May 22 – Hope

In this pandemic time, the word HOPE is one we use frequently. We hope the virus will decide to die out – likely wishful thinking. We hope a vaccine will be developed sooner rather than later. We hope we will stay healthy if we have to go back to work, or just go out into the community. We hope our family will stay safe. We hope to see family and friends again soon. We hope restrictions will be lifted soon. Now that warmer spring weather has finally arrived, we hope we can enjoy outdoor spaces once again. We hope we’ll come out of this okay financially. We hope the business we work in doesn’t go under. We hope sooo much!

Hope is something that has been with us for thousands of years. David lived a life full of stress and difficulty. He would quite readily admit that things seemed hopeless, but … he would also know that God was with him. Let’s see what David had to say about hope in the Psalms.

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19 “Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.” Psalm 33: 22

“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!” Psalm 43: 5

When David was discouraged, he prayed for comfort and to sense God’s love surrounding him. He also praised God. When we find ourselves edgy and depressed, pray. In our prayers acknowledge that God is in control. We don’t have to fix everything; God loves us and cares for us. Find some worship music (CD’s. Alexa, radio, etc.) and sing along. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about what we sound like when we are home alone. Praise God! Focus on him!

“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” Psalm 25: 5

David has another suggestion – “lead me by your truth and teach me”. How does God teach us to hope in him? By reading his Word. So, as much as possible, start each day by reading your Bible. See what God has to say to you. Find some verses that you love, write them on a card, and work on memorizing them. That way, when you are feeling hopeless about when this all will end, you can repeat those verses in your mind.

As Paul is finishing up writing Romans, he has this to say:

Romans 15: 13 – 14

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them.”

As Christ followers, we have the Holy Spirit living within us. His power will give us confident hope. We may think we become hopeful because life is going well. If we ‘get a handle’ on the coronavirus, we’ll be hopeful and cheerful once again. Hope comes from a good life. That’s is actually fantasy. It’s God who is the source of hope. When we trust him, we are filled completely with joy and peace.

Paul mentions that he is confident the Christians he is writing to are trusting God. I like this statement – “You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them.” We can support each other. That’s a great idea in this historical time. Write notes of encouragement to others. When a person comes to mind, stop and send an email – just a quick reminder that God loves us and is in control. Just imagine how you’d feel if you opened up your email, or a note/ card that came in the mail, and someone said something encouraging to you. That feels so good! So pass along that great feeling today.

“Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.” Psalm 33: 22

Here is the song that matches today’s devotions.

I’ve been running through rain
That I thought would never end
Trying to make it on faith
In a struggle against the wind
I’ve seen the dark and the broken places But I know in my soul

No matter how bad it gets I’ll be alright

There’s hope in front of me
There’s a light, I still see it
There’s a hand still holding me
Even when I don’t believe it

I might be down but I’m not dead
There’s better days still up ahead
Even after all I’ve seen
There’s hope in front of me

There’s a place at the end of the storm
You finally find
Where the hurt and the tears and the pain
All fall behind

You open up your eyes and up ahead
There’s a big sun shining
Right then and there you realize
You’ll be alright

There’s hope in front of me
There’s a light, I still see it
There’s a hand still holding me
Even when I don’t believe it
I might be down but I’m not dead
There’s better days still up ahead
Even after all I’ve seen
There’s hope in front of me

There’s a hope still burning
I can feel it rising through the night
And my world’s still turning
I can feel your love here by my side

You’re my hope
You’re the light, I still see it
Your hands are holding me
Even when I don’t believe it
I’ve got to believe
I still have hope
You are my hope

May 21 – Something Small Grows to Something Big

Mark 4: 21 – 34 NLT

Parable of the Lamp

21 Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine. 22 For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to
light. 23 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

24 Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given – and you will receive even more. 25 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”

Parable of the Growing Seed

26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the
ground. 27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. 28 The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29 And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? 31 It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, 32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”

33 Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. 34 In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.”

Jesus is talking about growing God’s kingdom. If you need light, you don’t put your lamp under a basket or a bed. You put it where the light can shine in that environment. Jesus is not talking about search lights, strobe lights, rows of ceiling lights, etc. Even in his day, important government leaders would have multitudes of lights/candles to keep their palace or gardens brightly lit.

Jesus is talking about one lamp. That’s you! One single person – you! Don’t hide. In practical terms, what does that mean? Let others see you as someone different. They can see a kind person, someone who is friendly and loving. They can see someone who doesn’t hold grudges, is willing to give people a second chance. They see someone who is honest, doesn’t try to cheat on their taxes, or puts in a hard day’s work. There are so many characteristics of Jesus that apply to life in 2020. That’s what the people around us can see.

Be brave. Don’t hide your faith. It doesn’t mean you have to be spouting off about the Bible or religious topics all the time. You’ve probably met someone at work or in your neighbourhood like that; people try to avoid them. But, when an opportunity comes, don’t be afraid to speak. When I look back over my life, I see opportunities when I could have spoken, but didn’t. I was worried about upsetting people, or I wanted to fit in so didn’t want to look religious. I regret those times. I realize now that speaking wouldn’t have had the social consequences I was so afraid of. Talking doesn’t mean you have to be obnoxious, just kindly giving one more opinion in the conversation.

Jesus also told a parable about seeds growing in a farmer’s field quite all by themselves. It’s the natural light of the sun, rain, and rich soil that produces the crop. Those are things the farmer has no control over. He reaps the benefit, but can’t claim to be the sole source of the crop. When we get right down to it, we have to admit that God is the one who is growing his kingdom. We can assist God in a variety of ways, just like the farmer can take care of his fields. But, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to that person’s soul. It’s God who arranges circumstances that get that individual thinking and pondering about a need for a personal relationship with God.

The third parable was about a mustard seed – “the smallest of all seeds”. Jesus said it could grow to tree size and shelter birds. I wondered about that. Was Jesus exaggerating? So I looked it up on my computer. I discovered mustard plants thrive in full sun with poor soil. That is why they are mostly found in Africa, India and the Middle East. Homeguides.sfgate says, “Mustard bushes reach an average mature height of between 6 and 20 feet with a 20-foot spread, although exceptional plants can reach 30 feet tall under ideal conditions. They have a spreading, multi- stemmed growth habit with a drooping or weeping branch structure.” So that tiny seed does become a huge tree.

Again, we have a plant producing lots of mustard crop with a tiny origin and no results based on human effort. God takes tiny beginnings and grows them. The real growth depends on God, not so much us. We’re definitely needed, but it’s not all up to us. If we have a tendency to want praise and recognition, then that is rather disappointing. We can’t take all the credit. But if you have a tendency to downplay yourself, and think you’re not good enough – then this is such an encouragement. God can take that little we do and turn it into something special.

Jesus began his ministry on earth with a group of 12 ordinary men. They weren’t trained theologians or well-known citizens of their day. They were actually quite a motley crew. But they were the men who would lead the new church and spread the gospel news around the world. Because they were amazing successful men? No! They loved Jesus, and wanted to learn from him. Remember what Jesus said?

“Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given – and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” (v. 24 – 25)

When we keep our relationship with God as a priority, and are eager to learn from him, then the growth of God’s kingdom will result. We may not be aware of the seeds we have planted, but God grows them. That is such a challenge for me, and I suspect for you too.

May 20 – God’s Kingdom Grows

Mark 4: 1 – 20 NLT

Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed

Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the
shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant.

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret (also translated mystery) of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they see what I do,
they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
and be forgiven.’ Isaiah 6: 9 – 10

13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? 14 The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to
others. 15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. 16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. 20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

This parable is one of the most known of Jesus’ parables. Four situations are described in the parable. Some seeds fell on a well-traveled foot path, and they had no chance to root at all. Some seeds fell on shallow soil with rocks underneath; although they sprouted quickly, they died just as quickly since there was too much heat and no sustenance (water). Other seeds fell on thorny ground (lots of weeds); they continued to survive, but didn’t produce any fruit. Then there were the seeds that fell on fertile ground, and various quantities of crops were produced. Jesus goes on to explain what that parable meant.

I’m going to try my hand at interpreting the parable in 2020. It was Christmas Eve, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day – whatever holiday you can think of on a day celebrated in churches. Bill comes along with his parents because his dad put the pressure on to join the family. Bill thinks this church stuff is silly, for people who need some kind of crutch to get along in life. He thinks a lot of the church people are old fashioned, just a little bit out of touch – kind of like his parents. Not that he doesn’t love his parents, but he doesn’t agree with their religious bent. He hears the message about Jesus; he knows it’s a good story, but really it has nothing to do with life today in our modern society.

Those are the first seeds described in the parable. They are people who ignore anything to do with Christianity. They have decided it is irrelevant to them. If you are searching out the Christian faith, wondering if it might be something you need, this type of seed described first does not apply to you. These are people who have decided that Christianity is definitely not for them.

The next group are the seeds that fell on shallow soil. Jesus described them as “The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.” Jane was invited by her neighbour, Susan, to come to church. Susan told her that LSA had a great program for kids and Jane’s preschooler and SK daughter would love it. Jane was feeling a bit left out of things; her husband was so busy with his job, and looking after a 3 and 5 year old was hectic. So, she decided to try it out, and she was quite excited about this modern church. The people seemed so friendly, and her kids loved the children’s program. She liked the fact that there were security measures in place for the kids, so she could relax. The coffee was pretty good too. The music was good; in fact, she recognized one of the musicians also played at a coffee bar she, her husband and their friends went to. She came out a few times, but getting the kids and herself ready early Sunday morning was a bit of a chore; she rather loved lazy Sunday mornings, and her husband was usually at home too. In fact, her husband thought going to church interfered with the one day they could plan things with their family – or get things done around the house. Actually, he sort of made fun of her for going to church – getting religious, eh? Church was good, but staying home seemed easier after a while.

I wonder how many people attend our church that way. How could we keep them connected? Do we need to connect with their spouse? Does someone who knows them need to invite them over for dinner, coffee, an evening, etc.? Does someone with kids their age, initiate play dates? When someone new arrives at our church door, we need to pay attention. It’s not just the job of the greeter at the door. How can we connect with them in a deeper way, not just a casual hello?

Then there were the seeds that fell on thorny (weedy) ground. Carol and Bob decided to try out that church in their neighbourhood. They noticed there were a lot of cars there every Sunday; in fact, the place seemed busy throughout the week. Bob knew one of his bosses at work attended that church, and the guy seemed really nice and was great to work with. Carol had just started back to work half-time since their kids were in their early teens and didn’t need as much supervision anymore. They discovered the youth program was great, and their kids found several of their classmates went to the youth meetings. The service was good – great music and the sermon was interesting. In fact, Bob and Carol talked about what they were hearing at church, and realized there was a kind of emotional/mental need they had that was being met at church. So, they decided to join. But, then they were asked to get involved. Carol ended up helping with the youth group. Bob was asked to join the finance committee since he had a job in banking. But Bob was also on the verge of promotion to a great job with much better pay. Bob and Carol started to go to various social occasions which you really needed to do in Bob’s new position. They needed to get their house renovated/updated since they were required to entertain business associates. They were starting to get worried about their oldest son, who had just turned 16. He was anxious to learn to drive, and he also had some rather interesting friends. Carol wondered if those friends were a good influence or not. She enjoyed the status and extra money from Bob’s new job. In fact, she was thinking of going to work full-time since there were possibilities for promotion even in her job. Life was getting complicated. Church was good, they believed in God, but there were so many other things that needed their attention.

This situation is one that could describe many in our church today. There are so many things that interfere with developing a close relationship with God. Success in our jobs is important in 2020. That often means more than just a 9 to 5 work day – sometimes, way more. We watch HGTV and dream of making our homes just as beautiful. Does that mean an extra job to afford the renovations or get our home ready to sell so we can buy up? Our kids can keep us running – on sports teams at school, sports with travel teams, supervising their homework, entertaining their friends, etc. Sometimes we’re struggling because of a lost job. We feel so overwhelmed. Or a serious illness strikes the family – our immediate family or our parents. Or we are juggling looking after our own family, but also helping mom (or dad) who is alone and struggling. Frankly, life in 2020 is hectic. That’s the norm. When do we have time to pray and have a personal devotion time? When do we have time to fit in various church activities? Having a summer cottage is so good to get away for a few months from the city. Heading to Florida for the winter is such a nice reward for working hard before retirement – that kind of curtails how much we can be involved in our church. At the end of the day, we drive into our garages, go into the house by the inside garage door, and relax for the evening or head out for another meeting. Neighbours? Who are they? See how our modern lifestyle keeps us from “producing fruit”? It’s not that we reject our Christian faith. We’re just so caught up with things that our faith can get put by the wayside.

Then there are the seeds that are planted on fertile soil. These are the people who put their commitment to Jesus first. Are these the people who basically live at the church because they are so committed? Not necessarily. They probably are involved in some form of ministry; churches can’t survive and thrive without volunteers. But that fertile ground is present because of a personal relationship with God that means everything to a person. That individual takes time to pray, meditate, and read the Bible for their own personal growth. That doesn’t mean that person is someone we almost idolize, someone who brings many other people to faith, someone who lives in poverty like Mother Theresa. It’s just someone who says quietly to themselves – God you mean everything to me.

It may be the person who shovels snow for the elderly lady down the block. It may be the person who serves coffee on a Sunday morning in the church foyer. It may be the person who organizes coffee and play dates with other young moms on the street. It may be the guy who works hard and doesn’t ‘cheat’ the company of a full day’s work. It may be the person who volunteers in a downtown organization. It may be the nurse, RPN, or PSW who takes extra care of their patients, who tries to take a moment to talk with each patient to encourage them. It may be the volunteer coach of your kid’s hockey team who stresses playing fair, and plays each kid on the team no matter how talented they are. It’s just anyone who tries to live life with Jesus as an example, and who puts God first in their decisions about how to live.

Does that mean that every sincere Christian will lead many to Christ? Notice the crop results in Jesus’ parable. “And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Their life will be productive, but in various degrees. There may be one person who comes to a relationship with God because of you; there may be many more. Jesus doesn’t distinguish on the basis of results. He seems quite happy with various amounts of success. You could be the pastor of a small country church or you could be the pastor of an urban mega- church. One is not closer to, or more important, to God than the other. You may work in the nursery at church or you may lead a Bible study. One is not more important than the other.

It’s your personal relationship with God that matters, because it is God who produces the results. We’ll look at that more in tomorrow’s devotions.

May 19 – Who Is Jesus’ Family?

Mark 3: 7 – 33 NLT

(Verses 1 to 6 were covered in a devotion in Mark 2 on Friday)

“Crowds Follow Jesus

7 Jesus went out to the lake with his disciples, and a large crowd followed him. They came from all over Galilee, Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him.

9 Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him. 10 He had healed many people that day, so all the sick people eagerly pushed forward to touch him. 11 And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him, the spirits would throw them to the ground in front of him shrieking, “You are the Son of God!” 12 But Jesus sternly commanded the spirits not to reveal who he was.

Jesus Chooses the Twelve Apostles

13 Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. 14 Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, 15 giving them authority to cast out demons. 16 These are the twelve he chose:

Simon (whom he named Peter),
17 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”), 18 Andrew,
Philip,
Bartholomew,
Matthew,
Thomas,
James (son of Alphaeus),
Thaddaeus,
Simon (the zealot – also means nationalist),
19 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).”

There is a huge contrast in these verses – massive crowds and twelve followers. Occasionally on the news we hear about people being crushed to death in panicking crowds. I can’t imagine what that would be like. Perhaps you are in a stadium with thousands of people, there is a startling bang and perhaps smoke and more noise, and everyone rushes for the exit. Even at professional sports events, when the game is over, it can be hard to stay with family and friends as the crowd pushes for the exits. Jesus is exactly in that same situation. “Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him.” (v.9) Jesus is so popular that crowds from all over Israel are arriving to see him, to be healed, to touch him and they are pushing forward so much that Jesus could be crushed to death. Stop for a moment and try to visualize that picture. Keep that picture in mind as we read through this chapter.

Jesus then climbs up a mountain with 12 men he asked to come with him. What an interesting group. First there is Simon who Jesus renamed Peter, a name that means ‘rock’. Peter seemed to be the most impulsive one in the group – hardly a rock. He was the one who stepped out of the boat and tried to walk to Jesus in the night, and when he had second thoughts, began to sink. He was the one at Jesus’ transfiguration who wanted to build a small altar/temple place to commemorate the event. He was the one who cut off the ear of the high priest’s aide when they tried to arrest Jesus. He was the one who went to the outer court to see what was happening to Jesus, but denied he ever knew him when asked by a servant girl. Peter was a rock? Yet, Peter was one of the main figures in the founding of the church. Following Jesus transformed him.

James and John were called the ‘sons of thunder’ by Jesus. That’s also an interesting ‘nickname’. Yet John later becomes known for his deep love for Jesus, and he is often seen sitting close to Jesus at various social events. The Gospel of John and 1,2, and 3 John are epistles that concentrate on love. In that group of twelve, we also see Thomas who became known as a doubter when he couldn’t believe that Jesus had really risen until he could touch Jesus. We see Simon, the nationalist, who was all about freeing Israel from Rome’s domination. And he sat beside Matthew, the tax collector for Rome? And there was Judas Iscariot who seemed to be in the group to get fame and money, and betrayed Jesus in the end.

What a group Jesus took up the side of that mountain because “they were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, giving them authority to cast out demons.” (v. 14 – 15) Jesus wanted to be with them, wanted them to spread his message, and wanted them to face battle with Satan. Wow!

“Jesus and the Prince of Demons

20 One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.

22 But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.”

23 Jesus called them over and responded with an illustration. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. 24 “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. 25 Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive. 27 Let me illustrate this further. Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.

28 “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, 29 but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” 30 He told them this because they were saying, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit.”

Once again, the Pharisees show up. They are frankly jealous. Just like our society today, the ability to draw crowds is admired. Fame is exciting! But now it’s Jesus who is getting all the attention, and they want to take it away. They are in a difficult spot because they can’t do the miracles that Jesus does. How do they explain this conundrum? They accuse Jesus of being empowered by Satan. Jesus dispels that myth with obvious reason – Satan would not destroy himself. That was absurd.

There are 2 verses in this passage that make some people a little nervous. “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences”. (v. 28 – 29) Some people worry that they may have committed the “unforgivable sin”. What is that unforgivable sin? It is a deliberate and constant denial of who the trinity is – God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit – a person who refuses to accept that as truth. Notice the first part of Jesus’ statement: “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but …” Jesus’ death and resurrection has dealt with all sin, and anyone who accepts that is forgiven. Only those who refuse deliberately to acknowledge that are not forgiven.

“The True Family of Jesus

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. 32 There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.”

33 Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. 35 Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

These 5 verses seem so mean and harsh. Why would Jesus treat his mother and brothers this way? If God is love, why would Jesus speak like this? In my commentary reading, I came across this explanation that I thought was super good. Instead of trying to summarize it, I decided to just copy and paste from this online commentary. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“Now it is time to meet the family – v.31. They have been on their way and now they turn up: Mary and her other sons. Presumably they know where to find him because this is his regular base. They wrongly assume that if they send a messenger into the house, then Jesus will immediately drop whatever he is doing and emerge. That’s what the culture assumes. Inside, the house is crowded as usual, the message is passed along until it reaches him and soon everyone knows that the family is waiting outside (v.32). Jesus responds with a distinctly odd question (v.33). Then he looks around. Now the house is crowded, but of course this is not the heaving crowd of thousands we see with Jesus by the lakeside. This is a house in a fishing village; at most a few dozen people are within earshot and these are not the sensation seekers. These are people who want to sit and listen to his words: a group that consists of his core team of twelve with a wider group of others.
In vv.34-35 Jesus gives his verdict. He looks at the group gathered round him on the floor. Then he looks at the messenger at the door and speaks through him to the family gathered outside; and he says, You say they’re outside looking for me? No: my true family have already found me. My true family are here, on the inside. It’s not so much that he is rejecting his human family – though we should note there is no special place given to Mary his mother here. But this is one more way that Jesus is overturning people’s assumptions, redrawing the boundaries. He’s speaking to a nation who believe that family is everything. These people live and die by genealogies. They think God will accept them simply because two thousand years ago they had an ancestor called Abraham.

But, says Jesus, my true people (and therefore God’s true people) are these: the ones who know me, who listen to me, who do the will of God – the God who is creating a new people that doesn’t depend on physical family ties, or on the nation you were born into, but only on belonging to Jesus. It’s a family that will extend right round the world, into every country and across every boundary. It doesn’t divide people by their background, or their colour or race. In every local church we have a small fragment of that big family. It’s not perfect, because it’s full of people who still get things wrong. Sometimes bad things happen in this family. But the good news is that the head of this family is perfect. The day will finally come when we are too: we will see Jesus face to face and he will look at us and say: yes, you are my brother, my sister. In this family, we are united by ties much stronger, far deeper, than even the closest human family. These ties are stronger than genetics, stronger than marriage, stronger than human love. They are ties based on blood, but not ours. The life of this family begins with the blood of Jesus.”

Here’s the question that titled today’s devotions. Who is Jesus’ family? It’s not the crowds that follow him because they think he can do something for them – make life here on earth better by healing their illnesses. It’s not the Pharisees, religious people who are enthralled by popularity and big followings, and get jealous if someone else seems to be doing better. It’s not people who belong to one nationality or keep religious rules. It is “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” That can be you and me.

From online A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained (Welwyn Commentary Series) Wilmhurst, Steve 2011 Evangelical Press

If you like music by Bill Gaither, here’s his mix of The Family of God (1968)

For I’m part of the family,
The family of God.

You will notice we say “brother
And sister” ’round here-
It’s because we’re a family
And these folks are so near;
When one has a heartache

We all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory
In this family so dear.

Refrain:
I’m so glad I’m a part
Of the family of God-
I’ve been washed in the fountain,
Cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus
As we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
The family of God.

From the door of an orphanage
To the house of the King-
No longer an outcast,
A new song I sing;
From rags unto riches,
From the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here,
But, praise God, I belong!

Refrain:
I’m so glad I’m a part
Of the family of God-
I’ve been washed in the fountain,
Cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus
As we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
The family of God.

Yes I’m part of the family,
The family of God.

May 18 – The LORD Himself Watches Over You

Psalm 121 NLT

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

1 I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?
2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!

3 He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.

5 The LORD himself watches over you!
The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.
6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.

7 The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.
8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

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

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

I don’t know about you, but my emotions are all over the place these days. I find the physical distancing so hard. On Mother’s Day, my daughter’s family came over for a few minutes, and we sat in our double car garage to avoid the cold and rain – 2 meters apart. I miss those hugs, especially from my almost 16 year old grandson who is 6 foot 3 inches, and loves to “crush me to death”, now that he can look down on grandma. Sometimes it’s just plain frustration, the inability to go to the store for some small thing I could use right now. I go for daily walks; some people say hi – others rush by with heads turned away. One of my daughters, and her university- aged daughter live with me. At supper time, conversation lags. What do you talk about when you are at home all day? Here we are on Victoria Day weekend, and how exciting are your plans? It’s just strange!

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

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

Verses 5 and 6 about protective shade and being cared for both day and night, remind me of the year we lived in Kenya. Kijabe was located on the Rift Valley Escarpment which was at a fairly high elevation. When we first got there, we found walking from our little house up to a higher level of the mission station left us gasping for breath. It took a few days to get accustomed to being that high up. We were also located close to the equator. During the day, it was usually over 100 degrees; it was really hot in the open sunshine, but bearable in the shade. At night it was cold, so, we lit the small fireplace in our home every night to keep warm. That stark contrast was also due to the high elevation. That experience really stresses God’s protection no matter how unusual the circumstances. God is our “protective shade” today.

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

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

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

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5: 7)

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

God Will Take Care of You – By Civilla Martin, 1904

Be not dismayed whate’er betide
God will take care of you
Beneath His wings of love abide
God will take care of you

God will take care of you
Through every day, o’er all the way
He will take care of you
God will take care of you

No matter what may be the test
God will take care of you
Lean, weary one, upon His breast
God will take care of you

God will take care of you
Through every day, o’er all the way
He will take care of you
God will take care of you

He will take care of you
God will take care of you

May 15 – My Strength, My Rock

Psalm 18 New Living Translation (NLT)

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

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

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

46 The LORD lives! Praise to my Rock!
May the God of my salvation be exalted!

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that an amazing list!

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

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

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

Here is a song that reflects the words of this psalm.

I Will Fear No More By The Afters

Every anxious thought that steals my breath
It’s a heavy weight upon my chest
As I lie awake and wonder what the future will hold
Help me to remember that You’re in control

You’re my courage when I worry in the dead of night
You’re my strength ’cause I’m not strong enough to win this fight
You are greater than the battle raging in my mind
I will trust You, Lord
I will fear no more

I will lift my eyes
I will lift my cares
Lay them in Your hands
I’ll leave them there
When the wind and waves are coming
You shelter me
Even though I’m in the storm, the storm is not in me

You’re my courage when I worry in the dead of night
You’re my strength ’cause I’m not strong enough to win this fight
You are greater than the battle raging in my mind
I will trust You, Lord
I will fear no more
(Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh) I will fear no more
(Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh) I will fear no more

No power can come against me
‘Cause You have overcome
No darkness can overwhelm me
‘Cause You’ve already won
No power can come against me
‘Cause You have overcome
(Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh)
No darkness can overwhelm me
‘Cause You’ve already won
(Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh)

You’re my courage when I worry in the dead of night
You’re my strength ’cause I’m not strong enough to win this fight
You are greater than the battle raging in my mind
I will trust You, Lord (Trust You, Lord)
I will fear no more (Fear no more)

May 14 – Fasting and Resting: Are These Actually Good Things?

Mark 2: 18 – Mark 3: 6 NLT

A Discussion about Fasting

18 Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?”

19 Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. 20 But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
21 “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.
22 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.”

A Discussion about the Sabbath

23 One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. 24 But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
25 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

3 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.
5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! 6 At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.”

These verses in Mark delve into rule keeping. The Pharisees were concerned about fasting and keeping the Sabbath rules. These rules were extremely important to them since they considered following them was doing what God wanted, and what God had instructed in the Old Testament. I can understand their concern, because as a Christ follower, I read the New Testament and look for things Jesus wants us to be and do. That is important to me today. So, let’s take a look at the rules the Pharisees were so on the defensive about.

First, let’s look at fasting. What is it, and should we doing it today? Fasting can be about abstaining from food or a particular food. It can also mean not participating in some activity for a specific period of time. In the Old Testament, fasting was required only one day a year, the Day of Atonement. (The Pharisees obviously overemphasized fasting) GotQuestions.org talks about fasting among Christians:

“Scripture does not command Christians to fast. God does not require or demand it of Christians. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts
13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God …

By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Fasting is to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude. Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The Pharisees also made a big deal about the Sabbath – tons of rules to keep. You shouldn’t eat at all between sunrise and sundown. You shouldn’t do any work at all during the Sabbath. Jesus’ disciples were picking of heads of grain and eating it as they walked along. Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Even today among orthodox Jews, there are many rules to keep about the Sabbath. They tend to live near their synagogue so they can walk there since cars are considered work-related. All food is prepared the day ahead.

Francis Chan, in his Bible study course on Mark, has some interesting things to say about the Pharisees and their Sabbath rules:

“The word ‘Sabbath’ means ‘cease, rest, or desist’ and occurs, in its various forms, 104 times in the Old Testament alone. Though the word does not appear in Genesis, the concept of Sabbath is shown in Genesis 1: 1 – 24 where God creates the world and all living things in 6 days, then rests on the seventh.

Exodus 20: 11 clarifies that the seventh day is meant to be the Sabbath day, holy and blessed. The text implies that, because God rested on the seventh day of creation, humankind should follow his example and rest on the seventh day. But over the centuries, as Israel turned from Yahweh, they abandoned the regular practice of Sabbath. … and made up rules of their own.”

Jesus’ disciples in Mark 2 and 3 weren’t breaking the original purpose of Sabbath – a day of rest. Jesus is introducing a whole new way of worship and following God. Jesus uses a wedding as an example. He is the bridegroom of the coming church. You don’t fast at a wedding. It’s a celebration, and our worship today is a celebration of Jesus’ coming to earth and taking our punishment for sin. Dozens of rules about keeping a day of rest doesn’t mean a restful day; in fact, rules likely will result in a difficult day.

This idea of a day of rest on the seventh day of the week – is something God initiated at the creation of the world. “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he
rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (Genesis 2: 2 – 3) Today, we don’t observe the Sabbath, but rather the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Today, we don’t observe the Sabbath, but rather the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead.

This idea of taking a day of rest and making it “holy” or worshipful is something we should think about. Do we do that today? Do you observe Sunday as an intentional time of rest? What does Sunday look like to you? Do you have a day of rest that influences your spiritual life, your physical and emotional health? Let each one of us, including myself, really think about this. If God took a day of rest, shouldn’t we? What kind of schedule on a Sunday (or another day if necessary) would be restful for you?

May 13 – Who Is Important?

Mark 2: 13 – 17 NLT

Jesus Calls Levi (Matthew)

Then Jesus went out to the lake-shore again and taught the crowds that were coming to
him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s
booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.

15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”
17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

In Mark 1, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew as well as James and John. All those disciples were fishermen; it mentioned James and John left their father and employees behind when they left. It appears these four men were employed in their own businesses. Definitely men we would consider today as good candidates to be assistants for starting something new.

Then Jesus calls Levi – aka Matthew, the tax collector. Levi’s name indicates he was Jewish, but he was also working for the Roman government collecting taxes. He would not be someone Jewish people would admire at all; he was a traitor. On top of that, tax collectors were known to be dishonest, taking bribes, charging more and keeping the extra. Money grabbers. Getting rich off their own people. Ugh! When Levi invites Jesus for dinner at his house, it says Levi invited “many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners”. I don’t know who the disreputable sinners were, but to also be called scum – they were not highly esteemed in that society at all.

The Pharisees were disgusted. How could a religious man who called himself the Son of Man associate with these people? They were watching Jesus because Jesus was becoming a very
popular Jewish figure. I think it’s easy for us to read these stories and be disgusted with the Pharisees. How could they be against Jesus, God’s son. Couldn’t they see who Jesus was? They must be phony religious men in it for the prestige, and not really concerned about a relationship with God. But I want us to stop a moment and think about our own attitudes.

Our Canadian culture admires success. We admire those successful in business, in sports, in music, in acting, etc.. We are quite happy to revolve our lives around others in the middle class – folks who live in similar neighbourhoods, or who we meet at work. I suspect none of us, including me, feel comfortable in some of the more run-down areas in downtown or west Windsor. We politely move over when we see someone in dirty, raggedy clothes. Jesus rebukes us by his example. Levi and his friends knew they needed help. They wanted to know Jesus. The Pharisees thought they had it all together; they didn’t need this new religious figure on the scene. Jesus said he came for those who were sick – they knew they were sick and needed help. In fact, Jesus sees Levi and asks him to be one of his disciples. Jesus isn’t looking for the person who has it all together. Jesus has a different idea of who serves God best.

I think it’s interesting that Matthew wrote one of the gospels which we read through not that long ago. Matthew is packed with facts about Jesus’ ministry and what Jesus said. Matthew is a precise kind of person; he wants to get it right. He’s the one who included a long list of Jesus’ ancestors, tracking it right back to Abraham. It’s not surprising that Matthew was a tax collector; keeping track of the money would require that detail-oriented brain. Jesus saw that trait in him, and knew he would be a great person to have among his disciples. Jesus could look beyond the surface of what the average person would assume. He could see Levi’s inner desire to have deep meaning in life, someone who was looking for a saviour.

We need to follow Jesus’ example. Someone’s success in our society doesn’t necessarily mean they are someone we should admire and try to follow. Perhaps the pandemic is shifting our focus a little, and hopefully that new focus stays in the future. Healthcare workers – the doctors, nurses, and especially the PSW’s on the front line in our long-term care facilities – work hard for us. The people who man the cash registers in the grocery stores meet some careless, even rude, people who trivialize the pandemic. The truck drivers keep bringing our goods to us with few facilities open to them to get food or use washrooms. We are beginning to realize how much essential workers mean to us.

Jesus looks at the heart, not the outward appearance or at society’s standards of importance – those things we tend to think are important. Jesus loves me no matter who I am. I can be poor, struggling with survival. I can be homeless. I can have a low-paying insignificant job. I can be a teenager with lots of ideas, but ignored because I’m young. I can be an at-home mom. I can be a mechanic in some tiny business. I can be someone with disabilities. I can be a senior past my prime – a little dementia setting in. I can also be rich, successful, and/or hold crucial jobs. I can have a PhD and be doing important research. It’s my heart that counts. It’s my willingness to follow Jesus.

“God so loved the world” (John 3: 16) – the world includes every single person. In our success driven culture, we all need to remind ourselves who is really important by Jesus’ standards. I’m sure you, and I include myself, feel we are caring, fairly humble people, but even I need to take a good look at my behaviour and attitude. Who do I really consider important?

May 12 – God, Can You Fix This?

Mark 2: 1 – 12 NLT

Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man

“When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. 2 Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, 3 four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 4 They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. 5 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”
6 But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, 7 “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
8 Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 9 Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 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, 11 “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
12 And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

If somehow, you could actually stand before Jesus while still living here on earth, what would you ask him to fix? Think about that for a few moments. What would be your request? Why?

I think I would ask Jesus to heal my daughter who suffers from constant migraine headaches. Those headaches have been an issue since she was in elementary school, and increased to being constant as she grew older. We’ve had her to specialists all over Ontario and even in the States, but no one has any cure. It has limited her life to hiding away most of the time. For sure, I would
ask Jesus to take those headaches away so she could live a full life. What would your request be?

This story of the paralyzed man is one often told even in Sunday School. The fact that his friends were so persistent that they were willing to climb on the roof and create a hole big enough to lower their friend is so exciting. Try to picture this scene. I know most houses in New Testament times in Israel had stairs leading to the rooftop since that was a place where they could experience the cool of the day. (Air conditioning for sure wasn’t available) So, it would be possible to get their friend on the roof of the house lying on some sort of carrier. But that hole would have to be fairly large to let them lower a full-grown man down without tipping him over to land on the floor. I’m sure Jesus and the people in the house listening would have been aware of the roof removal going on. I wonder what the home-owner thought? It is definitely an amazing scene and event. The man was healed and jumped up and walked out. He didn’t even have to go through some kind of physiotherapy to get his muscles back functioning. Paralyzed, and then, bam … jumping!

But is that what Jesus primarily wanted – healing from the paralysis? “Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” (v. 4 -5 ) There was Jesus’ first concern!

When you were thinking about what you would like Jesus to fix, was sin what you thought about? If it wasn’t, you were among the vast majority of us. And the many crowds around Jesus in New Testament times also weren’t thinking about forgiveness of sin. In these first 2 chapters of Mark, we see crowds wanting to be healed of all their diseases. That would happen today for sure. Can you imagine if there was someone who could heal even one common disease in this world today – the crowds would be incredible.

Someday, we will stand before mighty God. What will you be concerned about then? It’s so easy to put our spiritual issues on the backburner while we worry about life here on planet earth. Jesus gets right down to the issue that underlies a lot of what happens to us – our inborn desire to put ourselves first. It started with the first people created in Genesis, and it continues in each one of us today. When I stand before God, what do I do about all the lies I’ve told, all the times I’ve
said things I regret, all the times I’ve ignored a needy situation because it interrupted what I was doing, all the times I’ve lost my temper, all the times I’ve done something wrong knowing full well I was doing something wrong, all the things I’ve kept hidden and hope no one ever finds out, or all the times I’ve tried to justify what I’ve done ….. I haven’t even mentioned all the emotional and mental distress or issues caused by all that sinful stuff.

Oh, Jesus, thank you for coming to earth and dying for me! God saw all the brokenness and mess our sin created in this world, and he sent Jesus to deal with it all.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”. John 3: 16

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5: 8

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus …” Ephesians 2: 8 – 10

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8: 1

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Revelation 3: 20

Soak in those verses. God has created a way to deal with your sin, your root problem. If you’ve never received Jesus as your personal Saviour – if you have been hoping that God will accept you for all your attempts to be a good person – stop now and ask for his forgiveness and his solution.

Pray something like this: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to this earth to take the punishment for my sin. Thank you that Jesus rose from the dead to prove that your forgiveness is
real. Forgive me for all the wrong things I have thought and done. Come into my life and be my Saviour and friend. I need you in my life. Thank you that we can have a close relationship.

“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

Here is a song that reinforces what Mark said today:

Living Hope by Phil Wickham

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness, Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Who could imagine so great a mercy?
What heart could fathom such boundless grace?
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior, I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope…

May 11 – This Pandemic Is Just Too Hard

Romans 5: 1 – 5 NLT

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 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.

3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

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

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

But, it’s also hard to not be with family. I miss seeing my grandchildren who live across the city. I miss meeting my daughter for breakfast after the kids have gone to school, and just chatting and getting caught up on everyday stuff. My daughter who lives and works in England doesn’t think she’ll be home for August as she usually does – hard for both of us. Not to mention dinner out with friends, or coffee breaks with friends. Vacations? (We won’t mention that.)

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

What if you’re not working? Will I get my job back? Will my company go broke? How will I find another job when everyone else is doing the same thing? Financial stress is definitely difficult!

But the Bible says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

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

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

Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. Here is a song that captures how God helps us in times of trouble.

The Hurt and the Healer by Mercy Me

Why?
The question that is never far away
The healing doesn’t come from the explained
Jesus please don’t let this go in vain
You’re all I have
All that remains

So here I am
What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ll fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Breathe
Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through

So here I am
What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died

You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ll fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

It’s the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all our scars are understood
When mercy takes its rightful place
And all these questions fade away
When out of the weakness we must bow
And hear You say it’s over now

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ll fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
When the hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
When the hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here

May 8 – Jesus Sets an Example for Us

Mark 1: 21 – 45 NLT

“Jesus Casts Out an Evil Spirit

21 Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum. When the Sabbath day came, he went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike the teachers of religious law.

23 Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are— the Holy One of God!”

25 But Jesus reprimanded him. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. 26 At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him.

27 Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” 28 The news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee.

Jesus Heals Many People

29 After Jesus left the synagogue with James and John, they went to Simon and Andrew’s
home. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever. They told Jesus about her right away. 31 So he went to her bedside, took her by the hand, and helped her sit up. Then the fever left her, and she prepared a meal for them.

32 That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to
Jesus. 33 The whole town gathered at the door to watch. 34 So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak.

Jesus Preaches in Galilee

35 Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to
pray. 36 Later Simon and the others went out to find him. 37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

38 But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” 39 So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.

Jesus Heals a Man with Leprosy

40 A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said.

41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” 42 Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. 43 Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning: 44 “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy (Leviticus 14: 2 – 32). This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

45 But the man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone what had happened. As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn’t publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him.”

Mark begins with a declaration of who Jesus is – “the Messiah, the Son of God, the LORD”. Then he tells us that Jesus called some men to follow him – Andrew, Peter, James and John. Those four men, the first called disciples, followed Jesus immediately when called. Jesus could change a person’s life right on the spot. But now we see more. Jesus has incredible authority in many ways. Before we begin delving into these verses, do you believe that Jesus has incredible authority? Is he God incarnate? This is the Jesus you have a relationship with. He’s not just a good friend; he’s God incarnate living in you through the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus opens his public ministry, what does he do? He taught in the synagogue. “The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike the teachers of religious law.” (v. 22) I just can’t emphasize this enough. This is God in a human body teaching in the synagogue. What he says is truth! Those people in Jesus’ day realized something was very different. They said he taught with authority. They saw a difference from the usual rabbis; they likely realized there was something genuine about this Jesus. As we read through Mark, we need to comprehend that this is Jesus, God incarnate, speaking. We need to pay attention to what he says and what he does. This is not just any church leader. This is God.

What else does Jesus do? We read three accounts of specific people Jesus healed. There was a man possessed by an evil spirit in the synagogue; Jesus cast out that evil spirit. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law – healed her so completely, she was able to get right up and prepare dinner. He healed a man with leprosy. One thing that each of those people had in common was they were not important people in the community. A person with leprosy wasn’t allowed to be with the people. As a country under lock-down with a pandemic, we understand what social distancing is. A person with leprosy can pass along that disease to people he is in touch with, so they were banned from society. Women were very marginalized in a patriarchal society. They had few or no rights at all, yet Jesus chooses a woman to be one of his first public healings. A man controlled by a demon also wouldn’t be an outstanding citizen in the town.

There is a statement in this chapter that stands out to me. When the leper asks Jesus if he would consider healing him, Jesus reacted: “Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” (v. 41) Jesus has such compassion for people who are struggling. If you are struggling right now with this pandemic, know that Jesus cares for you. You are on the top of his ‘radar’. He is not primarily interested in the leaders, the famous and important people. He cares for those who feel ignored and unimportant, for those who are struggling. He cares for you!

Jesus actually healed many people. This created immense popularity. People were flooding from all over the country to seek Jesus’ help. “Large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn’t publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him.” (v. 45) Think of the pressure that would cause a person – not to ever be able to get away on your own. But Jesus does do something to keep him calm and balanced. “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” (v. 35) He is God in a human body, and he needs time to spend with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. If Jesus needed that time alone with the Trinity, how much more do we need that time to keep our balance and calm?

Jesus got up before the sun came up. When can you and I find some alone time? If you are the parent of young children, things usually get crazy early in the morning. Can you figure out how to get up earlier for time along with God? Or is there some other time in the day that works better – maybe nap time or after they go to bed at night? If you are actually working now, can you spend some time in your car on your way to work or in the parking lot before you head into work? If you’re a morning person, getting up earlier likely works; if you’re a night owl, later at night may work best for you. If you live alone, or are retired, find that time in the day you’re most likely free.

Just remember. Jesus, God incarnate, needed time to pray to keep balance in his life. We need it too!

May 7 – Special Divine Moments

Before we start today, I want you to know that I don’t dream up all the ideas written in the devotions on my own. I always read various commentaries to see what others have to say about the verses of each day. As we go through Mark, the primary resource I’m using is Francis Chan’s small group Bible study on Mark, available on RightNow Media.

Mark 1: 14 – 19 NLT

“Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

Jesus is announcing a totally new time has come. This time is different from any preceding time. The Greek word used for time in verse 14 is kairos. It means a unique special moment. The usual word for time referring to the time of day, week, month, etc. is chronos. Right from the onset, Jesus is saying things are different now – “the Kingdom of God is near”. My presence, God incarnate, starts a whole new time. Many of the Jewish people interpreted this to mean that Israel would become the major political presence in the world. Rome would be gone and Israel would reign. But notice that Jesus doesn’t mention anything political at all. He follows his declaration with “Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” This is about a personal change. God meeting you personally, changing you personally.

This moment recorded in Mark starts Jesus’ ministry on earth. But I want you to think about your own life right now. When was the moment you decided to follow Jesus? When was that moment when you realized you had messed things up – when you admitted you had sinned? That moment when you asked God to forgive you and asked him to be with you always. For some of you, you may remember a specific moment. For others you may remember a time of searching and finally realizing the truth over a period of time. But in either case, do you remember how that moment (or moments) changed your life?

For me, it was when I was 8 years old. I still remember that night when my dad tucked me into bed and I asked him how did you become a Christian. I had listened to our church service broadcast on the radio that night, and it must have got me started thinking. What I do remember is the conversation and prayer with my dad. Later in my first year of university, I started to challenge what I believed. Was it all a hoax that I had accepted just because of the family I was brought up in, and the church we attended? But again, it was a moment as I walked the streets in London one Sunday morning, once again deciding not to attend church, that I experienced a moment when I realized God was present.

If you’re brave, share that moment for you with the rest of us. Or share it with someone you know – a family member or friend – today. You never know how God can use moments like this.

“The First Disciples

16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon (aka Peter, so named after chapter 3) and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.”

Stop and try to visualize those scenes. In both cases two brothers are working in their fishing boats – repairing nets, and doing whatever needed to be done to get ready for the next fishing trip. Jesus comes along and says, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” They got right up and followed Jesus. They dumped what they were doing, and left with Jesus! What? Who would take care of their fishing business? In John and James case, it looked like dad and some hired men would carry on. I wonder what dad thought about that? Just think for a moment. If you were at work, and suddenly someone asked you to follow them, would you get up and leave? Especially when Jesus asked them to leave and “fish for people”. What did that mean? How would you do that? We now know that Jesus was calling them into ministry since they would be key leaders in the new church described in Acts. But did they know that? The fact that they got up, left their business, and followed Jesus is amazing!

Have you ever felt God’s call into some area of ministry? I don’t mean to become a preacher or Bible School professor or a missionary in a foreign country – or some other radical change from your present life. There are people who God calls for those positions – and it could be you. But, God also calls us to be his “ambassadors” in our workplace, in our neighbourhood, in our community volunteer work, etc.. You may be a greeter at the door of a church, or a worker in the church café getting coffee and treats ready for Sunday morning. You may be a Sunday School teacher or a helper in the nursery. You may be the person that the neighbourhood knows will help – to fix things, to shovel snow, whatever. You may be the person with the positive attitude at work, the person who will go the extra step when needed.

Sometimes in our basically comfortable Canadian society and economy, we may sense God asking us to do something, but … it may need some change and do we really want to do that? It might take some extra time and a need to reshuffle our schedule. It might take some extra money and mean a change in our budget. Peter, Andrew, James and John got right up and followed Jesus. They didn’t stop to think about who would take over the business. Are we that bold? Now in this pandemic time, we have time to think and plan changes. Do you sense God calling you to get involved in something? Be brave! Do you think you’ll regret following Jesus?

May 6 – A Beginning is Not Always Easy

Today we begin reading through the Gospel of Mark. I’ve been thinking and praying over the past couple of weeks trying to decide where to go after Philippians. During this pandemic, we need assurance that God is with us and that there is some purpose to this difficult time. I pray that Mark’s account of Jesus’ life will show us God in personal interaction with our broken world. God cares!

Mark 1: 1 – 13 (New Living Translation – NLT)

“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began 2 just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. (Malachi 3: 1)
3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” (Isaiah 40:3)


4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.

7 John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus

9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

12 The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, 13 where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.”

Mark begins with stating who Jesus is – “Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. He also says it is “the beginning of the gospel”. Gospel means good news. What is this good news? Jesus is God in the flesh, in a human body. Stop for a moment and think about that. God, Himself, came to this earth in a human body. How incredible is that!

Look at how Paul states the very same thing:

“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.” (Colossians 1: 15 – 17)

Sometimes I wonder if we don’t take Jesus for granted. Over our lifetime, from Sunday School on up, we read and hear the stories of Jesus, and he becomes almost like the hero of a fairy tale. Yet this is God, Himself. I wonder what it felt like for John to stand face-to-face with God incarnate – or for any of those people in the gospels. How in the world did they reject him, even decide to kill him?

John’s message was interesting. The Lord was coming. The word LORD is also translated Jehovah. John told the people to be baptized as a public declaration of their repentance for sin. “All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John.” There were crowds going to hear John’s message, and many were baptized. It appears there was unrest among the Jewish people for so many to go and listen to John. And as we read through the gospels, we discover much of the unrest was caused by the domination of the Roman Empire. It looks like they had preconceived notions of who the LORD was and what he would do.

Jesus began his ministry by being baptized. Jesus’ baptism wasn’t a confession of sin. It was a meeting between John, the prophet announcing Jesus’ coming and God’s announcement of Jesus’ identity, that the LORD had come. “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” At this moment, all three persons of the Trinity were present – Jesus in human form, God the Father who announced who Jesus was, and the Holy Spirit who came to be with Jesus. I wonder what it would have been like to be there in person that day.

Then the Holy Spirit took Jesus into the wilderness – a lonely desert place for 40 days. Mark doesn’t tell us the details of that time; we get the details in Matthew and Luke. Satan was determined to destroy Jesus’ mission right at the beginning, but Jesus turned Satan away on every attempt. It would have been an extremely difficult time going without food or water for 40 days with Satan trying every attraction he could to stop Jesus right at the start. The Holy Spirit was present and at the end of the time, angels cared for him. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It started with a horrible 40 days.

Can you think of a tough time in your life that was the beginning of God using you in some way? We are going through a tough time right now with the pandemic. It’s hard being socially isolated. Many of us had hobbies or volunteer work that we can’t do now. We can’t meet with family and friends for just a fun night. We can’t meet on Sunday morning at church. If a wedding was planned, it’s now on hold. If a loved one dies, there is no funeral. It’s hard!

But this can be the beginning! Start praying and listening to what God wants you to do. Has it crossed your mind in the past that volunteering at the church in some way or volunteering in the community would be good, but you’ve ignored it because you thought you were too busy? Maybe this down-time will reorient your priorities. Is there a relationship that needs repairing? Maybe this isolation has made you rethink what is important and you need to get in touch with that person. Maybe you need to rethink your job. Maybe you need to rethink your daily schedule – maybe you now realize you’ve been way too busy in the past. Maybe you’ve had some dreams about things you’ve wanted to do and put them off.

Pray and listen! What does God want you to do? Start thinking and planning about how you will change things once freedom comes again. God knows that good can come from difficult times.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 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.”

Romans 5: 3 – 5

Start dreaming! Start thinking!

May 5 – Be Strong and Courageous

Joshua 1 – New Living Translation (NLT)

“After the death of Moses the Lord’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelite’s, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. 3 I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you — 4 from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ 5 No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.

6 “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. 9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

These verses today are God’s charge to Joshua as the Israelite’s prepare to cross the Jordan River. Forty years before they ‘chickened out’. They were afraid they couldn’t win in any battles to make that land their own. Now God is telling Joshua how to be strong and courageous. This advice is still pertinent for us today as we face the fear the pandemic brings.

What lead up to this day described in Joshua 1? God had promised Abraham that he would be the founder of a great nation. In Genesis through Numbers, we read the story of Abraham’s son Isaac and then his two sons, Jacob and Esau. Then we read about Jacob’s 12 sons, who would one day be the beginning of the twelve tribes of Israel. One of those sons was Joseph who was sold into slavery and became the most powerful leader in Egypt under Pharaoh. During a wide-spread

famine, Joseph brought his brothers to Egypt. There the fledgling nation of Israel grew over the years and eventually became slaves to the following Pharaohs. Under Moses’ leadership they left Egypt and travelled to the land God had promised them. When they got near the land, they sent several spies to check things out. The report of most of the spies was that they could never conquer that land – too many strong men. Joshua and Caleb disagreed and said that God would help them gain what God had promised. The people chose to disregard Joshua and Caleb, and as a result they ended up wandering in the desert area for very close to 40 years. Moses continued to lead them and Joshua was under Moses’ training to become the next leader. The only two adult men who were present when the decision not to enter the promised land was made – who survived to go into the land – were Joshua and Caleb.

What does God promise in the face of fear?

“For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” (v. 5) This is a promise God gives to you and me today. Can you be sure of that?

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow— not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 35 – 39)

God will not abandon you or fail you!

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it.” (v. 7 – 8)

God asks us to follow his instructions. He wants a relationship with us where we are all on the same page. For us in New Testament times, following the rules is not the requirement to be accepted by God. How do I know that? “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2: 8 – 10) When we accept Christ’s death for us on the cross as the punishment for our sin, we become a child of God. Following the rules does not save us, but living the way God asks us to deepens our relationship with him.

So how do we know what God wants? “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. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 16 – 17)

That is what God told Joshua. “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it”. (v. 8) Does that mean we literally have to read our Bibles continually and think about it all day and night? No, but it does mean we take reading our Bibles seriously. It’s not a once on Sunday deal. For example, in a good marriage relationship, a husband and wife will figure out what the other person likes. When a decision needs to be made, you think about what your partner wants. How do you know what they want? You talk about it together. That is what reading your Bible and praying does. It puts you and God in a loving relationship. In that kind of relationship, you can be strong and courageous.

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (v.9) God asks you to trust him. He is with you at all times, even now during the pandemic. The future may look scary as it did for the Israelite’s as they faced battles in taking the promised land for themselves. But God promises he will be with us everywhere we go. So when the anxiety begins, take a deep breath and remember God’s promises to you.

For those who are the essential front-line workers, remember that God backs your need to be courageous. It must be frightening to know you are putting yourself right in the path of Covic-19 every day. Those of us who are staying at home worry about going out. You actually do that all the time! Know we are thankful for your courage. Know that God also encourages you to be courageous.

Be strong and courageous.

If you love music that reflects the thoughts in today’s devotions, here is Shoulders by for King and Country.

I look up to the mountains
Does my strength come from the mountains?

No, my strength comes from God
Who made heaven, and earth, and the mountains

When confusion’s my companion

And despair holds me for ransom I will feel no fear
I know that You are near

When I’m caught deep in the valley With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders Your shoulders

You mend what once was shattered

And You turn my tears to laughter

Your forgiveness is my fortress
Oh Your mercy is relentless

Refrain

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ’cause I know, ’cause I know it’s true

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ’cause I know, ’cause I know it’s true

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders Your shoulders

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ’cause I know, ’cause I know it’s true

Repeat

May 4 – Are You Generous?

Philippians 4: 15 – 23 (NLT)

“As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. 16 Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. 17 I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.

18 At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

20 Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen.

21 Give my greetings to each of God’s holy people—all who belong to Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send you their greetings.22 And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household.

23 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Today is our last day looking at the Book of Philippians. It’s a small book, but packed with great things to think about – right to the very end.

As Paul closes his letter to the Philippians, he thanks them for being so generous. It appears as though the church at Philippi is more generous than most of the other churches. In fact, while Paul was in Thessalonica, the Philippians sent practical support several times. You would think the believers at Thessalonica might have helped Paul out enough, but we can’t judge since that new church may have been too small or the people in the church could have been very poor. But one thing we do know is that Paul is very grateful for the Philippians’ support. He calls it “a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God”.

From the perspective of the people who are serving God, in what today we call “non- profit” vocations, support is so needed and appreciated. This would include missionaries like the Reaumes, the Potmas, and Becky Ferguson – all of whom LSA supports. These families have heard God calling them to work overseas among people who are struggling in Third World countries (Reaumes), and in a country that prides itself on being the most atheistic country in the world (Potmas and Becky). The fact that various churches and individuals support them makes their work possible. There are also organizations like Compassion International, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, etc. who need support to carry out the vision they have from God. And there are local organizations like Matthew House, the Downtown Windsor Community Collaborative, and so many others who serve those right on our doorstep who are in need in some way. These individuals and organizations are doing things we would like to do, but we all can’t actually do that work for whatever reason. God has called us to stay in Canada and live for Him in our workplaces and neighbourhoods.

I’m going to throw some ideas by you today for you to think about personally or to discuss with your partner. How can you support people who are working in some kind of place where they don’t have a salary from some company, but are where God has called them? Are there even other ways to be generous as well?

2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (NLT) In the Old Testament in the Mosaic Law, the Jewish people were asked to give 10% to support the priests from the tribe of Levi. That number is not carried over into the New Testament, although many churches advocate the idea of tithing 10%. The New Testament stresses generous and cheerful giving. What that amount should be is never given; it’s up to the individual believer to decide what generous giving looks like.

I know what it is like to live with a tight budget. For the twenty years while we raised our three girls, I was a stay-at-home mom. Living on one salary made staying within a budget very necessary. Then we also lived through the tumultuous times of frequent teacher strikes as the first contracts were negotiated – and every strike was a big drain on our finances. So, I am very aware that being generous for one person doesn’t mean the same amount of dollars as it does for someone else. However, this concept of being generous is definitely part of being a Christ follower. How can we not be generous when God was so generous with us – coming to live among us and to die for us? So, it’s up to each of us individually to figure out how generous we can be.

One of the places it’s important for us to support is our local church – whichever one we attend. All of the money we put aside for giving doesn’t necessarily have to go to the church, but we should be aware of the needs of our own church. We may also want to put aside money to sponsor a child with an organization like Compassion International. Or we may want to promise a particular missionary an amount of regular support.

During this pandemic time, think about what you can do. For those of us who continue to have a steady income, it is likely we are not spending as much money now. Just think – how much money are you saving on not purchasing gas for your vehicles? Perhaps we could use those savings to help someone else.

You may want to donate some money to support a particular fundraiser that comes to your attention. You may hear about a particular situation of a family that is facing a tough time, and decide to cut back in some area so you can help that family. There are organizations who are delivering goods and meals to people isolated in their home; you can volunteer to be the driver. Call organizations that you are interested in, and ask them if there is anything you can do to help. There are lots of ways to be generous with our money and time. What we have to do is be intentional about budgeting for that or agreeing to sacrifice for others. And we know that God sees that sacrifice as something He loves dearly.

So today, think about how generous you are. Can you make improvements, and if so, think about the areas where you could make a contribution – something that excites you, something that God’s Spirit puts in your mind. Make this a fun discussion with your family, and start a new adventure in your life with God.

May 1 – Content or Discontent?

Philippians 4: 10 – 14 (NLT)

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.”

The first phrase that jumps out at me is, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have”. Wouldn’t that be great if we all could say that? Are you content with the house you currently live in? Are you content with your weight, your height, your appearance? Are you content with the money you have available? Are you content with the amount of help your spouse gives you with the household and children? Are you generally happy with the life you are living now – especially right now in the spring of 2020? Sometimes I wonder if we lived in some remote Third World area, would we be content there? Or is discontent part of the human condition?

Contentment or discontentment? Those two ideas both have their place in life. Discontentment is sometimes the motive for improving things. Complete contentment might lead to a very complacent life with little accomplished. I think there has to be a balance between the two with contentment taking the majority place. If you look at Paul’s life, he certainly never sat still for long. He was eager to spread the Gospel to the known world, and he went through incredible difficulties doing that. He certainly wasn’t a person to sit back and say, “This is getting too hard so I’ll be content with what we’ve accomplished and quit”.

Reread those words that Paul wrote.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.”

I think he was talking about being content with having things, or not having things. He had a mission in life, and the things around him took second place. He was very grateful for the help the Philippians sent. He’s not trying to live a life without things. There are some groups that think living an austere life is what God wants. Paul said he was quite happy to have lots of good things if that is what came his way.

If I apply that to my life, I start to think about what motivates me? What is my passion in life at this point? (I think our goals can change at various times in our lives.) Goals/passions that are God-inspired are what should concern us the most, not the things we own. And that is “the rub” in our culture, because what we own dominates us so much. Advertising is in our faces (even with stores/businesses closed during the pandemic) constantly reminding us of what we need – oops, what we would like.

There is another verse that jumps out at me as well. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength”. I think that verse is sometimes misused. On a North Point video, Andy Stanley talks about the misuse of this verse as a picture of a school marching band and a football team with that verse on a banner held by cheerleaders is being waved in the background. This verse isn’t about the fact that God is going to help us win at whatever we are trying to do. Paul uses this verse as the reason he can live with whatever comes his way. And that I think is the real meaning in this verse. It’s hard to live without things, to experience financial stress. It can even be hard to live with too much. (really?) Jesus mentioned that when he was talking to the rich young ruler who decided he couldn’t follow Christ because he would have to leave his stuff behind. Too much can ruin our purpose in life if we get too focused on that.

Our real challenge is to ask God what He wants us to do, what He wants us to focus on right now. And then to ask Him for the strength to keep that focus and not get sidetracked by all the things we wish we had. Ahh, “to be content with whatever I have”.

April 30 – What does Jesus Have to Say about Worrying?

As you know, I like to vary our reading through a book of the Bible with a topic related to our present circumstances. The past two days have certainly been applicable to the Covid-19 era. I don’t want to wear a topic out, but a couple of other scripture passages keep popping into my mind, and so after seesawing between continuing with the next verses in Philippians and looking at these other verses, I decided to stick with the worrying topic for one more day.

So what does Jesus have to say about worrying? Here’s what He had to say in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6: 25 – 34 (NLT)

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today”.

The past two days, I’ve been talking about a general sense of anxiety that doesn’t necessarily have a definite root cause. What I’ve said before can be applied to a specific situation, but these verses today are talking about worrying about a situation or problem that is right in our face. Some of us are facing financial hardship. Some of us are having trouble with lives that are so boring and stifling being at home all the time. Or you may be facing a health crisis or a family member with mental health issues. Or you have a difficult marriage situation. There are many specific problems that can be the source of anxiety and worry. Generally, you cope with life just fine with a sense of humour, but this particular problem seems overwhelming.

Jesus’ advice is simple. Realize that your Heavenly Father knows what you need and He will supply it. Jesus tells us to focus on living well and how God wants us to live, and then the other pieces will fall into place. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Jesus goes on to give the proof for His advice. If God takes care of the birds and makes sure the flowers are uniquely beautiful, then He definitely will take care of His children. I don’t think this advice means that whenever we face a problem that we just sit back and do nothing. We are not robots controlled by God. We are His children created in His image, so we have intelligence and creativity and hundreds of other wonderful assets and skills. So, we can figure out things we can do even though we’re at home. We can seek medical or psychological help. But the bottom line is that we leave the whole situation and all its worrying to God. We consciously hand the problems over to Him and ask His help in figuring out what to do.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” I love that statement. My husband loved to tease me by telling me that worrying works. He loved to remind me that all the things I worry about haven’t happened, and therefore, my worrying has been effective. But in reality, all my worrying has only made life miserable for me and for my family who have to put up with my irritability, and it has solved nothing. Jesus is totally right! “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

There’s another part of the Bible that also speaks about peace. Jesus is talking with His disciples before His crucifixion and ascension to Heaven. He wants to prepare them for the big changes ahead. In a way, He is restating what He said in Matthew when He said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need”. There is a destination ahead that makes all our worrying about this life here on earth get put into perspective. And Jesus also tells His followers that He won’t be leaving them alone even though He won’t be here bodily. As I end today’s devotions, I want you to read and absorb these verses about peace.

John 14: 1 – 3 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”

John 14: 26 – 27 “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. 27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid”

April 29 – Another Day in Social Isolation – and I Still Need Peace

Philippians 4: 8 – 9 (NLT)

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

Notice the ending to these verses – “Then the God of peace will be with you”. These verses actually belong with the ones we looked at yesterday. So, I’m going to have you read those verses again, just to refresh your memory. I also want you to notice how much the idea that peace originates with God is a basic foundation.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 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”. (verses 6 and 7)

In 4 verses, God’s peace is written 3 times – “you will experience God’s peace”; “His peace will guard your hearts and minds”; “the God of peace will be with you”. For those of us who struggle with worry and anxiety, these words bring a promise – an absolutely wonderful promise. And these 4 verses also bring us concrete ways to deal with worry. Start to pray about everything, no matter how trivial, so that we create a pattern in our everyday lives of talking to God. Talk to God openly about what we need. Also, thank God for all He has done in the past; those memories give us confidence moving forward.

Today we’ll look at the fourth practical way to deal with worry – focus on positive things. “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.

Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. I have always loved these verses; I marked them in my Bible when I was a teenager. It’s so easy to get immersed in negative things. The newspapers and TV news broadcasts are mostly about bad events happening in the world. If you listen in on gossip at work, it’s often about things others have done wrong, or complaints about the workplace. Then there are the folks in your life who tend to see all life as a glass half empty. At home, as parents, we get caught up in the crazy stuff our kids do – the messes they create, their disobedience, their disregard for consequences and as a result, the mistakes they make. All the chaos that children bring can so easily outweigh the joy they bring – you know that joy you experience when you check on them sleeping angelically as you head off to bed?

But God asks us to focus instead on the good things in life. I think that means in our thought life, but also in our everyday life. When I was going for counselling during my panic attack days, my counsellor told me that it’s impossible to think about two things at once. I remember at the time, trying my best to disprove what he said, but realized he was right. It was during that time that I started to figure out how to replace worry and anxiety with a more positive outlook. So, I thought I’d share some of the practical things I learned back then, and maybe that will get you thinking about how you can do the same.

Memorizing scripture is a fantastic way of fighting depression and anxiety. Memorize verses that speak to your heart personally. Another verse that I love is “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). That verse is on my bedroom wall at the foot of my bed. There are tons of comforting verses in the Bible; write/print them out and post them in places where you will see them frequently.

When you find yourself worrying way too much, write your worries down on a paper. It’s amazing what actually having to put them into words does for you. Then refute your worries on that same paper. Write what you know to be actually real. Most of our worries are about what if … . They may be possibilities, but are not likely to happen. During my major panic days, I had a small item that I carried around from room to room to remind me that with God’s help I could survive this. It was a small vase with artificial daffodils – for me a sign of spring and a new start. It wasn’t as obvious as a verse tacked somewhere in the room, but I would look at it and think about a comforting verse or say a prayer asking God to help me.

Another way of reducing worry is to get involved in something that you have to think about, but is not stressful. My big projects during those days were artsy – counted cross-stitch and needlepoint. It’s really hard to stay focused on worries when you are counting which squares you need to do in one colour, and figuring out which colour is required next. The bonus to all that are some really nice pieces I framed and still have hanging in my home. So find something you enjoy, and when your worries are making your stomach churn, turn to that activity. It may be working out, doing yard work, fixing something, chatting with a friend on social media – whatever does the trick for you.

Doing something for someone else also helps reduce your own anxiety, especially in these days of Covid-19. Can you call someone you know lives alone and chat with them for awhile? Can you send a card – or even make one yourself – to make someone’s day better? Can you drop off a bag of candy, some flowers, or some store baked goods on someone’s porch ? Is there some gardening or planting you could do for an elderly neighbour – if you’re outside and they’re inside or on their porch, you are still far enough away.

All those things are positive things that help keep us calmer. But really the major thing is developing a faith and trust in our Heavenly Father. During moments of anxiety, there is nothing like talking with God and telling Him all about it. Go looking for verses of strength and comfort in your Bible – just leave that Bible open on your kitchen counter, on your desk, or on your dresser – wherever there is a space to put a book. Then when you have a rare free moment, you can go looking for those verses.

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

April 28 – Panic Attack

Philippians 4: 6 – 7

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 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”.

These verses smack me over the head every time I read them. I’ve admitted before that I tend to be an anxious person. When I was a young mom, I went through a period of time after the birth of my daughters where I was very anxious and experienced panic attacks. Perhaps that was tied to some kind of postpartum depression – it was too long ago to know if hormones had anything to do with it or not. But the reality is that I worry way too much. From my own experience dealing with anxiety, and from some of the phrases in these verses, I think there is a way to deal with worry.

“Don’t worry about anything” is a reminder that there are no exceptions to this worry thing. So, you can’t think – don’t worry about small things, but it’s OK to worry about big things – that is not what this verse says. In Philippians 2, we looked at setting goals in our personal spiritual lives. If you are a worrier, I think trying to cut down on worrying is a legitimate goal. It requires you to be very intentional about identifying the worry or the signs of worrying and to make an effort to deal with it. In this Coronavirus time, I suspect that worrying has become a major pastime for many of us. There are so many things up in the air that we can’t control – our ability to meet with people, our income, our health, etc. We need to remember that God is very willing to help us with this. The Holy Spirit lives within us; God isn’t leaving us alone in this venture.

“Pray about everything” is a first step in the process. We tend to pray when things start becoming overwhelming, when we feel like we’re in a scary place. But think about praying over little things. When you get up in the morning, ask God to show you something He wants you to do today, some person He wants you to encourage. When you are starting to lose your temper with your stubborn 2 year old, pray for patience. My husband was one of the calmest people I know (I think that’s why God brought him into my life), and I can remember so vividly one time many years ago when I was having a fit about something or another, and he very kindly – and I don’t think he meant it as any reprimand or comment on my behaviour at the time – said, “Audrey, pray about it. I pray all the time even to find my car keys in the morning”. He was not a morning person at all, so I get it that he needed to pray about finding his car keys. But what struck me at the time was his statement about praying about little things all the time. Since then, I’ve come to realize that when I get used to talking with God about all sorts of things during my day, it calms me down. You try it. Start intentionally talking to God about little things throughout your day.

“Tell God what you need” is another good piece of advice from God’s Word. Sometimes I think we should sort out what we need from what we want. But whatever … telling God what we need puts what is bothering us right out in the open. I think that’s why I like praying out loud. I can’t get fuzzy when I actually say the words. It clarifies to me what I’m asking for. Sometimes prayer is actually asking God to show us what we need. Admit what is bothering us, and then ask God what we need to move forward on that situation. These conversations with God about what we need is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to us and for us to once again admit that God is in control and reinforce our dependence on Him. Both spiritually and psychologically, this is a good way of dealing with worry.

“Thank Him for all He has done”. I love the fact that the Bible agrees with psychology in how to deal with life. Or maybe I should say, psychologists have discovered that the Bible had it right all along. When we take our focus off our problems and refocus on the good things God has given us, that definitely cuts down the anxiety. This is something over the years that I have learned to do when I feel overwhelmed. In fact, I’ve learned to follow the three steps in the order the verses state them: 1. turn to God with the problem no matter how small, 2. tell God what I think I need and/or ask God what I need, and 3. then start thinking about and thanking God for all the wonderful things He has given me in the past. Remembering how God has helped us in the past calms us down in the present.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” All I can say is that statement is true. I know I’m a bit of a control freak. I like things organized and planned out well. I like to have all the bases covered, and the outcomes as secure as they can be. Being spontaneous is fun, but it’s not my first choice for life by any means. Those qualities are actually good ones, especially if you are a leader in any way – like being a teacher. However, those same qualities can be the cause for anxiety, because when things seem to be getting out of control, panic sets in. So because of my own panic tendencies, I can say that God’s peace can arrive in ways we don’t understand or even expect.

I hope my story will encourage you that there is peace available. Over the years of being a teacher, being a mom, and dealing with my husband’s serious health issues, I have experienced times of peace that were divine moments in my life – times when I should have fallen apart but instead I was calm and aware of God’s presence with me. Looking back now, I’m glad I experienced that panic and anxiety as a young mom (I sure didn’t at the time), but that’s when I started my lifetime goal of learning to depend on God. That time was the first time in my life where I couldn’t figure out some way to fix things myself, and I’m glad I had to learn early in life that I wasn’t in control. That was when I started to apply these verses in Philippians personally. Now, years later, when things start to go crazy, and I turn those events over to God with thanks for all He has done for me in the past, I feel a sense of peace and a relaxation of tension in my body almost at once. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to ask for it again in another hour or so, but I now realize that God does bring peace.

“His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”. I believe that the last phrase “as you live in Christ Jesus” is the key to God’s peace. Intentionally living each and every day asking God to guide you, and doing your best with His help to live in a way that honours Him, puts you on a learning path that leads to peace. God will guard your heart and mind, but you have to cooperate with Him in this process. You may in a moment of desperation plead with God to give you peace, and He will. But to experience peace on a daily basis, you need to “live in Christ Jesus” or live putting Him as a priority in your life.

I am the first to confess that I haven’t always lived up to those expectations myself. Especially when life seems to be going along just fine, it’s so easy to just float along with my personal relationship with God on the back burner. I go to church and try to be a good person as a matter of course, but down deep I know that I’m taking charge, not turning to God on everyday matters. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why God has allowed several crisis situations to remind me that I’m not in control – you know the way you do with your children when they are acting silly? You do something to bring them back to reality. I can say that God has brought a peace to my life that

I don’t understand but that I treasure immensely, and my prayer is that you will experience that as well as you face life.

April 27 – You are Driving Me Crazy!

Philippians 4: 1 – 5 (NLT)

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

2 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. 3 And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.

4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon”.

When you read the title of today’s devotions and then read the verses from Philippians 4, did anyone in your own world come to mind? Conflict between people is a given, but how, as Christians, are we supposed to deal with it? In these verses, Paul pleads with two women to settle their differences, and if necessary, accept help from others in the church.

Paul was no stranger to conflict. Paul went on his first missionary journey with Barnabas and a young man, John Mark. Not too long into the journey, John Mark decided to leave and head home; we don’t know the reason for his departure. When it came time for the second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along again – give him another chance. Paul disagreed, and as a result, Paul and Barnabas separated and Barnabas went on a journey with John Mark and Paul headed out with Silas. That must have been some disagreement since Paul and Barnabas had become close friends shortly after Paul’s conversion. After Paul became a Christian, he went to Jerusalem, but the Christians there were frightened of him and didn’t trust him. It was Barnabas who stood up for him and convinced the church to accept Paul. So, for them to argue and separate over whether John Mark could be trusted enough to be given a second chance, must have been an interesting discussion, to say the least. Did they ever get back together again? Yes, they did. And in some of Paul’s epistles, Paul recommends John Mark to the believers. Many scholars think that it was John Mark who would later write the Gospel of Mark. So, this conflict was resolved well.

The Bible tells us to love one another, and that our love for each other as Christians is a sign to the secular world that our faith is the “real deal”. John 13: 34 – 35 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.” That’s about as clear as one can get, but how do I put it into practice? Can I have disagreements with other Christians? If so, how do I handle that? What if another Christian really “bugs me”? What am I supposed to do about that? Can I cut someone out of my life if we can’t get along? At what point do I put my own sanity and peace first?

Paul gives us some suggestions about resolving conflict in these verses. First of all, the two people that Paul is addressing are not fringe members of the church, people who don’t really make that much difference in the church. Paul mentions that they have both worked hard with him in “telling others the Good News”; they “worked along with Clement and the rest of my co- workers”. So, the fact that they are not getting along has an impact on the church; otherwise, I doubt Paul would have named them.

He starts with “because you belong to the Lord”. That is an overriding principle in the Christian life. Our commitment to God is the top priority in how we deal with everything. What would God want us to do? What has He said in the Bible? What example did Jesus give us to follow? Here are some really blunt statements about getting along with each other.

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.11 But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.” (1 John 2: 9, 10 NLT)

“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. … 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4: 26, 27, 32 NLT)

God is telling us that we need to be kind to each other. Remember chapter 2 of Philippians, especially the day I asked you to list the characteristics of Christ followers that Paul outlined in the whole chapter? Paul emphasizes in that chapter that we are to be loving to each other, and to understand that others can be better than ourselves. We are not to be taken with impressing others and building up our own reputation. We are to respect each other. If we take this Scripture seriously, when we are in conflict with someone, especially someone in the church, we are to admit that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and do our best to resolve the issue.

Paul also asks “his true partner” to help in resolving the issue. We don’t know who that partner was – perhaps it was Timothy. But, here is another suggestion about settling differences. We need to be willing to let another mature Christian help us to figure out a solution. It means we need to be willing to listen to that third party, to let someone else help us, to admit we are not always right.

Finally, Paul brings us back to the focus of our lives. “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”. (verses 4,5) God has brought so much joy to our lives as His children. We need to remember that when we get caught up in our own opinions. Jesus is coming soon. If Jesus came back today, would that issue you’re so upset about matter?

Today’s verses are a real challenge to me and to all of us. What kind of example of God’s love am I setting to those around me?