DIGGIN’ UP BONES – NEW YEAR’S DAY 2018

Sunrise - Duluth MN harborNo, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

I’m diggin’ up bones, I’m diggin’ up bones
Exhuming things that’s better left alone
I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone
Yeah tonight I’m sittin’ alone diggin’ up bones. [Randy Travis]

I was listening to Randy Travis sing, “I’m diggin’ up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.” It seemed an appropriate song for this time of year when we tend to dwell on the past—not just past loves, but past losses, mistakes, oversights, misunderstandings, injuries and pain. As one year ends and another starts, we often dig up all the grievances, regrets, and ”if onlys” of our yesterdays.

The word Randy Travis uses is “exhuming” and that’s a powerful word. When we exhume something, we’re not just digging in the dirt for weeds or post holes—we’re digging a corpse out of its grave and that’s a gruesome ghoulish thought. Once a body is buried, it’s meant to be left undisturbed; that also goes for all those old memories of things dead and gone.

When we dig up the past, we’re trying to rewrite history. Even if we could, we would do no better the second time; we’d just make different mistakes and still have regrets! From any time-travel novel or movie, we know that time-traveling is complicated; small changes in the past can have major, and often bad, ramifications. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly nearly erases himself when he accidentally becomes his mother’s high school romantic interest. In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, after the protagonist prevents JFK’s assassination, he sadly discovers that the world is worse off because of his actions. Moreover, it’s our history—all of those sad, terrible, painful, embarrassing, frightening, and distressing experiences, along with all the good ones—that make us who and what we are today. We’re us, not in spite of the past, but because of the past.

If we don’t like who or where we are in life, that’s not the past’s fault and it’s certainly not God’s. Today is the start of a brand new year and we can start fresh. The good thing about God’s mercy, love and forgiveness is that we don’t need to wait another 365 days before we can start fresh again. God specializes in fresh starts and we can begin anew any moment of any day. Each minute we waste digging up the bones of the past is a minute we’ve lost to the wonders of the here and now. The only moment we have is this one; let us use it wisely and leave the old bones where they belong—dead and buried.

 The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. [Phillips Brooks]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

CHRISTMAS SPIDERS

spider webTo all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. [Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)]

It was a web day at the bird sanctuary and I don’t mean the world-wide kind. It was one of those days when the morning dew, mist, and light cooperated in such a way that we saw beautiful intricate spider webs hanging everywhere. Looking as if they were made of strands of silver rather than silk, it seemed that the spiders had decorated all the trees in celebration of Christmas.

They reminded me of an old folktale that was read to me every Christmas. As I remember it, a mother thoroughly cleaned her house in preparation for Christmas and not a cobweb remained. All of the spiders fled to the attic lest they be swept away with their webs. On Christmas Eve, they heard the joyful noise of carols being sung and grew curious. Once the family went to bed, they all crept downstairs to see what the commotion had been about. Amazed by the beautifully decorated tree and never having seen anything like it, they crawled up and down the tree all night long as they admired every shiny ornament. Unfortunately, by morning’s light, the tree was covered with their gray webs and the ornaments were barely visible.

On Christmas morning, when the Christ child came to bless the house, He was surprised to see the spiders and their strands of silk covering the tree’s branches. Knowing how sad the family would be to see their once beautiful tree covered with dusty webs, the Christ child touched it. The spiders’ gray threads immediately turned into strands of silver and gold and the exquisite tree shimmered and shone more beautifully than ever.

I love this story and not just because it explains how the custom of hanging tinsel on a tree began. The Christ child, with His heart full of love, entered the home to bring a blessing for the family. Touching the damaged tree transformed it into a thing of beauty and, with that touch, He saved their Christmas celebration. Christ has a heart full of love for all of us and comes into our lives to bless us. When He touches our damaged hearts, like the tree, they’ll become things of beauty. We won’t look any different nor will we be adorned with strands of gold and silver but, once He’s touched us, our lives will be beautifully transformed. He doesn’t just save our Christmas; He saves our lives!

Our Christmas tree has no tinsel to remind me of Jesus’ miraculous touch. Nevertheless, every time I see a spider web glistening in the morning light, I remember how Christ has transformed my damaged life into a thing of beauty and give thanks.

The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent’s love. Pure as the first snows of Christmas. For God so loved His children that He sent His son, that we might someday return to Him. [Richard Paul Evans]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. [John 3:16-17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE WAS GOD! – CHRISTMAS 2017

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. … So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:1-2,14 (NLT)]

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. [Colossians 2:9 (NLT)]

Virgin Mary and JesusHe came as a baby! God Himself humbly came into the world as a helpless infant. Our nativity scenes and Christmas cards portray a serene Mary holding her peacefully sleeping child but babies are anything but calm and peaceful. They are messy and incredibly noisy little creatures who, when not sleeping, are crying, eating, drooling, peeing, or pooping (often all at the same time). That was God sleeping in the feed trough and nursing at Mary’s breast but He didn’t have a gold halo around his head. Looking the same as every other newborn, he was doing and feeling the same things every human baby feels. On the eighth day of His life, He was circumcised just like every other little Jewish boy and I’m sure He cried in pain! That crying baby was God!

Jesus came into the world without benefit of a sterile hospital birthing room and Mary didn’t rock Him to sleep in a soothing-motion bassinet or rocking cradle. She didn’t sit in a cushioned glider chair or have a nursing pillow when she fed him. He didn’t have super-absorbent, ultra soft, hypoallergenic disposable diapers covering his bottom nor did Mary use warmed sensitive-skin baby wipes to clean that bottom. In all likelihood God had diaper rash and, with no special baby shampoo, He cried when the soap got in his eyes. Mary carried Him in a simple sling rather than an ergonomically designed BabyBjorn© and, having no all-terrain stroller, once able, God walked just like everyone else. And, like every other child, He got tired, dirty and hungry. It was God who had the runny noses, sore throats, tummy aches, stubbed toes, tears, and bruises that come with childhood.

Jesus had to be fed and then learn to feed himself; he probably spilled more than once. He had to learn how to crawl, walk and run and must have bumped his chin and skinned his knees frequently. He had to be toilet trained and, in all likelihood, had more than one accident. He had to learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read. Picture God singing the Hebrew equivalent of the ABC song: “Aleph, Bet, Vet, Gimel, Dalet, Hey…” At Joseph’s side, Jesus must have gotten a few splinters and sore thumbs as He learned the carpenter’s trade. That little boy was fully human and yet He was God!

God, being God, could easily have come into the world full grown. He could have skipped the indignities of babyhood and challenges of childhood but He didn’t. When God came into our world, He experienced every human emotion and physical sensation. He knew cold, pain, sorrow, loss, toil, discomfort, fatigue, and temptation as well as love, joy, comfort, and encouragement. Jesus was there when time began and yet the One who created mankind humbled Himself and experienced humanity. That baby—that little baby boy was God Himself!

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God. [C.S. Lewis]

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SEASONS

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest [Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NLT)]

aspens and pines - Steamboat COWhile some might groan, others may cheer on this the first day of winter. I remember being asked my favorite season and, since we were skiing in the mountains at the time, I said it was winter. I loved it for the powder days on the slopes, pines laden with snow cookies, and aspens glistening with hoarfrost. Winter meant snuggling by the fire with a hot drink while watching the snow fall and the wind blow the trees. Then, I remembered that winter brings shoveling, cleaning off the car, cold toes, drippy noses, falling on the ice, and heating bills so I quickly changed my answer.

Perhaps spring was the favorite—the snow starts to melt, song birds reappear, snowbells and crocuses peek out of the ground, coats and boots are shed, and we again feel the sun’s warmth. Then I remembered the crowds and traffic jams of spring break, rain, mud, spring cleaning, and tax day! Summer was a possibility with its peonies, peaches, butterflies, sandals, tank tops and lazy days at the lake. Then again, summer brings mosquitoes, allergies, humidity, weeding, mowing, and tornadoes. When I remembered the autumn colors, the cranes and geese gathering before migration, Thanksgiving dinner, and the sound of leaves rustling while walking through the woods, I thought my answer should be autumn except for the box elder bugs, gloomy days, leaf raking, more allergies, and hurricanes.

Years later, I’m still unable to give a decisive answer to which is my favorite season; I hope to never see it as one of those problematic online security questions. Fortunately, with the passing of each year, we get to return to all the things we like about a season and, when we tire of that season’s challenges, we know a new season will arrive within a few months’ time.

Unlike the calendar’s seasons, we only get one spring, summer, fall and winter in life. Unfortunately, much of our time in any season often is spent trying to move into the next or return to the previous one. The four-year old proudly tells you she’ll be five at her next birthday and, the day she turns fifteen, she claims to be almost sixteen. She may be OK with being twenty-two but she drags her heels as thirty approaches. Trying to hold the next season at bay, she “recently turned forty” at forty-five and, when the invitation to join AARP arrives at fifty, she bursts into tears. By sixty, she looks longingly at the clothes she used to wear a decade earlier, hates having her picture taken, and refuses to share her age. It’s not until her nineties that she again brags about how old she’ll be at her next birthday.

While we know the date and length of the calendar’s seasons, we have no such knowledge of our own personal seasons. My mother-in-law, at 101, is enjoying a lengthy winter; my mother died at 47 and had none. In answer to that question about a favorite season, perhaps the wisest answer is that our favorite season is the one we’re in! We can’t recapture yesterday and tomorrow comes way too quickly so let us thankfully and joyfully accept our today.

It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had. [Elizabeth Kübler Ross]

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

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WE PRAISE HIM

Praise the Lord! How good to sing praises to our God! How delightful and fitting! … Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! [Psalm 147:1,12 (NLT)

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. [Thomas Ken]

Athabasca Falls CanadaFortunately, the words to Vivaldi’s “Laudamus te” from his Gloria were shown on the screen in the front of the auditorium: “We praise you. We bless you. We adore you. We glorify you.” The soprano’s exquisite voice did that beautifully. When she was finished, I thought back to last summer when hiking in the Canadian Rockies. While gazing at the breathtaking scenery, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m singing at the top of my lungs—you just can’t hear me!” While relishing the splendor of a glacial lake and waterfall, I was silently singing the Doxology for a private audience and the One for whom I sang heard me loud and clear. Had I sung that song of praise aloud, however, it wouldn’t have sounded anywhere as pleasant as that soprano’s clear voice. Nevertheless, I think God enjoyed my song just as much.

After the concert, I wondered if we praise, bless, adore and glorify God anywhere near as much as we should. Every action we take, every thought we think, and every word we say should do those very things but, at least for me, that is not the case. Praising God is joyfully detailing all that God has done. As I did in the mountains, we often offer praise when we are overwhelmed by His magnificent creation but often forget Him in the little routine gifts of everyday life. Yet, I wonder, how can we possibly bless God? Whenever He’s blessed us, our lives have been enriched—we’ve been helped, healed, gifted or made stronger or wiser. How can we bless God when there’s nothing we can do for or give to Him that could make Him any better than He already is? When we bless God, however, we’re proclaiming our gratitude, appreciation and admiration for His blessings. To adore God is to love and worship Him and to glorify Him is to acknowledge His greatness. After all, it is He alone who deserves to be honored and worshipped; it is all His creation and anything we have achieved is only through His power. In all of these actions, we joyfully make an offering of self and surrender to God’s will.

Let’s not wait until we view majestic mountain scenery or a stellar sunset, hear Vivaldi’s Gloria or Handel’s Messiah, or even sing the Doxology to acknowledge God’s power and glory and take joy in His limitless grace. God’s fingerprints are as visible in our everyday chores as they are in a beautiful waterfall and our every thought, word and deed should be a prayerful song that praises, blesses, adores and glorifies His holy name.

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. [John Piper]

I will praise the Lord, and may everyone on earth bless his holy name forever and ever. [Psalm 145:21 (NLT)]

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. [Psalm 100:1 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GOD-INCIDENCES – Thanksgiving 2017

The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. [Psalm 103:19 (NLT)]

mountain bluebirdMost of us live rather ordinary and somewhat predictable lives that are occasionally interrupted by major life events (some welcome and some not). It is life’s little surprises—its happenstance and serendipity—that keep our lives from becoming humdrum. On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s give thought to those little blessings we call coincidences.

We probably have no problem crediting God with the big blessings of life—things like the birth of a healthy child, the benign biopsy, the successful surgery, the spouse he gave us, the better paying job or His gifts of salvation and forgiveness. On the other hand, we tend to think of the little unexpected blessings—the butterfly or bluebird, the chance meeting, the phone call from a loved one, the sermon that spoke to our need, or the humorous email that arrived when we were in the dumps—as mere coincidence or luck. After all, our God is almighty and far too busy running the universe to deal with the minutiae of our everyday lives. Make no mistake; nothing is unimportant to a God who sees every sparrow fall and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our universe is not run by random chance and God can multitask better than a one armed paper-hanger or a mom with triple toddlers! Nothing escapes His notice!

We speak to God in prayer but often chalk up His answer to luck or coincidence. Although He speaks audibly, I think he also speaks through a seemingly random Bible verse, a fortuitous encounter, words in a book we happen to pick up, a picture we see, or even sunsets, sunrises, flowers and animals. When we credit the little blessings of life to coincidence, we’re happy. When we credit them to their orchestrator, we become thankful. While we’re surprised by these seemingly random or chance events, our God never is! Both the big important incidents and the unimportant trivial ones come from His hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we will give thanks for our food, family, health, homes and all the major blessings of life. Let us also give thanks for the little blessings, the godsends, that make our ordinary lives so extraordinary: the ones that encourage us when we want to give up, put smiles on our faces, fill our hearts with joy, answer our questions, or remind us how much we’re loved. Along with all the big things, let’s be sure to give him credit for the little ones—the God-incidences—that he scatters throughout our days. His fingerprints are everywhere we look!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2017 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.