GIVING THANKS

Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. … But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God. [Psalm 50:14,23 (NLT)]

It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do. [Tim Keller]

Black-crowned night heronYesterday I happened upon a wood stork enjoying a fish breakfast. I was astonished as the stork swallowed the whole wriggling fish in one big gulp. “I’ll have to put that in my gratitude journal,” I thought as I walked on. Later, I spotted two woodpeckers hammering away at a tree and got up close and personal with a pond snail laying eggs. Two more for the journal, I thought. Did I put those little blessings in my journal last night? Shamefully, I forgot to write in it at all; worse, I totally forgot about them in my nightly prayers!

When I look back at the rest of yesterday, all sorts of wonderful little things happened for which I was grateful and yet failed to thank God. Without having one red light, I got to an appointment with time enough to take a short walk on the beach. I’m not self-centered enough to think God turned all those lights green just for me; nevertheless, my day went better because of it and it deserved thanks. I met a delightful young couple at cooking class. Did God put them there just for me? I don’t know, but I was thankful to have them as cooking partners for the afternoon. There was a beautiful cooling breeze and the sunset was magnificent. Did God arrange the weather to my wishes? I doubt it, but I should have told Him how much I appreciated it! I was remiss in acknowledging God’s presence or thanking him for the day’s numerous small blessings.

Today, I set out again and spotted a black-crowned night heron hiding in the bushes. While getting a photo, I thought, “I’ll have to put that in my gratitude journal.” This time, however, that small voice reminded me how lackadaisical I’ve gotten with my journal and asked me why I was waiting to thank the creator of all those beautiful moments. That gave me pause. If I’d been walking with someone else, I would have shared those sightings. Although I wasn’t walking with another person, I was walking with God. Why wasn’t I talking to Him? Why wasn’t I sharing my joy with the one who gave it to me? God was right beside me and He shouldn’t have to wait until I get around to thanking him or writing in my journal, especially since I’m not good about remembering to do so. Thanks should be speedy and sincere.

We thank God through our prayer. We don’t need church, a table blessing or a gratitude journal to do so. We certainly don’t need to wait until our regular prayer time to offer thanks and, most especially, we shouldn’t wait until November for Thanksgiving Day! Our whole day, every day, should consist of a prayer of thanksgiving. God is with us as we take our daily walk; let us remember to thank him for the joy we find along with way.

We need to discover all over again that worship is natural to the Christian, as it was to the godly Israelites who wrote the psalms, and that the habit of celebrating the greatness and graciousness of God yields an endless flow of thankfulness, joy, and zeal. [J.I. Packer]

And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Ephesians 5:20 (NLT)]

 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [1 Chronicles 16:34 (NLT)]

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EASY COME

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. [Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)]

little bue heron“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” asks the comedian. “Practice, practice, practice,” is his answer. “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work,” said Booker T. Washington, a man who truly knew the value of hard work. Most of us, having been raised with a strong work ethic, would agree with Washington’s words. If we want something we must work for it. If we want to be musicians, we practice; if we want to get on the team, we train; if we want a scholarship, we study. Success comes through determination and lots of hard work. We’ve heard all the maxims; there’s no elevator to success so we have to take the stairs. We know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, we must work our way up the ladder, and we’ve got to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Success is never handed to you and it’s only in the dictionary that success comes before work.

If we get to Carnegie Hall by practicing, the Olympics by training and Harvard by studying, how do we get to Heaven? What do we have to do? Here’s the rub—unlike just about everything else in the world, we can’t earn our way, practice our way, study our way, work our way or even buy our way into Heaven. All we really have to do is believe our way through those pearly gates but that just seems so un-American! Surely everything has a price—there’s got to be something noble we can accomplish, someone we can impress or bribe, some special words we can say, or a way we can pay to guarantee a spot. In fact, we’re just a bit suspicious of a deal that seems too good to be true. Surely, there’s a catch but, truly, there isn’t. Jesus paid the price long ago; all we have to do is accept His gift of salvation!

Religion is spelled ‘D-O’, because it consists of the things people do try to somehow gain God’s forgiveness and favor. But the problem is that you never know when you’ve done enough. But thankfully, Christianity is spelled differently. It’s spelled ‘D-O-N-E’, which means that what we could never do for ourselves, Christ has already done for us. To become a real Christian is to humbly receive God’s gift of forgiveness and to commit to following His leadership. [From “Becoming a Contagious Christian” by Bill Hybels]

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. [Acts 16:30-31a (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DIGGIN’ UP BONES – NEW YEAR’S DAY 2018

Sunrise - Duluth MN harborNo, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

I’m diggin’ up bones, I’m diggin’ up bones
Exhuming things that’s better left alone
I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone
Yeah tonight I’m sittin’ alone diggin’ up bones. [Randy Travis]

I was listening to Randy Travis sing, “I’m diggin’ up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.” It seemed an appropriate song for this time of year when we tend to dwell on the past—not just past loves, but past losses, mistakes, oversights, misunderstandings, injuries and pain. As one year ends and another starts, we often dig up all the grievances, regrets, and ”if onlys” of our yesterdays.

The word Randy Travis uses is “exhuming” and that’s a powerful word. When we exhume something, we’re not just digging in the dirt for weeds or post holes—we’re digging a corpse out of its grave and that’s a gruesome ghoulish thought. Once a body is buried, it’s meant to be left undisturbed; that also goes for all those old memories of things dead and gone.

When we dig up the past, we’re trying to rewrite history. Even if we could, we would do no better the second time; we’d just make different mistakes and still have regrets! From any time-travel novel or movie, we know that time-traveling is complicated; small changes in the past can have major, and often bad, ramifications. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly nearly erases himself when he accidentally becomes his mother’s high school romantic interest. In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, after the protagonist prevents JFK’s assassination, he sadly discovers that the world is worse off because of his actions. Moreover, it’s our history—all of those sad, terrible, painful, embarrassing, frightening, and distressing experiences, along with all the good ones—that make us who and what we are today. We’re us, not in spite of the past, but because of the past.

If we don’t like who or where we are in life, that’s not the past’s fault and it’s certainly not God’s. Today is the start of a brand new year and we can start fresh. The good thing about God’s mercy, love and forgiveness is that we don’t need to wait another 365 days before we can start fresh again. God specializes in fresh starts and we can begin anew any moment of any day. Each minute we waste digging up the bones of the past is a minute we’ve lost to the wonders of the here and now. The only moment we have is this one; let us use it wisely and leave the old bones where they belong—dead and buried.

 The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. [Phillips Brooks]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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CHRISTMAS SPIDERS

spider webTo all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. [Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)]

It was a web day at the bird sanctuary and I don’t mean the world-wide kind. It was one of those days when the morning dew, mist, and light cooperated in such a way that we saw beautiful intricate spider webs hanging everywhere. Looking as if they were made of strands of silver rather than silk, it seemed that the spiders had decorated all the trees in celebration of Christmas.

They reminded me of an old folktale that was read to me every Christmas. As I remember it, a mother thoroughly cleaned her house in preparation for Christmas and not a cobweb remained. All of the spiders fled to the attic lest they be swept away with their webs. On Christmas Eve, they heard the joyful noise of carols being sung and grew curious. Once the family went to bed, they all crept downstairs to see what the commotion had been about. Amazed by the beautifully decorated tree and never having seen anything like it, they crawled up and down the tree all night long as they admired every shiny ornament. Unfortunately, by morning’s light, the tree was covered with their gray webs and the ornaments were barely visible.

On Christmas morning, when the Christ child came to bless the house, He was surprised to see the spiders and their strands of silk covering the tree’s branches. Knowing how sad the family would be to see their once beautiful tree covered with dusty webs, the Christ child touched it. The spiders’ gray threads immediately turned into strands of silver and gold and the exquisite tree shimmered and shone more beautifully than ever.

I love this story and not just because it explains how the custom of hanging tinsel on a tree began. The Christ child, with His heart full of love, entered the home to bring a blessing for the family. Touching the damaged tree transformed it into a thing of beauty and, with that touch, He saved their Christmas celebration. Christ has a heart full of love for all of us and comes into our lives to bless us. When He touches our damaged hearts, like the tree, they’ll become things of beauty. We won’t look any different nor will we be adorned with strands of gold and silver but, once He’s touched us, our lives will be beautifully transformed. He doesn’t just save our Christmas; He saves our lives!

Our Christmas tree has no tinsel to remind me of Jesus’ miraculous touch. Nevertheless, every time I see a spider web glistening in the morning light, I remember how Christ has transformed my damaged life into a thing of beauty and give thanks.

The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent’s love. Pure as the first snows of Christmas. For God so loved His children that He sent His son, that we might someday return to Him. [Richard Paul Evans]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. [John 3:16-17 (NLT)]

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SEASONS

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest [Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NLT)]

aspens and pines - Steamboat COWhile some might groan, others may cheer on this the first day of winter. I remember being asked my favorite season and, since we were skiing in the mountains at the time, I said it was winter. I loved it for the powder days on the slopes, pines laden with snow cookies, and aspens glistening with hoarfrost. Winter meant snuggling by the fire with a hot drink while watching the snow fall and the wind blow the trees. Then, I remembered that winter brings shoveling, cleaning off the car, cold toes, drippy noses, falling on the ice, and heating bills so I quickly changed my answer.

Perhaps spring was the favorite—the snow starts to melt, song birds reappear, snowbells and crocuses peek out of the ground, coats and boots are shed, and we again feel the sun’s warmth. Then I remembered the crowds and traffic jams of spring break, rain, mud, spring cleaning, and tax day! Summer was a possibility with its peonies, peaches, butterflies, sandals, tank tops and lazy days at the lake. Then again, summer brings mosquitoes, allergies, humidity, weeding, mowing, and tornadoes. When I remembered the autumn colors, the cranes and geese gathering before migration, Thanksgiving dinner, and the sound of leaves rustling while walking through the woods, I thought my answer should be autumn except for the box elder bugs, gloomy days, leaf raking, more allergies, and hurricanes.

Years later, I’m still unable to give a decisive answer to which is my favorite season; I hope to never see it as one of those problematic online security questions. Fortunately, with the passing of each year, we get to return to all the things we like about a season and, when we tire of that season’s challenges, we know a new season will arrive within a few months’ time.

Unlike the calendar’s seasons, we only get one spring, summer, fall and winter in life. Unfortunately, much of our time in any season often is spent trying to move into the next or return to the previous one. The four-year old proudly tells you she’ll be five at her next birthday and, the day she turns fifteen, she claims to be almost sixteen. She may be OK with being twenty-two but she drags her heels as thirty approaches. Trying to hold the next season at bay, she “recently turned forty” at forty-five and, when the invitation to join AARP arrives at fifty, she bursts into tears. By sixty, she looks longingly at the clothes she used to wear a decade earlier, hates having her picture taken, and refuses to share her age. It’s not until her nineties that she again brags about how old she’ll be at her next birthday.

While we know the date and length of the calendar’s seasons, we have no such knowledge of our own personal seasons. My mother-in-law, at 101, is enjoying a lengthy winter; my mother died at 47 and had none. In answer to that question about a favorite season, perhaps the wisest answer is that our favorite season is the one we’re in! We can’t recapture yesterday and tomorrow comes way too quickly so let us thankfully and joyfully accept our today.

It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had. [Elizabeth Kübler Ross]

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:24 (NLT)]

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

“HALLELUJAH” RATHER THAN “HUMBUG”

Christmas starThe Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. [Isaiah 61:1-2 (NLT)]

Much of our Advent season is not spent joyfully looking forward to celebrating the birth of the Christ child. Instead, in a mad frenzy of shopping, we haunt the malls, spend hours on line, pore over every catalogue, search for sales and coupons and still lose hope of ever finding the perfect gift for everyone on our list. We get stressed over giving and going to parties, wrapping and mailing packages, Christmas cards and letters, travel arrangements or vacation plans, seasonal decorating, and preparing holiday dinners. When we say, “Merry Christmas!” we often find ourselves mumbling a Scrooge-like “Bah! Humbug” under our breath! Instead of looking forward to Christmas with anticipation, we can’t wait until it’s all over and done.

Dr. Seuss’ Grinch eventually realized Christmas really has nothing to do with all those trappings; I wonder why we have so much trouble remembering that same thing. It’s not about  gifts, parties, cards, presents or decorations—Jesus and His message of love, redemption, forgiveness and salvation is the reason for the season! The stable that housed the Holy Family wasn’t decorated with wreaths, ribbons, holly or tinsel and Mary didn’t send out 100 birth announcements. God took care of the only decoration with a bright star and provided the entertainment with a heavenly chorus. Shepherds were the first holiday guests and they didn’t care about the stable’s decor or cleanliness. The Magi’s Christmas presents were odd gifts for an infant and probably arrived two years late.

Tonight, take a drive and look at the Christmas lights festooned around your town; let them remind you of Isaiah’s promise; “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light … For a child is born to us.” Then let us joyfully raise our voices in a “Hallelujah!” instead of “Humbug!”

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. [From “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss]

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine … For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. [Isaiah 9:2,6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.