BUTTERFLY KISSES

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. [Matthew 10:29-31 (NLT)]

dove squabs

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes of being challenged by a friend to write a list of 1,000 things she loved. Interpreting the challenge as making a list of the day’s blessings or gifts, she began recording the seemingly insignificant things that brought bits of joy into her ordinary day. Like a gratitude journal, it included the more obvious things like a child’s escape from serious injury or an unexpected visit from a friend. There was, however, more as Voskamp deliberately set out to find the little gifts hidden in the day—things like jam piled high on toast, toothless smiles, moonlight on pillows, warm cookies, the whistle of the tea kettle on a winter’s day, and the earthy aroma of the woods. As she thanked God for the trivial inconsequential little blessings of the day, she discovered the joy hidden within them. While Ann Voskamp refers to them as gifts, I think of them as God’s “butterfly kisses.” Even though God doesn’t flutter His eyelids on my cheek, these blessings are like the nearly imperceptible kisses mothers have given their children for generations. In the midst of the busyness, trouble, and worries of the day, they are the subtle and easily missed reminders of our Father’s love.

Recognizing my need for an attitude adjustment after spending much of the past year fighting health issues and the glums and gloomies accompanying them, I’ve been reading Voskamp’s book. When what was to be more than a month-long road trip was cut short by half because of my medical issues, I knew I needed to start my own list if I ever hoped to get out of my funk. The first morning home, I looked out and saw that a pair of Mourning Doves had nested in the nearby bougainvillea. The hope that came with the nest’s promise of new life made it the first gift I listed. Several days later, upon finding the nest empty, I thought the chicks had fledged until I looked down at the ground to see their mangled remains. “Oh God, how could you?” I cried. After all, if He sees every sparrow that falls, He certainly saw the doves that brought me such joy. I took it as a personal affront that He allowed the first “gift” I listed to be taken by some predator.

Throughout the morning, I watched as Mr. and Mrs. Dove walked around the bougainvillea and among the shrubbery. By the end of the day, however, they were gone and, most likely, busy building another nest and laying two more eggs. The mortality rate for dove squabs is 69% so I suspect they are accustomed to loss and knew enough to get on with their lives.

Of course, I know that the birds’ unfortunate demise wasn’t directed at me; loss and death have been a part of life since the time Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden. Then again, their loss may have been a lesson for me—to accept that uncertainties, pain, disappointment, and death are an inevitable part of life. Just as the doves moved on with their lives, so should I! While life is gain, it also is loss. As mere players, we don’t get to write the script, rewrite the scenes we don’t like, direct the show, or know how or when the play will end.

Granted, sometimes it feels as if God is nowhere to be found, but maybe it’s simply because we haven’t slowed down and really looked for Him. On that Sunday morning after the crucifixion, two of Jesus’ followers were returning to Emmaus when Jesus joined them. It may have been because of their sadness, disappointment, fear, or even doubt, but they failed to recognize the Lord. It was only when they stopped, invited Jesus into their home, and shared the bread He blessed, that they finally recognized Him. Perhaps, when we do the same—when we are mindful of the moment and thankful for the blessings or bread we have before us (whether focaccia, Wonder Bread, saltines, or a few crumbs)—we will recognize God’s presence. Thankfulness is the soil from which joy sprouts and it is when we are thankful for His gifts (whether large or small) that we will find His joy.

God is the great I AM which means He is present not just in the past or in the future but in the here and now! It’s not always easy to see Him but, when we slow down, open our eyes, and deliberately seek Him, we will find Him in the little seemingly insignificant gifts of each day and feel his butterfly kisses on our cheeks. As Elijah discovered, God is present in the whisper as well as the shout!

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)]

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

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

UNWELCOME FRIENDS

“I have told you all this so that you may find your peace in me. You will find trouble in the world—but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world!” [John 16:33 (PHILLIPS)]

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! … The man who patiently endures the temptations and trials that come to him is the truly happy man. For once his testing is complete he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to all who love him. [James 1:2,12 (PHILLIPS)]
tri-colored heron

Winters in southwest Florida bring sunshine, warmth, ocean breezes, and visitors. Just as guests arriving at your door are unavoidable during winter in Florida, so are troubles (only they arrive all year long)! Jesus tells us troubles are inevitable, James tells us to welcome them as friends, and Paul tells us that we can have joy in the midst of them. I suppose we might as well make the best of them since, like poor relatives when we’ve won the lottery, trouble is sure to find us no matter where we hide. Troubles, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are dead serious while others are merely annoying. Like guests, troubles are unpredictable; when you expect them, they don’t arrive and when it is least convenient, they frequently do! Then, just when you think they’ve packed up and are ready to leave, you discover they’ve cancelled their flight and plan to stay for the season.

It’s been said that fish and house guests start to stink after three days; I’m inclined to think that problems start to stink about that time, as well. Unfortunately, it often is easier to get rid of spoiled fish and unwelcome company than it is to free ourselves from difficulties.

In spite of James’ words, I’m not sure any of us can welcome troubles the way we do friends. Nevertheless, while we don’t have to be thrilled about the arrival of troubles, we can maintain a positive outlook during their stay. Knowing God has a purpose for our trials, we can even find some joy in their presence. While we may not welcome challenges, we can welcome the refining of our faith, the development of our endurance, and the building of our character that accompany them.

When I look back over my lifetime, I realize that I’ve become a better person, not in spite of my troubles, but because of them. In retrospect, I see that good truly came from all the bad that happened. That said, I’m the first to admit that I don’t look forward to any more faith-strengthening or character-building experiences. Thank you, God, but I’d just as soon stop right here. God, however, doesn’t give us a say in that matter and He’s not done with any of us until our last day on earth. While I’m not putting out the welcome mat for misfortune, calamity, trouble, and trials, I won’t fear their arrival.

Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription. [Sir Isaac Newton]

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. [Romans 5:3-5 (PHILLIPS)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT IF?

What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? [Psalm 124:1-2 (NLT)]

mottled ducks
My husband and I, our three children, their spouses, and the five grands recently spent a week together in Idaho and every minute of it was amazing and wonderful. During a quiet moment, I looked down at my wedding ring and asked myself, “What if?” What if an odd set of circumstances hadn’t occurred in October of 1966 and I hadn’t met the man who is my husband? What if his original date hadn’t gotten ill and what if my sorority sisters hadn’t insisted on fixing me up with him? I really didn’t want to go; what if I’d refused? What if he hadn’t relentlessly pursued me or called that one lonely night and asked me to go for ice cream? If a variety of events hadn’t come together in just the way they did, I wouldn’t have met him, let alone married him, and those children and grands wouldn’t have entered my life. What if we hadn’t somewhat foolishly (and hastily) gotten married while we both were in school? My father died only a few months after our wedding and, had I not been married, I would have been completely on my own at the unwise age of twenty. But, in God’s perfect plan, I wasn’t alone; He’d already given me a new family in my husband and his parents.

“Whew, that was close!” Surely, you’ve had times like that—occasions when you’re sure God’s hand delivered you—the split second that kept you from being a traffic fatality, the chance encounter that led you to the solution for which you’d been searching, being one of the 5% who beat the prognosis, or the time your toddler’s close encounter with a car was only that—close. “What if…?” we ask ourselves. What if He hadn’t protected me from my enemies? What if God hadn’t stopped me when He did? What if He hadn’t saved me from myself? I’m not much for looking back and regretfully asking “What if?” but, when asking it reinforces our confidence in God’s deliverance, it’s a good question to ask.

Think of the times you’ve been in the right place at exactly the right time and the times you weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, the times everything miraculously fell into place, and the times you escaped trouble and tragedy by a fraction of an inch! That wasn’t due to happenstance, good luck, or even our own skill. Give credit where credit is due—that was God’s hand touching our lives.

In Psalm 124, David asked the people of Israel to consider what might have happened if the Lord had not been on their side. After reviewing God’s past deliverance, he declared his confidence in God’s future faithfulness. When I ask “What if?” I see a God who loves me and is committed to my welfare—a God who has been right beside me even when I didn’t know it—a God who put together the pieces of my life in an inexplicable but wonderful way.

As David found, when we ask, “What if the Lord had not been on my side?” the answer will reassure our confidence in God’s future faithfulness. Indeed, “Our help is from the Lord!”

They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives. Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free! Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:3-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GROWING JOY

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. [1 Peter 1:8 (NLT)]

Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. [2 Corinthians 6:10 (NLT)]

cherriesWhile both are joy and happiness are pleasurable, there seems to be a fine line between the two. Happiness is more like satisfaction. Dependent on external circumstances, it needs everything to go right or as close to right as possible. On the other hand, because joy doesn’t depend on what is happening to us or to the people we love, it is possible even when everything has gone terribly wrong. Happiness is an emotion which, like anger, sadness, fear, and jealousy, is short-lived but joy can be a permanent state of mind. Because happiness takes the short view, it’s hard to be happy in suffering. Because joy takes the long view, it can endure through suffering.

After writing yesterday’s message, I wondered what God thinks of our pursuit of happiness. He certainly isn’t against happiness but, since happiness is circumstantial and temporal, God doesn’t promise that we’ll always be happy. Since God’s concern is the permanent and eternal, however, He does promise us joy and that joy is built on His presence in our lives! Unlike happiness that needs pursuing, we don’t have to pursue joy. Instead, when we pursue God, joy will find us! Joy is possible in all things because we know who is with us now and what awaits us in the future; we know we’re just in the prelude to our real and eternal life.

Rather than coming from people, things or circumstances, joy is a one of the fruits the Holy Spirit plants in our hearts but, like any fruit, it needs cultivating and tending. Rather than peach scab and brown rot, unrealistic expectations and discontent can hamper our receptiveness to God’s joy and ruin a harvest. Like weeds, envy and greed compete with the fruit for nutrients while anger, adversity, and resentment are like the destructive aphids and fruit worms that destroy new growth and keep fruit from developing. Instead of birds, racoons, deer, and groundhogs, things like guilt, unforgiveness, worry, and fear can destroy or steal the fruit from right under our noses!

So, how do we nurture this fruit and bring it to harvest? We apply weed killer with gratitude and acceptance, fertilize with forgiveness and humility, water with compassion and generosity, eradicate bugs and worms with a heavy dose of perspective and humor, and protect our joy from pests with a strong fence made of God’s word, worship, and prayer. The fruit of the Spirit exists because of God’s presence in our lives. While joy, like love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is produced by the Spirit, whether we harvest His fruit is entirely up to us.

Remember, O my soul, it is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God; He requires it of thee for all his favors of grace. Rejoice then in the giver and his goodness, Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God, for whatever a man trusts in, from that he expects happiness. … Let God be all to thee, and joy in the fountain that is always full. [The Valley of Vision – A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Arthur Bennett, editor)]

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [Romans 14:17 (NLT)]

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

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WORDS AREN’T ADEQUATE

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)]
butterfly

Last weekend my three children flew in from California, New Mexico, and Illinois to surprise me for my birthday. No words can express my absolute joy at their arrival. As we reminisced and laughed until it hurt, we realized the last time just the five of us were together was in 1992. After then, whenever we gathered, either someone was missing or our friends, grandparents, significant others, spouses, or children were with us. We now number thirteen and, while I love being with the whole gang, with all of our shared memories, there was something magical about gathering just the original five! Words failed me when I tried to express my appreciation for the way my husband and children juggled their schedules to make last weekend happen.

Even harder than finding words to thank my family was finding the right words to thank God—there simply are none that can encompass my gratitude. I can’t send Him flowers and He doesn’t need an invite to see the photos on Shutterfly since He was there. It’s not like I can return the kindness by surprising Him on His birthday! The question of how to properly thank God, not just for last weekend, but for all of His blessings has been with me all week. “How can I thank you?” I asked.

We thank God with our love, which begs the question, “How do we show our love?” We do it by remembering Him with gratitude in everything we do and all we encounter—not just in the big things like a family reunion or a good biopsy, but in all the little things of our day. It’s telling Him how we appreciate the strawberries in the garden, the smell of fresh mown grass, a summer breeze, or having milk for the coffee and jam for the toast. It’s being grateful while we wash the windows or mop floors simply because we have windows and floors to clean! It’s continually thanking him for things like “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens” and even for the inevitable dog bites, bee stings, and sadness that come with our favorite things.

We show our love and gratitude through action. While there’s nothing we can do for God, there’s plenty we can do for His children. When we serve others, we are serving (and thanking) Him! We thank God by expressing our appreciation to the people who serve us throughout the day. We can scatter seeds of gratitude and joy. We show our love for God through our witness. While it seems that we’re more than willing to tell people about the good things for which we’re thankful, most of us aren’t as willing to tell those same people about the Giver of those gifts.

Remembering James’ words that, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens,” [1:17] we show our love and thanks to God with humility. Those children of whom I am so proud are His, not mine. While I’d like to think they matured into the wise and wonderful people they are because of my husband’s and my stellar child-rearing skills, I know it was God’s wisdom that led us, His hand that protected them, His voice that led them, His love that covered them, and His forgiveness that showed them how to forgive. It was God who gave me people who cared enough to plan the visit and it was God (with a little help from American Airlines) who got them safely here.

We show God our love and gratitude with prayer, praise, and worship. If we’re truly grateful, however, we offer those things both in good times and bad and, most especially, in those mundane boring days that fill so much of our lives. We continually offer prayer, praise, and worship simply because every day we’re given breath is a day for thanks—whether we’re on the mountain top, in the dark valley, or somewhere in between.

While no words adequately express our gratitude to God, the way we live our lives certainly does!

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it. [A.W. Tozer]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. [Psalm 105:1-3 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SMELL THE ROSES

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42 (NLT)]

barred owlsMy father always had a fixed itinerary for everything he did and, for him, a schedule, once made, was set in stone. Unless it was on his agenda, he never stopped to “smell the roses.” Whenever we vacationed, he had a list of sites to visit and things to accomplish for each day. For example, as soon as we arrived at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, he got out his list and, without even pausing to view the flowers or drink any tea, crossed off the park, and announced, “Well, that’s out of the way; now we’re off to the top of the Mark!”  Once there, our cursory look out its windows at the city went much the same way and we rushed off the next destination on his itinerary. Had we visited in Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, rather than stopping to listen to Him speak from the hillside, we’d have rushed off to see the Pool of Siloam or Jacob’s well in Sychar!

I thought of my father’s version of sightseeing when visiting the bird sanctuary. We were oohing and aahing at a mother owl feeding her owlets only a few feet away. As a young man approached, we started to point them out but, without even turning his head, he quickly strode past. This swamp is one of southwest Florida’s “must see” destinations but, apparently, like my father, the fellow was anxious to cross it off his list and get on to the next thing. He missed an “Aha” moment (along with the herons, wood storks, alligators and blue flag iris) and will probably tell people his walk wasn’t worth the entrance fee.

Being the promised Messiah was a heavy assignment and Jesus knew he had a limited time on earth, yet we never read of him being in a hurry, rushing somewhere, or not stopping when someone called to him. Rather than grab a quick falafel at a first century fast-food stand, He stopped and dined in people’s homes. He didn’t rush by those who needed healing. While on the way to Jairus’ house to heal the man’s daughter, he paused long enough to heal a bleeding woman. He was never too busy to answer questions and he seized any opportunity to share God’s love and forgiveness. After chatting with the woman at the well, he interrupted his travels to stay with the Samaritans for two more days. Although large crowds followed him, he always found time for prayer and little children. He taught, preached, and healed, but he never was too busy to stop.

Our lives should be more than a “to do” list of events, destinations, and achievements. Granted, we need plans and goals, but we should be willing to adjust our schedules and revise our plans. Rather than think of life’s interruptions as distractions, we could consider them as opportunities presented by God. He gave roses a lovely aroma for a reason; perhaps it’s so we’ll stop to smell them! At the age of 56, my father, a man who never stopped to smell those roses, died of a massive coronary. There’s a lesson to be learned from his sudden death—the time to smell the roses is now! If we don’t, we’ll miss out on more than just a few “Aha!” moments when on vacation. We may miss precious opportunities with family, friends, and God. Isn’t that what Jesus was telling Martha so long ago?

As we journey through life, Lord, slow us down and stop us when necessary. Don’t allow us to become so intent on some distant objective that we forget to cherish the scenery, people, and opportunities we encounter along the way. May we always welcome interruptions that allow us to serve you, share your love, or appreciate your bountiful gifts.

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting—a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it is a cup of blessing. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

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)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved