May 28 – Focus on the Good

Philippians 4:4-9

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

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.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (NLT)

This scripture is one of my favourites in the Bible. I go back to these verses time and time again. They have given me great comfort and peace during the global pandemic we experienced over the last year.

Simply put, this last year has been a challenge. No one could have prepared for it, and it certainly has not gone the way any of us expected. In the beginning of 2020, when the pandemic began, I never imagined we’d still be dealing with it in May 2021; I thought it would be over by now.

Yet, here we are still dealing with restrictions, lockdowns, social distancing, and masks. There is hope on the horizon and I have faith that things will start getting better soon, but it has been quite difficult.

Like everyone else, I have gone through highs and lows during this Covid time. I’ve faced disappointments, lost visits with family, watched plans and events continually be cancelled, and I’ve spent the majority of my time alone. During the months of January and February, I saw less than 5 people in person. For the entire month of March, I did not see anyone in person other than delivery people.

Yet, I did not feel lonely. I missed people, of course. But God met me where I was at, and I have been so aware of His presence with me at all times. As a result, I have not been overcome with loneliness because I didn’t actually feel alone, despite the fact that I physically was.

I used the extra time I had to pray more, read the Bible more, listen to sermons, and journal. This brought me so close to our Father in Heaven, and He completely filled all of my needs during the first months of this year. This scripture from Philippians 4 helped foster that.

Verse 4: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!”

When we find joy in the Lord, things of this world can’t remove it. Yes, we still experience sorrow and struggle, but joy in Lord digs deep inside of us and it is a flame that cannot be distinguished. And there is always a reason to rejoice.

We can praise God for friends and family remaining healthy. We can praise Him for those who have recovered from Covid. We can praise Him for opportunities that have happened only because of the pandemic. We can praise Him for a slower pace and more time to be with Him. Throughout this pandemic, God has continued to shower us with love and blessings. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder to find them.

Verse 6: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.”

We all worry sometimes. We all stress. But we don’t have to. With everything, we need to turn to God in prayer. We need to surrender our worries and fears at His feet. This is easier said than done. But doing it, giving it all to God, provides freedom and peace.

Verse 7: “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.”

God’s peace is beyond anything we can comprehend. Yet, when we feel it, we know it can only be from Him. Living in His peace frees our minds from stress and worry. It allows us to serve Him fully and fearlessly. What an amazing gift. God loves us so much that He wants to take on our burdens and our fears. He wants to carry them for us, so we can experience His calm and His grace.

Verse 8: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Focus on the good because everything good comes from God. There is a lot of negativity in the world. There is anger, bitterness and hate. It is easy to complain, especially during a lockdown. We can complain about not seeing friends or family. We can groan about wearing masks and not being able to go to our church service in person. We can get mad at those who are not following the restrictions and cast judgment on them.

Or we can focus on what is true. God is true. We can focus on what is honourable. God is honourable. We can focus on what is right and pure and lovely and admirable. God is right and pure and lovely and admirable.

We can choose to focus on God. We can choose joy. We can choose love.

Finally, verse 9: Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

I pray for God’s peace, joy and love for all of you.

May 27 – A Discussion about Fasting

Luke 5:33-39

33 One day some people said to Jesus, “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?”

34 Jesus responded, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. 35 But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

36 Then Jesus gave them this illustration: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t even match the old garment.

37 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. 38 New wine must be stored in new wineskins. 39 But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.” (NLT)

The purpose of fasting is to help someone focus their attention on God for a specific amount of time. During this time people may concentrate on extended prayer or reading the Bible or connecting with God in other ways. The hunger pains help keep one’s mind centred on God; they give an awareness that reminds a person to put aside all other concerns and focus on the reason for fasting.

Some people fast at specific times during the year. Some fast weekly. Some fast during a time of struggle or uncertainty when they need to be focused solely on the Lord and hearing His voice. There are many different times a person may decide to fast, but all are for the same reason – to concentrate on God and be fully aware of His presence.

In today’s world, people choose to fast from things other than food. These are usually things that they spend a lot of time on such as social media browsing, TV watching or video game playing. Sometimes people will fast from a specific food that they really love like chocolate or bread. Again, the purpose of these fasts are the same – focus on God, (ex: reading the Bible instead of watching TV).

In this scripture, Jesus is being asked why His disciples don’t fast. Jesus responds with analogies. Do guests fast at a wedding celebration? Of course not. Do you rip new clothing, then patch it with old clothing? No. Do you put new wine in old wineskins? Never.

Jesus also says that one day the groom will be taken from them, and then they will fast. What was His point with the analogies? Charles Swindoll, in his commentary on Luke, explains:

“Jesus’ point was that the disciples didn’t need to fast in order to concentrate on God; they could reach out and touch Him – literally!”

Today, we don’t have the ability to reach out and literally touch Jesus. There are many different ways we can connect with Him and one of them is fasting.

When was the last time you fasted? What did God reveal to you during that time?

The last time I fasted was during lockdown. God used the focused time to remind me of His presence. He reminded me that He is always with me, so I never have to feel lonely.

I encourage you to schedule a fast in the near future. It is amazing how God can and will connect with you during that time.

May 26 – Jesus Calls Levi (Matthew)

Luke 5:27-32

27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.

29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honour. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”

31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (NLT)

I love Jesus’s response to the Pharisees here. Let’s read it again.

31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

Jesus calls those who know they are sinners and need to repent. How beautiful is that? Our Lord is filled with so much love, grace and mercy.

This passage always fills me with great hope. I know I am a sinner. Often, I don’t feel worthy to call myself a disciple of Jesus. I am constantly making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, and sinning. I don’t deserve to be a part of God’s kingdom.

Yet Jesus wants me.

Jesus still calls me. He brings me to repentance and offers me forgiveness. It is the most amazing gift I could possibly receive.

This passage is so significant because not only did Jesus spend time and have meals with known sinners and outcasts, but he invited one to be part of His inner circle of 12 disciples. Levi was a tax collector, and they were among the most despised people in that time. They were usually crooks that took extra money for themselves when collecting taxes. But Jesus wanted Levi to be with Him.

It’s clear Levi knew who Jesus was because he immediately closed his booth, left everything and followed Jesus. Then he celebrated his own salvation with a party inviting his ‘outcast’ friends to meet Jesus. And Jesus happily attended. He didn’t mind being among sinners and those society rejected. In fact, He preferred it that way.

It doesn’t matter what sins we have committed or what our past looks like. Jesus still wants us. He still calls us. And He offers us new life with Him. Life filled with love, mercy, joy, peace and hope. It is an honour to follow Him and learn from Him.

Jesus ministered to sinners, outcasts, the unwanted, the lost. He calls us to do the same.

As Christians it can become really easy to live a life that only includes other Christians. They are who we worship with, who we hang out with, who we serve. It’s comfortable and it’s safe.

But what about the broken, the lost, the scared, the sick? They are who we are called to disciple, just like Jesus did. How can we tell people about the gospel if we only interact with those who already believe? How do we make new disciples?

We have to get out of our comfort zone, remove ourselves from our safe place and walk into the messiness and brokenness. We need to be okay with challenges and difficulties. We need to be more like Jesus.

May 25 – Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man

Luke 5:17-26

17 One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus.

18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, 19 but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

21 But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

22 Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts?23 Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?24 So I will prove to you that the Son of Ma has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

25 And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God.26 Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!” (NLT)

This is a well-known story of the New Testament. By this time Jesus has performed many miracles and healed many people. In the verses before this, Jesus heals a man with leprosy.

Jesus is being followed constantly by people listening to his teaching, as well as people coming to be healed. In this particular story we see some men bringing their paralyzed friend to Jesus to be healed, but the crowd is so thick that they cannot get to him inside the house where He is seated. Desperate to help their friend, and believing Jesus was the only one who could heal him, they made a hole in the roof and lowered him down in front of the Lord.

Jesus saw the faith of the paralyzed man and his friends. To the surprise of the crowd around Him, He didn’t touch the man to heal him, but instead said, “Your sins are forgiven”.

Some religious officials and teachers were among the crowd, since they had begun watching the man who was followed by so many. They immediately took offence by Jesus’s words and called it blasphemy. C.S Lewis explains why they responded this way:

“Now unless the speaker is God, [forgiving sins] is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself…But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on another man’s toes and stealing other men’s money? … [Yet Jesus] unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.”

Jesus knew what the Pharisees were thinking and he verbally answers their thoughts in verses 22-24:

22 Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts?23 Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?24 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

Immediately the paralyzed man gets up, picks up his mat and leaves glorifying God. He arrived that day with faith in a big God, and left with a greater faith in a bigger God. Everyone who witnessed this miracle was filled with amazement. They recognized they had seen the power of the Lord that day.

Of course, people in the crowd were filled with awe and wonder. Can you imagine witnessing this miracle? If I saw it, I would be praising God too. I would want to continue to follow Jesus and hear His teachings and witness His miracles. I often wonder how there were people around Jesus who did not believe in Him; all that He did, all that taught – how could anyone not recognize Him as the Son of God?

I admit that I am sometimes envious of the people who were able to see Jesus in the flesh and to hear His voice. They could look upon Him, touch Him, eat with Him and be close to Him. I would love to have that physical experience.

Even though we do not get to see Jesus in the flesh now, His presence is everywhere. I see and feel Jesus in my daily life. I see Him in blooming flowers, in the eyes of strangers, in the actions and compassion of others. I hear Him in laughter, in the songs of the birds, in the breeze rustling the trees. He speaks to me. He comforts me. He listens to me.

He has performed miracles in my life and in the lives of those around me. He has rescued me in so many difficult situations and trials. He has carried me in times of weakness. He is always here, and I am so grateful for His presence around me and in me.

How do you see Jesus? How do you know He is there even though there is no physical presence?

In verse 24, Jesus refers to himself as the ‘Son of Man’. This is the first time He does that in Luke, and it’s meaning is significant. I will finish with the words of Charles Swindoll in his commentary on Luke, referring to Jesus calling himself the ‘Son of Man’:

“It reminds the listener that Jesus, as a human, identifies with us, but that He came to accomplish great things on our behalf. He is human, yet much more than human. His authority is, in fact, divine in origin.”

May 21 – The First Disciples

Luke 5:1-11 NLT

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God.He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets.He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear!A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.”For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him.10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.”

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Simon, James and John to be called, not only as disciples, but Jesus’s first disciples? Think about that moment for them. They knew Jesus to be a great teacher and healer. They saw the crowds that followed Him, and the miracles He performed. Then, after an exhausting night of unsuccessful fishing, Jesus performed a miracle for them.

Jesus told Simon to go out into the deeper water and let down the nets again. Simon thought it was pointless, but he did it, and he got so many fish that James and John had to go out with the other boat to help him. The amount of fish they had caught was so great that their boats nearly sank.

Think about this for a moment. Put yourself in a place of defeat, exhaustion and disappointment – perhaps some of you are experiencing this today – then Jesus, followed by a huge crowd, turns His attention to you and performs a miracle just for you.

I suspect that in that moment, everything would change for you.

Would you respond like Simon, falling to your knees in worship and awe? This was likely the first time Simon began to see who Jesus truly was, more than just the prophet everyone thought he was. He recognized the presence of God and knew he was unworthy. He humbly describes himself as a sinful man and begs Jesus to leave him.

Look at how Jesus responds. He tells them not to be afraid, and that they will, from that moment on, be fishing for men. Then they left everything and followed Him. Read that again. They left everything and followed Him.

They left their livelihood, their homes, their families and everything they knew and followed Jesus, without a single doubt. Could you do that?

As Christians we often talk about leaving the ‘things of this world’ behind, and living only for Jesus, but do we actually do that? In some ways, yes, we do. In other ways, we definitely do not. If Jesus stood before you today and told you to leave everything, without packing a bag or saying goodbye to friends and family, could you do it?

As a missionary, I did answer Jesus’s call when He asked me to move overseas and minister to the people of Czech Republic. However, I was given time to prepare for the transition, to say goodbye to friends and family, to train for my new role and prepare for life in a different culture. It would have been much more difficult for me if Jesus had called me to go right at that moment without preparation or goodbyes with family and friends. I also have the gifts of technology to easily keep in touch with people in Canada, and travel between countries is not difficult. These things did not exist in Jesus’s time.

Why were Simon, John and James so willing to immediately follow Jesus? What had they seen in the miracle Jesus performed that made them realize they needed to be with Him and learn from Him?

Charles Swindoll says in his commentary on Luke:

“They understood the principle Jesus taught through their massive haul of fish: With Me, you can do all things; without Me, everything you touch will come to nothing. When they were ready to accept this truth, they responded to the call of God. The men immediately dropped their nets, left everything behind, and accepted the Lord’s invitation to join an inner circle of students.”

Simon took a chance in following Jesus’s instructions to go back out on the water to fish. He believed it was pointless and did not expect to catch anything. Yet, he was wonderfully surprised. God showed His power over all the earth in this moment and the fishermen were left in awe.

In his commentary on Luke, Charles Swindoll also says:

“I wonder how many surprise gifts we forfeit by playing it safe, by depending upon our own expertise, by seeing only impossibilities in the Lord’s commands.

Simon, Andrew, James, and John didn’t allow the greatest day of their fishing careers to distract them. That day, they determined to follow Jesus anywhere He led and to do anything He commanded. Even if it led them into deep waters.”

The above hit me hard, and I wonder how many surprise gifts God had for me that I didn’t receive because I was too scared to go in the direction He was leading. I’m thankful I answered God’s calling on my life to be a missionary because through it I finally found my purpose. Of course, it has involved struggle and sadness, but the reward of following God, and the many surprise gifts from Him along the way, have been more than worth it.

Have you missed surprise gifts from the Lord because you chose not to follow where He was leading you?

March 31 – The Last Supper – Serving Others

John 13:1-17 (NLT):

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

The act of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet is one of the most beautiful teachings that Jesus shows us. It is an act of love, servitude, humbleness and leadership. I am always amazed, overwhelmed and humbled when I read this.

In a world where we’re told to be the best, Jesus says be the least. He tells us to put ourselves last and serve others. He tells us to shatter status because we are all equal, no matter if we walk the red carpet or clean it.

And He does not just tell us to behave this way – He models it himself. He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, yet He kneels down and washes the feet of His disciples. Can you imagine what that was like for them? Can you imagine their shock and discomfort? I think I would have been like Peter, saying that my Lord and Saviour should not wash my feet, the feet of an unworthy sinner.

As I said in my previous devotional, this was Jesus’ last meal before His crucifixion. He could have indulged, He could have demanded to be served, He could have engaged in final comforts before the trials ahead. Yet, He chose to use His final hours to teach and serve. He chose to leave His disciples with a memory that would change their lives, change their attitudes and change their future ministry. They still didn’t understand what was to come later that night, despite Jesus telling them.

Luke 22:24-27 (NLT) tells us:

24 Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. 25 Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. 27 Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.

Here the disciples, while still seated at the Passover table, are arguing about who among them would be the greatest. This is after Jesus has revealed that one of them has betrayed Him, and that the Son of Man must die.

The disciples still don’t get it. They still don’t fully grasp who Jesus is and what will happen to him. They are still concerned with being the greatest. Jesus tells them that the greatest should take the lowest rank, that the leader should be a servant. He is telling them that glory and superiority are not important, that humbly serving others and putting oneself last is the goal. And He points to himself as an example.

Jesus’ words are completely counter-cultural, both then and now. Our world tells us to be the best, be the richest, have the most power and put oneself first. We are told to engage in greed, selfishness, immorality, prejudice and status. Culture champions those who look down on others, those who are superior, those who hold control.

Jesus tells us to do the opposite. He tells us to lower ourselves, to put others first, to serve rather than be served, to give to the poor rather than amass great wealth, to support and champion the poor, the needy, the underprivileged, the voiceless and the ignored. He tells us to bow humbly instead of raising ourselves higher.

This is an uphill battle in our world. We will face persecution and ridicule for following Jesus’ words. We will be treated poorly and mocked at times. So why do we do it?

Because He first did it for us. Jesus endured persecution, ridicule and unimaginable suffering for us. He was beaten, mocked and hung on a cross for us. He served us and then sacrificed Himself for us, because He loved us so much.

He asks us in return to serve and love each other as He has served and loved us.

John 13:31-35 (NLT):

31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man[h] to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son,[i] he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. 33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

March 30 – The Last Supper – Communion

The scripture of The Last Supper is well known among Christians. We read it at least once a year, during the Easter season, and sometimes more. Many of us could recite it, if not word for word, but by retelling the story quite accurately.

Do you find yourself sometimes skimming over these Bible passages because you feel you already know them? I know I have done that. I’ve read them multiple times and heard sermons preached on them more times than I can count. It becomes a little too easy to read or listen distractedly.

Every time I read about The Last Supper, I have to remind myself to concentrate a little harder. I challenge myself to take in every word, every detail, and read it with new depth and new eyes. When I do I become overwhelmed with emotion.

This is the last meal Jesus will have on the earth, with His disciples. And He knows it. He knows what is to come later that night. He knows one of the men sitting at the table has betrayed him. He knows the rest will abandon him in fear a few hours later.

He could have used that time to indulge. He could have had His disciples serve Him a great feast and fulfill His final desires. He could have sent them all away knowing they were going to flee from Him anyway.

But He didn’t. Instead, He left them, and us, with the precious gift of communion, a way to remember and honour the sacrifice He made for us so we could be saved. He loved us that much. His final thoughts and actions were on us, on confirming the covenant between God and His people.

Let’s turn to Mark 14:12-26 (NLT):

12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

13 So Jesus sent two of them into Jerusalem with these instructions: “As you go into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 At the house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ 15 He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal.” 16 So the two disciples went into the city and found everything just as Jesus had said, and they prepared the Passover meal there.

17 In the evening Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 As they were at the table[a] eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”

19 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”

20 He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man[b] must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”

23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant[c] between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”

26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

With this Jesus gave us The Lord’s Supper, a symbol of His sacrifice that we, as Christians, continue to honour and take part in. It is a time to remember the incredible gift we were given when the blood of Jesus was shed for our sins. It reminds us that Jesus came to earth, in human form, to save us and give us life. It is through Him that we gain acceptance into God’s Kingdom. It is through Him we are saved.

In his book, Insights on Matthew 16-28, Charles R. Swindoll says this:

“With the Lord’s Supper, then, we have a sacred symbol that serves as a frequent reminder – both a solemn and a joyful celebration – of who Jesus is and what He has done to save us. And in this symbol, more profound than a mere photo, Jesus gave us something we can not only see, but also touch, taste, smell, and hear. It’s a confession and commemoration of the gospel that involves all five senses. What a powerful practice the Lord has left us! We would do well to honour Him by reverently, joyfully, and thankfully partaking of these meaningful elements in faith.”

What a gift Jesus gave us in communion. The power and beauty of this symbol is revealed in the fact that after 2000 years, Christians still regularly engage in this way of honouring who Jesus is and what He has done for us. While it is a reminder of how our Saviour suffered, it also brings great joy as we think of His love for us and the new covenant created between God and His people.

Taking communion is an emotional experience. It is personally humbling, yet filled with such power. It is something we can share together, as members of God’s family, that reminds us of the grace, mercy and love of our Father. He sent His son to die for us. He wanted us to be with Him, so He sent Jesus to die so we are forgiven.

Let me leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul, as He passes on why we do communion, in 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 (NLT):

23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you.[a] Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.

March 9 – Being Like Jesus

Ephesians 4:17-32

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him.19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ.21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him,22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbours the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour.32 Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

The Apostle Paul is often quite practical and straight-forward in his letters. The final verses in Ephesians 4 are an example of this. He says, as Christ followers, we must disregard our former sinful selves and live in truth and love, striving to be like Jesus.

As Christians, people should notice a difference in us. They should recognize our joy, hope and love. Our treatment of others should reflect the command Jesus gave us to love our neighbour as ourselves. We should be clothed in compassion, kindness, generosity and acceptance. We should be slow to anger, non-judgmental, and always treat everyone with the value they have in being a child of God.

Paul also instructs us to stop telling lies, to not let anger control us, to quit stealing and refrain from using bad language. He says we should be good and helpful, and use words that offer encouragement. We are to get rid of bitterness, rage, harsh words and slander. Instead, we are to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving, just as God has forgiven us.

These are high standards to live up to. Do we always achieve this level of Christ-like behaviour? Of course not. We get angry and impatient. We snap at people and say things we regret. We lie and we gossip. We fail to hold our tongues.

It is important that we become aware of the times we do these things and humbly repent. We must be sincere in apologies and work hard to be better. Yes, we will stumble. But as we become more self-aware and ask others to hold us accountable, we will be able to improve our behaviour and our treatment of others.

Non-believers should recognize a light in us. It should be obvious that we are different, and hopefully that will open up opportunities to share the gospel.

The best compliment I ever received was from a non-believer that I did not know very well. We worked in the same building in Toronto and often ended up taking the same streetcar at the end of the day. We would chat casually, and one Monday he asked what I did on the weekend. I shared that I went to church on Sunday. “So, you’re a Christian?” he asked, and I said yes. Then he said, “No wonder you are so nice”.

I was forever changed by that conversation. I’m not sharing this to brag or pat myself on the back; trust me, I have failed in behaving like Christ too many times to count. However, that exchange highlighted for me the importance of consciously working to be more like Him. My acquaintance had noticed something different in me because of Jesus. Jesus is constantly working in me and transforming me from the inside out.

Living in the Czech Republic, I’ve been told by many Czechs that I am joyful and positive, and they are surprised by it. In general, Czechs tend to be more negative and cynical, and people I am building relationships with notice that I am not like that. That allows me to tell them that I am positive and joyful because of Jesus. It opens doors to conversations about the gospel.

Czech Republic is an atheistic country, and people here desperately need Jesus. I am so grateful God is using me here to reveal His love.

What do people see when they encounter you? Do they see something different? Do they see Jesus?

I encourage you to take an honest look at yourself. Ask yourself, in what ways are you behaving like Jesus? In what ways are you failing to be like Jesus? Ask those closest to you to help you identify where you need improvement. Then make it a priority to improve those behaviours.

We will spend our whole lives striving to be like Jesus and never be as good as Him. But He asks us to keep trying, keep growing, keep improving. He’s asking us to allow Him to use us to pour out His love and truth.

Let Him use you. Let the love of our Lord and Saviour shine from within.

March 8 – Growing Up

Ephesians 4:7-16

However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.That is why the Scriptures say,

When he ascended to the heights,he led a crowd of captivesand gave gifts to his people.”

Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (NLT)

In our last devotional we looked at the beginning of Ephesians 4, where Paul talks about being unified in Christ. He describes us as one body with one God. In verse 7, where we start today, Paul shares that God has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.

Everyone has been given a spiritual gift. God does not leave anyone out. The gifts we are given are not based on gender, race, class or age, but are unique to who God made each of us to be. It is important for each of us to know our gifts and use them to contribute to the body of Christ.

Each spiritual gift is needed and valued in the unified body. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says,

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. (NLT)

In Ephesians 4, verses 11 and 12, Paul specifically talks about the gifts Christ gave to the church. These gifts are the prophets, the pastors, the teachers and the evangelists. These roles have great responsibility as they are the ones who teach and equip Christ followers to do the work of God.

All of God’s people have a responsibility to share the truth of the gospel. Each one of us is called to bring more people to God’s Kingdom. It is those that Paul mentions in verse 11 that guide and equip us to do that. Paul says they are needed to do this so that we will be mature in our faith, not persuaded by lies or tricks.

What does it mean to be mature in faith?

This maturity has nothing to do with age and everything to do with the heart. It is standing securely on the solid rock that is Jesus Christ. It is believing that He died for our sins and then rose again. It is knowing we are completely forgiven. It is a fire of love, hope and joy that can never be burned out.

Maturity in faith is not allowing the lies of Satan and the evil of this world to cause us to doubt the love, power and mercy of our Lord. It is speaking truth, loving fully, accepting the grace of God, and living like Jesus.

Maturity in faith is not perfection. Only God is perfect. We will make mistakes. We will continue to sin. We are human and we are flawed. However, maturity in faith gives us the knowledge that we can turn to God and repent, and our wrongs will be forgiven. In humbleness we confess our sins to God and to each other. We apologize when we have hurt or offended another. We learn from our mistakes and strive to be better. Each day we work hard to be more like Christ.

Look again at verses 15-17:

15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (NLT)

How mature is your faith? What can we do to grow our maturity?

Here are some practical ideas:

  1. Talk to your pastor about any doubts or questions you have
  2. Join a small group or Bible study
  3. Take an online Bible course
  4. Listen to sermons from trusted pastors and leaders
  5. Spend time in solitude with God
  6. Pray
  7. Study your Bible; this is so important. You must not only listen to the words of other believers, but study the Word of God yourself. Pray over scripture and listen for God’s voice to reveal His truth to you.

As Paul says, we are one body in Christ and he makes us fit together perfectly. Where one may be weak, another will be strong. We each have our part to play to make the body healthy. We help each other and lift each other up. Together we move forward in love, grace and unity.

March 5 – Unity

Ephesians 4:1-6

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,one God and Father of all,who is over all, in all, and living through all. (NLT)

What do you think of when you hear the word unity? What does it mean to you?

In the last year, we have seen a lot of disunity. We have seen a great divide over the global pandemic and how to respond. We have seen world leaders cause division and disruption in their own countries. We’ve witnessed countries close their borders and refuse to allow foreigners to visit.

Sometimes, it feels as though we are more divided than we are united in all aspects of life. There is disunity within the church, in our homes, at the workplace and in schools. Does unity exist anywhere anymore?

In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul is reminding us of our unity in Christ. He is telling all believers that we are one and our actions need to reflect that. God has called each of us and we must live a life worthy of that calling.

How do we do that? How do we remain united in a disunited world?

It starts with how we treat one another. Paul tells us to be humble and gentle. We are not to place ourselves above anyone else. We cannot view some as superior to others. There is no hierarchy among Christ followers. As Galatians 3:28 says

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NLT)

We are all one in Christ Jesus. We are brothers and sisters. We are all worthy, valued and loved by our amazing and powerful God.

Paul continues by telling us to be patient with each other and allow for one another’s faults. We are to give one another grace and mercy, as God has given to us.

In verse 3, Paul advises that we make every effort to be united in the Spirit. We are to be bond together in peace as one body. We all belong to the Kingdom of God. We share an incredible faith and hope for the future God has planned for us.

I ask you – are you making every effort to be united in the Spirit?

Is there disunity in your life that needs to be reconciled?

Most of us have experienced division in our lives. We have had disagreements, lost relationships, parted ways in anger, and engaged in ‘taking sides’. We have experienced disunity in our families, at work, with friends and in the church.

We are not always going to agree on everything. People will often see things differently and have opinions that differ. We are all made uniquely and therefore we think and feel uniquely. We all have different life experiences that will affect our perspectives.

But there is one truth that is undeniable; one truth that will forever bond us together. That truth is Jesus. That truth is in the cross. And we cannot let things of the earth divide us from that truth. We cannot let disagreement be bigger than love.

I encourage you, if there is disunity in your life, seek to reconcile it. Is there a friend you had a fight with? Call and make it right. Is there a family member you are not speaking to? Open communication. Is there a conflict at work? Call a meeting and discuss it in a healthy way. Were you hurt by someone at church? Reach out to them and tell them in love.

First and foremost, we are sons and daughters of the Almighty God in Heaven. We are unified in that. We are unified in Christ’s love. We are unified as one body. Let nothing break that.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)

February 18 – Loving our Community

We’ve looked at how to love and care for our brothers and sisters in the church. What about caring for our community outside of the church? How do we do that?

Some people, like me, are called to move to a foreign country and care for the people there. Many people are called to care for those in their home country, those in their own towns and cities, those who are neighbours and acquaintances.

Scripture is descriptive and straightforward with instruction of how to care for those around us. It is illustrated well in Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT),

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[g]42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

How are we to care for our communities? Give generously. Give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, be hospitable, visit the sick and those imprisoned. Scripture also talks about caring for the widows and orphans, the injured and the homeless.

Sometimes, when we look at the many needs of those around us, it can be overwhelming and so we do nothing at all. We may think we don’t have enough money or time or resources to help all those who are suffering. We become discouraged and think there is nothing we can do. But that is not true.

We can donate clothes that we no longer wear. We can buy a few extra canned goods at the grocery store to take to the food bank. We can give a sandwich to a homeless person begging on the street. We can volunteer at an after-school program for at risk kids. We can help sort food or clothing at donation centres. We can serve a meal at a soup kitchen. We can drop off a meal at a local shelter. We can buy an extra toy or two at Christmas so a child living in poverty can have Christmas gifts too. We can sponsor a child overseas.

The possibilities of what we can do to love and care for our communities are endless. And we have no idea how God may use our generosity. Perhaps someone we help today will go and help two other people tomorrow. Then those two other people will help four more people the next day. And so on.

Our gifts are never wasted. Our generosity is never wasted. Our effort is never wasted. We may feel that we can do very little, but God can do so much! God can multiply each act of compassion, each act of service, each act of love.

So, I encourage you to do whatever you can to love your community. It can be as simple as offering a smile to someone who is having a bad day. Or instead of going out for lunch again, pack a lunch from home and give the money you would have spent to a food bank. Every little bit matters. Every little bit helps.

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
-Hebrews 13:2 (NLT)

February 17 – Brothers & Sisters in Christ

We have spent time in one of the most well-known scripture passages in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which tells us what love is and what it is not. Now that we have reminded ourselves of what love is, how do we apply it in our relationships within our church family?

We are told multiple times in scripture that we are to love one another as God has loved us. In fact, Jesus said the second greatest commandment is “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Matthew 22:39 (NLT).

John 13:34-35 (NLT) says:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

What are practical ways to love well within the church? Again, we look to scripture for direction.

Colossians 3:13(NLT) says:

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

We must forgive one another for our transgressions and faults, just as the Lord forgives us. We are all sinners. We all make mistakes. We all have days where our temper is short, where our patience runs out, and where we speak before we think. We have all said or done things that we deeply regret. But Jesus died so that we can be forgiven for our sins. He sacrificed himself so we can be saved. Therefore, we have no right to withhold forgiveness from our brothers and sisters.

Forgiving someone who has hurt or wronged us is difficult. It can take time. It involves reconciliation, and sometimes confrontation, which we tend to shy away from. Most people do not like conflict, so we find it easier to pretend everything is fine. But when we don’t offer forgiveness, it builds bitterness and resentment.

Forgiveness is an opportunity to show God’s love and mercy, a love and mercy that is so incredible! It’s healing, it’s kind, it’s compassionate, and it is a testament to the mighty power of our Lord.

Scripture also commands us to show kindness and tenderness to one another. It tells us not to judge or condemn each other.

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37 (NLT)

Do not judge or condemn others. How many of us are guilty of this? I know I am. We are often quick to judge and quick to speak words behind the back of another. People love gossip; they love a scandal; they love to feel superior. But scripture is very clear. We are not to pass judgment on one another. That is only for our Heavenly Father to do.

Scripture tells us to be other-centred, to regard one another as more important than ourselves. We should be humble in our interactions and not selfish. We must not be conceited. We must look out for the needs of others.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

Philippians 2:3-8 (NLT)

The Bible is clear about how we are to treat our brothers and sisters. So, how do we apply these instructions in practical ways? How do we care for and love the people in our church?

Let me list some ideas I have for this and I encourage you to write down your own too:

  1. Visiting/Calling elderly members of the church who live alone.
  2. Buying groceries for a family who is struggling financially.
  3. Making food for someone who is sick.
  4. Inviting a new church member over for dinner.
  5. Hosting or leading a Bible study in your home.
  6. Talking to someone who has hurt you; often things are simple misunderstandings.
  7. Welcoming every person who walks into the church, no matter how different they may act or look.
  8. Providing a listening ear to someone who needs to talk.
  9. Giving a hug.
  10. Volunteering to serve.

Many of the above apply to a non-pandemic world when we are going to church and not practising social distancing. I do have faith we will be back to that again. However, given that we are in the current Covid era, here are some options for that:

  1. Call elderly and single members of the church who may be feeling quite lonely.
  2. Deliver groceries to the doorstep of the elderly who fear going out in public.
  3. Leave meals on the doorstep of anyone who is sick.
  4. Play a game together online or over video chat.
  5. Start an online Bible study or book club.
  6. Have a coffee & chat time on FaceTime/Zoom/Google Meet
  7. Buy a grocery gift card for someone who has lost their job due to the pandemic

I encourage you, especially in these Covid times, to reach out to each other often. Pray for each other. Offer support. Listen. The are so many ways to show one another love.

Love one another as the Lord loves each one of us.

February 4 – The Power of Prayer

James 5:13-18

Prayer. What a beautiful thing it is. Prayer is a gift from God to us. He welcomes us to communicate with Him directly and personally. Jesus and the Holy Spirit also pray on behalf of us. Take a moment and think about the last time you had a long conversation with our Heavenly Father. How did you feel while you were praying? How did you feel after?

James encourages us to pray about everything.

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
James 5:13-18 (NLT)

James is telling us that no matter where we are in our lives and what we are experiencing, to pray. How often do we only pray when we are in times of struggle? Or when we want something from God? It is so important to pray, and praise God at all times – in sorrow, in joy, in sickness, in health.

God wants to be connected with us in everything, not just when things are falling apart. Think of the close relationships in your life, whether they are family, friends or both. Don’t you share everything with them? Don’t you tell them about the good and the bad?

God wants us to share everything with Him, even more than we share with our closest friends and family. He knows our every thought and what is in our hearts, but He still wants us to come to Him in prayer.

In verse 16, James tells us to confess our sins to one another and pray for each other.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (NLT)

How often do you ask someone to pray for you? Asking for prayer and praying for each other is a beautiful experience. It brings us closer together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It creates vulnerability, deep relationship, and intimacy among our Christian family.

In the youth online Bible study I lead, we talked about prayer last week. I questioned the teens how often they ask others to pray for them. The majority of them said they don’t ask others for prayer. They were either too shy or didn’t want to trouble people with their prayer requests.

Do you ask others to pray for you? Are you ever afraid to ask for prayer?

Praying for each other is a joy and a privilege. I can honestly tell you that I love when people ask me to pray for them. I am honoured to pray for others and I sincerely enjoy it. Most Christians feel the same way I do. Never be afraid to ask someone to pray for you.

In this verse, James also instructs us to confess our sins to one another. I think that is much harder than asking for prayer. No one wants to admit to the shameful things they have said, done or thought. Confessing to God is hard enough, but to each other? That seems beyond difficult.

Why is confessing our sins to each other so hard?

Because we fear judgment. We fear that people will look at us differently. We fear we will lose respect. We fear we will lose relationships. We are ashamed.

Confessing our sins feels like a huge risk. We’d rather keep our secrets buried and deal with our shame privately. But we need to confess our sins and release the weight of the burden of our guilt and shame. We need to share honestly with each and experience in return, not judgment, but love and compassion. We need others to pray for us, especially when we are not sure how to pray for ourselves.

Confess your sins to each other and let your fellow Christians give you a glimpse of the incredible compassion, love and forgiveness that God offers us all.

Since James is so practical, he gives us an example of the power of prayer from a faithful person in verses 17-18:

17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. (NLT)

What faith Elijah had in our Lord! He prayed earnestly and God answered His prayers.

God hears every one of our prayers, and He does answer all of them. Some He takes longer to answer than others, but He does answer every single one. However, we often think that God does not hear us when we don’t get what we prayed for. We assume He hasn’t answered our prayer.

This is not true. God hears and answers every prayer, but He responds in His wisdom, not in our desires. God is not here to give us everything we ask for. We often think we know best, but God knows better. He knows the past and the future, and He answers our prayers according to His plan, not ours.

Prayer is incredibly powerful. It is also beautiful. It is our personal connection with our Heavenly Father. I encourage you to turn to God in prayer with all things. There is no bad prayer, no prayer too short, no prayer unheard. Pray often. Seek out others to pray for you. Witness the power and love of our amazing Lord.

February 3 – Patience and Endurance

James 5:7-12

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”
-Joyce Meyer

Today’s verses focus on patience, something we all need more of, especially during these unpredictable times. For nearly a year we have been living in a global pandemic, and I think we have all had times of extreme impatience. Impatience with our home-schooled children, impatience with our families as we isolate, impatience with the restrictions placed upon us, impatience with mixed message & uncertainty, impatience with wearing masks everywhere we go. Yes, it is very hard be patient these days.

James, in chapter 5, verse 7, advises us to be patient as we wait for the Lord’s return, using farmers as an example of patience:

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. (NLT)

How many of us are patiently waiting for the Lord’s return? How many of us are impatiently waiting for the Lord’s return? How many of us are not ready for the Lord’s return?

I am in the second category – impatiently waiting for the Lord’s return. I admit it, I can’t wait for Him to return to this earth, and I pray it will happen in my lifetime. However, I must not remain only focused on His return, but on my own attitude and behaviour as I await it. Here, James gives us further instructions:

Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!

10 For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.11 We give great honour to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

12 But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. (NLT)

James is giving us specific examples of how to remain patient. He tells us not to grumble about each other. How many of us are guilty of that? I know I am. I have sinned through impatience and anger towards friends, family, and strangers many times. I have complained about others and spoken poorly of them. It is something I am continually working on and praying about to be become more patient and kinder with those around me.

Those who know me well know that patience is not one of my strengths. My ability to be patient has improved over the years, as well as my attitude during times where patience and endurance is required. However, I must actively work at daily and be fully self-aware of the times when I am failing at it.

I have struggled with patience and endurance throughout the pandemic. But in those times of struggle, God has drawn me close to Him. He has taught me more about endurance and patience during this season than in previous trials in my life. And He has pointed me to Biblical examples of those, like Jesus, who endured unimaginable suffering.

James also points us to those in the Bible who have faced immense struggle, like Job. Job suffered so much, as God allowed Satan to test him. He lost everything – his wealth, his health, his family – yet his faith never wavered. He grieved deeply, accepted his suffering and never once blamed God, but continued to worship Him.

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship.” Job 1:20 (NLT)

What an incredible example of faith Job was. In the end, the Lord, who is full of love & mercy for us all, blessed Job greatly.

Do we, like Job, turn to praise God when we suffer? Is our faith on solid ground despite terrible things that happen? Most of us are quick to praise God when something good happens, but we need to be just as quick to praise him when the bad happens too, just like Job. It is important to note that Job didn’t stop himself from mourning his losses. He grieved greatly. We need to grieve when we experience loss and suffering, and God grieves with us. He doesn’t expect us to be indestructible or unaffected by pain, but He does want us to turn to Him in our sorrow.

Do you turn to God first in times of struggle? Do you praise Him even as you grieve? Are you finding strength in Him during suffering?

James has a final instruction for us in these verses: never take an oath by heaven or earth. He tells us to simply say yes or no. I believe this is applicable to our daily language as we have so many common phrases that involve swearing to the Lord or taking His name in vain. James is asking us, as He has before, to watch our tongues and speak in simple truth.

January 22

James 3:13-18 NLT

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”

In my NLT Bible, the heading for these verses is ‘True Wisdom Comes from God’. That, I believe, is undeniable. We can read books, take classes, and talk to experts about any subject, but ultimately, true wisdom is gained from our Father in heaven. With the current state of our world today, we need His wisdom now more than ever.

To me, it feels like everyone across the globe is arguing, debating, one-upping each other, and lashing out. I see it in the news, on social media, and in daily life. Everyone is fighting – politicians, scientists, doctors, talk show hosts, and Christians. We have all been directly affected by a global pandemic. We are all facing fear, confusion, isolation, anger and illness (both mental and physical). But what are we doing about it?

Verse 13 says we show our understanding of God’s ways in how we live. So, how are we living right now? Are we living selfishly? Jealously? Are we spreading lies and propagating the ‘fake news’? Or are we offering hope, compassion, and patience?

I understand the many emotions people are feeling these days. I feel them too, especially living alone in a foreign country while our world is in chaos. However, each time I’m tempted to get angry, or wallow in self-pity, or feel jealous of those who are close to family, I ask God for help. I ask for wisdom in how to respond to the current situation.

When I was young, it was popular for Christians to wear bracelets with WWJD – ‘What would Jesus do?’ I never had one, and they are much less common now, but it’s a question I still ask regularly.

What would Jesus do? Would He get angry and march in protests, demanding that church be reopened because it is essential? I know He believes, as I do, that church is essential, but church is so much more than a place to go on Sunday morning. The church is not a building. We, Christ followers, are the church.

So, how do we be the church at a time where we can’t gather together in person? We can call a member of our church who lives alone just to chat and see how they are. We can deliver groceries to the doorstep of the elderly couple down the street, so they don’t have to put themselves at risk by going to the store. We can start an online Bible study or prayer group that meets via Zoom/Skype/Google Meet. The options are endless.

Are we truly seeking God’s wisdom during this tumultuous time, or are we giving in to the world around us? Verse 17 says wisdom from above is pure, loving, peace-keeping, gentle and merciful. Are we loving our neighbours as Jesus commanded us? Are we being gentle to those we disagree with? Are we doing our part to bring peace, and to protect those around us?

True wisdom comes from God. Let us not forget that. Always seek Him first. Let Him be your guidance and your way. Bring love. Bring peace.

And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:18, NLT

January 8 – Jesus and the Woman at the Well

John 4:7-26 NLT

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— 18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshipped?”
21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”

I love this passage of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. I recently read a fictional novel about the life of this woman. The Bible tells us very little about her. We know she had multiple husbands and the man she is living with when she meets Jesus, is not one of them. From that we can determine two things: this woman is a sinner, and she has likely had many struggles in her life.

Yet Jesus wants to save her.

Her initial shock comes simply when Jesus speaks to her, for He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan. Jews did not associate with Samaritans at that time. They regarded them as inferior and unholy.

Yet Jesus speaks to her.

Jesus treats her in an unexpected way. He does not shun her or shame her based on her sins or where she is from. He does not walk away in disgust when she approaches the well.

He engages her. He lets her know that He sees her, and He knows her.

This is a woman who had likely been shamed often throughout her life. We don’t know why she had five husbands, but we can imagine how she was viewed by not only outsiders, but her own people. She was probably used to being ignored, dishonoured, looked down on, and talked about.

Yet, here was Jesus, a Jew, talking to her as a human.

When He tells her who she is, she immediately believes Him. She does not question Him, but runs back to her people to tell them she has met the Messiah.

This passage of scripture reveals so many things about the love of Jesus and His acceptance and desire to save us all. Jesus did not come just for the righteous. He didn’t come just for those who lead holy, faith-centred lives.

He came for the sinners. He came for the broken, the outcasts, the weak, and the hurting. He came for us all. He came for you. All He asks in return is that we believe in Him and follow Him. And He asks us to share our faith with others.

In our broken, chaotic, painful world, it can be hard at times to follow Jesus. It can be hard to see above the suffering, the anger, and the evil. It can be hard to have faith.

How can we be more like the woman at the well? She instantly believed. She immediately shared her new faith with others, and because of her, Jesus remained in her town for 2 more days and many others became believers. (John 4:39-42)

In times of trial and struggle, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Let Him fill us with His peace and His love. May His light be evident in us no matter what is happening around us. May we believe like the woman at the well. May our joy and our faith cause us to tell everyone we meet about Him.

May we always remember His promise to us and the sacrifice He made. May we make disciples who make disciples in His name.

December 14 – When Troubles Come Your Way

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to a new devotion writing partner. Becky Ferguson is a full-time missionary in the Czech Republic. She arrived on the field in January 2019, and since then has been learning Czech while working in ministry. God has specifically called her to work with Czech youth, which she does through English camps, a weekly Bible study, and one on one mentoring. Before becoming a missionary, Becky worked at Lakeshore St. Andrews Church as the Office Administrator, and previously worked at a multi-site church based in Oakville, called The Meeting House. She is passionate about writing, loves animals, and is a proud aunt to four beautiful kids.

Occasionally, Becky writes a blog that I love to read – and that’s why I asked her if she would have time to write some devotions for us. She agreed that hopefully, she could write 2 each month. Keep her in your prayers as she is busy in the Czech Republic, and yet still has time for us.

James 1: 2 – 6; 12 – 18 (NLT)

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

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.

James 1:2-6 NLT

I read these verses during my Bible study this week. As a missionary in the Czech Republic, called to work specifically with youth, I lead a Bible group for teens every Tuesday. We currently meet online because of the pandemic. We’ve been in our second lockdown since early October, with students doing distance learning. My high schoolers don’t know when they’ll be back in school, they miss their friends, and they are extremely stressed. So, I chose these verses to talk about this week.

Upon first glance, it can be easy to dismiss these words of James. Rejoice in our suffering??? Sounds nice, but James has no idea what we’re going through! We’re in a global pandemic here! People are dying, jobs are lost, we can’t see friends and family, and we have to wear masks in public! Thanks James, but we are struggling too much to find joy.

Am I right?

No, of course not. We could complain about so much right now. It would be very easy to drown ourselves in anger and pity, shouting at God for all of our suffering. But that’s not what I focused on with my youth. Instead we picked up a few verses later.

12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterword they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.

James 1:12-18 NLT

Read those verses again. These are the words I focused on with the teens. It is the reminder that all ‘good and perfect’ things come from God. He does not give us pain or suffering. He may allow it, but He does not cause it. God will never tempt us. He only gives us blessings, and He promises us He will be with us in times of trial. He gives us strength and wisdom when we turn to Him in our need.

God creates good everywhere, even in times that seem hopeless. He can take a mess and create beauty out of it. I’ve seen Him doing many times in my personal life. And, as it says in verse 17, God never changes. He is consistent no matter what else is happening. He is our constant, our rock, our source of light.

So, I encourage you, as I encouraged my Czech youth, in this season of struggle and chaos, look for the good. Look for God’s light. It is there. Some days it can be harder to find, but it is always there. He is always there. He is pouring out His love to us in blessings big and small. Ask Him to help you see them. And always remember, that though we may face trials in this life, God has promised us an incredible reward at the end – a place in His eternal kingdom. We are His ‘prized possession’.