BUTTERFLY KISSES – Part 2

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

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” [Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)]

red-spotted purple admiral butterflyAs I began looking for, listing, and thanking God for the little blessings hidden in each day (His “butterfly kisses”), I couldn’t help but wonder about the rest of the day. In a fallen world that all but guarantees loss, pain, misery, and trouble, does God just scatter these special moments of grace willy-nilly? Does He randomly send things like encouraging emails, the perfect worship song at just the right time, the aroma of gardenias wafting through the air, a hummingbird flitting through the garden, a shooting star, or doves nesting outside the window? What about the rest of our moments—the ones when we’re struggling with colicky babies, chronic pain, a severely disabled child, stage-4 cancer, betrayal, or abuse? As I look at my prayer list, I see prodigal children, financial woes, severe depression, food insecurity, parents who’ve lost two infants in less than two years, families dealing with Alzheimer’s, and a newly-wed who, less than an hour after sending her husband off to work with a kiss, learned that he died of an aortic aneurysm while on the train. Hearing children’s laughter while frolicking in the pool, a popsicle on a hot summer day, a rainbow, or seeing the elusive green flash at sunset only go so far in alleviating their anguish or sorrow. Where is God’s grace the rest of the time?

But wait! What do we know of God? Throughout Scripture, we are told that He is good and that He loves us as a parent loves a child. We know we have a loving God who gives us good gifts because, in Matthew 7, Jesus compared God’s provision to that of a loving father who wouldn’t deceive his children by giving them an inedible stone or a poisonous snake instead of bread or fish. Scripture also tells us that this good and loving God has a plan for us. So, if we believe that we are loved by a good God and that this good and loving God has set our lives in motion according to His plan, does it not follow that His entire plan is for our good (even when it includes sleepless nights, loss, hurt, pain, and tears)?

While we grab with gusto all that seems good to us, we’d prefer escaping the rest. While we find joy in the gifts we like, we feel cheated when it’s not the gift we wanted or expected. Nevertheless, every moment, even the ones that seem to break our hearts, are as much a part of God’s grace as are the little blessings of the day. Perhaps, God’s butterfly kisses are simply His way of reminding us of His loving presence in everything and serve as a way for us to see His hand in all things. It is in thanking Him for the little insignificant gifts of our day that we eventually find the ability to gives thanks in all circumstances!

Be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Ephesians 5:18b-20 (NLT)]

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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)]

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REJECTION

The Lord told Samuel, “Listen to everything the people are saying to you. They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me. They’re doing just what they’ve done since I took them out of Egypt—leaving me and serving other gods. Listen to them now, but be sure to warn them and tell them about the rights of a king.” [1 Samuel 8:7-9 (GW)]
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Following Samson, the high priest Eli may have acted as a sort of judge. His sons, however, were scoundrel priests who treated God’s offering with contempt and slept with the women serving in the Tabernacle. When God’s judgment came down upon Eli and his sons, Samuel became the high priest and judge. While Samuel clearly was called by God to his role, his sons Joel and Abijah were not. Nevertheless, when Samuel grew old, he appointed his boys as judges. Like Eli’s sons, they were greedy rogues who took advantage of their position by accepting bribes and corrupting justice. Fed up with their wickedness, Israel’s elders met with Samuel. Wanting to be like the nations surrounding them and hoping to bring the tribes into a cohesive union, they demanded a king.

Rather than depend on God in time of crisis, Israel wanted to depend on human wisdom, power, and strength. Samuel cautioned them about all that came with a king: conscription of their sons and requisitioning of their crops along with demands for their daughters’ labor and a ten percent tax. Although amply warned by Samuel that they would beg for relief from the king they wanted, the people refused to listen. Allowing Israel to make choices (and learn from their consequences), God had Samuel appoint Saul as their king. Less than 120 years later, Samuel’s warning was fulfilled when they implored King Rehoboam for relief from excessive work and taxes; shortly thereafter, the kingdom divided.

Saul was exactly what the people wanted; he came from a wealthy and influential family, was tall and handsome, and even courageous. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a good leader or knowledgeable in spiritual matters. He had an inferiority complex and issues with impulse control, godly obedience, jealousy, and selfishness.

If I’d been in God’s position at this point in Israel’s history, I might have responded to them with an ultimatum of “it’s my way or the highway!” When they encountered difficulties with their plan, my cold response might have been, “You reap what you sow,” or “You wanted him, now you’re stuck with him!” I may have turned away from those who’d turned from me and stopped listening to those who’d stopped listening to what I had to say.

Fortunately for Israel (and us), I’m not God and that’s not how God responded. He never gave up on his people after their disobedience and rebellion in Eden, during the Exodus, or during the time of the judges and He didn’t this time either. After all, a promise is a promise and God promised the Israelites that He never would leave or forsake them! Samuel continued to serve the Israelites as their prophet, priest, and judge and David, a much better man than Saul, eventually became king. In spite of Israel’s continued failure to follow the Lord during the time of the kings, He gave them prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah who continued to speak God’s word to his people. He gave them John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Messiah and then He offered His only son, Jesus, as payment for our sins.

Mercifully, God doesn’t hold a grudge or respond in a snit when we ignore or disobey him. He didn’t abandon the Israelites and he won’t abandon us. When we reject Him, He doesn’t reject us; when we ignore Him, He doesn’t ignore us. When we take the wrong path, He continues to give us opportunities to turn back or offers new and better paths along the way.

Thank you, God, for never giving up on your rebellious children.

The Lord is compassionate, merciful, patient, and always ready to forgive. He will not always accuse us of wrong or be angry with us forever. He has not treated us as we deserve for our sins or paid us back for our wrongs. As high as the heavens are above the earth—that is how vast his mercy is toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west—that is how far he has removed our rebellious acts from himself. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. [Psalm 103:8-13 (GW)]

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WHO KNOWS?

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. [1 John 1:5 (NLT)]

The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (NLT)]

yinyangAn old Chinese parable tells of a poor farmer whose only horse runs away. His friends commiserate over his bad luck and ask how he’ll plow his field. The farmer answers, “Who knows? We shall see.” Two days later, the horse returns along with several wild horses. When the farmer’s friends congratulate him on the good fortune of now having a stable full of horses, the farmer replies, “Who knows? We shall see.” The following week, while trying to tame the horses, the farmer’s son breaks his leg in three places. The farmer’s friends offer condolences and wonder how he’ll get his work done with his son unable to walk and help. The farmer answers, “Who knows? We shall see.” When a war breaks out, the emperor’s men arrive and conscript all the young men in the village. With his leg in a cast and needing crutches, the farmer’s son is considered unfit for battle and remains in the village. As his neighbors watch their sons leave home, they congratulate the farmer on his stroke of luck. He replies, “Who knows? We shall see.” Although the son’s leg eventually heals, he has a bad limp. The farmer’s neighbors express their sympathy for such trouble. “Who knows? We shall see,” he again replies. By the time the war is over, all of the village’s boys have died in battle but, with his several horses and a son now able to help, the farmer can plow several fields and has grown wealthy. When the villagers congratulate him on his good fortune, the farmer replies, “Who knows? We shall see.”

This 2,000-year-old tale reflects Taoist stoicism and the belief in Yin Yang—everything in the universe consists of two complementary yet opposing forces. There is no good or bad, only that which appears to be so. The resigned farmer is subject to fate and it is only his attitude over which he has control. Associated with this philosophy is the Yin Yang symbol: two equal parts of white and black comma-shapes with a black dot in the white side and a white dot in the black one. It represents the belief that opposites cannot exist without one another—white cannot exist without black nor could light exist without dark. In the same way, good cannot exist without bad nor can bad exist without good. Rather than good and bad being at war, they are in a constant state of flux; there is a little bad in all that’s good and a little good in all that’s bad.

While it is comforting to think there are no absolutes and that life is just a balance of opposites, that’s not Biblical. We live in a world of absolutes and our triune God is absolutely righteous and the sovereign judge of all that’s evil. Moreover, not all things change—our God is immutable and Jesus is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. If Christians had a symbol similar to that of Yin Yang, it wouldn’t show equal forces with neither side struggling for dominance. It would have the light consuming the darkness. Good and evil are not balanced—they are at war and good won the war when Christ died and rose from the dead! There is no dot of darkness in God’s light.

If this were a Christian parable, the imperturbable farmer wouldn’t answer, “Who knows? We shall see.” Rather than being complacent and merely accepting his fate, he would find purpose in it. He’d echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “In all things I give thanks, knowing that I can be content in all circumstance because my strength is in Christ.” The Christian does not find peace in a philosophy—he finds peace in the person of our triune God. Like the Taoist farmer, he doesn’t know what the next day will bring or how it all fits together but, unlike that farmer, he knows who is writing the story and how the story eventually will end!

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)]

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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)]

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TAKING INVENTORY

Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. [Philippians 4:11-13 (MSG)]

plumariaBefore going grocery shopping, smart shoppers take an inventory of their cupboards to see what is missing. That’s fine when going to market, but it’s not a wise policy when we assess our lives. It’s far too easy to spend time thinking about what we don’t have instead of being thankful for what we actually do possess.

When a friend took me on a tour of her magnificent new home, she kept mentioning the furniture she’d ordered months ago that hadn’t arrived, the incomplete landscaping, the bare walls waiting for pictures, and other finishing touches that still needed to be done. I sympathize since there’s an empty corner in our den waiting for the chair we ordered a year ago and the landscaper still has not laid the promised mulch. Nevertheless, I was struck by how little she was enjoying what, for most of us, would be our dream home. Where was the enthusiasm, joy, and appreciation one would expect her to have? She seemed oblivious to the fantastic view, fine craftsmanship, and all of the beautiful new things that already surrounded her. In the midst of a home worthy of a spread in House Beautiful, she only saw what was lacking.

But then, are any of us that much different? It is incredibly easy to focus on what is missing – be it money, phone calls from the kids, granite countertops, compliments from the spouse, the latest iPhone or Apple watch, premium channels on TV, a grandchild, or one of those Instant Pots does just about everything but wash the dishes! It seems we always want something more, new, different, bigger, or better. Beware, hiding behind that spirit of discontent lurks Satan. Instead of focusing on God’s provision with appreciative hearts, the enemy wants us to focus on our deficiencies.

Satan started that ploy with Eve and continues with it today. She and Adam lived in a perfect world where they could enjoy everything but the fruit of one tree. Did Satan have her look at all she had? No! He had her look at the one thing she didn’t possess so that, rather than appreciation and thanksgiving, her heart was filled with discontent. We continue down the slippery slope of discontent whenever we focus on what we don’t have instead of seeing what we do. Today, instead of an inventory of what we’re missing, how about taking an inventory of our many blessings? Thanksgiving shouldn’t be limited to one day in November; it should be every day!

Thank you, God, for your abundant provision in our lives. Open our eyes to see your blessings and give us grateful hearts for them. Whether we live in abundance or need, may we always remember that you alone are the true source of joy and contentment in our lives.

All our discontents about what we want appear to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have. [Daniel Defoe]

Satan wants us to constantly focus on everything that is wrong with us and look at how far we still have to go. But God desires for us to rejoice in how far we have already come. [Joyce Meyer]

You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes. [Philippians 4:19 (MSG)]

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