Devotions By Jan


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In a Pickle

Scripture for Today: I Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong and steadfast.”

It is such an odd expression to speak of one’s self as “in a pickle.”  The word “pickle” came from the Dutch word “pekel” meaning something piquant.  William Shakespeare used this expression in 1610 for his play, The Tempest, when one character asked another “How camest thou in this pickle?” meaning “How did you get so drunk?”  Being in a pickle today can mean being in any sort of disagreeable situation.  That difficulty is likened to becoming a pickle by soaking in brine and vinegar.

Today’s verse goes further than just a disagreeable situation!  The early Christians faced real persecution because of their faith and many were even martyred.  Peter reminds them of God’s favor in calling them and of their future reward.  He also points out that the suffering is temporary and only for a little while.  How precious that God Himself will personally restore them and make them strong and firm after that suffering is over!

There is a closeness that seems to come uniquely through suffering.  I have heard so many share their gratitude for having cancer because of their special bond and closeness to the Savior through it!  In some mysterious way, God moves in close to those who are suffering.  His presence is felt like never before as He affirms and reassures of His love and plan.  There is something about sharing His suffering that brings a close relationship even closer.  He has been there for me at some of the lowest times of my life and I am thankful.

Lord, help me feel You there in the hard times.

 

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Unique

Scripture fro Today: I Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can bear it.”

Having visited the pottery  factories in Poland has given me a true appreciation for their products.  It was fascinating to see each artist bent over their work, hand painting or stamping their pieces with intense concentration.  Each piece is signed by the artist as well as stamped with the Polish word for “unique.”  It is true that each piece is unique.  But all the pottery went through the same process of being fired in the kiln.

Today’s verse recognizes that each believer faces the same kinds of trials and tests.  The details may vary.  The timing and even the intensity may differ.  But there is a commonality to all of the trials God allows us to face.  They are never intended to weaken us but to strengthen our faith.  In each trial we see God’s hand and His faithfulness.  And we have His promise that it will never be more than we can bear.

What I am facing is never unique.  Somewhere, someone in the world has faced nearly the same thing.  Knowing that helps me to not feel so alone.  Not only can I draw strength from the stories of others, but I can be encouraged knowing what Christ faced.  He experienced every kind of temptation and yet did not sin. (Heb. 4:15)  And because He Himself suffered when tempted, He is there to help (Heb. 2:18)  He Himself is my “way out.”  Depending on His strength and help makes all the difference.

Thank you Lord, that I do not need to do this alone.


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First Responders

Scripture for Today: James 1:2-3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

The term, “first responder” was coined by the media during the 9/11 attacks as a verbal short cut.  So many different agencies and ranks were involved in rescue on that day that the term proved very useful.  But the downside is having no clarity on which services were in charge on the scene.  The life-sustaining aid they give are important enough to be reported with more detail about who they are!  The training and help they give as a  “first response” saves lives.

Today’s verse talks about a response to all kinds of trials and difficulties that does not usually come first!  Believers are to look at their problems not as a punishment, a curse or bad luck.  The one belonging to the Lord is to consider or regard each trial as something positive.  There can be joy when we can see past the problem to the perseverance that is being produced in us.  The testing of our faith comes through the hard times, especially those that we “fall into” unexpectedly.

Of course, joy is not my first response to tragedy.  But after long careful consideration, it can be.  It is usually well after that negative experience that I can see how God used it in my life.  I can esteem something as a joy when I see my faith become stronger as a result.  Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2).  I want to see the joy that is set before me as well and so be able to endure with perseverance whatever He allows.

Lord, help me see the joy ahead!

 


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Walking Backwards?

Scripture for Today: Isaiah 38:17 “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In Your love You kept me from the pit of destruction; You have put all my sins behind Your back.”

Nothing stops a person so completely in their tracks than a muscle cramp!  The pain, though temporary, can be so intense and feels like it will last forever!  That involuntary contraction in the calf is incredibly strong and the only relief seems to be in massaging and stretching.  However, some have found that walking backwards is a good way to relieve the pain.

Our suffering may stop us in our tracks.  Like King Hezekiah, sometimes all we can do is turn our head to the wall and cry.  Today’s verse was written by King Hezekiah after his illness and recovery.  He acknowledges that there was benefit in his suffering.  He learned humility (verse 15) as a result of the “anguish of his soul.”  He understood that the Lord acted out of love and not malice towards him.  That suffering was used to save him from destruction.

Suffering in any form can shake my faith to its core.  When I do not see the outcome I want, the suffering can well transform itself into an anguish of the soul.  It is too easy for me to doubt God’s love and wonder if He really cares.  But God always acts out of love for His own.  He works that suffering into a benefit that is of eternal value although I may not always see it.   The ultimate suffering would be to spend eternity without Him.  I can never really doubt His love because He spared me that suffering when He forgave my sins.

Thank you Lord, for sparing me from the worse kind of suffering!

 


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Just a Test?

Scripture for Today: I Peter 1:7 “These (all kinds of trials) have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

This frightening image came up on phones all over Hawaii on January 13th!  Reactions were varied.  Some grabbed the kids and pets and jumped in their cars with no clear destination.  A group of bikers sought shelter at a church being renovated that day.  Others milled in the streets unsure of what to do and panicking as no calls could to go through.  One friend faced what she thought might be the end by calmly going out on her balcony with her bird and coffee in hand.  It was a full 38 minutes of panic before the correction came.

Today’s verse reminds us that life will be full of tests and trials, all kinds.  But they have one thing in common.  The suffering and grief they cause will prove or disprove the genuineness of our faith.  And somehow, the praise, glory and honor to come will overshadow it all.  The genuine faith will emerge from this testing as more valuable than refined gold!

Just because my eternal Home is secure in Him does not mean that I am exempt from suffering here.  He allows me to go through some difficult pain.  Each time another wave of trial hits is another time to turn to Him and hang on with my faith.  And He is always faithful.  He uses it all to grow and deepen my conviction of who He is.  He is my Rock and I will cling to Him.

Lord, may my faith prove genuine and honoring to You.


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The Nutcracker

Scripture for Today: II Corinthians 4:8 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.”

For years I have enjoyed seeing the nutcracker in Europe, but now I am seeing more and more making their appearance in America for Christmas.  They have long been a symbol of good luck in Germany where they originated.  The early ones were in the shape of animals, birds and people in the 15th century.  By the 1800’s they were fashioned to represent and vilify unpopular leaders of the day.  Now, the most popular ones are the soldiers who benignly stand guard.   Their function as nutcrackers is almost forgotten!  But their purpose is to press that hard nut until it is crushed.

There is hard pressing in today’s verse but not crushing.  Paul goes on to say that there is persecution but not abandonment.   He is struck down but never destroyed.  Paul experienced tremendous pressure but his spirit was not crushed.  He did not crack.  He did not lose heart as he was convinced that the One who raised Jesus from the dead would also raise him (verse 14).  Despair does not have a chance as Paul is filled with hope, fixing his eyes on the unseen and eternal (verse 18).

Sadness does seem to press down on me and can feel overwhelming in the face of loss.  And like Paul says, it can be perplexing as I struggle with the questions of “why.”  But for me as a believer there is hope instead of despair.  There is God’s comfort and presence instead of abandonment.  He is especially close to those who are brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).  What is unseen and eternal keeps me from feeling utterly crushed.

Thank you Lord, that Your birth at Christmas turns my despair into hope!


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Poinsettia

Scripture for Today: Psalm 112:4 “Even in darkness, light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and  compassionate and righteous.” 

I love seeing the red and green of the poinsettia at Christmas time!  This native flower to Mexico is referred to as, “Flower of the Good Night.”  The reason for this term is the way the poinsettia becomes so colorful.  It is only after twelve to fifteen hours of darkness a day for a period of three months that the leaves (or bracts) become a vibrant red.

Today’s verse is a wonderful reassurance that the darkness the believer experiences will not be indefinite.  Those who belong to the Lord are upright because of Christ’s righteousness.  And we are assured that eventually there will be a dawn.  Often in Scripture darkness represents calamity and light represents well being.  No one is exempt from dark times.  Regardless of education, wealth, health or status, we all face some kind of crisis or suffering.  But for the believer, there is a dawn coming!  For the one made righteous through Christ, there is hope.

What is amazing to me is that even in the darkness, there is blessing.  The Lord is actively at work in that darkness.  He is using all the negative in my life to test and refine my faith.  Every hurt and disappointment, He uses to grow me more like Him.  He does not waste any pain or difficulty but He utilizes it all to change me.  What a comfort to know He is in control!  When I finally exit that time of darkness, I am different.  Because of His work and grace I can emerge more colorful.  Perseverance, endurance and stronger faith are the colors He produces through that dark time.

Thank you Lord, that you know what You are doing and I can trust You.