MARCH 25 – HAPPY NEW YEAR

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:14 (NLT)]

spiderwortIf we were living in England between 1155 and 1752, today would be New Year’s Day! Although the historical year would have begun January 1, March 25 was the day the civil or legal year began. Since England and its colonies used the Julian calendar (named after Julius Caesar) they celebrated the spring equinox on March 25. Starting a new year in the dead of winter seemed counter-intuitive and the first day of spring, the season of new growth, seemed more logical and the perfect day to start a new year. The Julian calendar, however, had miscalculations (including the spring equinox) and was replaced in 1752 by the Gregorian one (named after Pope Gregory); that, however, is another story.

For those in liturgical churches, today is also known as the Annunciation of our Lord and commemorates the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary. This feast was celebrated as far back as the fourth or fifth century and its March date was set in the seventh century. For the English, celebrating Christ’s first presence as a human being on this day was another good reason for starting the year on March 25.

The story of Jesus didn’t begin in Bethlehem; it began in Nazareth nine months prior to that night. It was when Mary became pregnant that God became incarnate: a human being made of flesh and blood. Granted, He was but two cells fused together but that zygote had everything in it to become Jesus Christ. It divided again and again, the embryo grew, the cells began to differentiate, and the fetus developed everything needed to live outside His mother. Since sin-filled man was incapable of going to God, our perfect God came to us. That baby boy forming in Mary’s womb was the promised Messiah!

While Jesus’s incarnation is the core of our Christianity, it is difficult to understand and, for some people, impossible to believe. Nevertheless, the God who spoke the world into creation, created night and day, scattered the stars through the sky, filled the oceans with water, and populated the earth with living plants and animals could certainly manage to plant a fetus in a womb without going through the ordinary steps. When Mary assented to God’s will, Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Of course, since we really don’t know when Jesus’s birth took place, we don’t know the date of His conception. Nevertheless, having grown up in a liturgical church, I find a richness and strength in remembering and celebrating events in the life of Christ (even if the dates are wrong). While Advent is a beautiful season of anticipation both of Christ’s birth and his second coming, Luke’s gospel account of Gabriel’s visit to Mary seems more appropriate in this spring season of new beginnings than in winter, a time of dormancy. On what I hope to be a beautiful spring day for you, please take the time to read the account of this blessed miracle found in Luke 1:28-36. Remember to thank God for entering the world as man to save humanity.

Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. [1 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)]

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THE PAINTED LADIES

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

painted lady butterfliesWhen the headline described it as a “swarm of a ‘billion’ Painted Lady butterflies,” I thought that an exaggeration until I walked out into the garden where hundreds of them were flitting through the flowers. While visiting family in southern California last week, I saw more butterflies in a few days than I’ve seen my entire life. Having spent their winter in northern Mexico, the bevy of butterflies was the result of winter’s heavy rains that enabled the desert to come out in full bloom. With an abundance of plants on which to feast, the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) population exploded, resulting in this massive migration north.

Hoping to get the perfect photo, I staked out the flowers every afternoon. The problem wasn’t finding a butterfly; the problem was finding one that would stay still. Before I could get it in focus, the insect had fluttered to another blossom. “Why can’t you just find a sweet flower and stay? What makes you think the next flower is any better than the one you’re visiting right now?” I wondered.

The fickle butterflies reminded me of people who continually search for the next best thing: another product, idea, person, job, possession or diet that seems better than what they presently have. They’re only satisfied until what appears to be the next best thing comes along. But, before I started pointing fingers, I looked at myself. In three days, I’d taken several hundred photos. While most had been deleted, more than twenty-five had been deemed worthy of editing and saving. Yet, there I was on day four, taking even more pictures, hoping for an even better Painted Lady shot.

“Surely, this is the starting point for a devotion about discontent,” I thought, until remembering there is more to the butterflies’ story. Capable of flying faster than twenty miles an hour and covering more than 100 miles in a day, the Painted Ladies are speeding their way to the Pacific Northwest. With a life span of about two weeks, however, the butterflies I saw feasting in the garden will never get to their intended destination. They emerged from their chrysalis with a fat reserve enabling them to fly from dawn until dusk. When the fat diminishes, they stop, begin to feed (as were these butterflies), become sexually active, breed, and die. It will be their descendants who eventually get as far north as the Canadian border. Although flitting from blossom to blossom seemed fickle, it was just the butterflies doing their assigned task: eating and pollinating. While sipping nectar, they pick up pollen on their bodies which gets transferred from one flower to the next as they move through the garden. Flowers must be pollinated to bear fruit and, since about one-third of the food we eat is dependent on pollinators like bees and butterflies, I should be thanking instead of censuring them.

Perhaps we should be more like butterflies. Preferring the sunlight, they stay out of the shade; like them, we must prefer the Son’s light to the darkness of this world. They sought flowers and hungrily feasted on nectar; we should seek God and feast on His word. They spread pollen but we must spread God’s love and Good News. Their work bears fruit as should ours. While it is instinct that leads the butterflies on their journey, it is the Holy Spirit who leads us on ours. They were doing their best to bring another generation closer to their destination and I wondered if we are anywhere that committed to bringing the next generation closer to God’s Kingdom. Although the butterflies I saw will never get to their intended destination, they neither worried nor quit. They simply did what they could and made the most of the day given to them. While our lifespan is much longer than a butterfly’s, like them, we will pass this way but once; life is as uncertain for us as it is for them. Those Painted Ladies were on a mission to sip the sweetness of life and be fruitful; let us do the same.

Oh God, give me grace for this day, not for a lifetime, nor for next week, not for tomorrow, just for this day. Direct my thoughts and bless them, direct my work and bless it, direct the things I say and give them blessing, too. Direct and bless everything that I think and speak and do. So that for this one day, just this one day, I have the gift of grace that comes from your presence. [Marjorie Holmes]

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. [Matthew 6:33-34 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE LAMB OF GOD – ASH WEDNESDAY

New mexicoThe next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! [John 1:29 (NLT)]

Today is the first day of Lent, a season in which we remember the time Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and nights. Because Lent occurs in the weeks leading up to Good Friday and Easter, we tend to associate this period of Jesus’s life with the end of his ministry. It actually occurred early in His ministry, shortly after his baptism by John and his empowerment by the Holy Spirit.

During Jesus’s time in the wilderness, Satan visited and tempted Him. Jesus first was tempted to serve Himself—to alleviate his hunger by turning stones into bread. In the second temptation, Satan urged Jesus to jump off the Temple and reveal Himself in a spectacular display. This action would also test God’s love by coercing Him into saving Jesus. In the third test, Satan tempted Jesus to skip the cross altogether; all the kingdoms of the world would be His if only He’d worship the evil one.

Just because Jesus was divine doesn’t mean He couldn’t have fallen; He also was human and, like us all, susceptible to Satan’s wiles. He could have sinned as easily as Adam and Eve, but He didn’t! Resisting temptation was as essential to His mission as was suffering on the cross. Just as sin came into the world through one man, God would redeem the world through one man, but Jesus had to remain sinless for that to happen. If He hadn’t, there would have been no point to the cross; only a perfect sinless sacrifice could atone for mankind’s sins.

Because Jesus countered all of Satan’s temptations with Scripture, we tend to think of the temptation of Christ as sort of a “how to” manual on overpowering temptation. While it is that, it is so much more. Jesus didn’t go into the wilderness to teach us a lesson—He went into the wilderness to save us. He wasn’t just battling for His soul—He was fighting Satan for ours! He was defeating Satan by deliberating choosing to suffer for us as a man when He was God! He endured hunger when he could have spoken food into existence. He humbly chose to remain an obscure rabbi from Nazareth rather than use His power to win a following. Refusing to compromise with Satan, He chose obedience to God: to live, suffer and die as a man. Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, chose to endure the cross for sinful selfish mankind: the very people who would put Him there!

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. [2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)]

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. [Hebrews 4:15-16 (NLT)]

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A MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCE – THE TRANFIGURATION

Chapel of the Transfiguration - Grand Teton National Park

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. [Matthew 5:17 (NLT)]

In the middle of Grand Teton Nation Park is a small log church, the Chapel of the Transfiguration. Built in 1925, it offers a beautiful view of the majestic Teton Mountain Range through a window behind the altar. When people gaze out that window, I wonder how many think of the amazing event—the transfiguration—that took place on another mountaintop more than 2,000 years ago.

About a week after Peter called Jesus “the Messiah sent from God!” and Jesus explained that He’d suffer, die, and be raised, Peter, John and James accompanied Him up a mountain to pray. While tradition says it was Mt. Tabor, both its height (only 1,800 feet) and location make that unlikely. While not as high as the 13,000 ft. Grand Teton, Mt. Hermon’s height (9,000 feet) and location make it the more likely location of this glorious event.

While praying, Jesus made a dramatic change: his face transformed and his clothes turned white and gleaming. Having only seen Jesus in his human form, His now glorious presence gave the disciples a greater understanding of his deity. Two men then appeared and spoke with Jesus about his exodus (or departure) from this world. They were Moses and Elijah—representing, at least symbolically, the Law and the Prophets. Jesus, as we know, was their fulfillment.

Amazed at what was the ultimate mountaintop experience, Peter foolishly suggested building three shelters for Jesus and his visitors. That, of course, was a mistake; neither the lawgiver not the prophet were Jesus’s equal. Furthermore, that Peter wanted this glorious event to continue would have kept Jesus from the mission He’d already explained to His disciples. A cloud then enveloped them all and a voice, unmistakably that of God, said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” [Matthew 17:5] The “Listen to him,” made it clear that the One who was new would be replacing the old way. After this powerfully dramatic event, the four men found themselves alone on the mountaintop.

Jesus commanded the disciples to keep silent as to what had taken place until after his resurrection. Looking for a Messiah who’d be a political deliverer rather than one who was a suffering servant, the world wouldn’t understand what had transpired. Even the disciples, the men who’d walked with Him for three years, didn’t fully understand the meaning of their mountaintop experience. It was not until Jesus joined them in that locked room on Easter that they finally understood that He’d come to conquer death rather than Romans.

The transfiguration was a foretaste of things yet to come and, someday, we all will see the fullness of Christ’s glory as did Peter, James, and John. Although Jesus told His disciples to keep his identity a secret, let us not forget that was only a temporary request. He later told them to “make disciples of all the nations.”

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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AGE IS ONLY A NUMBER

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath! [Psalm 104:33 (NLT)]

wood storkWhile I enjoy being told I look good, I don’t welcome hearing “for your age!” when it’s added to the sentence. If I’m honest, however, I must admit it’s true. I might look good for someone in her seventies but, next to a thirty-year-old, I don’t stand a chance! Nevertheless, it’s little things like that or being called “Hon” or “Sweetie” by a waitperson or nurse less than half my age that remind me of the subtle ageism in today’s society.

When I first learned about Daniel in the lion’s den, my Sunday school teacher used a flannel board to tell the story and flannel Daniel had a full head of brown hair. The coloring page that accompanied Daniel’s story when my children attended Sunday school was of a strapping muscular youth. Even the illustrated Bible I gave my grand showed a powerfully built young man sitting amidst the lions. All of these portrayals were wrong! Because Nebuchadnezzar took only the strongest, healthiest and best looking young men for palace training, we know Daniel was a handsome youth. But, by the time he was thrown into the lions’ den, he had served as a Babylonian officer for seventy years and was well into his eighties. As healthful as his vegetarian diet was, I’m sure Daniel looked good—good, that is, for a man his age! Nevertheless, he was an old man and probably had white hair, wrinkles, and a touch of arthritis. But, as soon as this old man knew a law prohibiting prayer to anyone other than the king had been signed, he went home, opened the windows, knelt down and prayed to God. Knowing he faced mutilation by lions because of his prayers, Daniel was not deterred. Perhaps, he remembered the bravery of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and, like them, knew that God could save him. But, like his friends, he also knew there was no guarantee God would save him. Daniel’s faith was rewarded and, like the furnace threesome, he was saved by an angel.

Daniel was an old man. Then again, so was Abraham; he was 75 when God called him to leave his home, 86 when Ishmael was born, 99 when circumcised, and 100 when Isaac was born. Moses was 80 and Aaron 83 when they led the Israelites out of Egypt. Joshua was between 68 and 80 when he led them into the Promised Land and Caleb was 85 when he drove the Anakites from Hebron. Jeremiah ministered under five kings and was still prophesying until he was killed in his 70s. The Apostle John was in his 70s when he wrote his Gospel and in his late 80s when he wrote Revelation. Sarah was 90 when pregnant with Isaac and the prophet Anna was over 100 when she recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Although we certainly find ageism in today’s world, there is no such thing as ageism or retirement in God’s Kingdom. The men who conspired against Daniel shouldn’t have underestimated the power of an old man who trusts in God; they were the ones eaten by the lions that day!

While ageism probably won’t put us in a lions’ den, we must never make the mistake of misjudging, underestimating or undervaluing the seniors in our midst. On the other hand, those of us in our golden but somewhat rusty years must stop discounting our value, as well. That we’re facing some limitations or challenges due to age simply means it’s time to reevaluate, not to stop! As seniors, we provide strength, stability, and wisdom to our younger brothers and sisters. No matter how old we are, we can always share God’s love and our prayers. God wasn’t finished with Daniel and He’s not finished with us!

Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t. [Richard Bach]

Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. [Psalm 71:18 (NLT)]

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HIS PEDAGOGY

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. [James 1:2-4 (NLT)]

pink hibiscus

“May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God,” wrote John Piper. Pedagogy being a somewhat archaic word, I was unsure what Piper meant. Associating pedagogy with an old, boring, stodgy, and authoritarian teacher, I thought it wise to consult the dictionary. “Pedagogy” comes from two Greek words: pais, meaning child, and agogos, meaning leader. A paidagogos was a slave who led the boys to and from school, taught them manners, and tutored them after school. “Pedagogy” eventually came to mean the method and practice of teaching and “pedagogue” to mean teacher. While God is neither boring nor stodgy, He is older than time and an authoritarian (but loving) teacher with some unique, innovative and often challenging teaching methods or pedagogy.

I don’t know about boys in ancient Greece, but I imagine they were like boys today: often less than enthusiastic about learning their lessons, spending time in a classroom, and being taught restraint, civility, and good behavior. Like schoolboys, we are often less than enthusiastic about learning the lessons God is teaching us. Sometimes life seems bizarre or unreasonable and other times it’s downright difficult or heartbreaking; almost all of the time it’s hard to understand. It’s easy to begrudge the way God teaches us.

I think of a scene from the movie Peggy Sue Got Married in which the middle-aged Peggy Sue goes back in time to high school. When asked to solve a problem in algebra class, she responds, “I happen to know that, in the future, I will not have the slightest use for algebra, and I speak from experience.” I agree with Peggy Sue—once out of school, I had no need to know about coefficients, variables, constants or exponents. But, I didn’t know that when I took freshman algebra more than half a century ago.

We are finite beings and can only see what is right before us. God, however, is infinite and can see far into our future both here and in the hereafter. When He teaches us lessons about patience, humility, loss, conflict resolution, pain, worry, pride, fear, trust, obedience, persistence, and faith, we rarely know for what purpose we’re in His schoolroom or when we’re going to need the skill we’re being taught. God’s pedagogy only makes sense when we look back in time. It is then that we realize the benefit we’ve gained from His extraordinary and often bizarre teaching methods. Indeed, as John Piper said, “May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God.”

I never had a trial I wanted to have, but I never had trial I wasn’t glad I had. [Jack Hyles]

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver. You made me; you created me. Now give me the sense to follow your commands. [Psalm 119:71-73 (NLT)]

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