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 31 – Hope for the New Year

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

As we come to the end of 2021, we have a choice.

We can look back at the disappointments. We can complain about the things that went wrong. We can hold on to our worries, fears and insecurities, and carry them with us into the new year.

Or we can focus on the good from an otherwise challenging year. We can remember the laughter, the times with loved ones, and the moments of joy. We can hold fast to faith, to our hope in Jesus, and we can enter 2022 strengthened and secure in our Lord.

There is no doubt 2022 will bring problems. No doubt there will be times of struggle and periods of suffering. No doubt there will be fears and uncertainty, especially as we continue to live in a global pandemic.

However, we also know there will be strength. There will be companionship and love, laughter and faith, joy and grace. And there will be hope because we have Jesus.

There is hope because we know we are never alone. There is hope because God is faithful. There is hope because God is our rock. There is hope because God is always good. There is hope because our God loves us more than we can fathom.

Let’s start this new year with hope. Let’s remember that God is all we need. He is our hope, our strength, our support, our love, our courage. Let us welcome the new year by praising our Heavenly Father.

“O God, you are my God;
    I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
    my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
    where there is no water.
I have seen you in your sanctuary
    and gazed upon your power and glory.
Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
    how I praise you!
I will praise you as long as I live,
    lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
    I will praise you with songs of joy.

I lie awake thinking of you,
    meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
    I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your strong right hand holds me securely.”

                                                          Psalm 63:1-8 NLT

Our song for today is It Is Well by Kristene DiMarco.

December 30 – A Hopeful Woman

Let’s look at someone who had undeniable hope in Jesus. A woman who had suffered terribly for twelve years. Someone who was isolated and ostracized due to her condition. Someone who was ignored because she was viewed as unclean.

It’s difficult to imagine the desperation she felt, or to truly know her suffering. She had been to doctors and spent all of her money hoping to be cured, but nothing worked. Then she of heard Jesus and hope took hold of her again. She believed He could heal her.

“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”” Mark 5:25-34 NIV

This account of the woman who bled for twelve years is also in Luke (8:43-48) and Matthew (9:20-22). It is such a significant story of faith and hope that it was included in three of the four gospels, yet the name of the woman is not mentioned; only her suffering, her courage, her hope, and her belief.

Like He was for the woman who bled, Jesus is our hope. He changes everything. Because of Him we are forgiven. Because of Him we are saved. Because of Him we have eternity. Because of Him hope abounds.

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.  Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.  God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church.  And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”  Ephesians 1:18-23

Our song for today is Living Hope by Phil Wickham

December 29 – He is Always With Us

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my saviour; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” Psalm 18:2 NLT

Many years ago, when I was going through a difficult season, I stenciled this verse on a canvas and placed it on my wall. I needed to see it daily, to be reminded that God is my rock and my stability, my faith and my hope, my support and my love.

In times of struggle, it can be easy to lose faith. It can be easy to forget that God is always with us, that He is our security and our strength; that with Him, all things are possible. He gives us courage and boldness, along with humility and grace. He goes before us, walks beside us, and stands behind us in support.

During trials we may think that God has abandoned us. We wonder why He is allowing our suffering. We wonder why He doesn’t stop it, why He’s not answering our prayers. Did He forget about us? 

Never.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NIV

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 NIV

“…be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”” Hebrews 13:5 NIV

There are so many verses within the Bible where God declares His faithfulness to us and says He will never leave us.

God is always with us. During our times of struggle, when we may not feel His presence, I promise He is there. We are the ones who pull away from Him and then we blame Him for abandoning us. But He never left.

Our God is a God who created us in His image, designed each of us in intricate detail, and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our God, who sent His son in the flesh, a tiny, vulnerable baby, born in a manager. This is fresh in our minds as we have just celebrated the birth of Jesus. 

That is how much our God loves us. That is His power, His mercy, His grace. He sent His son to live on earth, to experience what we experience, to endure extreme suffering. He did this to save us.

How can we lose faith in our God, who has been so faithful to us? How can we lose hope?

As we move forward and prepare for the start of a new year, may we replace our worries with hope, our fears with faith, and our uncertainty with God’s steadfastness. He is our fortress.

Our song for today is In Your Presence by Jesus Culture, Kim Walker-Smith

December 28 – Walk On

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

  • Psalm 27:1

There are moments in life we are fearful of stepping out, anxious to begin, or hopeless to try. Perhaps it is dreaming up a New Year’s resolution, starting a new career path, or patching up a broken relationship. Even though our fears cave in, and our thoughts paralyze us, we have a freedom so big that empowers us to do great things. We were put on earth for more than just the mundane. When we come to understand the magnitude of what Christ did for us: coming to earth as a baby, living among us and willingly dying for our shortcomings, we certainly feel humbled. We are reminded, even in our hesitation, that no one could love us more deeply or consistently than the love of God himself. No human opinion could measure to God’s thoughts about you. People who have hurt you, cannot touch the expanse of his love for you. His greatness compels us to do great things. His love motivates us to love others, to think of ourselves less. His words challenge us to live a life of meaning. They give us the power to throw away regrets, anger, spite and revenge. We ask God this coming year to fill us with His power. 

I’m praying that God will fill you so well so that you can love others, and overcome fears that are preventing you from moving. It is only the power of the Holy Spirit that can at times get us moving. So, with all the you have left, call on Him. All which remains of a potentially taxing and stressful year, let Jesus know, and pray that whatever you can muster, will be used for good. 

Because all that was not, can be made good.

You are not lost, and everything will be okay. Maybe not overnight, but believe, that in time, it will all be okay. 

And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on

  • All That We Leave Behind, U2  

Our song for today is You’re Gonna Be OK by Bethel Music, Jenn Johnson

December 27 – Look to the Son

This week, we’re welcoming back two writers who have taken some time off – Brittany McCann and Becky Ferguson. You’ll enjoy their devotions on hope for the coming year.


As the year comes to a close a common theme will challenge you to slow down – focus on the coming of the Christ. Yet, it feels contradictory at times, as things all around us truly ramp up at Christmas, then there’s New Year’s parties and goals etc. Most of us have time off, we’re running to family gatherings, shopping and getting it all done. What does stopping, reflecting, or pausing look like in such a hurried time of year? Perhaps it begins with being. Being who you are with the people that support who you are becoming. Perhaps it is taking a second to look inward, to check in with yourself, I am the me I want to be right now? Or this coming year? Is that who God put me on earth to be? God put Jesus on earth to be the beacon, the way maker, the life guide. He came as humbly as they could come but making the biggest impact. When gazing at the possibilities of the New Year, maybe you’ll have a second to humbly check in with yourself. If I looked at 2022 through the lens of who Jesus is, maybe my goals would look more than cliché… healthy eating, exercising etc. Maybe I’ll simply consider what could look different in life. Knowing that Jesus came to save me, not judge me will give me the new perspective I need. Or that he pursued ministering to the outcasts and nobodies while he was here. 

Oh! We look to the Son
Set our eyes on our Saviour
See the image of love
Sing His praises forever

  • Hillsong Worship, Look to the Son  

In a season of elaboration, yet humility, we can see how God wrapped both these elements in one in the form of a baby destined for greatness. We look to the New Year to its possibilities and its challenges, but we know we are never without. Our hopes and expectations rest in the one that has given his Son to us. Jesus’ humble beginning can be a mirror for our humble beginnings this New Year. We are saved, forgiven and destined for great things through him. Let’s be hopeful for the year to come. 

From the inside out, you are doing beautiful work in this season that is worth acknowledging. No matter how small. If no one else has said it recently: I am proud of you. I am proud of you for committing to being present to this chapter in your story. I am proud of you for choosing to breathe deep and welcome the grace. There is so much more ahead and your faithfulness here matters.

  • Morgan Harper Nichols 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11    

Our song today is Look to the Son by Hillsong Worship.

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 20 – Humble and Faithful

“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Mary and Joseph went to the temple with Jesus because it was customary to offer a purification sacrifice 40 days after giving birth to a male child, and to consecrate the firstborn child to God.  A first-born child, male or female, had to be ‘redeemed’ and thus, in obedience to the law, Mary and Joseph took the Great Redeemer to be redeemed.  “When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord:  ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons.’  (Luke 2:22-24)  The cost was 5 shekels when they are one month old, or for a poor family, 2 doves or 2 pigeons.  (Exodus 13:13; Numbers 18:15, 16).  

Anna most likely lived at the temple.  There were a few apartments, mostly for priests, but Anna was either allowed to live in one of these or she spent her time and focus on prayer in the Temple, and thus, it was said that she never left the temple day or night.  

Anna is known for one thing in addition to how she spent her time.  “Coming up to them [Mary and Joseph] at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”  That’s it.  That is all we are told.  She sees the Christ child and his parents, and proclaims first thanks to the Father, and then tells all who were looking forward to the Messiah that He is here.  Under the Law of Moses, a covenant written on stone tablets, the first-born was to be redeemed.  Under the blood of the New Covenant, a covenant written on hearts of flesh, that very child is the Messiah and our Redeemer.

Her purpose in life was to praise God in thanksgiving, and to proclaim the Messiah.  No great ministry results; no ladies’ Bible study daily in the Temple with many attending; no plan laid out at the beginning of her 84 years of life.  Like Sarah, it is in her old age that she is used by God.  

Oh, how we long to leave a legacy behind us of miraculous works and deeds.  Oh, how God requires us to simply walk with Him faithfully and daily, and when HIS time is right, He will open our mouths to His glory.  

Anna.  A life of blessing.  A life of hardships.  A life spent faithfully in prayer and fellowship with God.  And because He chooses, a special blessing after 84 years of faithfulness.  May we have patience and trust to walk humbly, faithfully and long with our God.

Our song for today is Face of God by Phil Wickham.

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.