May 7 – Hard? Hope?

Romans 5: 1 – 5 NLT

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

As the first verses today say, we have joy, confidence and peace because of our relationship with God. Paul goes on to say in Romans 8 – “you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (v. 15 – 16) We belong to God; we are in his family. That is something that brings such a lot of stability and calm to our lives. God cares! We’re his kids. It’s something we need to soak in and believe – but …

What about the tough times? The next verses tell us that tough times develop strength of character. This pandemic has brought some really tough times. I can’t imagine not being able to be with a loved one in long term care who is dying. I am so glad my family and I could be with my husband when he was so sick. The last three days of his life we were with him 24/7. I could hold him in my arms as things went downhill. To be separated at moments like that would be awful. Today, our hearts go out to those not being able to be with their loved ones.

But, it’s also hard to not be with family. I miss seeing my grandchildren who live across the city. I miss meeting my daughter for breakfast after the kids have gone to school, and just chatting and getting caught up on everyday stuff. My daughter who lives and works in England isn’t sure she’ll be home this August as she usually is – and hasn’t been since 2019 – hard for both of us. Not to mention dinner out with friends, or coffee breaks with friends.

Then there are the parents who have to deal with struggling students – again!. How many computers do you need if you have several school age children? How do you invest time helping them if you are also working from home? What about the kid who just refuses to do the work? How many melt-downs or tantrums do you have to deal with patiently??? If you have a child with some learning disabilities, how far will they slide if they are without help for many months? It’s hard!

What if you’re not working? The news tells us the economy is starting its come-back, but …Will I get my job back? Will my company go broke? How will I find another job when everyone else is doing the same thing? Financial stress is definitely difficult!

But the Bible says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

So far, I’ve been talking about all the hard part of difficult situations. Let’s look at the positive part. Have you ever gone through a tough time, and later realized how much you’ve grown and matured through it all? Can you remember a hard time where your faith and relationship with God was strengthened? Romans tells us that problems and trials will develop strength of character and make us more hopeful; we will become close to God. “We will know how dearly God loves us.”

Can you think of a hard time that turned out to have a good side? I know I have. In fact, easy times haven’t developed me much at all; I was coasting along. It’s been the hard times when I’ve had to lean on God where I learned that God loves me, when I’ve learned to be patient and become stronger. I suspect that is your experience too. As we face all the chaos and uncertainly with this pandemic, let’s soak in today’s verses and pray for God’s peace and calm. We belong to him. He loves you and me. Look forward to the strength God is developing in you.

Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.

Here is a song that captures how God helps us in times of trouble – The Hurt and the Healer by Mercy Me.

May 6 – Get Ready

Luke 3: 1 – 23 NLT

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

“It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’” (Isaiah 40: 3 – 5)”

Once again, Luke is very careful to record the historical events of the time to make sure Theophilus knew these details were correct. That also helps us in our ‘fact-driven’ age to rely on the Bible as truth. Remember that John is just a few months older than Jesus, so he began this ministry likely in his late 20’s. Isaiah prophecies that John will prepare people for the coming of the LORD and make the way straight.

 “When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

John doesn’t waste any words. He tells the Jewish people he is talking to that they are a “brood of snakes” … Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing.” John says they should live what they say they believe – honesty, integrity, love and care. I suspect that is a message for us today as well. It’s so easy to attend church and look like you are a nice person while your everyday life is quite different. John’s words really made me stop and think. How much do I care for those around me who are in need? Do I share what I have with them, or do I give small sums to a charity and think I’m good? Am I honest with my tax returns or in any business venture? Do the people I work with see me as someone who can be trusted and is honest, a person who puts in a full day’s work?

“Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.

19 John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. 20 So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others.”

John was certainly honest. He wasn’t trying to take anything at all away from the coming Messiah – “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals”. He wasn’t patting himself on the back because many people were heading to the wilderness to hear him preach, the most famous prophet in the last 400 years. Although God had given him a special job to do, he wasn’t proud of that. He just wanted people to be ready for God to appear, to be ready to serve God in every way.

“The Baptism of Jesus

21 One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

The Ancestors of Jesus

23 Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry.

Jesus was known as the son of Joseph.
Joseph was the son of Heli. … “

(I left the compete genealogy of Joseph out)

Matthew gives the most complete story of Jesus’ baptism, but all the gospels include the words seen in Luke. “The heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” Right at the beginning of Jesus’ public three-year ministry, it was made clear that he was God’s Son.

I didn’t include the long genealogy of Jesus since I suspected most of us would skip over all the difficult-to-pronounce names. If you’re interested, look it up and look for names you recognize. But it starts in an interesting way – “Jesus was known as the son of Joseph”. Yes, the people who lived in the same town as Jesus thought Joseph was his father as Jesus grew up. But Joseph and Mary knew he wasn’t. And Jesus knew he wasn’t as he told his parents when he was 12 that they should have looked for him in his “Father’s house”.

These first 3 chapters in Luke tell the story of Jesus from birth to the start of his ministry. I love the way Luke makes sure all the details are correct and can be checked in historical documents. But, I especially love the message that God loves everyone of us. He doesn’t come to earth in a regal way, born in a castle, ready to get on the world stage as an important, wealthy person of influence. He’s not like the Caesars of Rome who are doing their best to control the world. It’s the exact opposite. Jesus was born to a poor young woman in a dirty, smelly stable, and raised in a small-town family where his dad was a carpenter. God knows us. He wants everyone to know that you don’t have to be special according to this world for him to love you.

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3: 18 – 19)

Our song for today is God With Us by Jesus Culture (Bryan Torwalt)

May 5 – With His Love He Will Calm All Your Fears

Zephaniah 3:17  (NLT)

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty saviour.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

In this pandemic time, we have so many conflicting moments. Sometimes I feel relaxed and happy to be able to read a good book, or get some things done I’ve been putting off. Sometimes I feel edgy, just can’t seem to concentrate on much. Sometimes I feel so sad that I can’t spend time with family and friends the way I used to. Vaccinations are finally coming more rapidly, but even with them, they are still telling us to keep all the protocols to stay safe. I wonder when things will return to normal – whatever that may look like. I suspect you feel the same way.

A verse like the one today helps calm those fears and worries. “For the Lord your God is living among you.” We need to remind ourselves that God is living with us, in the present, and in our lives. He is right here! Sometimes when I worry, God seems so far away. I need to remind myself He is present in these difficult times. “God is living among you.” He is living in you and me! He is living in this pandemic.

God is a “mighty saviour”. Sometimes when I think about Jesus as my saviour, the picture that comes to mind is Jesus on the cross. That’s almost a sad and helpless picture – one of someone suffering at the hands of others. But God is a “mighty saviour”, and that is truth. He can suffer absolute horror in bearing our sin, and rise again victorious. This is the God who is living with you – a might saviour. He knows how to live through a pandemic, and come out the other side triumphant.

“He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Aren’t those marvellous words? He loves you. He delights in being with you. He’s actually singing over you. Just imagine a deep, soothing baritone voice singing over you – calming all your fears. Oh, Heavenly Father, when I’m worried, angry and upset, help me to remember you understand and you are with me – that you love me and will take care of me.

Today, I want you to think about the positive side of dealing with Covid-19. Can you think of something in your life that has actually improved over the past year? Are there things you had been putting aside because you were too busy, and now you’ve had a chance to get caught up? Have you tried some new hobbies? My granddaughter works in a garden nursery, and apparently the business there is doing well as people are doing more gardening – even earlier than usual because of the warmer weather in April. I’ve been more in touch with my sisters who live around the province using media chat rooms. Sometimes it’s “game time” as my daughters and grandchildren get together to play games on Zoom – that includes my daughter who lives in the UK. I wonder if we’ll keep it up once the pandemic ends?

Think of those positive things, but more than that, think of the God who loves you.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty Saviour.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Here is our song for today – Nobody Loves Me Like You Do by Chris Tomlin

May 4 – Young Jesus

Have you ever known a child who seemed bright way beyond their years? A friend was telling me a story about her granddaughter who is in kindergarten. She was in the backyard with her dad who was wondering why the grass under the ice rink he’d built that winter survived better than the brown grass around it. His 5-year-old daughter asked, “Daddy, was it because of the even pressure of the ice on the grass?” Dad was rather surprised his daughter had any idea about pressure.

I wonder what it was like for Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus?

Luke 2: 39 – 52 NLT

39 When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. 40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was on him.

Jesus Speaks with the Teachers

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. 43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travellers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. 46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant.51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people.”

Have you ever wondered what Jesus would have been like as a child? What would he know? Did he have an IQ ‘off the charts’? Luke is the only gospel writer who mentions Jesus’ childhood. Remember that Luke was a physician who travelled with Paul. He was not one of the original disciples or followers of Jesus. As he wrote Luke and Acts for his friend, Theophilus, he wanted to make sure he had all the details correct. In his investigations, he likely interviewed Mary to get the account right from the beginning.

“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honourable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.” (Luke 1: 1 – 4)

Luke starts out with “the child grew up healthy and strong”. Can you imagine Luke talking with Mary about little Jesus? Apparently physically he was a great kid. He was also “filled with wisdom”. I don’t think that meant he somehow had God’s infinite superior mind as a child. He wasn’t a little body with a hidden mind capable of ruling the universe. But he was known for his wisdom; people around him realized he did good things, behaved well. We know Jesus was without sin, so he would have been kind, generous, helpful – definitely not selfish. “God’s favour was on him”. People in Nazareth knew he was a special person. I think he would have been a wonderful child to have around the house.

But then we hear about an incident when Jesus was twelve. Jewish boys had their bar mitzvah at the age of 12/13. That was when they were officially considered responsible for their own faith in God. Perhaps that is why Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem for that Passover festival so he could see what was involved in adult worship and practice.

The fact that Mary and Joseph didn’t realize Jesus wasn’t with them on the way home doesn’t mean they were irresponsible parents. They were travelling with friends and relatives from Nazareth. Have you ever gone on social events or holidays with family and/or friends with your kids? The summer I finished high school, my family and my dad’s brother’s family travelled to the west coast together as a last family holiday since myself and my cousins were all about to leave home for university. At the time there were 7 kids all together in these 2 families, and we changed up cars all the time to talk with our various cousins. One day, we managed to leave my youngest sister who was 7 years old behind after a stop. It didn’t take too long before my dad realized the numbers in the cars weren’t right – and back we went. So … I understand that Mary and Joseph didn’t notice Jesus was missing in the crowd along the road. Keeping track of your kids is sometimes ‘tricky’.

But they had travelled a day away from Jerusalem and now had a day’s trek back. Then they had to look around Jerusalem. Can you imagine how frightened Mary was knowing she hadn’t seen Jesus for 3 days? No wonder Mary said, “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” I guess so! But Jesus had been in the Temple talking and asking questions of the religious leaders, who were “amazed at his understanding and his answers”. At the age of 12, Jesus was beyond what was expected by the Temple teachers.

Then Jesus gives a strange reply to Mary’s question. “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what he meant (v. 50). By the age of twelve, Jesus is understanding he is not a typical human being. Yet he returned to Nazareth and was “obedient” to his parents. In fact, we don’t see Jesus again until he is 30 years old when he appears at the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

Verse 52 states, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people.” Notice that this time it mentions wisdom before physical growth – a switch from verse 39. Jesus is known in Nazareth for his wisdom and the people love him. He was a carpenter continuing in the family business. (Mark 6: 3)

This snapshot view into Jesus’ younger years shows us an amazing child and young man who is known for his wisdom and is loved by people. He was that special child! But he was also humble. Can you imagine God in human form being obedient to his parents and living with them for 30 years? Wow!

That is one more piece of evidence of God’s love for us. He was willing to leave heaven, become human and live with us. He was willing to obey parents who were sinful and flawed beings. In our culture today, we emphasize being individuals and standing up for our own rights and opinions. It’s almost a culture of “Me First”. Jesus tells us “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37 – 38) Jesus demonstrated that beginning in his childhood.

“Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people.”

Our song for today is Behold Him by Paul Baloche

May 3 – God knows what you need – even if you wonder if he does.

Luke 2: 21 – 38 NLT

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

22 Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” 24 So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord – “either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Did you notice that Jesus’ name wasn’t given by his mother or father? His name came from an angel. G. Campbell Morgan has some interesting things to say in his commentary The God Who Cares. There are only 4 babies named by God in the Bible. In the Old Testament – Ishmael and Isaac (the beginning of the nation of Israel and the Arabic nations): in the New Testament – John and Jesus (the beginning of the church). Jesus is the Anglicizing of a well-known Hebrew name – Joshua. It was likely a popular name since Joshua was the man who led Israel from the dessert into the promised land. Now Jesus is the one who will lead all mankind into a relationship with God.

Joseph and Mary were careful to follow the Old Testament rules for Jesus’ birth. Eight days after his birth he was circumcised. Then 40 days after his birth he was brought to the Temple for purification. Leviticus 12: 6 – 8 tells us the rules that needed to be followed:

“When the time of purification is completed for either a son or a daughter, the woman must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a purification offering. She must bring her offerings to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[a] The priest will then present them to the Lord to purify her.[b] Then she will be ceremonially clean again after her bleeding at childbirth. These are the instructions for a woman after the birth of a son or a daughter.

“If a woman cannot afford to bring a lamb, she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons. One will be for the burnt offering and the other for the purification offering. The priest will sacrifice them to purify her, and she will be ceremonially clean.”

Once again, we are reminded that Mary and Joseph were not wealthy at all. In our culture with its stress on success, we tend to think we have to do something, be someone for God to use us. God can use anyone- even the person we might think is most unlikely. God can use you!

The Prophecy of Simeon

25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
    as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
    and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

The Prophecy of Anna

36 Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. 37 Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. 38 She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

I try to put myself in Mary’s shoes. She knew that this baby was special. She became pregnant without having a sexual relationship. That alone would have been incredible. She also had a conversation with an angel and then Elizabeth who confirmed that she was carrying their hoped-for Messiah. Joseph had also talked with an angel and been reassured that Mary’s pregnancy was from God.

But as well, there had been the months of pregnancy when likely their neighbours had been gossiping. Then there was the exhausting trek to Bethlehem where Jesus was born in a pen for animals. If this had truly been God’s son, wouldn’t things have turned for the better after she discovered she was pregnant? Wouldn’t there be some obvious evidence that God’s blessing was upon them? Would a son of God really be born this way?

God isn’t going to let Mary wonder and doubt. Shortly after the baby’s birth, shepherds arrive to say they had received a message from angels that “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (v. 11 – 12) Shepherds? No one more important? Then at their visit to the Temple, Simeon prophesies over the baby. Anna also came along and praised God for this baby.

I doubt Mary truly understood what was said that day at the Temple. They were looking for a Messiah who would conquer Rome and establish Israel as an important nation. But Simeon prophesied that “He is a light to reveal God to the nations”. Then Simeon also told her that “a sword will pierce your very soul.” What would that mean?

At the end of this chapter, it says “and his mother stored all these things in her heart”. This past year would have been such a strange one for her. She was a poverty-stricken young girl, newly married. Yet these amazing things had happened to her. How would you ever comprehend what was truly happening?

Have you ever experienced times in your life when things didn’t seem to add up? Life was hard and you wondered if God really cared or was in control. And then, as things unfolded, you realized God was at work. Perhaps you learned how to depend on God with more patience than doubt. Perhaps you ended up making changes that you wouldn’t have, if left to your usual way of doing things. Perhaps you experienced an incredible peace during a very difficult time – when usually you would have been upset and worried.

God knows what we need. He knew that Mary needed a lot of support and confirmation. Life wasn’t easy for her, but she became aware of God’s presence.

God knows what you need – even if you are wondering if he does.

Our song for today is In Control by Hillsong Worship

April 30 – Does God Notice Me?

Do you ever wonder if you are important to God? Do you ever wonder because there are so many people in this world – many of them are doing necessary and influential jobs – does God notice you? As you read today, think about the people in these verses. How important were they in their world?

Luke 2: 1 – 20 NLT

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”

A carpenter and his young wife, who is in the last month of her pregnancy, travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a journey of about 80 miles (126 km). Pictures in our books today usually show Mary riding on a donkey. Maybe she did, but maybe Joseph wasn’t rich enough to buy a donkey for this trip. I suspect she arrived in Bethlehem exhausted and bedraggled. Our children’s Christmas books today usually show lovely pictures of that birth scene. Everyone looks peaceful and well-dressed; the stable is incredibly clean with well-behaved animals.

In reality, when they arrived, they couldn’t find a place to stay and so they ended up in an area where the animals were kept. Can you imagine giving birth to your first child in a situation like that? Can you imagine giving birth alone with your husband – or maybe some other travellers around, along with the animals? God is a supreme being, controller of the universe. Wouldn’t you think that he would send his son to the world in a better place? At least a “middle-class” place? Instead, God chose the least important place to introduce his son to us.

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”

In a commentary by William Barclay, he mentioned the custom of the day was to have local musicians sing celebration songs outside the house where a baby was born. This time the songs weren’t sung by the manger, but they certainly were in the countryside over the shepherds. Shepherds in those days were considered the ‘lowest of the low’. Because their duties required them to be on the job 24/7, they didn’t keep the usual customs and religious practices of the Jews. So that kept them on the fringes of their Jewish communities. Historians also think because of their location, they were keeping the flocks of sheep used in the Temple sacrifices. Isn’t it interesting that God would announce in such a spectacular way, the coming of the Lamb of God to them?

In our culture today, we like to think we treat everyone equally. In reality, there is racial bias. People who have money can access anything they want. We protect our neighbourhoods; no middle-class neighbourhood wants subsidized housing close to them. We want our children to be the best. This idea of success permeates our culture. As a result, I suspect many of us tend to think of ourselves as just ordinary folks, nice but not important.

Is that how God thinks? No! Just look at how he came to earth. Born in a dirty, messy stable to a young girl and her carpenter husband. Announced to shepherds who were considered the lowest in society. Jesus travelled Israel with no home of his own. Died a horrendous death on a cross with thieves on each side.

God loves every single one of us no matter who we are. God considers each one of us important. He has something he wants each one of us to do – “love God with all our hearts and our neighbours as ourselves”. You are important. In this pandemic time, you are God’s special messenger wherever you are. So, don’t wonder if God notices you. He does?

“You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” 1 Peter 5: 7 J.B. Phillips

Our song for today is Beloved by Jordan Feliz

April 29 – Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

While we’re in this lockdown, at the end of each chapter in Luke, we’ll take a day to reflect on how God steadies us in these difficult times.

Romans 8:35-39  (NLT)

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” – Psalm 44:22) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I think these verses are in the top favourites of mine. There is really nothing more I can say about these verses. They state so clearly that God loves me. There is nothing that can happen, or that I can do, that will stop God from loving me. In this pandemic time, the phrase that stands out to me is “neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow … can separate us from God’s love”.

Stop for a moment and think about the loving relationships you have had in your life. We live in a broken world, so even the best relationships can have some rocky times. But think about the love your parents had for you, and all the crazy things you did that they overlooked because they loved you. Think about the love you shared with your siblings and your friends. Think about the love you have for your partner, your children. Despite the ups and downs of our human relationships, we tend to do as much as we can to make them flourish. We don’t ignore them or do things we know will upset them a lot. We usually go out of our way to show them we love them. Yet our love on earth is flawed, but God’s isn’t.

God is perfect, God Almighty. God says NOTHING can separate us from his love. If you are struggling with the isolation and frustration of living with all these restrictions, remember that you are loved and cherished by God. He will not abandon you or ignore you. Let’s reread these verses again in the paraphrase from The Message.

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

Song for today: The Love of God by Mercy Me

April 28 – Praise

Today we are going to look at Mary and Zechariah’s responses to these amazing events in their lives. Zechariah begins with praise and then goes on to talk about his son’s mission to bring people to repentance and introduce the Messiah. Mary mentions that she is blessed to be the mother of the Messiah, but most of what she says is just praise. Both of them refer frequently to the Psalms.

I am going to include the references to the Psalms at each verse where that occurs, so you get a chance to see how many references there actually are. Then I have a challenge for you today.

Luke 1: 67 – 79 NLT

Zechariah’s Prophecy

67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has visited and redeemed his people. (Ps. 41: 13; 72:18; 106:48)
69 He has sent us a mighty Savior
    from the royal line of his servant David, (Ps. 18: 2; 89: 17; 132: 17)
70 just as he promised
    through his holy prophets long ago.
71 Now we will be saved from our enemies
    and from all who hate us. (Ps. 106: 10)
72 He has been merciful to our ancestors
    by remembering his sacred covenant – (Ps. 108: 2; 106: 45)
73 the covenant he swore with an oath
    to our ancestor Abraham.
74 We have been rescued from our enemies
    so we can serve God without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness
    for as long as we live.
76 “And you, my little son,
    will be called the prophet of the Most High,
    because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation
    through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace.”

Remember these events occurred after 400 years of silence from God – no prophets like Zephaniah or Malachi to bring a message from God; no kings and rulers to help keep Israel a God-fearing nation. Zechariah is overwhelmed with praise that God has spoken again. I love verses 76 to 78 as he talks about his son.

Luke 1: 46 – 55 NLT

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

46 Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. (Ps. 34: 2)
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! (Ps. 35: 9)
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed. (Ps. 138:6)
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him. (Ps. 103: 17)
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. (Ps. 98: 1)
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands. (Ps. 107: 9)
54 He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.” (Ps. 132: 11)

We’ve experienced a tough year with the pandemic, and things are still not the way we’d like them to be. Most of us are struggling with the loss of contact with family and friends, the loss of places to go, the loss of ‘normal’ church meetings and programs. Some of us are struggling with loss of jobs and income. Many of us have children who don’t do well with online learning. It’s been a difficult year. But in the middle of all this, we can turn to God who is the foundation for our lives. We can praise him for his protection and help.

My challenge for you today is to write a praise letter based on verses from the Psalms. You may have favourite Psalms that you can include because you can think of those verses right away – or at least, go right to the place in your Bible.

You may be thinking you can’t remember anything right now. Here’s something you can try. There is a website that I use called BibleGateway. In the search bar, write a word that you might like to use. (e.g. love, peace, might, power, kindness, etc.) A list of the actual verses where those words are used in the Bible will come up. You can also choose the version of the Bible you like. I like the New Living Translation, but choose your favourite.

Pick out the verses you like the best and make your personal praise letter. You might want to put it somewhere in your home to remind you when you’re feeling frustrated, angry or whatever – this is what you truly believe and count on.

Our song for today is Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven.

April 27 – God, You Noticed Me?

(We will be skipping some verses in Luke 1 today. We will look at them in tomorrow’s devotions.)

Luke 1: 26 – 45, 56 NLT

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings (or rejoice), favoured woman! The Lord is with you!” (some manuscripts add ‘Blessed are you among women’.)

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.” (some manuscripts say ‘For nothing is impossible with God’)

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” …

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home.”

Another incredible visit by an angel!!! Again, try to put yourself in Mary’s shoes. She is a young woman, likely a teenager. She would be busy helping her mother run the household, and looking forward to her upcoming marriage. Then … an angel appears? I actually have a hard time imagining what that would be like; it’s so far beyond any experience I have ever had. Verse 29 says she was “confused and disturbed”. I should guess so! How do you stay calm when an angel shows up at your side?

We know that this chapter in Luke describes a momentous time in all of history. God coming to earth in human form is a catalytic event. But that moment in history was during a time when God had been silent for 400 years. There had been no prophets during that time, and Israel had experienced being ruled by several different foreign powers. If you are interested in finding out more about those 400 years, go to gotquestions.org and ask “What were the 400 years of silence?” So, this time in history was not a time where Zechariah and Mary were used to seeing God at work, or sensing God’s blessing on Israel. This moment in Mary’s life would have been inconceivable.

Mary, like Zechariah, asks a question. “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” (v. 34) The angel’s response to the question is interesting. With Zechariah, the angel declared his name and position in heaven and then told Zechariah he would be deaf and dumb until the baby’s birth. With Mary, the angel explains how she will become pregnant, and tells her Elizabeth’s story as proof that God does miraculous things. Then when Mary meets Elizabeth, Elizabeth affirms that Mary will be the mother of her Lord. Later, the angel appears to Joseph and assures him that Mary’s pregnancy is from God – so in talking with Joseph, Mary’s experience will again be validated. For Mary there seems to be patience, explanation, and encouragement.

God knows us intimately. He knows exactly what we need. Do we need something to get us out of a rut, and spur us on to greater faith? Zechariah had been a priest for a long time, and he likely had everything figured out. He was devoted to God, but the requirements of his job likely had him in long-time routines. Or are we young in our faith? God is so patient with us as we learn how to include him in our lives. Like with Mary, he can find ways to assure us that he is with us.

Luke 1: 57 – 66, 80 NLT

57 When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. 58 And when her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her.

59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”

61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” 62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.

65 Awe fell upon the whole neighbourhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. 66 Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.” …

80 John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.

John’s birth was a great celebration. The people where they lived were so excited for Elizabeth – to have this baby when no one expected it was possible at her age. His circumcision took place likely in the temple 8 days later. Everyone was sure he would be named after his father, a custom of that day. But no, both parents said his name was John. In fact, when Zacharias confirmed the baby’s name was John, he was able to speak again. (We’ll look at what he said in tomorrow’s devotions.) Again, that astounded all the people who witnessed this amazing event. People all around that area were talking about John’s birth. They knew that God must be at work.

Have you ever experienced God at work in your life? It doesn’t have be some huge, well-publicized event. The events of Luke 1 are amazing. They are the beginning of God coming to this world. And they caused people in the area to talk and reflect on what God was doing. But just because God’s moments in your life seem so insignificant in comparison to Luke 1, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share them with the people around you. God is at work within each one of us. He wants us to share that story so those around us will also reflect on what they hear, and be drawn to God themselves.

Be brave. God is with you.

Our song for today is Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin

April 26 – A New Beginning

First of all, I want to thank you for all the wonderful replies to the devotions. In these difficult times, the devotions also help me and the other writers on the team to stay focused on our Heavenly Father. It is so comforting to know that God is at work both in us and in all those reading the devotions.

Over the next while, we are going to read through the Gospel of Luke with some breaks here and there. Getting to know Jesus better is our focus in life, and hopefully this will help us as we face all the difficulties of living in 2021.

Luke 1: 1 – 4 NLT

“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honourable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.”

Just who is Luke? As we read these first 4 verses, we do know his purpose in writing is for Theophilus to be certain that his Christian faith was true and he could rely on it. I decided to include an article found on gotquestions.org – a website I find very helpful in finding all sorts of information. This article is a summary from a book by Charles Swindoll – The Great Lives from God’s Word. The article tells us a lot about Luke. Knowing who Luke is helps us to be more confident that what he says is reality, truth. It also helps us in our culture with its focus on science to understand that the Bible can be relied on.

“Little is known about Luke, the author of the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible. We do know he was a physician and the only Gentile to write any part of the New Testament. Paul’s letter to the Colossians draws a distinction between Luke and other colleagues “of the circumcision,” meaning the Jews (Colossians 4:11). Luke is the only New Testament writer clearly identifiable as a non-Jew.

Luke was the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke does not name himself in either of his books, but Paul mentions him by name in three epistles. Both Luke and Acts are addressed to the same person, Theophilus (Luke 1:3Acts 1:1). No one knows exactly who Theophilus was, but we know that Luke’s purpose in writing the two companion books was so that Theophilus would know with certainty about the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:4). Perhaps Theophilus had already received the basics of the Christian doctrine but had not as yet been completely grounded in them.

Luke was a close friend of Paul, who referred to him as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Perhaps Luke’s interest in medicine is the reason his gospel gives such a high profile to Jesus’ acts of healing.

Paul also refers to Luke as a “fellow labourer” (Philemon 1:24). Luke joined Paul in Troas in Asia Minor during Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:6–11). Some scholars speculate that Luke was the “man of Macedonia” whom Paul saw in his dream (Acts 16:9). Luke was left in Philippi during the second missionary journey (Acts 17:1) and picked up again to travel with Paul in the third journey (Acts 20:5). Luke accompanied Paul on his journey to Jerusalem and Rome and was with him during his imprisonment there (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke’s vivid description of his travels with Paul in Acts 27 seems to indicate that he was well-travelled and well-versed in navigation.

Scholars have noted that Luke had an outstanding command of the Greek language. His vocabulary is extensive and rich, and his style at times approaches that of classical Greek, as in the preface of his gospel (Luke 1:1–4), while at other times it seems quite Semitic (Luke 1:5—2:52). He was familiar with sailing and had a special love for recording geographical details. All this would indicate that Luke was a well-educated, observant, and careful writer.”

Luke 1: 5 – 25 NLT

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, (Malachi 4: 5 – 6) and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. 22 When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.

23 When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterwards his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”

This was a very special day for Zechariah – the day he was chosen to burn the incense in the area in front of the Holy of Holies. According to InterVarsity Press online commentary, there were close to 20 000 priests at that time. Zechariah was chosen by lot, likely the only time in his life that he would have this particular job. As he offered the incense, he was likely thinking about God’s promises of a Messiah. He lived in a time when Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire, and also the assigned rule of Herod who promoted temples to the Greek and Roman gods. Messiah would be so welcome at that moment in history.

Suddenly, an angel appeared to him, and told him he and his wife would have a son who would have an extraordinary life preparing “the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (v. 17)

Just stop for a moment, and put yourself in Zechariah’s place. This is an exciting day in his life, a time when he was able to serve God in such a special way. Can you think of a moment in your life when your relationship with God was deeply moving and personal for some reason? Perhaps it was a special moment while you were serving God in some capacity. Perhaps it was a special moment when you sensed God’s leading in a decision you had to make.

At that moment for Zechariah, an angel appears and tells him he is going to have a son. Honestly, I totally understand Zechariah’s response. “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Would he be wondering if he was dreaming or hallucinating? How often does anyone see angels, especially an angel who tells him something highly unlikely will happen? Has the incense clouded his thinking? Has his excitement over the day messed his mind?

Zechariah is not a casual follower of God. Luke tells us that “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.” (v. 6) Yet, when the angel appears with a message, Zechariah can’t believe his eyes and ears. Have you ever questioned God’s leading in your life? Wondered why certain things happened? Like Zechariah, many of us are sincere in our faith, but at times have questions. We are human in a broken world.

This is a pivotal moment in human history. This is the beginning of God’s coming to earth. John will be the forerunner of Jesus. Nothing will be the same from this time onward. The angel deals with Zechariah’s stunned response by telling him exactly who he was – “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!”  And then he tells Zechariah he will spend the next months is silence – deaf and unable to speak.

Was that a punishment? Maybe, a bit. Zechariah would still be able to communicate by writing and reading. But he also had months of silence to contemplate what God had told him and to get prepared to be the father of this incredible son. Those months were likely actually a blessing. Gabriel had told him what John would be like, and some of the rules that needed to be followed as John grew up. Zechariah needed time to fully comprehend the joy and the stress of being John’s dad. Even Elizabeth went into seclusion for 5 months.

Sometimes I wonder if this pandemic is a time of silence for us. It’s certainly been a time for churches to reevaluate their programs and to find effective ways to reach people. But for every one of us, it has also been a reset time as we figured out what is truly important for us. For introverted me, I discovered I need friends and family; being busy is no longer a goal of mine. I’ve also discovered my relationship with God is more important. It’s God that keeps me hopeful each day in one more day of lockdown. It’s been tough, but it’s been a learning curve too.

One thing we do know. God has definite plans for this world. God also has definite plans for each one of us. “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) Sometimes, like Zechariah, we question God and wonder what He is doing. God doesn’t reject us for that. He doesn’t get angry the way we do when we tend to walk away from frustrating situations. God is patient and helps us get back on track with him. “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2: 4)

The beginning chapters of Luke tell us the story of how God came to this earth. Despite Zechariah’s doubt, he still came. Despite our brokenness and unbelief, he still came!

Our song for today is The God of All Our Days by Casting Crowns.

April 23 – My Strength, My Rock

Psalm 18  New Living Translation (NLT)

(A psalm of David, the servant of the Lord. He sang this song to the Lord on the day the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul.)

I love you, Lord;
    you are my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
    my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
    and my place of safety.
I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and he saved me from my enemies. …

28 You light a lamp for me.
    The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.
30 God’s way is perfect.
    All the Lord’s promises prove true.
    He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
31 For who is God except the Lord?
    Who but our God is a solid rock?
32 God arms me with strength,
    and he makes my way perfect.
33 He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
    he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
35 You have given me your shield of victory.
    Your right hand supports me;
    your help has made me great.
36 You have made a wide path for my feet
    to keep them from slipping. …
46 The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock!
    May the God of my salvation be exalted!

David did not have an easy life, especially just before this psalm was written. He had been on the run from Saul for a while. At one point, he and his supporting friends were so hungry, they went into the tabernacle and took the bread from the altar. That shows desperation. Eventually, Saul died, and David began his reign as Israel’s king. That wouldn’t be easy either, since David was the king who fought many battles to secure Israel’s borders. This psalm was David’s thank you and praise to God who helped through those early difficult years.

This pandemic time is not easy either. Social isolation, financial hardship, the cancellation of many of our favourite events, etc. has changed life so much. One thing I pray for myself and all of you is that this time will strengthen our trust and dependence on God. It did for David.

I want you to reread the verses from Psalm 18, and ask yourself, “What did David learn from his hard time?”

Let’s look at some of the words David used: my strength, my rock, my fortress, my savior, protection, my shield, power that saves me, my place of safety, a lamp, the LORD’s promises prove true, he makes my way perfect, he makes me surefooted as a deer, enables me stand on mountain heights, you have given me your shield of victory, your right hand supports me, your help has made me great, keep my feet from slipping.

Isn’t that an amazing list!

When we go through difficult times, and depend on our Heavenly Father to give us the strength to endure, He brings us through. That doesn’t mean we avoid stressful times. It doesn’t mean everything works out totally fine in the end. Some of our hard times bring illness that results in some permanent aftereffects, or the death of a loved one, or an ongoing situation that we wish wasn’t there. It’s not so much that hardship goes away. It’s the calm and peace that God brings to everything. This is what makes us say:

“The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock!
    May the God of my salvation be exalted!”

I have a creative challenge for some of you. Take those first 3 verses (or some of the other verses if you found them more meaningful for you personally) and copy them on a computer page or rewrite them. Decorate the page with your own drawing (or use Google Images) and make a page you can hang on your frig or your bathroom/bedroom mirror. As you do this project, think about and absorb the words. Use them to remind yourself that you will come through this pandemic praising God for all the reassurance and safety he has given you.

Here is a song that reflects the words of this psalm. I Will Fear No More by The Afters.

April 22 – Our Hope is in You Alone

I’m going to try something different today. I’m not going to say much, but rather have you figure out what this psalm is saying. So I’ll post a few verses and then ask you to answer a question. Take a few minutes to really let this psalm sink in.

Psalm 33  New Living Translation (NLT)

Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord;
    it is fitting for the pure to praise him.
Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre;
    make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song of praise to him;
    play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.
For the word of the Lord holds true,
    and we can trust everything he does.
He loves whatever is just and good;
    the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.

  1. According to the first 5 verses, why should we be able to make joyful music?

The Lord merely spoke,
    and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
    and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries
    and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,
    and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began!
    It appeared at his command.

  1. According to verses 6 to 9, why should we be in awe of God?

10 The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations
    and thwarts all their schemes.
11 But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever;
    his intentions can never be shaken.
12 What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,
    whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

  1. In verse 12, David is likely referring to Israel, God’s chosen people. Today, as the church, Christ followers, we can experience the joy that God gives to His people. Do we need to worry about the world conditions around us?

13 The Lord looks down from heaven
    and sees the whole human race.
14 From his throne he observes
    all who live on the earth.
15 He made their hearts,
    so he understands everything they do.
16 The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
17 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you.

  1. Reread verses 13 to 17. Does God understand how we try our best to control things? Does God think our strength is effective?

18 But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
    those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
    and keeps them alive in times of famine.
20 We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.

Life can hand us some real confusing times, and even scary times and the Covid-19 pandemic is definitely one of them. The news about the pandemic and how to deal with it changes every day. We thought we were doing well, and then the third wave hit.

Take a deep breath and slowly read these verses again.

18 But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
    those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
    and keeps them alive in times of famine.
20 We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.

Those verses express exactly where our hope lies. It is in God alone. One of the things I love about the psalms is the way they often start out reminding us of God’s power, a power way beyond our comprehension. When we remind ourselves of that very fact, trusting in God makes sense. ‘The icing on the cake’ is that God is just not powerful. He is loving!!! So when times are confusing and unsettled, remember Psalm 33.

22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.

A Challenge: Make a list of things/places in your life where you know that God helped you.

Our song for today is Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham

April 21 – Are You Getting Grumpy?

Do you find that you’re running out of patience a little these days? Running out of patience with the government for all its rules and regulations? Thinking the government has made too many mistakes? Angry with people who totally disregard the social measures designed to keep us safe? Frustrated with having to deal with your kids supposedly learning at home?

There are so many theories about how to deal with the pandemic out there. Some say we should throw away precautionary measures and just let everyone get sick and build up immunity. Some are insisting we need more vaccinations right now – and in the “hot spots”. Others are clamouring to be included in the “me first” list of people to be vaccinated. Some are afraid the vaccinations are not safe. When will things get better???

I started looking for verses for the devotions that talk about patience. I had in mind verses that would encourage us to be patient. But the verses that struck me first were verses about God’s patience. Let’s take a look:

1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

“But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Romans 2:4 NLT

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

2 Peter 3:9 NLT

“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”

Heavenly Father, forgive me for being so irritable and grumpy about things that really don’t matter when I look at them from an eternal perspective. I have to admit that every day, I do things (or think things) that don’t live up to your standards of behaviour. I am a sinner. First of all, I thank you for adopting me as your child through Jesus’ sacrifice for me. Thank you for being so patient with me as your Holy Spirit works in my life to bring me closer to you. Thank you for your patience with all mankind, as you wait for everyone to turn to you. Help me to see where your patience is focused so that I don’t get caught up with trivial things, but rather align with you.

When I look at the things that make me irritable and impatient, I have to pray for forgiveness and for the strength to turn my pathetic attitude around. One of the ways that God helps us to grow is to put us through hard times. I know we’d prefer that wouldn’t happen, but I think we all have to admit, that we don’t learn that much from easy, good times. When life is sailing along smoothly, we tend to coast along oblivious to making any changes. We think we have everything under control. I know from my own experiences in life, the times that have changed me the most and made me more reliant on God have been the hard times. That’s when I faced the reality that I was not in control, and often that I needed to change my attitude and priorities.

James 1:2-8  NLT

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. …”

I am so thankful that during hard times, God is present – the Holy Spirit is at work in each one of us. It’s not a case of absolute determination on our part. Yes, we are thinking individuals made in the image of God, but we also must admit we need God’s help to make the necessary changes.

Psalm 40:1 NLT

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.”

Colossians 1:11 NLT

“We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy.”

Galatians 5:22 NLT

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”

We can be sure of this:

Romans 8: 26 – 28 NLT

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 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.”

So, if you are finding this pandemic time frustrating, let’s pray for God’s patience. As we pray, God can give us ideas of how to handle our impatience. We may need to spend some time in prayer asking God to show us what is making us so frustrated. Maybe we can start looking for practical ways that we can spread God’s love and patience to those around us – our families, our neighbours, our community. Is there a person I can help in some way? Is there any organization that I could support? Is there someone who could be cheered up with a gift of home-cooked items, or with a phone call? Start thinking and praying about how God can use you in these difficult times.

Romans 12:12 NLT

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”

Our song for today is Be Still My Soul (In You I Rest) by Kari Jobe

April 20 – What Do I Concentrate On?

All these new restrictions are super tough! How in the world do I keep my mind and emotions in some kind of balanced, even state? Here is one thing you can do today that might help. Read this psalm once to get an idea of what it says. Then go back and list all the things you can be thankful for, and as a result praise God.

Psalm 103

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
The Lord gives righteousness
    and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
He revealed his character to Moses
    and his deeds to the people of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
    nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins;
    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us
    as the east is from the west.
13 The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
14 For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.
15 Our days on earth are like grass;
    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
16 The wind blows, and we are gone—
    as though we had never been here.
17 But the love of the Lord remains forever
    with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children
18     of those who are faithful to his covenant,
    of those who obey his commandments!
19 The Lord has made the heavens his throne;
    from there he rules over everything.
20 Praise the Lord, you angels,
    you mighty ones who carry out his plans,
    listening for each of his commands.
21 Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels
    who serve him and do his will!
22 Praise the Lord, everything he has created,
    everything in all his kingdom.

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

How many things did you get in your list?

I know there are some things that are repeated, and actually I’m glad they are. For example, God’s immense love for us is repeated in several ways: He “crowns me with love and tender mercies (4)”; “filled with unfailing love (8)’; “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. (11)”;  “But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. (17)”… All those repetitions affirm God’s love for me.

Another thing that is repeated is how forgiving God is. “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are”. (13 – 14) I am so thankful I was raised in a home where my parents did understand me, and knew where I was likely to flop. But there were also tons of things I tried to hide from them. But my Heavenly Father knows me intimately; there is nothing he doesn’t know about me. And yet: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.” (8 – 10) “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (12)

God knows when I’m angry and frustrated. He knows when I’m lonely and missing friends and family so much. He knows when I’m depressed and fighting to believe God exists and cares about me. He knows all those emotions – and perhaps crazy behaviour – that this pandemic shoves into my life. “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.” (13) He knows! And he still loves me!

If you made a list, post it somewhere you can see it. When you are feeling down and frustrated, read that list again. Stop – thank and praise him for all he’s done.

“Let all that I am praise the Lord.” (22)

Our song for today is Behold (Then Sings My Soul) by Hillsong Worship.

April 19 – The LORD himself Watches Over You

Kids were supposed to go back to school today, but the pandemic has stopped that important part of our children’s lives. Well … it’s been put back online, but it’s nowhere near the same as in person learning. And it’s caused so much stress for parents who now have to figure out if they also have to work from home, or still go to work and need caretakers. Many people are angry, frustrated and tired of all the shutdowns and messes Covid has caused.

There is a verse in the Bible that caught my attention years ago.

Ephesians 4:26 NLT

“And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

That was a verse that my husband and I applied to our marriage. We tried hard to be open and honest with each other, and solve problems as soon as possible. But, there are things in life that we can’t deal with quickly, and the anger with Covid is one of them. All the frustration and anxiety keep cropping up every single day, especially as hope dims as the 3rd wave crashes over us. How do we deal with that anger?

Psalm 121 NLT

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!
He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.
The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.
The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

This psalm was written for the Jewish people as they travelled to Jerusalem for special religious observances. Most of them walked, and the journey could take several days depending on where you were coming from. You could stumble as you walked, you might face scorching hot days, or you might meet bandits along the way. This would be an encouraging song to sing as you walked along.

This is a psalm for us as we travel through life, especially now as we travel through this crazy pandemic. There is one phrase that appears 5 times – “watches over you”. Verse 5 is super amazing. “The LORD himself watches over you!”

I don’t know about you, but my emotions are all over the place these days. I find the physical distancing so hard. I haven’t spent time with my grandchildren since the couple of hours we had on Christmas Day. I haven’t seen my daughter who teaches in England since 2019. Sometimes it’s just plain frustration, the inability to go to the store for some small thing I could use right now. I am thankful for the beautiful spring – almost summer – weather we’ve been having here. At least I’ve been able to be outside for daily walks, and chat with neighbours while we distance in our driveways.

Does God care about me during this pandemic? Yes, he is watching over me!

“My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth”. This is no helpless God. He is the creator of the universe. He is powerful and knows exactly how everything works. He knows what is happening right now, and what will come tomorrow. He never sleeps. He is watching over you every minute 24/7. He is not looking away, caught up in some other event, and oops – he didn’t see what happened to you.

“The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” The Bible never promises that we will sail through life with no problems or difficult situations. The word “harm” can be better translated as disaster, something that can’t be fixed. We live in a broken world, and bad things happen. But God “watches over you” all through those hard situations. He watches over us as we “come and go” in our daily lives. He watches us “both now and forever”.

Last week we looked at the life of Joseph. He was an example of someone who experienced a lot of hardship. His brothers were jealous of him being Dad’s favourite son, so they sold him to a slave trader from Egypt. His master’s wife got upset when he refused to have sex with her, and Joseph ended up in prison for years. Through divine intervention, Joseph ended up a key government figure who managed the country through years of famine. When his brothers showed up looking for food, Joseph made sure they got what they needed, but also arranged to meet with them. They were embarrassed and frightened for their lives, knowing they had intended to harm Joseph. This is what Joseph told them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50: 20)

If you are having a hard time with all this pandemic stuff, keep this psalm handy to read. Know that God cares for you no matter what is happening. He is “watching over you”. He can actually turn this bad year into something good in your life. Turn your eyes from all the frustrating, sad things, and look to him.

“You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” (1 Peter 5: 7 J.B. Phillips)

Here is a hymn that echoes the thoughts of today’s devotions.

God Will Take Care of You by the Heritage Singers.

April 8 – Protection

Psalm 91: 1 – 4  (NLT)

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Protection is something we hear about every day. On the news and on Facebook, there are so many questions and suggestions about how to protect ourselves from Covid-19. Right now, people are arguing about which vaccine works best, or even if we should avoid vaccines in case they do some damage to us. We are told to wear face masks in public, keep social distancing and wash our hands frequently.  We also see people pushing back against those requirements given to us by health professionals. We see puzzling restrictions – close down small businesses, but keep open big-box stores. Just how safe am I when I go to the grocery store or to the mall, or eat in a restaurant?

Today as we live through a pandemic, many people are feeling nervous and frustrated. Words from God as in Psalm 91 are what we need to hear. 

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.”

Who are we being protected by?  The Most High, the Almighty, the LORD, my refuge, my place of safety, my God. The visual pictures given to us in these verses stress protection. We live and rest in the “shelter of the Most High” and in the shadow of the Almighty”. I try to visualize someplace very strong – like a cave in the rock. 

I think of Moses on the mountain in God’s presence. Moses really wanted to see God. He had been given many instructions, including the Ten Commandments, and just like one of us in that situation, he wanted to see who he was communicating with. Here are the verses telling us about that incident:

Exodus 33:18-23  (NLT)

“Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

19 The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20 But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

That is the God who protects us today. He wants a relationship with us, and when we talk with him, he listens. 

“For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.”

Verse 3 makes me stop and ponder.  Is God really going to protect me from every deadly disease? Will he protect me from the coronavirus? Here is one thing I do know. God has plans for me.  Some of those plans are for my life here on earth – the things he wants me to learn, the things he wants me to do, the people he wants me to share my faith with, etc. But God also has a plan for when I’m going home to heaven to be with him. So, there is no concrete assurance that I will stay completely healthy or that I will live forever here on earth. Death will come. This verse confirms this:

Jeremiah 29:11 (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.”

Whatever God’s plans for me are – living here on earth, or joining him in heaven – they are good plans, plans that promise me a bright future.

 “He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”

Those words are so comforting, especially today.  The metaphor of a bird covering its little ones with its wings brings the picture of a mother chicken with those cute little chicks peeking out from under her wings. The thought of God’s arms swooping me into a big hug, or pushing me behind him to protect me from what is coming, is so reassuring. It reminds me of my favourite verses that I’ve used in the devotions so many times.

Romans 8:35-39  (NLT)

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

See that line – “neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”  Isn’t that wonderful!

That is what makes living through the third wave of a pandemic something you can do with peace and confidence.

Our song for today is I Just Need You by Tobymac.

April 7 – My Strength or God’s?

Psalm 20  (NIV)

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
    and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call!

David frequently writes about ‘distress’ in the psalms.  I can understand that because he had a difficult life.  Israel was in its early infancy as a nation, and David was the king who had to lead the wars to establish its borders and make sure surrounding nations respected Israel.  He was the first king from his family line. In David’s time, Saul was the first king, and that turned out to be a disaster.  David was the next king, and his family became the royal line, but there were people who challenged that – even David’s own sons fought over who would be the next king.  So life was never calm and peaceful for David.

This psalm is divided into two parts.  The first 5 verses are a prayer, asking for God’s help. Those verses are just like the way I pray – God make everything turn out well.  David even mentions that God should answer his prayer because David has made sacrifices.  Doesn’t that sound like us sometimes?  God, please make this turn out all right because you know I’ve served You the best I can.  I’m so thankful that God is patient with me.  He has plans for me – and everyone else too – and those plans don’t mean that I get everything I want. 

But then, David shifts gears in the last 3 verses and expresses his confidence in God. I like verses 7 and 8 as David states that confidence in your own plans and strength will only bring failure.  Confidence in God helps us to ‘stand firm’.

A phrase in the Bible that has often caught my attention is “right hand”.  It’s used in verse 6 where it is referred to as “the victorious power of His right hand”.  It’s also in another verse that has been a special one to me for many years.  Isaiah 41:13 “For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” (NASB)   I looked that ‘right hand’ phrase up in a Bible dictionary*, and found these definitions. Sometimes it is used as a sign of a pledge; other times it is a sign of power or authority. It also indicates a place of honour in heaven. In this psalm and the verse in Isaiah, the power definition is the one that fits. 

What do you rely on in difficult times?  When I am honest, I have to admit that I often look to a variety of sources for strength.  I count on family to help me with advice or practical help. I count on my own intelligence to figure things out.  I count on the advice of some mature wise people I know.  I might read a self-help book – made better if it’s written by a well-known Christian author. I count on experts in whatever area I’m concerned about. Sometimes I just hope for some “luck” to solve the problem by chance.  

I really have to ask myself how much do I count on my Heavenly Father for the strength to deal with the issues life brings?  How much do I give Him credit when things turn out well for me? Over the years I was often been surprised at comments made by my husband, a smart and very educated man.  He would say he was looking for a parking space near the hospital and someone pulled out right where he needed the space; he said he was praying for a space and God answered his prayer.  Or he’d say he was praying that God would help him find his keys, and God answered his prayer.  I found myself being amazed since I likely wouldn’t pray about such mundane things or expect God to care about those kinds of things. 

There have been things that have happened that I definitely give God the credit for.  I do “shout for joy” and “lift up the banners” openly about what God has done.  My husband’s miraculous cure from cancer in 2010 was certainly one of those times.  To his doctors and anyone who asks, we stated firmly right up front that this was God’s doing entirely – and his doctors agreed since they couldn’t explain it. But on so many other things – stresses that tend to bog me down, problems at work or where I volunteer, my own aging health issues, and most recently the death of my husband – do I really count on God for strength or on my “chariots and horses”?  I have the benefit of experience.  I still have a tendency to turn to my own resources first, but I have also learned that ultimately, I have to turn to God for the strength to keep going.  It’s a faith journey and a learning process that God will patiently guide us all on – until we too can say:

“Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.”

*Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words – W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White Jr.  Thomas Nelson Publishers  1980

Our song for today is King of Kings by Hillsong.

April 6 – Be Still

With a third wave of the pandemic, and lockdown starting again, we’ll take a few days to remember God’s presence with us in all this frustration, fear and anger.

Psalm 46     (NLT)

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! 
 4 A river brings joy to the city of our God,
    the sacred home of the Most High.
God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
    From the very break of day, God will protect it.
The nations are in chaos,
    and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
    and the earth melts!
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress. 
Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
    See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
    He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honored by every nation.
    I will be honored throughout the world.”
11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress. 

Sometimes things just seem overwhelming.  The Covid – 19 crisis has certainly got us all on edge. And now we are entering the third wave and told to stay home once again. It’s been over a year. Is this ever going to stop? Hopefully as vaccinations increase, things will calm down, but it’s so hard to be patient. I miss being with family so much. I miss the “normal” church services and activities.

During upsetting times, Psalm 46 is a good one to read.  We need to know that our God is in control and that we can get help from Him.  I love the first verse in this psalm: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.”  That is a fact, and that is true.  But, how do we experience that strength?  Personally, I think verse 10 contains the answer.  “Be still, and know that I am God!”  There are times when we need to literally stop right where we are standing, and say out loud, “God, I know You are there, and You are willing to help me, so I’m taking a deep breath and waiting on You”.

I have that verse on a wall hanging in my bedroom.  It used to hang in the entranceway of the home where I raised my kids.  Both those locations are ones that I needed to have that verse located.  I needed to know as I came in my front door with arms loaded with stuff and kids whirling about my feet that I was coming home to a place where God lived as well.  Now as I wake and start each day, I need to be aware that God is with me in whatever comes my way that day.  I need to know that God is there and that He is all the wonderful things recounted in this psalm.

The words “be still” are translated a variety of ways depending on the version you read.  The King James Version says, “be still” and that seems to be the most popular one.  The NASB says “cease striving”.  It can also be translated ‘let go’ or ‘relax’.  One thing that stands out to me in all of those translations is the idea that I need to stop and get in touch with God.  There needs to be action on my part – my willingness to let go.  I don’t know about you, but I suspect that you may identify with me.  I do strive.  I do try my best to do all the things on my schedule. I do care that I’m doing a good job.  I do want to cope with this pandemic well. See all that striving?  See all that busyness?  See all that tension?  I need to stop that and consult God much more.  When things happen that mess up my plans (my strivings), I need to stop and know who is really in control.  

So that takes me back to verse 1. “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble”.  And to verse 10.  “Be still, and know that I am God!”

And that’s something to think about today.

Our song for today is Take Heart by Matthew West.

April 5 – The Lord Laid on Him the Sins of Us All

Easter Sunday is usually the end of Easter season, but here in Ontario we also have a holiday on Easter Monday. Today, to sum up our Easter experience, we’re going to look at an Old Testament scripture that foretold Jesus’s death for us. It is Bible passages like this one that convince me that the Bible is true. At those low moments that all of us experience at times, when we wonder if God really exists, if He really cares for us … we can’t ignore the accuracy of scripture. Isaiah wrote this 700 years before Jesus came to this world. 

Soak in the verses you are going to read today. They are so accurate in their description of each one of us – and they definitely tell us how much Jesus was willing to endure because of his love for you, for me.

Isaiah 53 New Living Translation (NLT) 

Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows (also translated sicknesses/diseases) that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away. (Greek version – He was humiliated and received no justice)
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

Isn’t this chapter absolutely amazing!  You would think it must be part of the New Testament; it so accurately gives descriptive details of what happened to Jesus. Let’s take another look at those details:

“He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief”

“He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we cold be healed.”

“he did no open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away”

“But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave”

But even more amazing is the description of what Jesus’ suffering and death means to us.  Again, let’s take another look at those verses:

“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.”

“All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”

“ But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.
I will give him the honours of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.”

This is a chapter I really can’t comment on because everything that needs to be said is written right here.  Go back over this chapter and reread what Isaiah said hundreds of years before it happened and thank God for all He has done for us.

Our song for today is Glorious Day by Casting Crowns

April 4 – The Resurrection

The resurrection is what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions.  Every other religion has a prophet or leader who was on earth, but then died.  They have his teachings to follow, and that’s it.  But Christians have God who came to earth in human form, died and then rose again. 

Jesus is alive! And He will come back to earth again someday! 

1 Corinthians 15:20-23   (NLT)

“But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.”

2 Corinthians 5:17   (NLT)

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

What is really exciting is that when we accept Christ as our personal Saviour, we begin a new life.  Everything changes for you and me!  We now have the Holy Spirit living within us to help us and guide us as we go through life here on earth.  So, it’s not just Jesus who was resurrected – we are too! 

Today, I’m posting Luke’s account of the resurrection because it is the most detailed one. At the end of the Luke account, there are a couple of verses from Matthew which talk about the Jewish religious leadership’s reaction to what happened.  

What I really want you to focus on is the reaction of all the people who meet Jesus.  They can’t believe what they are seeing. Sometimes, I think that is our reaction to God as well.  We hear about how much God loves us and wants to be with us every day through our lives, but we find it hard to believe in reality.  Is God really there?  Is He really guiding me?  Is He really in control of all the things that happen to me?  In the accounts of the resurrection, Jesus patiently explains the truth of what happened by going back to the Old Testament and reminding them all of what was prophesied so they could see the truth in all this amazing experience.  We have the Bible today – the Old Testament as well as the New Testament – which was written for us to understand what our faith is all about.  God is patient with us too; He doesn’t leave us ignorant about who He is. For that I am so thankful!

So read the story and put yourself in the shoes of Christ’s followers as they try to understand what happened.

Luke 24:1-48  New Living Translation (NLT)

The Resurrection

24 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

The Walk to Emmaus

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them.30 As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. 36 And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 37 But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!

38 “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? 39 Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” 40 As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.

41 Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he ate it as they watched.

44 Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. 47 It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ 48 You are witnesses of all these things.”

Matthew 28: 11 – 15   (NLT)

The Report of the Guard

11 As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. 12 A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. 13 They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ 14 If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” 15 So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.”

Our song for today is King of Kings by Hillsong Worship