Devotions By Jan

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Feeling Down

Scripture for Today: Psalm 126:6 “Those who go out weeping carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

In all my years living in Europe, I had never seen a European Weeping Beech tree.  But recently in Rhode Island, on the grounds of the Château sur Mer in Newport I saw this incredible sight!  The drooping branches were so thick, the trunk was not even visible.  The English call it the “upside down tree!”  I am familiar with the Weeping Willow, but apparently there are several species of trees that are called, “Weeping,” if they grow pendulous branches.  That sad weepy look is so strange looking.  I am not sure I would want such a sad looking tree in my yard.

Today’s verse describes a weeping that ends in joy!  What an amazing reversal promised to the Israelites!  The Lord would bring back their captives and restore their fortunes causing all the neighboring nations to sit up and take notice.  The Lord will be known as having done great things for them.  All those tears are replaced with laughter and songs of joy!

This promise has many layers as we too can look forward to a time when our weeping and sorrow will be transformed!  Laughter and joy will echo in the halls of Heaven as I enjoy a hope that is realized forever!  Weeping will be a distant memory.  Everything sad and awful will seem light compared to the weight of glory that I will one day enjoy! (II Cor. 4:17)

So much sadness in this life now, but before long, “One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase!”  Better than anything I can dream, His joy and recompense will exceed every expectation!

Thank you Lord, for the songs of joy yet to be sung!

(Look familiar?  This is a re-post due to summer ministry schedule.)

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The Fig Tree

Scripture for Today: James 3:12 “My brother and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Growing up, the fig tree in our back year was my Dad’s pride and joy!  The whole family enjoyed those green figs and the abundant shade the large leaves provided.  In fact, my Dad built a round bench encircling the large trunk.  Every year, he would lay out those figs for drying and we could enjoy the dried fruit all year long.  In all those years, that tree faithfully bore its figs.  Never once did it surprise us with olives!

Today’s verse describes a ludicrous scenario.  How ever could a fig tree produce olives, a grapevine produce figs or a salt spring produce fresh water?  It is impossible, of course.  These images teach us that what comes out of the mouth reveals what is in the heart.  What comes out of the mouth is consistent with what is thought and felt inside.  Eventually, our hidden nature is revealed by the words we speak.

No one can tame the tongue nor can anyone make themselves new inside.  It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that we can hope to change.  When cursing and praise both come out of my mouth, it is a clear signal that I need to do business with the Lord.  “…This should not be.” (verse 10) but unfortunately, it is.  I can blame my words on stress or fatigue  but what I really need to do is just confess it.  I do not want to disappoint or grieve the Holy Spirit.  And He graciously offers His self-control so that my life consistently bears fruit that honors Him.

Lord, control my tongue today to consistently honor You.

(Look familiar?  This is a re-post due to summer ministry schedule.)


Eucalyptus Tree Roots

Scripture for Today: Colossians 2:6-7 “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

It seems that with every report of strong winds in our area, we hear of eucalyptus trees falling and causing damage.  These beautiful trees can shoot up to as much as ten feet in a year and can grow to the height of a six story building!  Their root system is strong to support all that growth, if they have enough soil.  Their taproots need to have at least six feet of soil to be well anchored.  Without that depth they are vulnerable to wind damage.

Today’s verse talks about being rooted and built up in Christ, strengthened by our faith and characterized by thankfulness.  Extending our roots into the deep soil of His strength makes us able to stand firm in any wind storm.  Standing tall in the world’s eyes can be deceptive if roots are shallow.  The philosophies of this world and human tradition (verse 8) make up that shallow soil.  Roots have no opportunity to grow there and a strong gust of wind reveals that weakness.  In contrast, the one who is strengthened by His power is rooted and established in His love (Eph. 3:17).

My root health is something no one sees but Him.  I can seem strong, pray beautiful prayers and say all the right things.  But when that huge gust of wind comes, I can so easily topple over.  I need to be nourished by His Word and strengthened by His promises before the winds arrive.  He will help me withstand them.

Lord, strengthen my roots by the power of Your Word.



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Snow Covered Palms

palm-treeScripture for Today: Psalms 92:12  “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree.  He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”

This is not normally how I think of a palm tree!  Palm trees are usually associated with warm balmy climates.  Seeing a palm tree often brings to mind vacation spots where life is relaxed.  These palm trees in Saudi Arabia were likely surprised to find themselves covered in snow!  But they weathered the cold wet stuff with no problem.

Today’s verse describes the righteous as flourishing like a palm tree.  And flourish is a great description of what these stately trees do as some species grow to 60 meters high.!  Their leaves are said to be the largest of any plant at 25 meters long and 3 meters wide.  And some of their species have the largest seeds of any plant weighing 15-30 kilos each.

The righteous one when planted in the house of the Lord, can expect this kind of growth, flourishing in the courts of our God (verse 13).  But we do not grow like the palm tree when we are planted in the world.  The soil there is toxic.  We need to be rooted and grounded in His love and grace because we are not righteous on our own.  Our righteousness comes from faith in Christ.

That crisis in my life can feel just like a cold shock.  My body stiffens and my eyes grow wide with it.  But even when that unexpected cold front dumps snow on me I can still flourish because of Him.  He keeps me strong and rooted.  I am in His courts and there is no better place to be!  Better is one day there than a thousand elsewhere! (Psalm 84:10)

Keep me flourishing, Lord.  Keep me near You.

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Leaning Christmas Tree

tree-downScripture for Today: Proverbs 3:5-6  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

This happened to me although our cat had nothing to do with it!  The tree my husband brought back had a hidden flaw and leaned to one side.  The bottom of the trunk was straight and well anchored in the tree stand, yet it leaned.  No matter how careful I was to balance the heavier ornaments on the unaffected side, it leaned.  Not only did it crash to the ground but I lost so many ornaments, and lost my cool!

Today’s verse cautions us against leaning on one’s own understanding.  When a believer counts on his own reasoning rather than trusting in God’s unveiled plans, he leans as precariously as that Christmas tree.  Our own understanding is flawed and limited.  We never see the big picture.  Leaning and trusting in only what we can understand makes us lean away from the sure foundation that He is!  In limiting ourselves to what we can surmise or figure out, we become unstable.  We teeter and sway rather than standing firm with a wholehearted trust in His direction.  He has promised to lead the way and make our paths straight.

My own understanding sure gets me in trouble.  I assume the wrong thing.  I read a situation incorrectly without even knowing it.  I think I know, and I do not.  There is only One who knows the future, who knows what is best for me.  The Lord not only knows, but He has the power to bring it about!  If I lean at all, I want to lean into Him and His strong arms.

Lord, keep me trusting in You with all my heart.

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Bent by the Wind

IMG_20160714_141648Scripture 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.

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The Cedar Tree

large_split_cedar_treeScripture for Today: Psalm 29:4-5 “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.”

Our recent winds were impressive, sending tumbleweeds across the freeway and downing some trees.  It was so sad to see a majestic palm tree toppled over on its side.  But to topple a cedar tree would have meant a much more powerful wind.  This tree can reach up to 130 feet and diameters of eight feet.  The cedar is highly valued for its quality timber, oil and resin.  What a shame to see one of these mighty trees damaged!

Today’s verse uses the image of the cedar tree to illustrate just how powerful and majestic the Lord’s voice is.  Just one word from God can break the strong and mighty cedar into pieces.  Just one word from God can bring this impressive tree crashing down to the ground.  Something so seemingly powerful and stable is entirely vulnerable to the sound of His voice.

The cedar tree was used as a symbol of the arrogance of man in Isaiah 2:13-14.  It stands proud and lofty, much like those who seek to exalt themselves.  God will humble all pride and bring down low every arrogant thought.  He alone will be exalted.  He will break down the cedar-like pride of every individual who has not already humbled themselves before Him.  Instead of standing tall, one day every knee will bow (Phil. 2:10).

The majestic and powerful voice that breaks the cedar is the same voice that also speaks love and forgiveness when I bow the knee.  His voice becomes soft and gentle for His own sheep who recognize and follow Him.

Lord, open my ears to hear, respect and follow Your voice.