Devotions By Jan


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Shade Trees

Scripture for Today: Psalm 121:5 “The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand.”

These sheep are taking advantage of the only shade available on Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire, England.  This beautiful spot overlooks Winchcombe in the valley below.  As the sun makes its trek across the sky, the bench sits in that lovely shade, providing welcome relief from the sun’s rays.  Sheep are often portrayed as dumb, but at least they know enough to move out of the sun and find comfort in the shade of that tree!

Today’s verse describes God’s care, protection and presence as shade.  His shade is at our right hand as that is the side used for battle.  The unrelenting heat of battle is lessened with assurances of His presence and power.  We are not dealing with an enemy that we can see (Eph. 6:12).  Putting on all that spiritual armor is essential for the conflict, but even more important is His divine protection.  The light of the sun or the moon will not harm us (verse 6).  Day or night He is watching over His own.  Nothing can touch our souls as He has already assured the outcome.  We are on the winning side.

What a comfort to have Him always with me!  I am so often unaware, not only of the raging battle around me but of His presence.  He is protecting me twenty-four seven from dangers I unknowingly encounter.  He is my shade and protection from any and all evil in the world.  If any of it should touch me, it is only with His permission and for His higher purposes.  He is always watching and nothing gets past Him.  He is my Deliverer and I can trust HIm.

Thank you Lord, for being my shade today.

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Green Bean Tree?

Scripture for Today: Job 34:3-4 “For the ear tests words as the tongue tests food. Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.”

It looked so odd.  I had to get a closer look at this strange tree growing in Epinal, France.  No, of course these are not green beans but I bet I could have convinced my young grandsons that they were!  It is called a Catalpa Tree and is sometimes referred to as an Indian Bean Tree or Cigar Tree.  The burning question is always whether these pods can be eaten.  I am glad I did not try as the answer is, no!

Today’s verse records the advice of one of Job’s three friends.  Elihu was eager to help Job discover the reason for his troubles.  He had a lot to say but it was off the mark.  Certainly, we are to test what we hear and listen with discernment.  Just as we taste food to see if it has a pleasing flavor, so we “taste” what we hear to decide if it rings true.  The problem is that we all have differing taste buds.  What seems right and good to one can seem wrong and sour to another.  Our subjectivity can get in the way of finding absolute truth.

There was absolute truth in the answer to the question, “Are these pods edible?”  And God’s absolute truth does not depend on our subjective senses or how I feel on a given day.  Jesus calls Himself, “Truth.” (John 14:6)  Absolute unchanging truth is found in the Person of Jesus Christ, and is not affected by my perception or belief.  What a comfort in a world where truth is relative and up for grabs!

Thank you Lord, for the truth I find in You.


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Bent by the Wind

Scripture for Today: Psalm 38:6 “I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go about mourning all day long.”

So many of the trees at this beach on the island of Sardinia were bent over as a result of the strong winds.  It was almost impossible to walk through a grove of them and avoid running into their lowered branches.  Some of them were practically horizontal.  Only a few provided the shade we needed at the right height for our picnic.  Even so, they managed to keep growing, in spite of the buffeting from those strong gusts of wind.

Today’s verse talks about being bent over and bowed down as an image for guilt over sin.  David feels the seriousness of his failures so keenly that he mourns all throughout the day.  He describes the guilt he feels as a burden too heavy to bear (verse 4).  He feels that the guilt is even affecting his health when he says there is no soundness in his bones because of his sin (verse 3).  He calls his sin, “folly” (verse 5).

This is exactly what guilt feels like.  But this description is before David confesses (verse 18).  David ends the psalm with confidence in God’s help and forgiveness.  Those strong winds of guilt have him bowed down but he is still standing.  Perhaps David was a “man after God’s own heart” because he recognized the seriousness of his sin and was willing to completely humble himself.

I do not often have this kind of guilt.  It is not that I do not sin as much or as seriously as David.  But I think I am sometimes desensitized to it.  Or my pride just does not allow me to think that I am quite that bad, or that what I have done is so serious.

Lord, examine my heart today.

Look familiar?  This is a repost due to summer ministry.


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“Tree of 40 Fruit”

Scripture for Today: Romans 11:18 “Do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: you do not support the root – but the root supports you.”

This tree looks completely mixed up!  Several different colors are blooming and in the summer it will bear several different kinds of fruit in sequence!  It is called the “Tree of 40 Fruit.”  Aken, an artist and professor at Syracuse University, put this strange tree together using a process called, “chip grafting.”  By doing this he has created a tree that bears forty different varieties of fruit with pits!

Today’s verse uses the imagery of grafting branches into an olive tree to describe how salvation was offered to the Gentile, or non-Jewish world.  Salvation was brought first to the Jewish race (Rom.1:16).  It was not until they rejected Jesus Christ as their Messiah that the Gentiles as a group were included in God’s plan of salvation.  This is illustrated by some branches being cut off and others being grafted in.  In either case, all the branches are on the same footing as all of us are connected to the same Root.  Salvation does not depend on ourselves, our works, or our ethnicity.  It all depends on faith in Christ and His saving work on the cross.

Feeling superior to other races is a deplorable thing and yet, I will admit that I have had thoughts that are not too God-honoring.  Even though God’s love is constant and unconditional, I know that my pride saddens and disappoints Him.  How human it is to believe that one group is better and more deserving of God’s grace than another!  But grace is never deserved.  To be grafted in to the Source of life is an immense privilege and I am so grateful.

Thank you Lord, for including me!

 

 


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Blooming Joshua Tree

Scripture for Today:  Psalms 28:2 “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to You for help, as I lift up my hands toward Your Most holy Place.”

Looking like hands reaching up to the sky, the Joshua tree appears as if it praying!  This strange looking plant is native to the dry southwestern states but grows mostly in the Mojave Desert.  I have seen these odd looking trees but have never seen one in bloom.  They do not grow these white clusters every year as their appearance depends on the amount of rainfall.  Not only is rain a factor, but these flowers need a winter freeze before they will bloom!

Today’s verse is David’s cry for help in dealing with the wicked who surround him.  He lifts his hands for mercy, pleading with God not to turn a deaf ear or be silent (verse 1).  Like so many of the psalms written by David, it starts out with discouragement and even despair, but then finishes with praise!  What starts out as worry over God being silent, ends with recognition of His strength and salvation (verse 8).  David renews his trust and his heart even leaps for joy! (verse 7)

That beautiful cluster of blooms on the Joshua tree can only come after being frozen and seemingly dormant.  Many times, I feel as if life has stopped, waiting for that answer to prayer.  When the Lord answers, “wait,” to the cry of my heart, it seems as if He has turned a deaf ear.  But He is working.  I can trust that He has a plan even though I do not see it.  He wants me to remain quiet and calm as I anticipate His solution.  He can do so much more than I can ask or even imagine! (Eph. 3:20)

Lord, help me trust that You hear my cry.


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Willow Leaves

Scripture for Today: Colossians 1:11 “being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”

Patience is a virtue that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe likened to the willow leaf.  This 17th century German writer and statesman said, “A leaf that is destined to grow large is full of grooves and wrinkles at the start.  Now if one has no patience and wants it smooth offhand like a willow leaf, there is trouble ahead.”  These leaves are shiny, thin and 2-4 inches long.  But of course, they do not start off so large and smooth.  It will take lots of sunshine, water and time to get to this stage.

Today’s verse is an encouragement.  That elusive quality of patience is something that comes, not from ourselves, but from His power.  The believer is strengthened with power from His glorious might to have great endurance and patience.  It is not something we can naturally muster up on our own.  Over time, He develops it in us as we become more like Him.  It is part of the work He does in us (Phil. 1:6).  And more often than not, this quality of patience grows out of living through difficulties.

In the space of three days, I had ample opportunity to show patience.  After experiencing jet lag, toilet emergencies, roof leaks, and a power outage, it was almost comical….almost.  My leaves are still not so large and smooth.  There are still plenty of rough edges!  But God’s reassurance of His control calmed me down.  I am thankful that being in His Word has encouraged me and helped me stay in that place of quiet confidence (Rom. 15:4).  Things may fall apart around me, but I don’t want to fall apart too!

Lord, thank you for Your strength and patience!


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Silk Floss Tree

Scripture for Today:  Col. 3:12-13  “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.”

We have one of these silk floss trees growing right down the street from us.  Their blooms are beautiful and inviting, resembling the hibiscus.  And their pods are full of a cotton-like fiber that some use in making upholstery.  But their trunks and branches are covered with these thorn-like growths.  Some tree owners even put a barrier up so the passerby does not inadvertently knock into it.

Today’s verse reminded me of this tree.  A believer can seem pleasant and inviting by wearing mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and even patience.  But without the grace to bear with each other’s faults we become harsh.  Without forgiveness, we are like those prickly thorns and people keep their distance.  Our motivation to forgive others is the realization of how much the Lord has forgiven us.

Forgiveness has got to be one of the hardest things the Lord asks of me.  When I have been wronged, I feel it is my right to harbor ill will, at least until that person shows some remorse.  But letting go of the hurt seems nearly impossible until I am able to forgive the one who caused it.  True healing can only happen when I let that person off the hook, regardless of their attitude about it.  Jesus died for my sins while I was still His enemy (Romans 5:6-8).  If I am to forgive like He forgave, then I need to extend forgiveness whether deserved or not!

Lord, I need Your help to forgive.