ONLY HE CAN MAKE A TREE FROG

For 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)]

A friend sent a link to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world; you’ve probably gotten a similar one and been amazed by photos of the northern lights in Iceland, the red and orange pillars of Bryce Canyon, or the Glowworm caves in New Zealand. Awestruck by God’s amazing creation, I thought of how He makes Himself known through all that He’s made. Unfortunately, we tend to hear God better when He shouts with the exceptional and impressive than when He whispers with the small and familiar. obedient plant (false dragonhead) - green tree frogWe’re sure to notice God in the Grand Canyon, the multitude of stars in the night sky, or when watching two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelles migrate through the Serengeti. We sense Him in extraordinary or exotic things like the peacock’s splendid tail, Devil’s Tower, or spectacular sunsets and sunrises. But do we notice Him in the commonplace and unremarkable?

Yesterday, I watched, spellbound, as several bees visited the flowers I was photographing. A bee would enter one of the purple tubular blossoms and disappear as it inched its way deep into the corolla to gather pollen and nectar. After backing out, it would move on to another bloom. A perfect fit, it was as if bee and flower had been designed for one another (and they were). The flowers’ scent attracted the bees and, while the bees gathered food for their hive, they pollinated the plants. What was happening in these ordinary flowers growing wild by the road was truly extraordinary!

God’s grandeur is revealed in the giant trees of the redwood forest but His attention to detail is found in the one billion bacteria that live in just one gram of the forest’s soil. His greatness is made known in the 1,600 miles of the Great Barrier Reef but also in the 1,500 species of fish, 5,000 species of mollusks, 17 species of sea snakes and 6 species of turtles living there. We see our ingenious Creator in the enormous African elephant but also in the oxpeckers and cattle egrets that ride on its back and in the lice, ticks and parasites living on the elephant that are eaten by those birds. God’s artistry is revealed in the 28,000 species of orchids and but also in His amazing design of the wasps, bees, flies, moths, ants and gnats that pollinate them.

God teaches us, speaks to us, and provides for us through his creation. Let’s not fail to see His marvelous work in the everyday and mundane: wasps building a nest, mushrooms appearing on the lawn after a rain, maple leaves turning red in autumn, raindrops glistening on a flower petal, or a squirrel gathering nuts. You may remember the first line of Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees: “I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.” The last line reads: “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” Only God can make a tree, but He’s also the only one who can make the lichens and fungi living on its bark, the small tree frog hiding in its leaves, and the sparrow nesting in its branches.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Nature is the living, visible garment of God. [Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe]

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures, great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all. [Cecil Francis Alexander]

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. … I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath! May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. [Psalm 104:24,33-34 (NLT)]

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OUR STUFF

I had everything a man could desire! … Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. [Ecclesiastes 2:8b-10-11 (NLT)]

We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. [Ecclesiastes 5:15 (NLT)]

chipmunkWhile reading Ecclesiastes, I thought of comedian George Carlin’s “Stuff” routine that was first performed for Comic Relief in 1986. In his monologue, Carlin made fun of our obsession with consumerism, the importance of stuff in our lives, and described our houses as places to keep our stuff while we go out and buy more even more of it! When we downsized eleven years ago, we got rid of all sorts of stuff. Yet, when I walked into our storage room recently, it looked like all that stuff had returned and brought along friends! Where did it come from and why did we ever think we needed it all?

The King of Israel, Solomon also was the King of Stuff. Denying himself nothing, he had 500 gold shields, an elaborate throne of gold and ivory, pure gold goblets and utensils, 12,000 cavalry horses and even more horses for his 4,000 chariots. Along with all of the gifts he received from other kingdoms, he took in the equivalent of over $1.1 billion a year in tribute and taxes. Every three years, his fleet of ships returned with more horses and mules, gold, silver, robes, ivory, apes and monkeys. He collected women as readily as the rest of his possessions and ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines. With 1,000 women in his household, I’m sure there was a vast amount of stuff in the harem, as well. Yet, in spite of all that stuff, Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes are not the words of a happy or contented man.

Having lots of stuff becomes a burden; we must take care of it, insure it, worry about it, and find a place to put it. Some people have so much stuff that they hire professional organizers to sort it all out. In fact, a few of us have so much stuff that we must rent storage units for some of it!

Apparently, retailers don’t think we’ve collected nearly enough of their stuff so they fill our mail boxes with catalogues and our in-boxes with advertisements for even more of it. They want us to think that the new stuff is better than the old and that we can never have too much of it. Then, since we can’t take our stuff with us, we must decide who gets it when we’re gone. We write wills and put labels under the figurines, behind the pictures, or on the boxes. What we don’t understand is that, while they’ll be happy to get our money, our heirs probably don’t want our stuff. It’s meaningless to them; besides, most likely, they have too much stuff of their own.

Wealthy and wise, Solomon had lots of stuff but lacked contentment. Money can buy many things but it can’t buy joy, meaning or purpose. Contentment is not found in stuff but rather in our confidence in the sufficiency of God.

You say, “If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.” You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon]

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. [1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NLT)]

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ONE OF THE BEST DAYS

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)]

clam pass - naplesThe weatherman declared it to be “one of the ten best days of summer” and I thought of his words throughout the day. How many of those ten days have we already had this summer? What if, not knowing it was one of the ten best days, I missed it? Could I have been blinded to its beauty by the routine obligations, boring chores, petty annoyances, and minor frustrations of everyday life?

When reading the list of his ordeals in 2 Corinthians, is would seem that the Apostle Paul probably missed enjoying most of the best days of every season. He faced death many times and endured several imprisonments, countless beatings (three times with rods), and numerous whippings (five times with 39 lashes which was the maximum punishment allowed). The victim of stoning once, Paul also was adrift at sea for a day and night and shipwrecked three times. Not only was Paul weighted down with his concern for the early church but he also had a “thorn” in his flesh, quite likely a chronic ailment, that had tormented him for fourteen years. Since he lived another nine to twelve years after writing the Corinthians, that thorn probably continued to plague him and more trials and troubles certainly followed. All in all, Paul travelled about 15,000 miles on land and sea and endured sleepless nights, hunger, thirst and cold, faced hazards from bandits and even his own people, and spent between five and six years of his life imprisoned before being beheaded by the Romans between 64 and 67 AD. He endured all of this to proclaim the gospel and yet Paul never complained about missing out on any of the “best” days because he knew the secret of living in every situation—of making every day his best day.

We shouldn’t need a weatherman to tell us it’s one of the ten best days and we certainly don’t need good weather for the day to qualify. In fact, every day should qualify as one of the ten best days of whatever season it happens to be. Paul, a man who endured horrible ordeals both physically and emotionally for the church, knew that best days had nothing to do with circumstances but everything to do with attitude. He tells us to be joyful, to pray, and to give thanks to God in all circumstances (and not just on the good days). With an attitude like his, in spite of his sufferings, every day Paul experienced must have been one of his best. I’d venture to say that most of us suffer far less than did the Apostle and yet, instead of starting the day cheerfully saying, “Good morning, Lord!” many of us grumble, “Good Lord, it’s morning!” Let this day be one of your ten best; after all, you don’t know how many more remain!

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! [Philippians 4:4 (NLT)]

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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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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OUR PRAYERS

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King over all the earth. Praise him with a psalm. [Psalm 47:6-7 (NLT)]

O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer! Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer. [“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Scriven]

ZINNIA“That’s more like it!” I thought as I read Psalm 47; I certainly preferred it to the curses of the previous set of Psalms I’d read. I’m reading the Bible in chronological rather than in canonical order which means that the various books and chapters have been divided and rearranged. As a result, the psalms of lament and complaint were grouped together during David’s trials and the praise psalms were placed after the chapters outlining the duties in the Temple. These psalms of worship, adoration and thanksgiving seem more appropriate for Israel’s book of hymns than the earlier ones about wickedness, treachery, calamity and vengeance.

Although I prefer the joyful psalms, there is a reason Israel’s prayer book has lasted over 3,000 years and continues to be our prayer book today. Rather than a sappy feel-good book of poetry, Psalms reflects the gamut of human experience and emotions. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, I’m surprised He didn’t tell them they already knew and direct them to the Psalms for guidance. The Psalms’ words are intense, raw and honest; they conceal nothing. If the Psalmist is suffering, fearful, angry, depressed, or exhausted, he says so as readily as when he expresses his elation, adoration and thanksgiving. Never pretending that all is well when it isn’t, he fearlessly lays out his emotions before God. Wretchedness and joy, pain and jubilation, wickedness and virtue, despair and hope, grief and thanksgiving, fear and confidence: all are articulated. It is in that depth of personal expression and experience that we find words of consolation, faith, trust, and hope.

When I seriously evaluate my own prayer life, I’m nowhere near as honest and bold as the psalmists. Of course, God knows my personal struggles but, unlike David and the rest of the psalmists, I’m not as willing to lay them so passionately or openly at His feet. When Joseph Scriven wrote the words, “Take it to the Lord in prayer,” he meant all of it, not just the pretty stuff. I’m sure God would prefer honest words of grievance to false words of praise any day.

A human heart is like a ship on a wild sea, driven by the storm-winds from the four quarters of the world. Here it is struck with fear, and worry about coming disaster; there comes grief and sadness because of present evil. Here breathes a breeze of hope and of expectation of happiness to come; there blows security and joy in present blessings. These storm-winds teach us to speak with earnestness, and open the heart, and pour out what lies at the bottom of it. … What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid these storm-winds of every kind? Where does one find such words of joy as in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving? … On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? … And, as was said, it is the best thing of all that they speak these words to God and with God. [Martin Luther, Preface to the Psalter]

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. [Psalm 145:18 (NLT)]

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YOU ARE LOVED

The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. [Exodus 34:6-7a (NLT)]

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. [Psalm 23:6 (NLT)]

purple coneflower

I have a friend who always signs her cards and notes with “Remember you are loved.” What a beautiful sentiment. I’m not sure if she’s thinking of the love we have for one another or of the love someone else has for both of us. There is one who will pursue us with His love like an ardent suitor. He loves us as a father loves his children. There is one whose love is eternal; His love won’t quit when we get sick, hurt, disfigured, old or in trouble. There is one who loves us, flawed as we are, and who never tires of forgiving us for our many failures. There is one who loved us enough to sacrifice His only son for our salvation. There is one who doesn’t just do loving things for us; His whole essence is love. That one is God.

Remember, my friend, you are loved

God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us. [Fulton J. Sheen]

 Put together all the tenderest love you know of, multiply it by infinity and you will begin to see glimpses of the love and grace of God. [Hannah Whitall Smith]

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [1 John 4:16 (NLT)]

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