thought I could go no further. I’ve been made better by women who remained calm in chaos and whose faith endured in overwhelming storms. I’ve been deepened by women who stumbled and got back up, who cried and smiled again, who gave when they had little to give, who loved the unlovable, forgave the unforgiveable and laughed in the face of tragedy. Out of all the women who have touched my life in such positive ways, who would I pick?

The women who influenced me are a bit like a fabulous collection of crayons. I can’t select a favorite from among the 120 colors Crayola offers, so how could I pick just one woman among the many who have made me who I am? Each woman colored the canvas of my life in her own unique way. While my canvas may have a preponderance of colors like Mountain Meadow, Turquoise Blue and Cornflower (with a touch of my mother’s Granny Smith Apple and sister’s Bittersweet), I have been enhanced by the Razzmatazz, Shocking Pink, Unmellow Yellow, Vivid Tangerine, Cotton Candy, Wild Strawberry, Razzle Dazzle Rose and Outrageous Orange that were added by other women who blessed my life. I’m nowhere near complete and colors keep being added that will make me a better version of myself.

While all of the women who’ve helped color me are unique, like crayons that share the same box, they have something in common; they all were women of faith—women who believed in the power of Jesus Christ. They saw His light and knew the truth of His words. There is, however, a huge difference between those who just see the light and those who become His light. Those who merely see the light may know the truth but don’t leave their mark; those who become His light, live the truth, color the world with their beauty, and cause us to be better versions of ourselves.

Thank you, God, for the women (and men) who shed your light on us and color us with their love, concern, wisdom, faith, and good examples. They help make us all that You mean for us to be.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

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PAY IT FORWARD

white-lined sphinx mothYou must not steal. [Exodus 20:15 (NLT)]

The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers. [Psalm 37:21 (NLT)]

Pay it Forward is more than the title of a novel or a film and today happens to be “Pay It Forward Day:” a worldwide celebration of kindness that takes place every year on April 28th. The pay it forward movement began with Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel in which a young boy starts with the idea that, by doing a good deed for three people and then asking them to “pay it forward” to three more people, a human chain letter of kindness would be created that could go on forever. Paying it forward, however, is a long-standing philosophy. More than one hundred years ago, novelist Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, ”You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward,” and, in 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, “The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.” We can trace the idea back further to Benjamin Fanklin but the source of the concept is found in Scripture.

We’re all familiar with the prohibition against stealing in the eighth commandment. Most of us think of stealing as a criminal offense. Since we’re not likely to rob a bank, mug an old lady, break and enter, or even defraud people of their life savings, we probably feel pretty self-righteous when pondering this commandment. Reading Psalm 37, however, brought me to a wider interpretation of theft: “The wicked borrow and never repay…”

After a little thought, I think we’ll agree that if we borrow money, a lawnmower or even a book and don’t return it, we’ve stolen the item. But, what about other things that we might have taken from our family, friends and neighbors? What about the time someone spent teaching us to knit, change a tire, or use a computer? What about the guidance someone gave during a difficult time in our lives? What about the mentoring we received from teachers or fellow workers or the assistance offered by a neighbor when we were laid up and couldn’t fend for ourselves? What about the person who took a risk, trusted our ability, or gave us a valuable opportunity? Granted, the people who offered these things never expected payment in return. Moreover, in most cases, they don’t need those lessons, guidance, mentoring, assistance or opportunities returned. Regardless, don’t we still have a debt to settle? If we’ve received the gift of a good deed, don’t we have the obligation of repaying that debt to someone else in need?

Paying it forward means far more than just buying coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks. Perhaps it’s time to give that eighth commandment some serious thought. Is there a debt we haven’t yet repaid? And yet, even if no one ever did anything kind to us, we are still called to pay it forward. By God’s grace, we are saved and there is no way we can ever repay our debt to Him. Nevertheless, we can pay it forward by extending His grace and kindness to all we meet. Rather than just doing kindness, let us live it!

I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you … meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money. [Benjamin Franklin, written on April 25, 1784]

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

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REFLECTING HIS LIGHT

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)] 

super moonDid you happen to see the full moon last week? It was considered a super moon because it came within 90% of the moon’s closest approach to earth. Its nearness (221,772 miles) made it appear about 7% larger and much brighter than a typical full moon. When I saw its brilliance through the window, I stepped out on the lanai to view the glowing orb in the sky. Don’t be disappointed if you missed it, there will be another one, nearly as bright, on May 7!

Saying I saw the moon’s bright light is misleading—the moon itself has no light and doesn’t glow. It simply borrows its light from the sun and reflects it down to us as would a mirror. With the moon’s dark grey surface and bumpy landscape, it’s a poor mirror and only reflects between three and twelve percent of the sun’s light. Even that little bit, however, was enough to brightly light our lanai that night.

Even if the moon were perfectly white, it still wouldn’t appear as bright as the sun because the light would reflect off in all directions instead of straight back to us. Astronomer Roger Sinnott of Sky & Telescope theorizes that, in order to appear as bright as the sun, the moon would need a 2,160 mile-wide flat mirror to directly reflect the sun’s light back toward us on earth.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to let our lights shine so that people see our good deeds. Even if we shine as brightly as the full moon, like the moon, that light isn’t ours; it is God’s Holy Spirit within us and we’re not the ones who should get the credit. Let us never forget that our good deeds are done not to enhance our reputations but rather to glorify our Father in Heaven. It’s His light that is seen and not ours. When people experience our love, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, joy, peace, patience, thoughtfulness, integrity, faithfulness, and self-control, they see God’s beautiful light.

As Christ’s followers, we are to let God’s glory reflect through us. We may not be able to light up a lanai like the moon but we can bring His light to the world around us. Moreover, even without an enormous flat mirror, I think we could do better than the moon’s paltry three to twelve percent when it comes to reflecting God’s glory in our lives!

Poor world! What a faint light it receives from most Christians! The lighthouse, if its light is not burning is a peril instead of a safeguard. [Matthew Henry]

Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” [Luke 11:35-36 (NLT)]

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CRUCIFIED WITH HIM

I have been crucified with the Anointed One—I am no longer alive—but the Anointed is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me. [Galatians 5:20 (VOICE)]

Our Lady Cathedral - Antwerp

The Apostle Paul wrote that he joined Christ in both death and resurrection. His old sinful life had been crucified with Christ and he now shared in Christ’s resurrected life. When Jesus came to live in him, Paul didn’t become a mindless automaton and their spiritual union didn’t cause the tent-maker to lose his uniqueness or personality. He was still Paul. By dying to sin and adding the characteristics of Christ to his heart and mind, however, the Apostle was a new and far better version of himself. He was still the same brilliant and well-educated man, skilled in making an argument or proving a point, who had set out for Damascus. But, by joining Christ in His resurrection, this single-minded Pharisee became entirely devoted to Jesus. Undeterred by persecution, he was faithful, patient, humble, courageous, filled with the Fruit of the Spirit, and passionate about passing along the gospel message. Indeed, Christ lived in him.

When Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, He changed Paul from a persecutor of Christians into a lover of Christ and His followers. While we probably didn’t experience a conversion as dramatic as Paul’s, when we accepted Christ, we also died to our old selves. Have we experienced that same spiritual death and resurrection described by the Apostle? Does Christ live in us or is He just an occasional guest, invited only on special occasions or when we feel like having company? Does He live in us or is He simply the cleaning service we call when there’s a mess we can’t clean by ourselves? Does He live in us or is He like a salesman who needs an appointment before calling? Does He live in us or is He just a kind-hearted acquaintance, welcome only when He has something we need or want?  Does He live in us or is He a renter whose lease will be terminated the moment we feel inconvenienced? If we say Christ lives in us, can anyone see Him there or do we hide Him behind a wall of self-righteousness? Are our words the words Christ would say? Are our actions His actions? Are our thoughts His thoughts? Can we honestly echo the Apostle Paul’s words?

Last Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ. Have we been resurrected with Him? Does He truly live in us? If not, then we haven’t yet been crucified with Him.

Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (VOICE)]

Those of us who belong to the Anointed One have crucified our old lives and put to death the flesh and all the lusts and desires that plague us. Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let’s keep each step in perfect sync with God’s Spirit. This will happen when we set aside our self-interests and work together to create true community instead of a culture consumed by provocation, pride, and envy. [Galatians 5:24-26 (VOICE)]

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PRAY FOR PEACE

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

Saying your prayers is like brushing your teeth.
It’s a habit you form—a commitment you keep.
You should brush your teeth, both morning and night;
The same with your prayers, if you’re saying them right.
To not let your spirit or teeth decay
Be sure to pray and brush every day! [Anonymous]

water lilyAlthough I’ve prayed while folding laundry and washing dishes, it seemed almost sacrilegious to combine prayer with an electric toothbrush and Crest! Nevertheless, after asking, “What would happen if we all pray twice a day for peace?” my next “Abundance” assignment was to pray for peace while brushing my teeth!

The lack of a declared war certainly doesn’t define peace. According to the Global Peace Index, last year the United States ranked 128th out of 163 nations rated for their peacefulness (with Iceland maintaining first place as the most peaceful and Afghanistan replacing Syria as the least). The U.S. Peace Index ranked my state of Florida at 47th out of 50 (with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire as the three most peaceful states.) Considering the political tensions both here and abroad, tribal conflicts and civil wars, terrorist attacks, conflicts and division within the church, divorce and custody battles, road rage, and the violence on our streets, in our homes and even at our schools, praying for peace seems like a good idea.

Since being peacemakers and praying for peace is God directed, I wonder why we’re not more diligent about praying for an end to the strife in our world. Living in a world that is fractured along political, ideological, socio-economic, ethnic, and even religious lines, we probably should pray for peace more than two times a day. We wouldn’t have to do it while brushing our teeth but, since we may be more conscientious about our dental hygiene than prayer, at least we’d remember to do it!

While we can cast blame for the lack of peace on things like politics, injustice, prejudice, corruption, economics, or this pandemic, the fault also lies within each one of us. While brushing and praying, I remembered the words to a song I often sang in Sunday school: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Peace must begin with us. As we pray while brushing, rinsing and spitting, perhaps we should consider what comes out of our mouths. Do we allow words of anger, frustration, criticism, and blame to spill out rather than ones of love, compassion, encouragement, or forgiveness? Our prayers for peace are empty and meaningless unless that peace begins with us!

What could happen if all of Christ’s followers really did pray for peace twice a day?

Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony.
With ev’ry step I take, Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
[Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

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