SCHEDULED

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. [Mark 1:35 (NLT)]

clock

I like the calendar app on our smartphones and its ability to remember recurring events: just put in an occasion and tell it to repeat every day, week, month, or year for as long as you want. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, yoga class, tennis lessons, Bible study—there’s no reason to miss any of those recurring events and my man no longer has any excuse for forgetting my birthday or our anniversary! Our devices notify us of the day’s events and, with just a quick glance, we’re reminded of something we need to do, somewhere to go, or someone we should remember that day.

Attentive as we are about scheduling book club, haircuts, birthday cards or the dentist, are any of us as diligent about scheduling God into our lives? Do we schedule a recurring daily appointment with Him or is He just allotted one hour Sunday mornings? The most important appointment of the day (one that should be repeated each and every day with no end date) is the one we have with God.

Scheduling an appointment, however, doesn’t always mean it is kept. Things come up, plans change and appointments are broken. Since some professionals like doctors, lawyers, and personal trainers often charge when we don’t show for a session, we’re usually careful about keeping their appointments. God, however, doesn’t charge a fee if we skip our time with him. Perhaps, since He’s never too busy for us, we take Him for granted and frequently get too busy for Him! If we don’t have time to pray and read Scripture, we are far busier than God ever intended us to be.

Moreover, for what the lawyer, physician, or trainer charges per hour, we’re usually attentive to whatever it is they have to say to us. Are we as attentive when we meet with God? I start the day reading the day’s Bible verses and meditations in my in-box but my attention can get diverted to emails from the kids, humor from a friend, or a sale from my favorite retailer. While reading Scripture, I can get side-tracked, as well. I start researching one thing and, several links later, find myself totally immersed in another thing! It’s not so much that I’ve wasted the time—it’s that God is no longer at the front and center of our appointment and something or someone else has taken my attention. Pretty soon, breakfast and the day’s activities call; prayer and meditation get put off until a more convenient time. I promise to get back to God later, but that rarely happens. Even though I’ll spend time later in the day writing devotions, that’s doing a task for Him, rather than spending time with Him and the two are not the same.

Originally, I started this devotion with the point being to schedule and keep a daily appointment with God. Now, I realize I’m wrong. In actuality, God shouldn’t have to be scheduled; He should be there in the forefront 24/7/365. Rather than making time with God fit into our calendar and plans, it’s all of the other things demanding our attention that we must arrange to fit into His agenda and timetable.

We usually spend our money on what is most important to us—on what do we spend our time?

The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God; keep it, or every other battle will become bigger. [Ravi Zacharias]

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. [1 Chronicles 16:8-11 (NLT)]

Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. [Psalm 86:11 (NLT)]

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HIS CRAFTSMANSHIP

dawnThe 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)]

As I looked at the morning sky, I had to agree with the psalmist: the heavens do proclaim the glory of God. My photo can’t do justice to the magnificence of today’s sunrise. Although I had a good night’s sleep, like many of us during this time of isolation, loss, and unrest, my soul was weary. Nature, however, has a way of restoring weary souls and the vibrant colors of the breaking day lifted my spirits. They reassured me of God’s eternal power and divinity.

It’s not just the skies that display God’s amazing craftsmanship. From the smallest insect to the largest mountain and the heavens above, God continually reveals himself through his amazing creation. His power and might are visible in oceans, mountains, blizzards, rainstorms, lightening, and even mighty hurricanes like Laura. Yet, one look at a spider’s web, butterfly’s wings, dandelion puff, or violet tells us He has a gentle touch as well.

Although life sometimes feels random, illogical, and unpredictable (as it does right now), nature assures us that God is not arbitrary, capricious, unthinking or careless. A Creator who made flowers that lure bees with nectar and pollen so they’d be pollinated and the bees could then make honey definitely had a plan. The God who gave every one of us a unique set of fingerprints and every zebra a distinctive design of stripes without repeating himself is limitless and certainly attentive to detail. A master at creativity, He gave us eggs that turn into chicks, legless tadpoles that become hopping frogs, acorns that grow into giant oaks, and enabled water and wind to wear away rocks. He knows what He’s doing!

Creation is more than a witness to God’s eternal power and divinity; it tells us about Him. Without a doubt, the designer who covered a rat with armor and made an armadillo, assembled the wildebeest from what appear to be spare parts, fashioned the long snout of the anteater, and provided kangaroos with built-in pockets has a sense of humor and believes in laughter. The One who gave us the sound of waves crashing on the beach, the smell of a pine forest, the feel of a gentle breeze, and the fragrance of sweet honeysuckle and gardenias wants us to enjoy His creation. When He decorated our world, God boldly used every color on his heavenly paint palette and His abundance is evident in the fall colors, rainbows, orchids, painted buntings, and glacial lakes He’s given us to enjoy.

Not every sunrise is as flamboyant as was this morning’s nor is every sunset as gaudy as was last night’s. Nevertheless, one look at the sky is more than enough to assure us of God’s existence. Rest assured that the One who painted spots on the ladybug, gave the peacock his showy tail, and put the sweet taste into strawberries has not forgotten His children. Let us open our eyes to His creation and sing the words penned by Maltbie Babcock more than 100 years ago: “This is my Father’s world; Oh let me not forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet!” As fallen and broken as the world seems, it still belongs to God! He’s at large and in charge!

Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes: Forbid that the lure of the market-place should ever entirely steal my heart away from the love of the open acres and the green trees: Forbid that under the low roof of workshop or office or study I should ever forget Thy great overarching sky: Forbid that when all Thy creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, I alone should wear a dull and sullen face.

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. [Romans 1:20a (NLT)]

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SON OF DAVID (Part 1 – Mark 10:46-52)

When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” [Mark 10:47 (NLT)]

columbine

Jesus and his followers were among the crowd of pilgrims passing through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and the city was teeming with people. Picture the scene as pilgrims, donkeys, carts, and even sheep slated for sacrifice moved along the road. With people talking, animals bleating and braying, children running back and forth, and beggars calling out for alms, it was difficult for those following Jesus to hear Him speak.

Sitting by the road, in the midst of this confusion, was the blind beggar Bartimaeus. When he heard that Jesus was in the crowd, Bartimaeus stopped begging for alms and pled for mercy, crying out, “Son of David! Jesus! Take pity on me!” When people tried to quiet him, the beggar just shouted louder. Over the din of the crowd, this man’s desperate cry was enough to make Jesus stop. Of course, Jesus made it a practice to stop for the lost, outcast, and hurting. Just as He halted for the bleeding woman desperate for his healing touch and the tax man desperate enough to climb a tree, Jesus stopped for Bartimaeus and called the beggar to Him.

Throwing his cloak aside, the blind man stumbled his way through the crowd to find Jesus. When Jesus inquired what he wanted, Bartimaeus immediately asked for his sight. It was restored instantly and Mark’s gospel tells us the once blind beggar followed Jesus down the road toward Jerusalem.

One thousand years earlier, God had promised David that one of his descendants would be the Messiah: the one who would reign forever as the head of God’s kingdom. By Jesus’ day, the term “Son of David” was a title for the Messiah. Other Messianic prophecies promised that the Messiah would heal the sick, bring hearing to the deaf, make the lame walk, and give sight to the blind. Bartimaeus may have been blind but he recognized Jesus as the Messiah when he called Him “Son of David” and without hesitation asked for his sight. Acknowledging the man’s blind faith, Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.” Indeed, had he not called out in faith, he would have remained a blind beggar until his dying day.

The blind man who received sight contrasts with the sighted religious leaders Jesus would soon meet in Jerusalem and call “blind guides” and “blind fools.” It’s ironic that a blind beggar, sitting in the dirt by the road, understood the prophecies and recognized the Messiah when the sighted couldn’t even see who was right in front of them!

The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” [Luke 4:17-21 (NLT)]

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THE ONE HE LOVED

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. [John 13:23 (NIV)]

blue jayWhile Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention the Apostle John several times in their gospels, the gospel that bears John’s name doesn’t mention his name once. Instead, the author refers to an unnamed witness and a disciple described only as the one “whom Jesus loved.” Since John is conspicuously absent from his gospel, it would seem that he was both the witness and this much loved disciple.

While the gospel of John may have been written any time between 55 and 95 AD (with 80 to 85 AD most likely), there isn’t much dispute about its author. We might wonder why the Apostle hid himself in the gospel by referring to himself simply as another unnamed disciple or as that specially loved one. John may have chosen to remain incognito simply because he knew the good news wasn’t about him and his relationship with a man named Jesus. It was about the Messiah Jesus and His relationship with mankind. By remaining nameless, the story stayed centered on Jesus as opposed to its author.

But why would John choose to designate this unnamed disciple as especially beloved by Jesus? Did he want to point out (possibly even flaunt) the special relationship he enjoyed with Christ—a relationship not enjoyed by the other disciples? In a gospel filled with examples of Christ’s love, integrity, righteousness, humility, and sacrifice, a Messiah who blatantly favored one over others seems unlikely and a disciple who would boast of his special status seems equally implausible.

Perhaps John was simply engaging some word play. In Hebrew, the disciple’s name was Johanan. The first part of his name was Yah, a shortened version of YHWH, the name of the Lord. The last part was from the verb hanan which meant to be gracious. John’s name literally meant Yahweh is Gracious (or the one whom Jehovah loves)!

The five times this nameless disciple is mentioned as being so loved by Jesus all occur during the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection—a time it became abundantly clear to all of the disciples just how much Jesus loved not just them but all of mankind! Perhaps John used this designation because it represented what is true of all of Christ’s disciples: each person who follows Jesus is a disciple loved by Jesus!

If you were asked, “Who are you?” how would you answer? While you might provide your name, marital status, profession, or background, any one of those could be changed and you would still be you (slightly different but still you). Regardless of circumstances, or even whether you’re alive or dead, the one thing about you that won’t change is your identity as a child of God and, if you are a believer, that you are a disciple of Christ. The highest honor John could claim was that Jesus loved him and yet it is an honor to which we all can lay claim! Who are you? As for me, I am the disciple Jesus loves!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NIV)]

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TWO MISTAKES

After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. [Luke 2:43-44 (NIV)]

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” [John 20:15 (NIV)]

spiderwortEvery year, Jesus and His family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the pilgrimage festival of Passover. Entire villages would travel together and the city was jam packed with worshipers when they departed for Nazareth. The men probably traveled apart from the women and children. Jesus, being twelve and no longer a little boy but not yet a man, could have been with either group. Perhaps Mary thought Him with the men while Joseph thought He was with the children. They didn’t know Jesus wasn’t there until they stopped that night. Moving with the crowd, his parents had mistakenly presumed His presence.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the crowd’s movement that we fail to make sure Jesus is with us on our journey. We forget that it is the sheep who follow the shepherd and not the other way around. It took Joseph and Mary three days before they found Jesus in His Father’s house doing His Father’s business. Let us learn from them and look there for Him first. Be reassured; it’s never too late to turn back. If we seek Him, He will be found!

On the other hand, some people thought Jesus was absent when He was right in front of them. Never expecting to see a risen Christ, the tearful Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener. The two walking to Emmaus were unable to recognize the risen Christ because they were in a heated discussion (the Greek word was syzetein  meaning “strong debate”) about the meaning of the crucifixion and the empty tomb. Focusing on their sorrow, fear, doubt and confusion, Mary and the travelers didn’t realize they were in His presence!

Even though Jesus is right beside us, there are times in our lives we can’t recognize Him because we’re not looking for Him. Rather than seeking a resurrected Jesus, Mary just wanted to anoint a dead body and the two travelers were looking for answers rather than the Savior. Let’s never settle for anything less than seeing the risen Christ.

There are two mistakes we can make about Jesus: we can think He’s present when we’ve gone off without Him and we can think He’s absent when He’s right beside us. Let’s not make either mistake!

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. [Matthew 28:20b (NIV)]

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. [Psalm 9:10 (NIV)]

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)]

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SAVORING THE PSALMS

Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created. Your regulations remain true to this day, for everything serves your plans. [Psalm 119:89-91 (NLT)]

spreading dogbane

Because she enjoyed saying the psalms in unison during church, my friend wanted to read the entire book of Psalms. Viewing it as a project, she read at least five psalms a day. But, rather than savoring them individually as she might a Mother’s Day card from her son, she sped through them as she would a novel and what should have been a pleasure was a disappointment.

The unique beauty of a diamond ring isn’t discernible until it’s taken out of the display case, placed on black velvet, and viewed from all angles through a jeweler’s loupe. To truly appreciate the gem, however, it helps to know something about diamonds; it’s the same with the Psalms. Because they’re poetry, they’re best viewed and appreciated one at a time. While we don’t need to know the 4 C’s of gemology, knowing something about the psalms’ poetic structure helps us understand and appreciate these ancient songs of worship.

Written and collected from the time of Moses (1440 BC) to the Israelites’ return from their Babylonian captivity in 450 BC, the psalms express the full range of human emotion from the greatest joy to the deepest despair. Their passion goes from brutal and graphic appeals for an enemy’s destruction to jubilant cries of praise and thanksgiving (sometimes in the same psalm). Like all poetry, the psalms employ a number of literary devices to pack the biggest amount of thought into as few words as possible. Their use of meter, acrostics, metaphor and simile, hyperbole, emotional rather than logical connections, and something called parallelism mean that the reader has to read them thoughtfully to unpack their complete meaning.

To stay true to their original content, poetic aspects like compression and meter are lost in translation. For example, Psalm 23’s “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” is only four words in Hebrew and “He makes me lie down in green pastures,” is only three! Also lost in translation is the beauty of the acrostic psalms in which the initial letter of each line or phrase was in alphabetic order. Psalm 119, for example, is made up of 22 sections, starting with aleph and ending with tav, with the rest of the Hebrew alphabet in-between. The acrostic may have signified that the subject had been covered completely (“from A to Z”) or could have served as a mnemonic device for memorizing the psalm.

One thing we don’t lose in translation is rhyme; even in Hebrew, the psalms never rhymed. Rather than rhyme, they used something called parallelism. Rather than words sounding alike, two or more thoughts sounded alike as the psalmist repeated the same thought or phrase one or more times. In many cases, the identical thought was clearly repeated, as in Psalm 18:4: “The ropes of death entangled me; the floods of destruction swept over me.” Sometimes, the parallel lines contrasted with or opposed one another, as in Psalm 18:27: “You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud.” Successive lines often built on and developed the first line, as in Psalm 1:1: “Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join with mockers.” Unlike rhyme or meter, parallelism translates into any language which makes the beauty of the psalms universal. I don’t think that happened by accident. Regardless of who penned them, like the rest of Scripture, the Psalms clearly were God-breathed and meant for all people in all times.

The psalms are more than poetry; they are beautifully written prayers and should be read slowly and reverently. I’ve suggested that my friend start over by reading only one psalm each day and thinking of Psalms as she might a box of deliciously rich gourmet chocolate. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” By consuming just one psalm (or one chocolate) at a time, the whole complexity and richness of each one will get the attention it deserves.

How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. [Psalm 119:103 (NLT)]

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