WHEN GOD REMODELS

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6 (ESV)]

tiger swallowtailMany years ago, we did some major remodeling on our lake house. The original structure was gutted: carpets ripped up, paneling pulled off, decks knocked down, stairs demolished, walls cut open, and our landscaping ruined. Filled with fear and misgivings, I stared at the gaping hole in the hillside and what was left of the original dwelling. The architect/builder kept reassuring me that, having drawn the plans, he knew how everything would eventually fit together. Me? I just saw the ruined house, a deep pit and piles of dirt. I hadn’t expected this devastation; it had seemed so simple on paper. How this mess was ever going to become the house we’d pictured, I didn’t know. I simply had to trust the builder and leave it in his hands. Seven months later, I stood in the same spot, thrilled with the final result; it was better than I’d ever expected!

Life can be like that remodeling project. Change can be unpleasant; at times, it may even look downright ugly and hopeless. We can rest easy when God is in charge; we’ll find that all will be good in its proper time. When God is finally finished, everything will make sense. We have to trust Him and not judge His work before it’s complete. He is a master architect and builder; let Him do His job!

Father, thank you for the beauty and joy you can salvage from our messed up lives. Help us trust your plan and timeline; give us patience and faith as we grow and change into the people you want us to be.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. [C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)]

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)]

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IN THE DARK

And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. [John 3:19-20 (NLT)]

sunriseAlthough demons had no trouble recognizing Jesus, the people who were most knowledgeable about Scripture and best knew the Messianic prophecies often seemed blind to what was before them. In fact, even after hearing Jesus speak and watching Him heal, the Pharisees and scribes accused Him of being a demon. Why did they refuse to see what was right in front of them?

Of the people who recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, only a few were what would have been called religious. The devout Simeon and Anna knew the Messiah when Jesus came to the temple as a baby yet, twelve years later, no one in the temple recognized Him as anything more than a perceptive intelligent boy. Most of the others who recognized Jesus were secular people who knew they were flawed and in need of Him: the woman at the well, the Gentile woman with a demon-possessed daughter, the prostitute who washed His feet, the blind Bartimaeus, the corrupt publicans Zacchaeus and Matthew, Mary Magdalene, the lepers, the adulterous woman, and the paralyzed man and his friends. On that dark Friday, rather than a religious scholar, it was one of the Roman soldiers who’d nailed Jesus to the cross and a thief hanging beside Him who testified to His true identity.

Just as sunlight reveals fingerprints on the window and dust on the table, the Light of the World revealed the sins of the world. Without light, a zircon can pretend to be a diamond, stainless can pass for sterling, and a designer knock-off can be mistaken for the real thing. In the darkness, hypocrisy, deceit and legalism can pass for righteousness, morality and piety. Until it recognizes what it actually is, corruption can call itself integrity, wickedness can say it’s virtue, and arrogance can profess humility. Those unwilling to see their own sinfulness and need for salvation rejected Jesus—the one without sin. Not wanting to see what the Light revealed, they chose to remain in the dark. Those who admitted their sins knew they were in the dark and welcomed the Light. Recognizing their need for Jesus, they accepted Him and received healing, mercy, forgiveness, and everlasting life.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. [John 1:10-12 (NLT)]

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NOT A DRY EYE

You learn more at a funeral than at a feast – After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover something from it. [Ecclesiastes 7:2 (MSG)]

black swallowtail - butterflyAt my age, I’ve attended a fair share of funerals and they’ve run the gamut from full-blown productions complete with video presentations and choirs to a few mourners on a windy ski slope with a bag of ashes. Some ministers knew the deceased well and others couldn’t even pronounce the name correctly. There have been inspiring prayers and eulogies and some with no prayer at all. They’ve taken place in jam-packed churches and nearly empty mortuary chapels. Solomon was correct; there is a lot we can learn at funerals.

I’ve learned how much we miss when we don’t take the time to truly know someone. I discovered more about one woman from her obituary and eulogy than I did from 30 years of socializing with her. Her funeral showed me how little we really know about people we call “friends” and how superficial our friendships can be.

I’ve learned how empty some lives have been. When asked to do the eulogy for a distant family member, I was given a list of the five things of which he was most proud, the high point being a 4-H trophy awarded some seventy years earlier. He made no mention of family, friends, faith, or love. As I looked out over the mourners, there were no friends and only a few family members who attended out of a sense of obligation.

As we released butterflies following the joyous and love-filled celebration of life of another family member, I learned about courage and how much faith, love, family and friends can guide someone in life and through the dark valley of death.

I’ve learned how much a parent’s love and guidance can influence his children after hearing a son speak eloquently at his father’s funeral. I was reminded of how fragile life can be and, upon returning home, called every family member just to tell them I loved them.

I’ve learned that communities can come together with offerings of food, comfort and support and that families can be torn apart by resentment, jealousy, and greed. A funeral not only reminds us all of the inevitability of death, it can teach us how to live. If nothing else, we return home appreciating each day just a little more.

Good and brave men buried Stephen, giving him a solemn funeral—not many dry eyes that day! [Acts 8:2 (MSG)]

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LAST WORDS- ASCENSION DAY

starry campion - mouseeared chickweed - chicoryHe said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. [John 19:30 (NLT)]

It’s been said that Leonardo Da Vinci’s last words were, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” A scientist, painter, architect, mathematician, musician, sculptor, geologist, botanist, historian, cartographer, and inventor, Da Vinci was a true Renaissance man and it’s difficult to understand how he could feel he’d failed anyone. I hope my last words won’t be as depressing as his or as foolish as those of Union Major General John Sedgwick who, just moments before he was shot and killed, said, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance!” Nevertheless, most of us won’t know when the words we speak will be our last ones. Chances are they’ll be as mundane as Elvis Presley’s: “I’m going to the bathroom to read.”

Jesus, however, knew his life was ending when He spoke from the cross. He’d been hanging there for several hours and the weight of his body pulling down on his arms meant he could barely breathe. John tells us Jesus said, “It is finished!” and then died. After hearing those words, can you imagine the heartbreak of His followers? This was Jesus, the man who calmed storms, fed thousands and healed lepers! How could it be finished? Everything they’d believed in and hoped for was gone! Was this how their story would end?

Last words, however, aren’t always what they seem. Jesus’s words and the crucifixion were only the end of the first act. What the disciples didn’t understand was that the story was just getting started. Three days later, the resurrection opened the second act. Forty days later, that act ended with Jesus’s ascension into heaven. Although those last words vary in the gospels and Acts, the message remains the same: our sins are forgiven, we are to go out into the world and make disciples, and the power of the Holy Spirit is promised. Jesus physically left the disciples but He promised both His presence and return so those weren’t His final words either. Early in the third act, Jesus spoke to Saul and He continues to speak to us today through His living word (the Bible), prayer, and in the Holy Spirit’s beautiful whisper. The only last words to be spoken in the third act will be ours when we depart the stage, as did both Da Vinci and Elvis. The glorious fourth act begins when we come home to Jesus and hear His voice again. This final act has no ending and there will be no last words spoken. It never is finished and the curtain never will fall!

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. [John 14:1-3 (NLT)]

And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment. [John 5:25-29 (NLT)]

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DORMANCY

God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails! [Psalm 51:10-12 (MSG)]

Corkscrew swamp - cypress - dormantEarlier this year, upon seeing the browning and nearly naked cypress trees at the bird sanctuary, the visitor asked if Hurricane Irma had killed them. I explained that the bald and pond cypress weren’t dead, just dormant. Being deciduous, they shed their leaves annually and were just enjoying a much needed rest during the shorter days and dryer conditions of winter. I reassured her that, in a month or so, their bright green needles would return and new growth would sprout from their branches. Today, the forest is verdant throughout the swamp.

While it is possible to force trees to evade dormancy by keeping them inside and controlling the light, temperature and water conditions, it would greatly shorten the plant’s lifespan; they’re not meant to leaf and branch continually. Dormancy is vital for the survival of deciduous trees and the way they withstand unfavorable growing conditions. When better conditions return, the trees wake up and start to bud and blossom again.

While dormancy is good for trees, dormancy is not usually considered a good thing when applied to Christians. A study in Great Britain found that 55 percent of those who identify themselves as Christian never read the Bible, 29 percent never pray, and a third of them don’t even attend church; it called these people “dormant Christians.” When God’s word isn’t growing in our hearts or we fail to bear the Fruit of the Spirit, some people say we’re in “spiritual dormancy.” Superficial, uncommitted, wilting or dying faith like this seems more a case of failure to thrive than dormancy. Just because growth isn’t obvious when a tree is dormant doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Dormancy is when the tree gathers strength, prepares for leafing and branching, and is the best time for pruning in preparation for new growth!

I’ve seen too many people lose their zeal for Christ because they haven’t taken a rest from their busyness for Him to spend time abiding in Him. It’s often when they’ve forgotten to spend time in His rest that their spiritual lives go dead. Sometimes, like trees, we need to retreat into dormancy to rest, do some pruning, and prepare ourselves to take our next steps in God’s ministry. Even Jesus took time away from His ministry for prayer and guidance.

During these next few months, my husband and I will be travelling a great deal. While I remain committed to prayer, worship, study, and journaling, there will be times when writing and posting will be difficult, if not impossible. Last year, I solved this problem with some “summer re-runs.” Knowing how refreshed and enthusiastic I felt upon my return to writing, I think dormancy is a far better term. So, like the cypress trees that go dormant in adverse conditions, I will take a break when circumstances are not conducive to writing. Unlike the trees, however, I won’t change color or shed my needles in preparation for dormancy. Instead, I’ve selected a few old devotions to repost and, with over 1,500 devotions from the last four years, I have plenty from which to choose. Throughout the next few months, they will be scattered in among new ones. So, if you see a devotion you’ve read before, don’t worry; I’m not dead, I’ve just gone dormant!

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. [Psalm 23:1-3 (MSG)]

I’ll refresh tired bodies; I’ll restore tired souls. [Jeremiah 31:25 (MSG)]

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AFTERNOON DELIGHT

How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails. [Psalm 111:2-3 (NLT)]

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

geiger treeAfter finishing our walk, I told my husband to go on to the car while I got a few shots of the blossoms on the Geiger tree by the park entrance. Once done and on my way to the parking lot, I saw him sitting quietly in the gazebo. When I disturbed his reverie with a touch on the shoulder, he looked up and said, “I was just enjoying Him.” I knew exactly what he meant.

There are plenty of things Scripture tells us to do: to love God and to hear, follow, worship, and obey Him. We’re also told to put our hope in Him, rest in Him, have faith in Him, glorify Him and honor Him with our lives. We are to seek, work for and fear the Lord and to cast our cares on Him. We are also told to delight in Him—not just delight in his word, works, and gifts but in Him!

That morning, my husband was delighting in God: enjoying quiet time in God’s company. He was enjoying God’s presence the way two old friends might—sitting on a park bench together, quietly enjoying one another’s company in the sun. I’d been so intent on getting a picture that I hadn’t even enjoyed the bright orange flowers God had placed on that tree. By not taking the time to appreciate God’s richness, I’d missed a moment to enjoy Him. Although I had a nice photograph, my husband’s time was better spent than mine.

While my husband is a good sitter, I’m more of a doer. The problem with being a doer is that doers often miss delighting in the Lord. Not long ago, downtown for lunch and a matinee, we ended up with extra time before the show. Since there was a concert in a park near the playhouse, we stopped to listen to the band before going on to the theater. My husband settled quite comfortably on a park bench but I, being a doer, spotted a woodpecker in a nearby tree, got out my camera, and tried to get a good shot of the bird. Frustrated by bad light conditions and the bird’s lack of cooperation, I finally gave up and joined my husband. It was only when I stopped doing that I started enjoying—not just the busy bird, but also the music, the breeze, and the young families walking by on their way to the playground. Most of all, by pausing, I delighted in the Lord’s presence.

One of God’s many gifts to us is the capacity to enjoy or take delight in such things as work, people, family, nature, exercise, music, art and, best of all, Him. Let’s not get so caught up in busyness that we miss doing just that. Although David yearned for never-ending fellowship with God in the temple, we can have that fellowship anywhere, even on a park bench on a Sunday afternoon. This week, take the time to sit and do nothing but delight in the Lord.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. [Psalm 27:4 (NLT)]

Be still, and know that I am God! [Psalm 51:10a (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.