January 17 – Peace in Difficult Times

2 Timothy 3:16-17  NLT

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

Yesterday, that verse became the foundation for Pastor Brian’s sermon on a core value of our church – communicating the truth of the Bible. Knowing that the Bible is ‘God-breathed’ brings stability and calm to our lives as we can count on what we read as definitely true. And God uses His Word to prepare and train us to live as witnesses of God’s love for us, so that the people around us realize that God makes a difference.

We’ve been living in a difficult time these past two years, and the pandemic is not over. It’s got everyone in a more nervous and edgy mood. This week we’re going to look at some of my favourite verses – verses that have really helped me through my life to stay calm and reliant on God’s presence in my life. You will likely recognize some of these verses since I tend to use them often in the devotions. 

As we read these verses during the week, know that we can count on them to be true. This is God talking to you.

Philippians 4: 6 – 7  NLT

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

During this pandemic, these verses have been a calming influence in my life. As I listen to the news and read the Windsor Star, I see so many articles about the surge in mental and emotional health problems. I totally understand why people are struggling, and you may be experiencing more anxiety yourself. Life is certainly different from what it used to be.

Folks seem to be more ‘on edge’, more willing to argue and state their opinions. Families are experiencing divisions as some are pro-vaccine, and others are anti-vaccine. Some people are ‘hiding’ in their homes; others are out and about as if the pandemic didn’t exist. Division seems to be a common denominator these days. 

As Christ followers, how do we deal with all this?

First of all, God asks us to pray about everything. Yes, everything! I’m quite willing to admit that I don’t pray about everything. I’m not a saint, not perfect at all. In fact, I like to control my life and what is going on around me. I like to plan and make sure things are completed well. Sometimes, I even think that God couldn’t possibly be interested in my plans for the day, the week. I’m sure he has so many more important things to be concerned about than my ordinary day. Yet God asks us to pray about everything.

We can pray about those things that are just ordinary; we can ask him to guide us through our day in all those mundane things – looking after our kids, running errands, cleaning, figuring out the games for Chaos night at the church, who we should call, etc. We often pray about what we consider the more important things – what should we volunteer our time for, how to spend our money, what our priorities should be, etc. But God asks us to pray about everything – small things too. And when we do … it’s amazing how our anxiety goes down.

In fact, God tells us “Don’t worry about anything”. Really? Not anything! That’s exactly what these verses say: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” And … “Tell God what you need”. If you had a psychologist at your side 24/7 who you could consult whenever you needed to, imagine how helpful that would be. Well … God is exactly that. He is at your side every moment of your life. His spirit lives within you. 

God also asks you to do something very positive – “thank him for all he has done”. On those days when I find anxiety creeps up and starts making me feel very nervous and edgy, if I stop and remember all the times when God has helped me, I can be thankful and it calms me down. In those moments when you find worry creeping up, stop and thank God for his presence in your life at that moment, and also thank him for what he has done for you in the past. 

What is the result of praying and thanking God? “You will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” 

Right now, stop and thank God for something specific he has done for you. Pray about how your day will go. Ask for his help in all the little things your day will bring. Count on these words in Philippians 4. Know that they are true. God can bring peace to your “heart and mind” – your feelings and your thoughts. You can be a witness to your family and friends of God’s presence.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Our song for today is Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me by City Alight.

January 14 – Praise and Prayer

Devotions over the past two weeks have been challenging for me, and hopefully for you. I tend to like my life all planned out, and the idea of living by faith is rather formidable for me. As 2022 begins, I pray that we all will grow in our faith and trust God to use each one of us in his plans, be willing to take risks. 2022 might be another difficult year; it might be a year of new beginnings as the pandemic fades away. Whatever 2022 brings, let’s pray and ask God to guide us in how we can grow in our faith and share it more. 

Let’s praise God for how wonderful he is and how much he cares for each one of us.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord!

Let all that I am praise the Lord.
    I will praise the Lord as long as I live.
    I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
    there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
    and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them.
    He keeps every promise forever.
He gives justice to the oppressed
    and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
    The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
    The Lord loves the godly.
The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
    He cares for the orphans and widows,
    but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.

10 The Lord will reign forever.
    He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.

Praise the Lord!

Reread that psalm and look for a phrase (or phrases) that strike you more than others. Stop and take the time to do that.

It’s so important to let God speak to you directly as you read His Word. So … what statement stood out for you? Why do you think you noticed that the most? Did it encourage you? Did it challenge you? Did it make you feel more secured, settled?

Whatever it was, know that God was speaking to you.

Our song for today is Reckless Love by Cory Asbury.

January 13 – Does God Make Life Easy?

Hebrews 11: 32 – 40 and 12: 1 – 2  NLT

“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

Sometimes, as Christians, we hope that our lives will go smoothly because we serve God and try to do our best for him. We know as parents, we try to do the best for our children, to make their lives as easy as possible. So then, wouldn’t God do that for us? 

Yet when we read these verses today, we realize that a comfortable life is not promised to us at all. Some people accomplished amazing things – although likely with difficulty and a big challenge – as you read the first 4 verses. But then the next 3 verses are quite depressing. People were tortured, imprisoned, made fun of, and had their lives taken away as they had to hide or live in poverty. Yet they refused to turn from God. They were known for their faith. Sometimes I wonder if I would stand up for my faith if I knew persecution would result. I think I would, but I also know I run away from hard things. 

Jesus is God, a being with incredible authority and power. Yet, he came to earth as a human being and lived a life in a small town as a carpenter. Then he spent three years travelling around Israel – no home, no financial security, constant harassment from the temple leaders – and eventual horrendous death on a cross prompted by the people he came to save. 

We live in a fallen, broken world. There is no guarantee that life will be painless. Living in Canada, we have easy lives in comparison to many other countries. We are not likely to be tortured for our faith. We know that many don’t believe in God and we may be hesitant to talk about our faith to neighbours and co-workers, but we don’t face dire consequences for going to church or our beliefs. We face the many challenges that everyone faces – illness, job loss, broken things that need to be fixed, relationships with difficult moments, etc. 

Yet, we can live with faith that God loves us and there is life eternal waiting for us in heaven. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

Life has been tough over the past two years. Now we are starting 2022 with another wave of the pandemic that seems worse than ever. It’s so easy to get bogged down with depression and anxiety, fear for what the future holds. It looks like we need to “strip off every weight that slows us down” and “run with endurance the race God has set before us”. 

Let’s start thinking about how we can share our faith with others. Whether life goes smoothly or hits rough spots, let’s start thinking about how we can serve God in some way. What project can we get involved in over the next year? As Pastor Brian challenges us over the next couple of months, how can we help LSA become a welcoming place for everyone? Start thinking and praying – Father, what do you want me to do? How can my faith be an encouragement to others?

Our song for today is Sovereign by Chris Tomlin. It’s a live production so there is a spoken introduction by Chris Tomlin.

January 12 – Am I Good Enough?

Hebrews 11: 32  NLT

“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. “

Today I want to look at David, another man of faith. His life story is an assortment of ups and downs. One of his early achievements was killing Goliath, a story most of us heard when we were young children. That started him on the road to fame from being the youngest in a regular unknown family. He was an excellent king, and conquered many of Israel’s enemies, thereby establishing Israel as a strong nation to be respected. He also ran into a lot of difficulty along the way. Prior to becoming king, Saul hunted him and threatened to kill him. While he was king, his son, Absalom, tried to take over the kingdom. All of those life-threatening situations must have been difficult to live through. Being hunted, war, and revolt. Just watch the news today with various countries experiencing uprisings, and the photos are horrendous. Living through those events would be so hard.

Then there was the time when David got lazy, decided not to lead his army in battle and just stayed home wandering the palace. That led to seeing a beautiful neighbour and ordering her to be brought to him at the palace. That night produced a pregnancy, and also led David to murder her husband to keep the whole thing quiet. How could someone who was devoted to serving God do something like that? Rape and murder would be high on my list of terrible sins. Yet God would still include David in the list of faithful people?

One of David’s amazing gifts was the gift of writing. We’re going to take a look at some of the psalms David wrote that will give us insight into his mind and soul. David did love God and wanted to serve Him, and was willing to admit he had done wrong and ask for forgiveness. Look at Psalm 51: 1 – 12

“Have mercy on me, O God,
    because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
    blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
    Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
    and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
    teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
    you have broken me—
    now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
    Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you.”

This psalm is such a compelling expression of David’s sorrow over sin. We look askance at David’s sin, but we also know we are not perfect, and often our own sin burdens us down. Sometimes, the things we’ve ‘messed up’ prevent us from serving God now. We see opportunities for service in our church, but stay back. We’re not good enough. But we need to know that when we confess our sin the way David did, God forgives.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  (1 John 1: 9)

David wrote many more psalms about his faith in God. Here is one of them:

Psalm 18: 28 – 36

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.

We have a forgiving, loving God who is able to take our ordinary, faulty lives and make something beautiful from them. As we look forward into 2022, let’s look with expectation that God has something for each of us. Admit our failures to Him, and pray for opportunities to serve Him. Just like David, you can go down in history as a person of faith.

Our song for today is Who Am I by Casting Crowns.

January 11 – I Need More Faith

Hebrews 11: 32 – 40  NLT

“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”

There are some interesting stories about the people mentioned in verse 32. Today we’ll look at the story of Gideon told in Judges 6 and 7. Gideon was the youngest son of a family living in the area of Israel named Ophrah. At that time in history, Israel was dominated by Midian. The Midianites came every year and destroyed the crops and took away any sheep, oxen or donkeys. It kept Israel in poverty and without the ability to fight back. Why was this happening to God’s people? They had left the worship of God and were now worshipping Baal. In fact, there was an idol of Baal in the town centre. God was giving them the results of abandoning Him for another god.

One day young Gideon was threshing wheat secretly to hide it from the Midianites when an angel appeared and said, “The Lord is with you; O valiant warrior.” (6:12) Gideon actually challenged the angel by saying the Lord wasn’t with them, and had abandoned them to the Midianites. Can you imagine challenging an angel that way? But then, Gideon was young and was likely fuming inside about the hard life he had to live. So he was honest and stated his complaints to the angel. 

The angel replied and told him God was sending him to deliver Israel. Gideon again challenged the angel by saying his family was the least important in the area, and he was the youngest in his family. Why send him? The angel told him again that God had chosen him and would be with him in the battle. Gideon said – prove it. So the angel told him to get what was needed for an offering and Gideon brought back a young goat and some unleavened bread. The angel then held out the staff that was in his hand, and the meat and bread were consumed by a fire that sprang from the rock. Then the angel disappeared. 

Gideon was now convinced that the angel was from God, and not a dream, and he was frightened. He built an altar in honour of God. Then he got 10 servants who were close to him, and they went to the centre of town and tore down the altar to Baal in the middle of the night. The next day, the town officials were furious and started looking for whoever had done that. When they discovered it was Gideon, his father actually stood up for him and told the officials to leave him alone. If what he did was so wrong then the Midianites would take care of it. 

This story must have got around because the Midianites and their allies, the Amalekites, came and parked ‘troops’ near Ophrah. A battle was about to happen. In the account in Judges, it says that Gideon experienced God’s Spirit and began to get an army of men gathered to challenge them. But once again, we see Gideon’s fear that he wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t good enough to actually be up to this challenge. 

Once again, Gideon asks God for reassurance.

“Then Gideon said to God, “If You are going to save Israel [a]through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I am putting a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will save Israel [b]through me, as You have spoken.” 38 And it was so. When he got up early the next morning and wrung out the fleece, he wrung the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me, so that I may speak only one more time; please let me put You to the test only one more time with the fleece: let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” 40 And God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.”  (6: 36 – 40)

But then God challenges Gideon. He asks Gideon to make sure the men who had gathered for the upcoming battle were actually ready. Gideon told the men that they could leave if they were frightened about the upcoming battle. 22, 000 men left and 10,000 remained. Then God told Gideon to do another challenge and ask all the men to get a drink from the river. Any man who knelt down or leaned down to the water had to be told to go home. Only 300 men kept their eyes on their surroundings and scooped up water quickly. That was Gideon’s army – 300 men. 

On the night of the battle, God told Gideon to creep down into the enemy camp and listen to what he could hear the men saying. God knew that Gideon needed all the reassurance he could get. Gideon realized the enemy was nervous as he heard stories about their fear of this god of the Israelites. That “spy mission” helped Gideon be bold. In the actual “battle”, the 300 men divided into 3 groups, took along trumpets and pitchers with torches inside, and surrounded the enemy camp. At Gideon’s signal, they smashed the pitchers so the torches could be seen, blew the trumpets and shouted “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon.” The enemy camp went into a crazy turmoil, with men killing each other and many fleeing. Those 300 men actually didn’t have much difficulty rounding up the few who were left. 

Gideon lived in a country that was overrun by enemies. He was a young man from an ordinary family; he had no credentials in his community to encourage people to follow him. He was even nervous about God’s plans. If I approached someone and asked them to help me lead some project and they said ‘no’ three times, and even asked for some proof or reassurance that they were qualified, I would likely decide they weren’t the right person – and move on to someone else. But God continued with Gideon, reassuring him on many occasions that Gideon could trust him. He was nervous, but he had faith.

We are living in a time where most people don’t attend church. Stats Can reported in 2019 (before Covid) that 23% of the population said they attended some event at a church once a month or less. Over the past 2 years of the pandemic, church attendance has plummeted and some wonder if it will pick up again. What will 2022 and beyond bring? We need to realize that God is at work even in dire circumstances.

This current wave of the pandemic will start to slow down, and it will be safer to attend church again. The church will need more volunteers. Is God starting to nudge you to get involved? Don’t brush aside those thoughts because you think you may be too young, too old, too unqualified, too whatever. God wants his people to flourish, and he will be with you and provide what you need. Don’t be one of those 22, 000 men who left because they were nervous. Start thinking and praying where and how you can be part of your church’s future. Know you can be one of those 300 men who stood amazed that night as the enemy crumpled before their eyes. It is God who is doing the work. God can use you. Have faith. 

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. (Hebrews 11: 1 – 3)

“You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deed, O God our saviour. You are the hope of everyone on earth; even those who sail on distant seas.”  Psalm 65: 5

Our song for today is Give Me Faith by Elevation Worship.

January 10 – Walk by Faith

Hebrews 11: 23 – 31  NLT

23 It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king’s command.

24 It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. 27 It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. 28 It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.

29 It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.

30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.

31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

Here are more examples of people who trusted God. The story of Moses’ birth is told in Exodus 2. There is no indication in the account that his parents were told by God directly that Moses was special. Here is the verse that tells us about the birth: “The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months.” (2: 2) 

The story then goes on to talk about hiding Moses in the reeds by the Nile River and Pharaoh’s daughter finding him and deciding to keep the baby. I try to imagine what it would have been like to be a pregnant young mom in a country where the Pharaoh had decreed that all baby boys born to the Israelites must be killed at birth. And there is your beautiful new son in your arms. If we were realistic, her attempt to save her son by keeping him in a waterproof basket wasn’t likely going to be successful. Yet she knew their people were God’s people, and I suspect she prayed that God would protect that baby. 

God’s protection was quite incredible. Moses is raised to adulthood in the Pharoah’s palace. He must have been told his true origins because we read this: “Now it came about in those days when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.” (Exodus 2: 11) God had a plan for Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, and he gave Moses a start in life growing up in the palace that trained him in ruling/leadership ways. 

Perhaps like many Christians, you may start your day praying for God’s guidance in that day. You don’t have a particular request, just a willingness to follow God’s leading in whatever comes your way. You make decisions, and then later you realize that God was guiding you in your decisions, that God had a plan that you were part of. I suspect that was what happened to Moses’ mother. She prayed for this son, having no idea that God had a plan. And God did have a plan!

I love the fact that Rahab was mentioned. Rahab, the prostitute. Does God care for those people that we middle-class folks tend to ignore? Does God care for people who have not grown up knowing about him? Did Rahab totally understand who God was? I’m not sure. I suspect she had heard stories of this new “nation” that was marching through the territory and conquering cities. And now they were at Jericho. If she helped these people, maybe she would survive the fighting. So, she decided to help – and she was saved. In her life after that particular time, she would have learned about this God, and realized God had saved her. 

We often are not aware that God is at work. We may pray about certain situations, but they don’t always turn out the way we hoped. We may not be aware that God is working in a family member, neighbour or co-worker’s life, and then unexpectedly a conversation happens where we have a chance to speak on God’s behalf. When we think about faith, sometimes we think it must be a particular situation where we ask for God’s help. But really, faith is depending and trusting that God is at work in every part of our day whether we are totally aware of it or not.

Read this verse again:

“Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for (or expected), a proof (or conviction about) of things not seen.” 

Today, if this pandemic and its restrictions are bothering you – upset about school online instead of in person, panicking about your job, missing your friends and family, worried about your health, annoyed about the arguments that seem to be cropping up too much, sad about the divisions in your family … and the list goes on …

Know that God is at work. Have faith. 

“Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for (or expected), a proof (or conviction about) of things not seen.” 

Our song for today is Walk by Faith by Jeremy Camp

January 7 – Can I Trust God?

Have you ever experienced a difficult situation that made you wonder if your faith in God was misplaced? That maybe all the things you had heard about Christianity were actually myth? That you should ignore all this religious stuff and just face your life doing the best you could?

Have you ever been involved in something you were sure God wanted you to do – and it wasn’t going well, or maybe even looking like it was failing and should be abandoned? You began to question if you had really understood what God had called you to do? Why would God lead you to something that wasn’t successful?

This next example in Hebrews 11 makes me stop and shudder.

Hebrews 11: 17 – 22  NLT

“It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”[c] 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

20 It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau.

21 It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.

22 It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left.”

Remember how Abraham was led by God to leave his country at 75 years of age to go to a promised land? Remember how God had promised him a son, and at age 99, that son had yet to appear? We didn’t even mention the many stories in Genesis where Abraham met a ton of very difficult situations over those 25 years. And now, God was asking Abraham to sacrifice his son? 

Honestly, I don’t think I could have done what Abraham did. If I had based my life over several years certain that God had called me to a certain job, or a particular ministry, or a loving relationship that was the center of my life … and then felt God was asking me to give it up? I’m not sure I could do that. I would think that I must be mistaken. God wouldn’t do something like that. Surely, God wouldn’t bring something into my life that would have the potential of destroying it.

No wonder, Abraham was included in this list of people who were examples of faith. He was willing to follow God’s leading no matter what. He was willing to give up his adored promised son, sure that God had a plan. 

I don’t know what you are going through right now. These past couple of years have been so hard. You may be wondering if your faith has been misplaced. You may be questioning how much God really cares for you. You may be facing some difficult decisions and hoping that somehow God will make things work out for the best. So many questions in your mind. Can you trust God? 

Remember the opening verses to Hebrews 11?

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”

That is what God is asking us to do each day. Have faith that he is in control of all these difficult situations in life. I’ve included the account of the sacrifice of Isaac so you can read the full story. As you read it, ask God to help you grow your faith, to completely trust him.

Genesis 22: 1 – 19  NLT

“Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven. 16 “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants[a] beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.”

Our song for today is In God We Trust by Hillsong Worship.

January 6 – God Understands

Here we are in another lockdown. Students are back online – often a nightmare for parents trying to get their children motivated, and for teachers who have to figure out how to keep their classes effective. Many businesses are closed again. Anxiety, and even anger/frustration, are ramping up some more. When is this going to end? 

We are taking a quick aside from Hebrews 11 today to look at a Bible passage that talks about our faith in difficult times. How can I get through this pandemic and stay calm, and even be an encouragement to those around me?

Romans 5: 1 – 11 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.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”

There is one central thing that keeps life grounded and stable – knowing that God loves me. That is something I need to remind myself often. I tend to be a person who likes to organize things, and I get so caught up in trying to figure out how to fix things, how to make things work better … I forget that I need to stop and just rest in my relationship with my Heavenly Father. 

Just look at some of the phrases in these verses: “we have been made right in God’s sight by faith”; “we have peace with God”; this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand”; confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory”. Read those phrases again. Why can we be confident that we have this rock-solid relationship with God? “Because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us”.

Just in case you didn’t truly understand that you have this strong relationship with God, these verses go on to remind us that God’s love doesn’t depend on us at all. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” We didn’t earn God’s love by being a nice person. He loved us exactly the way we were; in fact, God considered us his “enemies”. 

God’s love for us is way beyond our comprehension and understanding. If we truly understood how much we were loved by this supreme being, we would likely find facing difficulties much easier. I love the verses in Colossians that state who Jesus is and how much he loved me.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,[a]
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.[b]
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.  (Colossians 1: 15 – 20)

Knowing that I am loved deeply by God is the foundation to build my life on. When I get upset, frustrated, angry, anxious, frightened, etc. … I need to put my emotions on pause and realize that I am loved.

 But God also knows we will run into problems. We don’t live in a perfect world. Interestingly, he tells us – “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials”. Really? We can rejoice when we face problems? God tells us that those problems will help us develop endurance, strength of character and confident hope – actually qualities we would love to have. But how does that happen? 

Right at this moment, I know we will face people who disagree with the way our government is handling the pandemic. It causes definite tension when the topic comes up. Some of us are facing financial difficulty as our jobs keep disappearing. Dealing with our children complaining and fighting with each other because they’re stuck at home is stressful. How do I deal with all this and stay calm? “He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” 

There are moments when I need to stop and take a deep breath. Stop and ask God to help me be that loving and accepting person, be that person who trusts God in all areas of my life. Understand that God is in control and I can trust him. How? “Our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” God is my friend! I can talk to him, and know he loves me. I can learn to treat others the same way as God treats me with the Holy Spirit’s help. 

I don’t have to do this alone. You don’t have to do this alone. You are God’s friend and his spirit lives in you. When you wake up each day during this crazy pandemic time, before you jump out of bed and get moving … pause … remind yourself of God’s love, and pray that God will help you in whatever comes your way that day.

Our song for today is The Love of God by MercyMe.

January 5 – Following

Hebrews 11: 8 – 16 NLT

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise. 12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.

13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

The story of Abraham takes up a little over 12 chapters in Genesis, and begins with these verses:

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12: 1 – 3  NLT

(As the story develops, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, which is the name I will use.)

That was an amazing promise. We are told that Abraham was 75 years old when he left his home to go to this promised land. Abraham and Sarah were over 99 years old when Isaac was born. That was a long wait, and the situation seemed impossible to them. They wanted to believe God, but …

God said he would give them a son, but it wasn’t happening. They weren’t young when the promise was initially made, and years went by, so they thought maybe they should do something about the situation, and Sarah gave her maid, Hagar to Abraham – and Ishmael was born. But Ishmael wasn’t the promised child, and a lot of heartache and bad decisions were made because of that. 

That promised child did come eventually, so God kept his promise, even though Abraham and Sarah messed up. That encourages me as I realize that I mess up too. There have been many times in my life when I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to do something, but ignored it. Then sometime later, that nudge came again. God doesn’t give up on us. One example of that nudge for me was thinking about writing devotions. That thought came so many times throughout my life, but I was always too busy. I would chat about it with my family, and they would encourage me to write but there were so many other things that kept me occupied. But then came the day when life slowed down, and that nudge came back. I am so glad that God doesn’t give up on us. He has plans for us, and he will continue to urge us in that direction.

We might say that Abraham and Sarah failed miserably. Yet read those verses. “It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise.” She believed, but she also tried to plan ahead of God. God didn’t renege on his promises because she had moments of doubt.

Isn’t that reassuring for you? God wants to work through you. You can have confidence that God will do exactly that even though you may worry about whether you are good enough, or worry that you can’t see God’s plan. Start praying and asking God what he wants for you in the days, months, years ahead. 

“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. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen.” 

Jeremiah 29: 11 – 12  NLT.

Our song for today is Overcomer by Mandisa.

December 24 – Baby Jesus and Christ Supreme

As we’ve been reading through the Christmas story, we have the picture of a tiny, helpless baby born into a poor unknown family who is struggling to even find a place to stay. The baby is born in a stable, and the first people to welcome the baby are non-important shepherds. 

If you really pause and go over the events in your mind, you would see a nondescript story, one that wouldn’t make a successful novel or film. It would be too full of sad, difficult situations. And the ending a while later would be the slaughter of all the Jewish baby boys two years old and younger. 

This is not the story pictured in many of our creche scenes – the lovely Mary dressed in a flowing blue dress with nicely dressed Joseph standing guard over her and the baby; a few snowy white lambs hovering in the background with a couple of sleepy cows in the nearby hay. The hay all quite golden and piled in places where you could sit or lie down.

Yet, in reality, this baby is one of the Trinity. This baby has actually been in existence for eternity. This baby is God Himself in human form. What an incomprehensible, amazing thought!

Colossians 1: 15 – 20  NLT

Christ Is Supreme

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

As we go through today, doing all our last-minute preparations for Christmas, let’s also keep in mind who we are celebrating. The most incredible event in human history – God Himself coming to live on earth.

Our song for today is the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, sung by Royal Choral Society

December 23 – Joy to the World

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as, the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders, of His love

By Isaac Watts

This Christmas carol is a praise song.  If you look at the words more carefully, you will find praise for the fact that God came to earth.  That is just so amazing – that God, the creator of the universe, would limit himself with a human body.  There is praise from the entire creation of this planet – fields, floods (yes, even floods), rocks, hills and plains all rejoice that the creator has come to earth.  Praise is also given for God’s intervention in the curse of sin that currently holds the world in its grip.  “His blessings flow as far as the curse is found.”  And the final praise in the carol is for God’s wonderful love.  He is a God of truth, grace and love.

This carol was based on Psalm 98, so I thought I’d include it today as well.  Read it over slowly and concentrate on the excitement and joy expressed in the words. I’d even suggest you read it out loud.  Tell your heavenly father that you are saying this psalm to him.  Sing Joy to the World around your home today.  Sing other songs that come to your mind that praise our wonderful God.  Have your kids join in as well.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing on tune; any praise is music to God’s ears.  Celebrate joy today even though you may be stressed over all the stuff that goes along with Christmas traditions.  Put that aside for today, and concentrate on the real reason for Christmas.  Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Psalm 98   (NLT)

Sing a new song to the Lord,
    for he has done wonderful deeds.
His right hand has won a mighty victory;
    his holy arm has shown his saving power!
The Lord has announced his victory
    and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!
He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.
    The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
    Let the earth and all living things join in.
Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!
    Let the hills sing out their songs of joy
before the Lord,
    for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
    and the nations with fairness.

Our song for today is Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy) by Chris Tomlin.

December 22 – The First Noel

The First Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far,
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a king was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.

This star drew nigh to the northwest,
O’er Bethlehem it took it rest,
And there it did both stop and stay
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee,
and offered there in his presence
Their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made heaven and earth of naught,
And with his blood mankind hath bought

The first verse of this carol starts with the shepherds, but the rest of the verses talk about the wise men.  As you read this carol and think about the one posted yesterday (We Three Kings) you’ll notice the songs talk about the wise men arriving in Bethlehem as they follow the star.  That’s not exactly the factual version of the story.  The wise men arrived in Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, looking for the new king announced by the star they had seen.  That visit to Jerusalem started a horror story.  It’s a story we don’t mention that often, and I certainly wouldn’t tell that part of the story to my young children.  But I think we, as adults, need to see these events for what they actually were in reality.  The Christmas story is not all cozy and beautiful.

Let’s look at the story told in Matthew 2: 1 – 23 in The Message paraphrase:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
    no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
    who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

13 After the scholars were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.”

14-15 Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.”

16-18 Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. (He determined that age from information he’d gotten from the scholars.) That’s when Jeremiah’s sermon was fulfilled:

A sound was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children,
    Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone,
    dead and buried.

19-20 Later, when Herod died, God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt: “Up, take the child and his mother and return to Israel. All those out to murder the child are dead.”

21-23 Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother, and reentered Israel. When he heard, though, that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod, as king in Judea, he was afraid to go there. But then Joseph was directed in a dream to go to the hills of Galilee. On arrival, he settled in the village of Nazareth. This move was a fulfillment of the prophetic words, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

If we weren’t aware that Satan is active in this world, then that story should make us think.  There was no way Satan was going to sit idly by and watch the Messiah, the Saviour of the World show up without a huge effort to stop God’s plan.  Satan didn’t have to look far to find the man he could use, a man who was desperate to be a king.  No way was Herod going to give up the perks of ruling over Israel with Rome backing his every move.  

I can’t even imagine the area in and around Bethlehem when Herod’s troops started killing all the boys two years old and under.  What a horrendous nightmare!  Some of you are moms or grandmothers of little ones.  Can you imagine the fear and stress you would be under if you knew the government was determined to kill your preschooler?  Talk about panic attacks and grief!  

Joseph was warned in a dream by an angel who told him to get out right away.  He obeyed and left that very night.  He was far away from Bethlehem by daybreak.  They had left Nazareth to go to Bethlehem because of a government enforced census when Mary was close to the end of her pregnancy.  They were in Bethlehem when the wise men showed up; we don’t know for sure how long that was after the birth.  But they hadn’t returned to their hometown yet at that point.  Then Joseph is told to get out of Israel. Now Joseph and Mary are refugees in Egypt, and they have to stay there until Herod dies.  I’m sure they heard about the massacre around Bethlehem.  How do you think they felt?  I’m sure they were glad that Jesus was safe, but maybe they also felt a little guilty that their son was the reason for that horrible tragedy?  The birth of Jesus didn’t make life easier at all for the people involved.  It was hard!

Yet, we also know that Mary and Joseph eventually made it home again.  Jesus grew up in Nazareth and learned carpentry from his father.  God did protect them and their family grew as more children were added.  I think their story helps us realize that God is there for us even when the situation is hard.  God does have a plan, and although Satan may try to mess up that plan, God is in control.  When life hits you with really difficult situations, remember that God is with you.  Think of the following verses that assure us of His care.

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.”

Isaiah 26:3   (NLT)

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

Our song today is The First Noel by Pentatonix.

December 21 – We Three Kings

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.


by John H. Hopkins Jr.  1857
 

The shepherds arrived at the manger on the night Jesus was born.  In many of our nativity sets today, the wise men also appear to have arrived that same night.  In reality, they arrived later – how much later we’re not sure. We also tend to think there were three wise men; again, we’re not sure but that number came from the three gifts given to Jesus.  There could have been quite an entourage of people who travelled the long distance to Israel.  The first line of the Christmas carol for today (We three kings of Orient are) always made me think as I was growing up, the wise men came from China or somewhere farther east.  They actually came from Persia.   

Today, I thought I’d post an explanation of the star that led the wise men to Jesus.  I copied and pasted it from a website that I like a lot – gotquestions.org.   I love knowing how to apply the Bible to my everyday life, but I also love to understand the facts presented in the Bible.  That knowledge confirms that my belief is not based on some crazy idea, but rather on truth. The information in today’s post comes from Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christmas. (You will love the last paragraph.) So here’s a good explanation of what the star was, and who the wise men were:

“The star of Bethlehem is associated with the birth of Christ and the visit of the magi (wise men) as recorded in Matthew 2:1–12. The text implies the star of Bethlehem appeared only to the magi in the East (most likely the area of Persia, or modern-day Iran). There is no biblical record of anyone else observing the star of Bethlehem.

The magi in the East saw something in the heavens—the star of Bethlehem—that alerted them to the fact that the Jewish Messiah was born. The magi do not call the star of Bethlehem by that name; in Matthew 2:2 they refer to it as being “his star,” since it was a sign to them that a king was born. The star prompted the magi to travel to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. This would be the logical place to start looking for the birth of the King of the Jews for someone who did not know of Micah’s prophecy about Bethlehem.

In Jerusalem, the magi visited King Herod and were told that the new king they were looking for would be born in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:5). The wise men left Herod’s palace, and the star of Bethlehem appeared to them once again. In fact, the star “went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” (verses 9–10). The star of Bethlehem, apparently mobile, led the magi to the precise place where they could find Jesus.

Modern portrayals of the Christmas nativity scene usually show the wise men visiting Jesus on the night of His birth. That is likely not what truly occurred. King Herod discovered from the magi the “exact time” the star of Bethlehem had first appeared to them (Matthew 2:7), and he later ordered all male children two years old and under in Bethlehem to be killed (verse 16). Herod obviously thought the star of Bethlehem had first appeared when Christ was born; if he was right, then Jesus could have been up to two years old when the star of Bethlehem later guided the magi through the streets of Bethlehem. The Greek word translated “young child” in Matthew 2:9 can mean anything from a newborn infant to a toddler.

So, the magi may have first observed the star of Bethlehem the night of Jesus’ birth, or they may have first seen it up to two years beforehand. Either way, they found Jesus still in Bethlehem when they arrived. Joseph and Mary almost surely stayed in Bethlehem until Mary could travel again. In fact, they probably stayed there for the 40 days necessary to complete Mary’s purification. From Bethlehem, they could easily make the five-mile trip to Jerusalem for the sacrifice for Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22). The fact that the magi came to a “house” (Matthew 2:11) rather than the stable makes sense because Joseph naturally would have moved his family to a more protected place as soon as possible—the morning after Jesus was born, in all probability.

Following the star of Bethlehem, the magi traveled to Jerusalem to look for the Messiah. The question arises, how would Persian magi know about the Jewish Messiah? Undoubtedly, they would have been exposed to the writings of the Jewish prophet Daniel, who had been the chief of the court seers in Persia. Daniel 9:24–27 is a prophecy that gives a timeline for the birth of the Messiah. Also, they may have been aware of the words of the pagan prophet Balaam (who was from the town of Pethor on the Euphrates River near Persia) in Numbers 24:17. Balaam’s prophecy specifically mentions “a star” and “a scepter” rising out of Jacob.

What exactly was the star of Bethlehem? The Greek word translated “star” in the text is the word aster, which is the normal word for a star or celestial body. The word is used 24 times in the New Testament, and most of the time it refers to a celestial body. It can be used to denote angels, as in Revelation 12:4, where aster seems to refer to the fallen angels who followed Satan’s rebellion. Basic rules of biblical interpretation state that we should take the normal sense of a word unless there is compelling evidence to suggest otherwise. In that case, the star of Bethlehem should be considered an actual heavenly body. Many Bible scholars suggest a natural explanation for the star of Bethlehem, their theories ranging from a supernova to a comet to an alignment of planets. Something in the heavens provided a brighter-than-normal light in the sky.

However, there is evidence to suggest that the star of Bethlehem was not a natural stellar phenomenon, but something unexplained by science. First, the fact that the star of Bethlehem seemed to appear only to the magi indicates that this was no ordinary star. Also, celestial bodies normally move from east to west due to the earth’s rotation, yet the star of Bethlehem led the magi from Jerusalem south to Bethlehem. Not only that, but it led them directly to the place where Joseph and Mary were staying, stopping overhead. There is no natural stellar phenomenon that can do that.

So, if the normal usage of the word star doesn’t fit the context, what does? The star of Bethlehem in Matthew 2:1–12 was likely a manifestation of the Shekinah Glory. The Shekinah, which literally means “dwelling of God,” was the visible presence of the Lord. Prior to this, the most notable appearance of the Shekinah was the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites by day and the pillar of fire that led them by night (Exodus 13:21). The Shekinah fits the evidence. The Shekinah can obviously lead people to specific locations, and it was seen later in connection with Christ’s ministry (e.g., Matthew 17:5Acts 1:9). It shouldn’t surprise us that God would use a miraculous sign to signal the advent of His Son into the world. Those with eyes to see joyfully beheld His glory.”

Our song for today is We Three Kings by Anne Murray.

December 17 – While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.

“To you, in David’s town, this day
Is born of David’s line
A Savior, who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign:

“The heav’nly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid.”

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God on high,
Who thus addressed their song:

“All glory be to God on high,
And to the Earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from heav’n to men
Begin and never cease!”

By Nahum Tate  –  1700

Luke 2:8-18    (NLT)

“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.”

Try to close your eyes for a couple of minutes and imagine yourself in a countryside of grass and scrubby bushes in the middle of the night.  It’s warm, but you likely still have a small fire where you and the other shepherds can cook things to eat and drink.  You are talking with the other shepherds and telling stories about your sheep, where the best pasture is, what threats you have noticed to the sheep, and likely about the latest gossip from the town nearby.  You are not wealthy; in fact, your job is one of the lower jobs on the pay and fame scale.  You know you are not important, but you have a job and you have some buddies to share the boring nights with.  Then one night …  BOOM!

Verse 9 says they were terrified.  I can totally understand that.  They have NEVER experienced anything like this before. “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.”  The Bible mentions in other places that God’s glory blinds human eyes.  So here they are surrounded by the Lord’s glory.  They receive a message about the Messiah being born, and then there is an angelic choir. I love hearing The Messiah by Handel performed by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra and Choir.  It is always wonderful, and the applause at the end is long and deafening.  But I’m sure that is absolutely nothing in comparison to a choir of angels lighting up the sky and singing “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Stop and think.  How do you think you would feel and react if that happened to you?

The shepherds went to the village quickly to see if what they had heard was right.  I can also imagine that conversation.  “Did you see what I saw? What I heard?  Should we check it out?  Yah, we should, but I still can’t believe it.  Do we leave our sheep here without us?  We have to check it out, but I still can’t believe it.  Are you sure we weren’t hallucinating?”  But they did go and found things exactly the way the angel had described it.  I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought?  I’ve never heard of any new mom who has been up and energetic right after delivering her baby.  Baby Jesus is wrapped and lying in the manger, so the shepherds didn’t arrive right away, but it was that night.  But Mary and Joseph have just been through a long journey, a search to find a place to give birth, and the actual birth – and then some shepherds show up saying they have seen angels singing about this new baby.  

After the visit, the shepherds told others in Bethlehem what had happened and what they had seen.  People were amazed.  Can you imagine the talk around town that week?  I wonder if others stopped by to check out Mary and Joseph.  Would they still be at the stable, or would they have found somewhere better to stay?

What amazes me is that God chose such ordinary unimportant people to announce the birth of His Son.  This whole picture is so not ‘heavenly’ in my mind.  When I think of God, angels, and heaven, I don’t see a stable with smelly shepherds showing up to visit a newborn baby. But even though this scene seems so unusual, I’m glad that is the way God announced Himself to our world.  Anyone, no matter how smart they are, how rich they are, how religious they are, or how important they are can say they have a monopoly on God’s love.  God reaches down to the most insignificant people.  He loves everyone no matter what.  And God showed that to us in no uncertain terms the night He arrived on earth.  He did have a fabulous choir announcement, but it was to shepherds, not kings and wealthy important people.  

It was for you and for me – no matter who we are.  

Our song for today is While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night by Kings College Choir.

December 15 – O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

By Phillips Brooks  1868

This carol pictures Bethlehem as a sleeping town at night with the stars shining quietly over the village.  Most of the nativity scenes also picture a serene group kneeling around a manger with a few animals in the background.  Sometimes I wonder if that was actually the picture. Jesus was born in a turbulent time.  The whole country was on the move.  Read these verses from the beginning of Luke 2:

“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.”   (Luke 2: 1 – 6   NLT) 

Can you imagine what Canada would look like if everyone had to return to their own ancestral town?  I guess immigrants would return to the place they arrived in Canada, or perhaps the place they first lived.  Often ancestry is traced back from the father’s side, so that would mean I would have to go to either Montreal where my grandfather arrived from Holland or to Hamilton where they lived for the first year before moving to Oshawa, Ontario.  If I followed my mothers’ ancestry, I’d be back in the Huntsville area.  The Muskokas would be nice, but rather expensive to stay in the hotels there.  (Actually … I guess we would likely be able to register online and stay exactly where we were.)

But in Jesus’ day, you had to move and you didn’t have a car, a bus, a train, or a plane.  It was a long trek on foot – or with a donkey or maybe a horse.  If you came from a more eastern Mediterranean country, I guess you could use a camel.  I know there were inns available, but I don’t think there were rows of major motels and hotels like we see along the roads that lead into our cities today.  The verses in Luke tell us there was no lodging available for Mary and Joseph. 

Can you imagine being 9 months pregnant, walking for days, and not having any place to stay.  Then you go into labor, and the only private place available is a stable, with your husband being the only one to help.  Would you survive?  My husband was raised on a farm, and he was quite the practical and stoic person whose career started in medical research – so I think he would have actually been a great help.  But I think about my brother, a wonderful husband and father and successful businessman, who faints at the first sight of blood.  Wouldn’t want to depend on him to help through childbirth.  That whole picture of what was happening to Mary and Joseph blows my mind.  I have a hard time imagining that scene in Bethlehem because I’ve never experienced anything remotely like it.

But that’s the location where God became a baby.  Wow!  God coming to earth?  Can you imagine how that would go down today?  Think of all the rock concerts and national celebrations – the fireworks, the noise, the music, the cameras, the lights, etc.  Yet God came to earth in a little town in the quiet of the night in a stable to a young couple who had nothing.  

Sometimes in my life, I look to God for spectacular things.  I want amazing unexplainable things to happen to reassure me that God is in control.  I think I need to look more at the quiet things, the moments that perhaps only I know about, where I sense God’s presence and encouragement to me.  God’s miracles don’t have to be broadcast worldwide.  They can occur in the most unexpected quiet places.

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight” 

Our song for today is O Little Town of Bethlehem by Saran McLaughlan.

December 14 – What Child is This?

What child is this who laid to rest, 

On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet 

While shepherds watch are keeping?

Chorus:

This, this is Christ, the King

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing

Haste, haste to bring Him laud, 

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christian fear; for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh;

Come peasant, king to own Him.

The King of Kings salvation brings;

Let loving hearts enthrone Him. 

By William C. Dix  – 1865

This whole idea of God becoming a human continues to amaze me.  I realize there is a Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – so when Jesus was a defenseless infant, it wasn’t like God was completely incapacitated.  Still, the fact that God decided to come as an infant rather than an important, intelligent leader is hard for me to understand.  And He didn’t come as the child of wealthy, well-known parents so that he would have a head start at making an impact.  He came to a poor young couple who were on the move to their city of ancestry, and who couldn’t find or afford a place to stay.  He came in a stable and was laid in an animal feeding trough. The carol posted today mentions that fact: “Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?”

An Old Testament prophecy talks about this incomprehensible fact as well.  

Isaiah 9:6  (NASB)

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”  Those are incredible names to give a child.  I suppose a person reading those verses in the Torah before Jesus was born would think that child was born into royalty.  But we know that child – God Himself – was born in a stable.

Joseph was reminded by an angel that the baby Mary was carrying was the fulfillment of a prophecy.  When you read the verses below, I think you can understand that Joseph was a special person.  I guess it’s not surprising that God chose him as the man who would raise and protect Jesus as Jesus was growing up.  But really, it’s amazing that God chose an ordinary carpenter in a small town to help bring God’s plan to save our world.

Matthew 1: 18 – 25   (NASB)

“ Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this [x]took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Isaiah 7: 14) 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”

I wonder what Joseph thought after the angel left him.  Did he really believe what he had been told?   He did what the angel asked, but I wonder how many times he rethought and rethought what that all meant.  Sometimes I think we underrate ourselves as well.  We live ordinary lives, keeping our homes and looking after our little ones.  Would God have anything special for us to do?  I think so.  God is still looking for people to spread the good news about His Son around our world.  He used an ordinary couple to bring Jesus into the world.  He can use you in special ways too.

Our song for today is What Child is This by Casting Crowns

December 13 – How Can I Face an Uncertain Future?

Luke 1: 39 – 56   (NLT)

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.”

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

46 Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
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.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
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.
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.”

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

It says that Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea a few days after the angel spoke with her.  We don’t know the details of this situation, but I like to guess based on my own experience with life-changing events.  I can see a couple of possible scenarios.  

One is that Mary decides to visit and help Elizabeth because she sees that as a way to escape her family and town while she grasps the implications of what is happening to her.  She may not have told her parents.  But saying she will help Elizabeth out in the last months of pregnancy would be a kind thing to do for an older woman, and no one would question why Mary moved to that area for a while.  That would give her an opportunity to see if she was really pregnant, or to figure out if the angelic visit had been some kind of weird dream.  I can’t imagine what I would be thinking if something like that happened to me.  I’m sure I’d question if it was real.

Or she may have told her parents, and they sent her away while they mulled the situation over.  Mary is engaged to be married, and how are they going to break this news to Joseph?  Or even more likely, Joseph is the father and they made up this unbelievable story to cover up what they were doing.  Or if Joseph is not the father, then is someone else in the town the father – and if so, what kind of daughter is Mary anyway?  Or if Mary’s story is true, then how do you explain that to a town that will think you have all gone crazy?  In those days, adultery or other sexual sins were punishable by death.  They would definitely have been in a quandary, and sending Mary away would give them time to figure out what to do.  

What I see in this part of the story is God’s plan which does not fit with our human understanding.  Really?  The Messiah that Israel has been waiting for over thousands of years is going to arrive as a baby to a young woman in a small, insignificant town?  This makes no human rational sense at all.  But then, does God’s plan to live as a human and sacrifice Himself on the cross to make sure we have a relationship with Him make sense either from a human point of view?  It is an incredible story with an equally unbelievable beginning!

But wait!  There is another detail that strikes my heart. When Mary heard Elizabeth’s words of welcome, the verses you read today were her response. This is a beautiful song of praise which includes 10 references to Old Testament scripture, especially words from the Psalms.  Notice these words are full of praise to God for who He is and what He has done in the past.  In the middle of this very exciting, yet perhaps confusing time, Mary praises God. She reminds herself of what God has done in the past, and knows she can be confident God will continue to guide and help her.

We’ve been through a crazy couple of years, and now there might be a new variant of the Covid virus that will keep us in pandemic mode. We face an uncertain future, just as Mary did. We can get bogged down in depression or even anger. But, let’s stop for a moment and remind ourselves of who is really in charge. My challenge for you (and myself) today is to sit down with your Bible and write down some of your favourite verses that remind you of God’s love and care for you. Post them on the frig or bathroom mirror. Keep your focus on reality instead of anxiety.

Our song for today is Way Maker by Leeland.

December 8 – God’s Plans and Our Weakness

We’ve been looking at the prophecies of Jesus’ birth over the past week. For the next weeks preceding Christmas, we’ll look at various aspects of the Christmas story. We live in a crazy pandemic time, a time much longer than we ever thought when it started in early 2020. But, Jesus was also born in a crazy time, a time when everyone was uprooted and had to return to their birth place. Can you imagine what that would be like? Yet in crazy times, we can know that God is still in control. Amen!

Luke 1: 1 – 4   (NLT)

“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 honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.”

These 4 verses start the Christmas story told by Luke.  I think it’s interesting that the story begins with a declaration that you can count on its authenticity.  Luke states he got his information from eyewitnesses who were there right from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He also states that he did a careful investigation to make sure he was getting the truth.  We don’t know who Theophilus is, but since he is called “honorable Theophilus”, it might appear he was someone of higher position perhaps in government or in education.  We don’t know.  But Luke does want to make sure that Theophilus knows he can trust Luke’s account. We know that Luke was a medical person who travelled with Paul, and as a ‘science guy’ he was likely devoted to facts. God wants us to be confident that our faith is real. He gives us prophecies, and he makes sure the gospel writers are accurate people. (Incidentally, Luke was the only Gentile whose writings are included in Scripture.)

Luke 1: 5 – 23   (NLT)

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, 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.

This event is actually the very beginning of the Christmas story.  Often we start the story with the angel’s visit to Mary, but another amazing birth came first – the birth of John, who later became known as John, the Baptist.  The Christmas story is full of incredible things.  Talk about “wonder”.  Rarely did anything occur that wouldn’t make any person stop and wonder, “How in the world could that happen?”

 “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.” (verse 6) Both of them came from a priestly heritage. So, if anyone would know about the Old Testament prophecies, I would think Zechariah and Elizabeth would.  Even so, I understand that an angel standing in front of him might make him “shaken and overwhelmed with fear”.  I’m sure Zechariah had read and heard the many stories from the Old Testament about angelic visits to various people such as Abraham and Jacob.  And I’m sure he believed those stories were true. But when it happened to him, he was stunned.

Then he heard an amazing message.  He and his wife were to have a son whose mission was to prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah.  This son of theirs was to make a huge impact on his nation.  “And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.  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, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly”.  

One would think that Zechariah would be so excited and full of wonder.  Like most Jewish people, he had been waiting for the Messiah and the rescue of the nation of Israel, and now he was told he would have a big part in this.  He was well versed in the scriptures; in fact, it would have been part of his vocation as a priest. Wouldn’t you think he would be filled with excitement and wonder?

But Zechariah questioned the angel’s message.  He wanted to know how that could happen since his wife was “well along in years”.  The angel tells him that as a result of his unbelief that he will not be able to talk until his son is born.  It didn’t stop God’s plan, but it created an inconvenience for Zechariah that would affect his duties as a priest for the next few months. 

Personally, I can’t point a finger of judgement at Zechariah because his response is similar to mine sometimes when I look at my faith.  I have been a Christ follower for many years, and I have read verses like “Nothing is impossible with God” and I say that they are true.  But when things happen in life, I question whether God is really there and whether He really has a plan since I don’t see how this ‘whatever’ could work out for good.  Like Zechariah, I have my own rationalizations and questions about what God is, or is not, doing.

Yet I also take comfort in knowing that God does not punish Zechariah in some horrible way.  There was a consequence that made things difficult for a while, but life did go on. I am so thankful for the kindness of God and that He understands our human weakness. When He is about to do something wonderful, He accomplishes His plan.  I’m sure that Zechariah wished he hadn’t questioned God, and the months of his inability to speak would have really impressed that on his heart and mind.  But he still got to enjoy this special son and see this amazing little boy who was filled with the Holy Spirit right from birth.  And I take comfort in that as well.  I know that God forgives, and He includes me in His plans to show His love to the people I have been placed next to. So, I do regret the times I’ve doubted Him, but I also am filled with wonder that He still uses me in so many little ways.  Isn’t that what you’ve experienced too?

Our song for today is Miracle of Love by Chris Tomlin.

December 6 – Away in a Manger

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus! look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

For today’s devotions I want to talk about sharing the Christmas story with your children.  It’s still early in December so this should give you some time to get organized. 

I think books are an amazing way to share stories.  There are some good ones out there, and they are not necessarily sold in Christian bookstores.  One thing about Christmas is that the secular world includes the Biblical story in its promotion of the season.  Christianbook.com is a good source of material, and it does have a Canadian office. Here’s where you can help.  If you have a book that you think is really good, post the name of the book today.  It might also help if you posted the child’s age that book would appeal to the most.

Use your access to RightNow Media, a Christian media source at LSA.  They have a huge children’s section, and there are several Christmas films. If you haven’t connected with RightNow Media, go to the church website (lsachurch.net). Look under the heading – Resources. You will find RightNow Media and will be able to sign in. 

I also think having a nativity set in your home is a good idea.  I have one that is made of very durable material so our children and grandchildren could play with it without me being worried at all.  There are several websites you can order them from. You want something that your children can touch and play with. My girls liked to carry baby Jesus and the angel all around the house.  Sometimes we played hide and seek games with the pieces.  

Susan Smith, our Kids’ Cove coordinator, said she wraps the various nativity scene characters in paper and puts them in an advent calendar that has pockets for various treats.  When a child unwraps the figure, they talk about its role in the Christmas story.  Susan recommends the following website for an Advent calendar that includes verses with various aspects of the Christmas story.

https://theparentcue.org/resources/advent-calendar-2021/

When your children get a little older (Kindergarten and up), have them act out the Christmas story.  Our extended family gets together at some point every Christmas, and we used to send the kids downstairs to practice a play about Jesus’ birth.  Our oldest daughter, Andrea, loved to ‘direct’ the play when she was about 9 or 10.  She would boss her younger sister and cousins around and get the play going.  She often told the story while the younger ones just did what she told them to do.  It was interesting to hear her version of the story, and it was hilarious watching the young ones trying to be Mary or Joseph or shepherds, etc.

When my youngest granddaughter was 9 years old, I purchased a foam 3D nativity craft set at Michael’s.  We sat and put it together one Saturday afternoon and talked about the story as we put the pieces together.  It was interesting to hear how much she knew and some of the details that she didn’t know.  She’s a smart little girl, and she had lots of questions and comments, and I have a feeling she added to her knowledge of Christmas that afternoon.  If you have older children, perhaps you could do a craft like that or even colour with them.  Again, there are Biblical Christmas colouring books and puzzles out there if you look.

If you have found things that have helped your children learn the Christmas story, please share them with us.  We all want to do our best as parents and grandparents to share our faith with our younger generation.

Our song for today is Away in a Manger by Pentatonix.

December 3 – Jesus Has Come!

Isaiah 9: 6 – 7  NLT

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!

In this pandemic time, we need to hear this. “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.”  You may be listening to the news about how flights from South Africa are being cancelled because a new, and more potent variation of Covid has shown up. The UK has already discovered 2 cases of this new variant. I suspect there are many more around the word as scientists scramble to figure this one out. 

But, Jesus has come! 

He is a Wonderful Counselor. We sure need him right now. We need his counsel and the assurance that he is with us right now. 

“But God is my helper. The Lord keeps me alive!”  (Psalm 54: 4)

Jesus is Mighty God; he is part of the Trinity. He has power and he controls what is happening in this world. 

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”   (Ephesians 3: 20)

Jesus is Everlasting Father. He cares for you deeply like a father loves his child. 

“ So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8: 15)  

(“Abba” in the Aramaic language means father in a very personal close relationship)

Jesus is Prince of Peace. He brings peace to each one of us in difficult times.

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the holy Spirit. … And now may God, who gives us his peace, be with you all. Amen”.

Romans 15: 13 and 33)

Our song for today is He Shall Reign Forevermore by Chris Tomlin