SMELL THE FLOWERS/HEAR THE MUSIC

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

As a friend’s father used to say, “I couldn’t have made the day any better myself!” The temperature was perfect, the humidity had dropped, the pink of the sunrise tinged the early morning sky, and the aroma of jasmine made every breath a pleasure. When I looked one way, I still could still see the full moon and, when I looked the other, I saw the golden fire of the rising sun. Like a mirror, the lake reflected the clouds and colorful sky. Mocking birds were singing their joyful songs, rabbits were munching the grass, squirrels were chasing one another, ducks effortlessly glided through the water, and a few woodpeckers were tapping on the palms. It seemed like God had given me the beautiful morning as a special birthday gift. Of course, I know He didn’t do it just for me but it felt that way. I was especially appreciative of these little everyday things because I knew it would be my last walk for many weeks; the following day I was having foot surgery and faced a long recovery. As I tried to gather in the morning’s memory to keep me content for the next several weeks of inactivity, I wondered why I didn’t appreciate every morning as much as that day’s.

We’re often so busy rushing through life that we ignore its many unexpected blessings. Back in 2007, violin virtuoso Joshua Bell sat at the entrance to a Washington D.C. metro station during rush hour. The famed violinist played his 1713 Stradivarius (reportedly purchased for $3.5 million) for about 45-minutes. Just three days prior, Bell had performed before a full house in Boston’s Symphony Hall (where moderately good seats cost $100). This day 1,097 people passed by him but only seven paused long enough to listen. The unnoticed street musician received a total of $32.17 from 27 passersby. This experiment wasn’t an anomaly. Back in 1930, a similar one was conducted when violin virtuoso Jacques Gordon, dressed in beggar’s attire and using another prized Stradivarius, gave a curbside concert on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Hundreds of busy people rushed by him as his beautiful music fell on deaf ears. The musician’s take was $5.61.

If we don’t have a minute to stop and listen to one of the finest musicians in the world, what else are we missing? Do we take the time to perceive beauty and value the day’s gifts? I wonder how many other equally wonderful mornings I’ve sped through without stopping to delight in God’s glory both in the sky and here on earth. I treated that morning special because I knew it would be the last of such mornings for several weeks. In actuality, we never know what morning will be our very last one! Every day is a beautiful day simply because God made it. Let us seize it with praise and thanksgiving and never miss an opportunity to stop and smell the jasmine or listen to the music!

Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning. Don’t skimp on colors and scarves. Relish life with the spouse you love Each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange For the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed. [Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (MSG)]

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MARA

He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink. [Lamentations 3:5 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtailTo explain her sisters’ bitterness and sour outlook on life, my mother-in-law would say, “Well, their lives didn’t turn out the way they’d hoped.” Those women had no reason to complain when comparing their lives to Naomi (the mother-in-law in the book of Ruth).

Talk about things not turning out the way you’d hoped! Naomi endured famine, a move to an enemy nation, pagan daughters-in-law, no grandchildren, the death of her husband and then the death of her two sons. Poverty stricken, with no relatives to help her in Moab, Naomi decided to return to Israel. When her two daughters-in-law started back with her, she tried to deter them, telling them to go back to their parents where there may be another marriage in their future. While one woman returned home, Ruth stayed with her mother-in-law.

Widowed and childless, neither woman’s life seemed headed for a “happily ever after.” When the bereaved Naomi arrived back in Bethlehem, she told her old friends to call her Mara, meaning “bitter.” She explained that, “The Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord brought me home empty.” Like my husband’s aunts, Naomi was resentful that life hadn’t turned out as she’d expected. What she didn’t understand was that God was busy at work behind the scenes. Her bitterness even blinded her to fact that she didn’t come home empty—she’d come home with Ruth, a woman described by Naomi’s friends as “better to you than seven sons!”  Embittered, Naomi didn’t see her blessing in a daughter-in-law who loved and honored her and would labor in the fields for her.

You know the rest of the story. Ruth gleaned grain in the fields of Boaz. He took on the role of “kinsman redeemer,” purchased land that had belonged to Naomi’s husband, and married Ruth. The couple had a son, Naomi became a grandmother, and that little boy would be grandfather to the future King David.

We all have been given reason to call ourselves bitter. But, as followers of Jesus, we can become better rather than bitter and not because a kinsman redeemer buys our land, marries us, pays our bills, solves our problems, and takes us away from our troubles. We don’t become bitter because we have a Redeemer God who walks with us through our trouble and enables us to find joy in our new normal. We don’t become bitter because we know our life is better than we ever dared hope. We don’t become bitter because we know life, in the world yet to come, can only be better!

We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 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 6:9-10 (NLT)]

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” [Lamentations 3:22-24 (NLT)]

THE CROWN OF MARTYRDOM

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. [1 Corinthians 13:3 (MSG)]

yellow-crowned night heronWe all know drama queens (and kings) who don the crown of martyrdom. On occasion, we even may have worn that crown ourselves. Along with the crown, we put on a robe of selfishness and self-righteousness. Dressed for the part, we see outer circumstance only in the light of how they negatively affect our lives (ignoring how they may be affecting those around us). Rather than asking, “What can I learn from this?” we protest, “I don’t deserve this!” as if anyone else does! Forgetting that God only wants our best and there is purpose in our pain, we find our troubles the perfect excuse for resentment, complaints, bitterness, and an all-out pity party.

If anyone had the right to play the martyr; it was Jesus. He was born in a stable and slept in a feed trough! His parents couldn’t afford a proper offering at the purification ceremony and his family had to flee to Egypt for several years. Once they arrived in Nazareth, there probably were whispers among the neighbors. “That’s Jesus; he’s not really Joseph’s son, you know! That shameful Mary was already pregnant.” Jesus knew He was a king, but He didn’t live like royalty; instead, he lived and worked as an ordinary man. Rather than riding in a chariot, he walked the dusty roads. There was no bed in a palace for this Prince of Peace; he rested wherever he could lay his head. People pursued Him wanting miracles but forgot to thank Him for his healing. Angry crowds reviled Him and the religious leaders of His own town wanted to toss Him down a hill! He gave and taught, healed, blessed and loved, fully knowing where it would all end—on a cross at Calvary. He knew He would be martyred, yet he never complained; He never once said, “Pity me!” Brutally beaten and humiliated, Jesus wore his crown of thorns without complaint. Then, instead of being angry about His torture on the cross, He lovingly asked God’s forgiveness for those who were killing Him.

A few years later, Stephen, who is believed to be the first Christian martyr, followed Jesus’s example when, as the rocks rained down on him, he used his last few breaths to pray for his slayers’ forgiveness. Jesus and Stephen were real martyrs and no anguish we endure will equal theirs. Yet, rather than the crown of martyrdom, they wore the crown of love and forgiveness!

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. … Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life. [James 1:1,12 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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.

DAY ONE

DawnThe faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” [Lamentations 3:22-24 (NLT)

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. [2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT)]

I’m an early riser anyway but the three hour time difference between the east and west coasts had me up well before dawn. While sipping my morning latte, I looked out the window and watched the morning appear. As the sun began to rise, God got out his paints to color the sky and the horizon took shape. I slipped on my shoes and went out to greet the new day. While a rooster in the distance crowed his welcome to the sun, I silently shouted my good morning to God and thought of Matthew West’s song Day One of the Rest of My Life. “It’s day one and here comes the sun!” I sang to myself. Indeed, each morning brings day one of the rest of our lives—day one of the best of our lives! Thank you, God.

Seeing the sunrise shouldn’t just be saved for Easter morning services and I feel sorry for those who sleep through the day’s awakening. They miss experiencing that perfect moment when dawn breaks through: when today becomes yesterday and tomorrow becomes today. Although saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is a cliché, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Telling us that yesterday does not have to repeat itself today, each dawn brings a new beginning.

Of course, we don’t have to arise while it’s still dark to enjoy a dawn in our lives. Our faith in Jesus takes us from the darkness of unbelief into a new beginning. Moreover, because of God’s grace, we’re assured that even when we mess up (and we surely will), there is another new beginning and plenty more after that. Nevertheless, seeing a sunrise reminds us both of God’s forgiveness and the new life in Christ we’ve been given. It tells us that this is the day we should live life to the fullest, honor and serve God the most, and be the best we can be. This is the day we can get back on the right path, realize our dreams, fulfill His will, and be wiser, better, and more forgiving. But, just as we don’t have the power to make the sun rise, we don’t have the power to become the person God wants us to be by ourselves. That power comes from the Holy Spirit within us. It is He who fills us with the peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to meet each day.

The Psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” [118:24] Indeed, each new day brings reason to rejoice. Yet, since every dawn inevitably ends in a sunset, the sunrise also serves as a subtle reminder of the brevity of life. Not a moment should be wasted in regret, anger, resentment, worry or fear. Lord, whether today is the first or the last day of the rest of our lives, fill us with your Spirit so that it is the best day of our lives!

Well, I wish I had a short term memory,
Wish the only thing my eyes could see
Was the future burning bright right in front of me;
But I can’t stop looking back.
Yeah, I wish I was a perfect picture of
Somebody who’s never not good enough.
I try to measure up but I mess it up
And I wish I wasn’t like that. …
Well, every single day Your grace reminds me
That my best days are not behind me.
Wherever my yesterday may find me
Well, I don’t have to stay there.
It’s day one of the rest of my life!
It’s day one of the best of my life! [Matthew West, Peter Kipley]

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHICH ARE YOU? 

I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, says the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the vultures and wild animals to finish up what’s left. [Jeremiah 15:3 (TLB)]

hummingbird - vulturesWe were enjoying hundreds of exotic butterflies amid tropical plants in the conservatory of a nearby botanic garden when I turned around to see a hummingbird hovering nearby. In spite of the building’s double-door containment procedures, this beautiful little bird managed to find his way into what, for him, must be paradise and no one seemed to mind. Seeing him reminded me of a question asked several years ago: “Which would you rather be—a hummingbird or a vulture?”  I thought, “That’s a no-brainer!” as I watched the iridescent bird hover over the flowers; then I remembered the question wasn’t what we wanted to be but rather what we actually were.

Most of us want to think we’re hummingbirds—those beautiful delicate birds with the fluttering wings—but I’m not sure we always are. Hummingbirds may be small but they’re fearless; they’ll even pursue hawks in defense of their nest. Are we that fearless? Hummingbirds are optimists who always look for the bright and sweet in the garden of life. Do we? These avian helicopters, often thought of as harbingers of good luck, are welcome everywhere. Does seeing us bring joy the way seeing a hummingbird does or is the reaction to us more like that of seeing vultures at the side of the road—something like “Yuk!”

When we search for something or someone to pick apart, we’re like the vultures soaring in the sky and sniffing for the stink of rotting carcasses. Rather than road kill, we’re sniffing around for rumor and scandal so we can dine on other people’s misery or disgrace. When we discourage rather than build up or disparage rather than praise, we’re not much different than the hungry vultures who gather as the swamp dries and anxiously wait for the fish to die so they can pick at the remains. When we remorselessly spew hate, bigotry, or anger, we’re like vultures that, with a well-aimed shot of acidic vomit, can slime someone or something they don’t like. When we choose to live with resentment, bitterness, and the rotten leftovers of yesterday, we’re not much different than vultures who defecate on their feet.

If we want to be hummingbirds, there can be no more concentrating on the unpleasant garbage of our lives or the lives of others. There can be no more feasting on sour guilt, fetid anger, foul-smelling regrets, or the rotten remains of past relationships and issues that died long ago. Hummingbirds don’t just seek out the sweeter things in life; they are one of those sweet things. As hummingbirds, we can’t just enjoy the happiness we find, we must bring joy to those we meet. After all, people plant brightly-colored flowers and hang special feeders for hummingbirds, but I’ve never heard of anyone trying to entice vultures into a garden.

The hummingbird and vulture have no choice—they are what they were born to be. We, however, can decide if we’re going to be hummingbirds and welcome spreaders of joy, or vultures, those unwelcome omens of misery. The choice is ours!

Lord, guide us in our thoughts and actions so we can be like hummingbirds from this day forth!

Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! … Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. [Philippians 4:4,8b (TLB)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.