June 15 – Jeremiah: The Definition of Success

As a missionary, I know that often the fruit we see is the work of those who have come before us. I also know that much of what we do in outreach and relationship building will be left for others to reap. The Bible even tells us this will be so: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:6-9) and, “Thus the saying, ‘One sows, and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.” (John 4:37,38)

These verses are a comfort and a reminder to all of us, that a bigger plan is at work, and what we are doing in our daily lives contributes to that plan. But it is the fruit we see that really makes us feel like we are being successful in our Christian walk. As people begin to trust in Christ, as churches are planted, and Bible studies grow in number our efforts are validated. But is this a true measure of Biblical success?

Probably the most common thing I hear in ministry is people who are hurting because they don’t feel good enough or special enough to be destined to do ‘great things for God.’ They plug away alongside the local church but don’t really feel like what they do makes a real difference for God. We all do it whether we mean to or not. We feel like failures when we sow but never reap. We feel inadequate because we don’t sow as well as someone else. We hold a high standard to ourselves, and a higher one to those in ‘full time ministry.’ Pastor’s kids are expected to not struggle with the same teenage issues as ‘normal’ teens. Missionaries are put on pedestals and apparently spend all their money on purchases at the Christian Bookstore, or in giving back to the poor. And a television preacher is deemed worthy because of the number of his followers and not by the content of his message. We set up pedestals and beat up our own feeble efforts at not reaching a higher standard.

I am here to tell you that by the standard we judge ourselves, poor Jeremiah failed horrifically. Did you know he preached his whole life long and not one life was changed? Even worse, not one person even listened! He lived during and after the reign of King Josiah, and despite all the outward reforms, not one heart did Jeremiah convert. In fact, he was even left behind after God’s chosen people were carried away into exile and he spent the remainder of his life mourning over the wasteland of Israel and the destruction of the temple, still trying to plant hope. He didn’t even go with them to keep preaching. What a waste of time! What a waste of resources! What a waste of a life! OR was it??

What is Biblical success? This is an important question in reference to the life of Jeremiah. This is an important question in reference to the life of you and me. The truth is, if Jeremiah wasn’t known as a major prophet, I’m not sure I would think that highly of what he ‘chose’ to do with his life.

But God’s standard is never man’s standard. We have already seen from yesterday’s devotion that Jeremiah was chosen before his birth, and he walked in obedience to God and with the heart of God. Is that Biblical success? To do as you are told? To love as God Himself loves?

Joshua 1:8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

God wrote that.

1 Kings 2:3 And observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.

God wrote that.

And in talking to King David God says: Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the LORD gave Moses for Israel. (1 Chron. 22:13)

It appears that to God, success is not in results and numbers and how great we do God’s job for Him. Success lay, rather, in simply knowing His Word and walking in it. Now it is important to note here that the Pharisees were really good at the knowing part. They knew the law and kept it to the letter. But walking in His ways meant being touched and filled by the Spirit of God. It is the law written on a heart of flesh, not stone. The fruit of evangelism is one fruit; the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is another.

Our efforts to plant the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit are never wasted. Whether it is preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ or doing a good deed to show the love of God in action, we have obeyed. The goal of course is repentant hearts, coming one step closer to truly understanding the love of the Father, and even salvation. But that isn’t the promise. The promise is simply, “I, God, created and know you.” And the response needs to be, “Here I am, send me.”

Jeremiah says, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, I do not know how to speak. I am only a child.” His Father and God responds, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” It is obedience in relationship.

I remember leaving for the mission field with a 4 and 2-year-old and already feeling like a failure because I had given birth in a hospital and not in some mud hut in the bush. But by the Biblical definition, I was already successful before I even stepped off of the plane. I had read God’s Word. I had obeyed where He had called. I was a child that didn’t even know how to speak but was willing to say whatever He commanded me, because of my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

If Jeremiah was successful based on his obedience and trust in God, don’t let yourself be swayed by the lack of lustre for the job God has for you. It is God who lays out the task. It is in knowing Him that we are to trust and to obey. And therein lies Biblical success.

June 14 – Jeremiah: The God who Knows

Before we start the devotions today, I want to thank all of you who posted the verse last Thursday that helps you face difficult times. It was uplifting to read through those verses and be reassured of God’s strength and love. – Audrey

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’” Jer.1:4,5

Before Jeremiah was even formed in the womb, God knew who he would be. God set him apart, laid out his job description and really all that was left was for Jeremiah to be conceived, born and to obey. It sounds like the introduction to someone destined to be great! God pre-determined and carefully chose the perfect one for this position. He knows them and chooses them, and the path is waiting and ready. In reality Jeremiah would be known as the weeping prophet. In reality, he was called by God to preach to the Israelites and to warn them that their sins would be their ruin. He would spend his entire life imploring them to turn from their ways but was forewarned by God that his sermons would fall on deaf ears and not one would reform because of his ministry. NOT ONE person would listen or change. (Jeremiah 25:3) His dying years would be spent reflecting and mourning over the desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of their beloved temple.

The weeping prophet—this makes my heart sad.

But what is God really saying here in reference to Jeremiah? I think the lesson is twofold. Firstly, obedience doesn’t come easily. Jeremiah is asked to obey in a life-long task that God has for him. Jeremiah’s life would consist of loneliness, being in the stocks, prison, chains, thrown into a cistern, being beaten and zero numbers to report to the sending mission committee. God does not promise him ease. He does not promise him fruit. He does not promise acceptance. He does promise him possible fear, hunger, war, rejection and hardship. But what does Jeremiah do? He obeys.

The second lesson is the ‘condition of the heart’ to go with that outward obedience. Jeremiah’s heart breaks for the people of Israel and he weeps. He weeps because they do not listen. He weeps because they do not change. He weeps because they will not choose God and all that He has planned for them over their own selfish ways and desires. He weeps because He knows the God that knows him. He does weep for the sadness of his calling. He does weep for loneliness and a break from the never-ending depressing results. But mostly he weeps because he has God’s heart for a lost and misguided people. I find it ironic that Jeremiah weeps for a people that do not trust their God and all the good He wants to rain down on them, and yet Jeremiah trusts this same God enough that he dedicates his whole life to a miserable calling.

I am so grateful to God for the book of Jeremiah and its counterpart Lamentations because even when things are toughest and we feel so inadequate or we feel like what we have to contribute doesn’t count, we can read and see that is never the case.

God responds to Jeremiah in these words: “The LORD reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant…Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (Jeremiah 1:9,10,17-19)

Obedience flows from a heart that trusts God. And a soft and weeping heart flows from a relationship that loves people as God loves them. How do we do this? Well, you are doing it now. The first step is knowing Him, and we do that by reading His word. I pray He blesses you richly as you seek to know the One who loves you and knew you even before you were born.

June 11 – Planting and Harvesting

Luke 8: 1 – 18 NLT

“Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.”

(Just a quick note about the three women mentioned here. Mary Magdalene was healed from demon possession. We see her again at Jesus’ resurrection when he meets her in the garden. Joanna is also mentioned as one of the women who finds the empty tom. Susanna is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Those three were not the only women who followed Jesus and his disciples, just the only ones named. Jesus allowed these women to help him and the disciples with their own resources, humble way of doing ministry.)

Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed

One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets (mysteries) of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand.’ (Isaiah 6: 9)

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.”

Parable of the Lamp

16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 17 For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.

18 “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”

The True Family of Jesus

19 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they couldn’t get to him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to see you.” 21 Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”

Jesus is now being followed by crowds of people. When his mother and brothers came to talk with him, they couldn’t even get close. That’s a huge crowd! Why were so many people following him around? The parable Jesus told about the farmer scattering seed gives us an idea. Many people were there to see this famous person they had heard about. Some perhaps hoped he could give them something – they had heard about his miracles. Some were likely skeptics. Not everyone was eager to hear and follow Jesus with their whole being.

Farmers back then didn’t have the machinery we have now. They didn’t plow their fields with the huge furrows we see in the fields we drive by. Charles Swindoll in his commentary on Luke says: “In the ancient Near East, farmers prepared a field by plowing just before the rainy season to loosen the soil and break up clods. Wooden plows dug shallow furrows, merely scratching the surface. After this, clumps could be broken up and the surface leveled with a hoe or, if it was a large field, by dragging a comb-like harrow over the surface. Sowing grain consisted of walking through the field, scooping a handful of seed from a sack hanging over the shoulder, and then throwing the seed in wide arcs. Afterward, the seed would be covered by smoothing the soil, either by hand or by another implement’. (page 213)

Some of the seed would fall on the pathways without a chance of germinating. There are people who don’t want anything to do with any religion – or people who are very against the Christian faith. Some people hear about Jesus, perhaps attend church for a bit, but then decide it’s not for them. Some might decide that faith is a good thing, but there is so much else in life that’s more important. Maybe they have problems that seem overwhelming (“the cares of life”) or they focus more on getting ahead in life (“riches and pleasures of this life”). For some people, their faith in God becomes the focal point of their lives and those people see a wonderful result.

That would describe the people listening to Jesus back then, and the people who live with us today. When Jesus told this parable, he wasn’t trying to be mysterious so the people in that crowd wouldn’t have any idea of what was going on. He knew many in the crowd weren’t really genuine in why they were there. He goes on to say you never hide a light. You don’t have a light that you cover with something or put under a bed. For those who were truly seeking a Messiah who would save them – not from Rome – but from their own sinful behaviour, they would see Jesus. They would follow him sincerely, just as the disciples did. They would know “everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all” They didn’t have to be one of the 12 disciples, they didn’t have to be one of Jesus’ family. “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”

So how does that apply to us today? When we talk about our faith to others, some will just tell us they couldn’t care less. Some might listen and attend church with us a couple of times, but then decide it’s not for them. Some might decide that attending church is a good thing, but their focus is not really on faith in Jesus, but rather lots of other things that seem more important. But should that stop us from sharing our faith with others? No. We don’t know the results with them, but we ourselves with grow in our relationship with God. And that seed that was scattered in the parable did bring in a big harvest. Sharing is important!

Here’s a challenge for you this week. Be brave. Mention your faith to someone. Once we get back to meeting in person, invite someone to come to church with you. If you’re like me, you likely cringe at talking about your faith with someone you work with, or who is a neighbour. But if the seed isn’t scattered at all? Then what?

Our song for today is Until the Whole World Hears by Casting Crowns

June 10 – Facing a Tough Day?

Isaiah 40: 28 – 31 NLT

“Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.”

Do you find there are days when you feel depressed and just tired of the restrictions that this pandemic has brought? I know that hope is hovering on the horizon as the number of fully vaccinated people rises. But I still feel sad listening to my grand kids upset about not being at school. I appreciate the ability of talking to family online, but I want to be with them in person. For someone who used to avoid malls, I’d even like to just browse through stores and check out things for my house, new styles of clothes, etc. I suspect most of you understand these feelings of sadness, boredom, anxiety, uneasiness. So how does one cope with all this disappointment?

These verses from Isaiah are encouraging for days like that. Just who is our Heavenly Father? He is “the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary.” Your Father is in complete control. He is never asleep and unaware of what is happening to you. He knows completely, totally what you are going through. “No one can measure the depths of his understanding.” Did you get that? He understands exactly how you feel. In fact, his understanding is beyond anything we can comprehend.

He knows that even young people “will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion”. He knows that people of all ages will struggle. He knows that many as a result of the restriction of this pandemic are struggling with mental health issues. And what is your Father able to do? “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless”.

On these days when I am fed up, angry, sad … I can spend some time with my Heavenly Father. For me, the daily walks around the trails of Aspen Pond are the moments when I just talk with Him. The moments when we discuss my feelings and discouragement, the moments when I ask Him to guide my day and bring to my mind things He’d like me to do. And I can remember:

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

I have a challenge for you today. Would you post the verse(s) that you have found comforting when you need reassurance? You don’t have to say anything about them – just post them. For someone who is reading today’s devotions, seeing all those verses might be the comfort they need. God will use what you post.

Our song for today is Strength of My Life by Vertical Worship

June 9 – What Am I Really Like?

Luke 7: 36 – 50 NLT

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, cancelling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”

50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Who do you think you identify with the most – Simon the Pharisee or the “immoral woman”? I suspect if I could ask you in person, you would have trouble answering. You wouldn’t want to identify with a religious, legalistic person, but you also wouldn’t want to identify with a person known for sinful behaviour. But if we get right down to it, I suspect we likely consider ourselves as good people, people who do our best to live well. And we also look at some other people who we know have issues with alcohol, or who even live in and out of jail as a result of petty crimes, as people who are not as good as us.

Simon was a Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner likely along with other Pharisees. We don’t know if Simon was looking for an opportunity to catch Jesus with some statement considered dreadful, or if he was actually interested in this new popular “rabbi-like” person. But we do know he was upset with this woman who snuck into the dinner and began weeping at Jesus’ feet. Just stop for a moment and put yourself at that dinner. You are hosting some reputable people from Windsor at your backyard BBQ, and a homeless man shows up, runs over, and hugs one of your guests. Wouldn’t you be a little alarmed?

Yet, despite this alarming intrusion, this irreputable woman was the one that Jesus treasured. This woman kneels at Jesus’ feet, washes them with her tears, wipes them with her hair, and then anoints them with extremely costly perfume. After telling a story about two people who were forgiven debts – one a very large debt and the other a smaller debt – Jesus mentions that Simon hadn’t arranged to have his feet washed and dried. That was a usual custom supplied by the host’s servants. Nor was he anointed with olive oil, another custom of the day. Why?

Obviously, Simon didn’t love Jesus all that much. He was interested and willing to invite him for dinner, but Jesus wasn’t someone he felt indebted to at all. The woman, however, knew what a mess she had made of her life and was so grateful for Jesus’ love and care.

This makes me stop and think and go back to the question I first asked. Who do you identify with the most – Simon or the woman? It’s so easy if you’ve been a church-goer for most of your life to forget how much Jesus has forgiven you. Deep down in your mind, you think you’ve followed Jesus fairly well, doing your best to live in an honest, caring way, serving in the church, etc. You would likely avoid downtown Windsor, especially at night, when you are more apt to run into homeless people. There are some neighbourhoods you wouldn’t visit because you know they are rather run-down. I say those things, because I know they reflect me. This story in Luke hits home if I’m willing to admit it.

As Christ-followers, we need to admit we are sinful – in the past and in the present.  “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3: 23) That is something we need to remember. Serving God needs to come from our thankfulness and love for what Jesus has done for us – not from a sense of feeling we are doing well these days.

Heavenly Father, forgive me for my pride. Help me to serve you from the bottom of my heart, from my awareness of how much you have loved and forgiven me.

Our song for today is Lay Down My Pride by Jeremy Camp

June 8 – Doubt?

Luke 7: 18 – 35 NLT

“The disciples of John the Baptist told John about everything Jesus was doing. So John called for two of his disciples, 19 and he sent them to the Lord to ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

20 John’s two disciples found Jesus and said to him, “John the Baptist sent us to ask, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’”

21 At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind. 22 Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” 23 And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me. (or are not offended by me)”

24 After John’s disciples left, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? 25 Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people who wear beautiful clothes and live in luxury are found in palaces. 26 Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 27 John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,

‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    and he will prepare your way before you.’ (Malachi 3: 1)

28 I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!”

29 When they heard this, all the people—even the tax collectors—agreed that God’s way was right, (or praised God for his justice) for they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan for them, for they had refused John’s baptism.

31 “To what can I compare the people of this generation?” Jesus asked. “How can I describe them? 32 They are like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends,

‘We played wedding songs,
    and you didn’t dance,
so we played funeral songs,
    and you didn’t weep.’

33 For John the Baptist didn’t spend his time eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ 35 But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it.”

I suspect that many of you have had moments of doubt, wondering whether the Bible was true, whether God really cared about the details of your life. I know I have. Sometimes when I think of all the scientific discoveries we’ve made in the last 50 years, I wonder if there could really be a God who knows all that information, a being who has that huge of a brain. Sometimes I wonder does this amazing God who is looking after the billions of people in this world, really care what happens in my everyday life? We are not alone in our moments of doubt. Here is John the Baptist asking Jesus – “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

John was born into a priest’s family when his parents were past the child-bearing age. I’m sure he heard his mom and dad tell him what a miracle baby he was. He would have been told about his dad’s inability to speak during the pregnancy and how he got his voice back on the 8th day after birth when John was circumcised. Zacharias would have told him about the prophecy he received that day:

“And you, my little son,
    will be called the prophet of the Most High,
    because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation
    through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1: 76 – 79)

He was the one who baptized Jesus, who said he was not worthy to even “untie his sandals” (Mark 1: 9). At Jesus’ baptism, John heard that voice from heaven who said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matt. 3: 17) If you read the first chapters of the gospels, you will read the ‘sermons’ John gave to the crowds of people who came to see him in the wilderness. He was certain he was preparing the way for the Messiah.

When you realize how much John believed in who Jesus was, you might wonder why he questioned Jesus now. Life was difficult now. He was in prison. There was also a common hope that Jesus would end the Roman rule and restore Israel to its former glory – and it wasn’t happening. No wonder, John had doubts.

Charles R. Swindoll in his commentary on Luke says, “Doubts force us to pursue the truth. Doubts fuel the believer’s pursuit of real answers to life’s most troubling questions. Doubts make deep divers out of novice swimmers. Doubts cause us to go down into the labyrinthine realm of profound truths to find treasures many people don’t even know exist. … Many things lead us to honest doubt. Circumstances that appear completely random cause us to question the faithfulness of God. When good people suffer and evil people prosper, we begin to wonder abut the fairness of God. The weight of public opinion and the way nonbelievers present scientific evidence can cause us to doubt the existence of God.” (page 191, Living Insights: Luke)

We have doubts. John had doubts.

Jesus sends a message back to John. “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” (v. 22) John would know that was a reference to Isaiah 35: 3 – 6:

“With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
    and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.”
And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
    and unplug the ears of the deaf.
The lame will leap like a deer,
    and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!
Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
    and streams will water the wasteland.”

Jesus assured John that he was the Messiah – just not the one that the Israelites were hoping for. He reminded John what the scriptures said.

Life often doesn’t turn out the way we expect. Sometimes our hopes and dreams actually come true. Sometimes life brings difficulty and things that really turn us upside down. Like John, we begin to have our doubts. How do we deal with that? Read our Bibles. There is a lot of historical fact in that book. There is a lot of excellent advice on how to live well. As you read it, the Holy Spirit helps us understand who God is and how much he loves us. Pray. Again, the Holy Spirit speaks to us through our talking with God as we sense his presence. Look around you at the people you meet at church. Do you respect those people, are you inclined to think they are sincere in their faith? That was one thing that always made me stop in my doubts. If those people who I looked up to believed strongly in God, then it couldn’t be fantasy.

Think of those times in your life when you realized God was at work. I’ve mentioned some of them in past devotions. Things like the job I received when I needed to get back to work, a job I never would have taken except it was the only one offered – and it turned out to be the best one of my life. My husband’s death was devastating. We had met when I was 18 and he had been my best friend ever since. But now, I have the time to write these devotions, time I never had before. It’s not that I don’t miss him – I do every day – but I also realize God has plans for me, unexpected plans.

If you find you’re doubting, you are not alone. But God will find a way to reassure you of his presence and love.

Our song for today is Dare to Believe by Colton Dixon

June 7 – Jesus Understands Everyone

Luke 7; 1 – 10 NLT

“When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people, he returned to Capernaum. At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officer (centurion) was sick and near death. When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave. So they earnestly begged Jesus to help the man. “If anyone deserves your help, he does,” they said, “for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us.”

So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” 10 And when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed.”

This is an interesting story – a Gentile Roman centurion asks Jesus to heal his slave. We know a couple of things about this centurion. First, he understands his authority in the Roman army. He is the head of 100 men. He is very aware that when he gives a command, those under him “jump”. He understands that Jesus is a Jew with some authority/power, and so he asks respected Jewish leaders to approach Jesus for him. We also know that he makes sure the people under his command are satisfied. As a commander in Israel, he knows it would be a good idea to keep the Jews happy, so he had given the money and resources to build a synagogue. As well, he seems to care about those under him; he’s concerned about his slave’s health. If he was obsessed with his authority, he could have just ignored his slave’s illness and just purchased another one.

So, here we see a man in leadership who knows his power and influence. He has people under him who will do whatever he commands. He also understands the people he is ruling – he knows who the influential Jewish leaders are, and he knows how to make them go along with his command. He built the synagogue that they would cherish. He seems to have a heart for those working for him – the sick slave. Now, this sounds like an amazing leader, someone we would like to have in the businesses in our country or in our political parties. Confident and caring.

It’s interesting that he would turn to Jesus to heal his slave. He likely keeps an eye on what is happening in the area he is in charge of, and so he’s heard of Jesus. But you’d think he might be more wary of Jesus as someone who could challenge his authority, someone who might lead an uprising which would jeopardize his position. The Pharisees certainly looked at Jesus that way. We don’t know what was going on in the mind of that centurion, but it is interesting that he asked Jesus for a favour. He must have realized that Jesus was someone very special and not someone who was a threat to his command, perhaps even someone who he needed in his life. Even Jesus was amazed. “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!”

This got me thinking about all the people I know who hold positions of some kind of authority. It could be our boss at work, our city council member, the principal at our kids’ school, our doctor, our lawyer, etc. Or it might be that neighbour who seems to have life under control – everything going well. Would I ever talk to them about Jesus? Would I ever invite them to church? Do I assume they wouldn’t be interested in the Christian faith? Maybe they are a little like the centurion, someone we think has it all together, but down deep they are looking for answers. Perhaps we should surprise ourselves and speak up. Maybe they are actually looking for meaning in life, looking for Jesus.

Luke 7: 11 – 17

“Soon afterwards Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. 12 A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. 14 Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” 15 Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

16 Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people today.” 17 And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.”

Here is an opposite situation. Here is a widow who has just lost her only son. She is devastated and not looking for any help. Then Jesus shows up with a large crowd following him. Can you imagine if you were in that situation – grieving and following your son’s body to the graveyard when a large crowd shows up? Women in Jesus’ day were low on the social scale; they needed men to keep their lives stable, to provide food and a home. This woman’s husband had died and now her only son has died. She’s completely bereft – no hope. She’s not like the centurion who has the confidence to ask for help. She doesn’t ask for anything. But, Jesus steps in and brings life back to her son. The crowd was in awe and left praising God.

Jesus knows when we’re broken inside. He knows even when we look like we have it all together, like the centurion. He knows when we are down and depressed, not thinking there is any help available.

He knows the moment to step in change everything.

Our song for today is He Knows by Jeremy Camp

June 4 – Trust???

Proverbs 3:5-6  NLT

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs 3:5-6  NIV

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6  The Message

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God!

Over this past year, trust has taken a beating. Medical people, scientists, and politicians tell us one thing this week, and then another thing next week. At first everyone realized this new virus was something we had never dealt with before, and we understood information was developing. But after more than a year, many wonder what is really true and factual. Who can we trust?

Proverbs tells us to trust God with all our hearts or from the bottom of our hearts. That would indicate a total complete trust. I suspect if you are like me, that you would say you do trust God totally. After all, God is Almighty God, Supreme, Creator of the Universe, loving, etc. Why wouldn’t I completely trust God. But …

I live in a broken world. Would God let me catch the coronavirus and die? Would God allow me to get some serious illness? Would God allow something bad to happen to my children? To my extended family? Would God allow me to lose my job? Now do you get a hint of what I’m thinking? How much do I really trust God? When things in my life start to unravel, how much do I trust God?

I see some instructions in these verses in Proverbs. First, I do need to trust in God. When I get scared and nervous, I need to stop, take a deep breath, and affirm my trust in God, remind myself of who he is. A short prayer asking God to help me in that situation helps me remember that I can trust God.

“Do not depend on your own understanding”, “lean not on your own understanding”, “don’t try to figure out everything on your own”, “don’t assume that you know it all”.

I don’t think God is asking us to put our brains aside. We are made in God’s image, and he created us with the ability to think, dream and create. There’s a difference between searching for information, thinking things through and coming to what you think is a good solution to a problem – and – being intent on controlling everything around you. I have to admit that I have a tendency to want to keep things under control, to make sure everything goes smoothly and is well planned out. It’s taken a lot of experience over my 70+ years to realize that I need to trust God even when I think life is going downhill. One of those lessons came when I was looking for a teaching job after being a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. My husband had been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, and we had three daughters ranging in age from 10 to 18. The job in alternative education was one I never would have taken except I was desperate and it was the only one offered. Yet that job turned out to be the best one of my life, a job I enjoyed so much, and where I grew so much as a person. I learned once again that I could trust God.

“Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

“Submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

“Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.”

How do I do that? I get to know my Bible so I know what God’s instructions are. For example, I know that God wants me to love my neighbour as myself – even though my neighbour might not be my first choice of a great person. I know that God says I should deal with my anger before the sun goes down. I know that God wants me to respect my parents. I know that God wants me to share my faith with others. And the list goes on and on. Not one of us will ever be perfect in this life, but we need a desire to live the way God would want us to. As the Holy Spirit convicts us of behaviour or attitudes that need to be fixed, we need to be willing to listen.

And we need to pray. It’s amazing how prayer can change our attitude and plans. As we talk with God about our problems and dreams, we can get a sense of what the right direction is. Now, I don’t mean some light-filled idea will strike us on the spot. Our prayer life is an ongoing conversation with God about our life together. Sometimes the nudging of the Spirit is over days or weeks. In some imperfect ways, it’s like the conversations we have with our partner. Sometimes the solution comes right away; sometimes we talk about it for a while before a decision is made.

Trusting God doesn’t mean our path will be smoothly paved with lovely flower gardens along the side, and with softly glowing lights in the evenings as we wander along a lake or stream. Proverbs says, God will show us “which path to take”, or “he will make your paths straight”, or “he’s the one who will keep you on track.” God has a plan for each one of us, and when we trust him, we will get on that path. It might include difficult times, or it might include times of great joy and peace, but no matter what our emotions are, we will know we are where God wants us to be.

So as we face somewhat uncertain times in 2021 with questions of trust in what is happening around us – read that verse in today’s devotions. We can trust God! Yes, we can!

Proverbs 3:5-6  NLT

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Here’s our song for today by Lauren Daigle – Trust in You

June 3 – Attitude Adjustment

Luke 6: 37 – 49 NLT

37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

39 Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? 40 Students[d] are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.

41 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye[e] when you have a log in your own? 42 How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

43 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 44 A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. 45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Jesus warns us not to become too proud of ourselves, thinking we are following him superbly. “Do not judge others”. (v. 37) I don’t think that means we should accept any behaviour as OK. Sin is sin. We can speak out against things that are wrong – for example, we can speak out against abortion. We don’t condone stealing, cheating, lying, etc. But, we don’t look down on the people who do, we don’t dismiss them as unwanted, horrible people. Again, we need to remember that God loved us completely despite our own sin.

If we forget that we too are sinners and not worthy of God’s love, we can become like the examples Jesus gives in these verses. Just how effective would it be if a blind person offered to help another blind person navigate a rocky terrain or crowded area? How do you dare to help someone else with an eye problem when your problem is even worse? If somehow, we get the notion that we are very good people because we have been following God by going to church and doing good deeds – actually rather proud of ourselves and what we’ve accomplished … we are that blind person pretending to lead another, or that person who really can’t see because of the log/pride in their eye.

We need to truly understand that “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”. (Romans 3: 23) We also need to know that we are loved by God despite our sin. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] 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: 38 – 39)

When we comprehend how much God loves us and how much he has forgiven us, then we can be that loving person who doesn’t judge someone else and look down on them. Then we are that person who is like a good tree – a tree that produces fruit. That core of our being depends on God and as a result reflects him to whoever we are with. When we think we’re pretty good on our own, we’re like the rotten tree, incapable of producing anything worthwhile.

Jesus uses another illustration of his point. You can be built on a solid foundation and survive any cataclysmic events that come along. But if you are built on a flimsy foundation – nothing good will come from it. Who or what is that foundation? Jesus! Our dependence on him!

Our song for today is We All Need Jesus by Danny Gokey ft Koryn Hawthorne

June 2 – What Does Jesus Expect of Me?

These last verses in chapter 6 summarize much of what Jesus taught throughout his ministry on earth. They hit home in uncomfortable ways, so … here we go.

Luke 6: 20 – 36 NLT

20 Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said,

“God blesses you who are poor,
    for the Kingdom of God is yours.
21 God blesses you who are hungry now,
    for you will be satisfied.
God blesses you who weep now,
    for in due time you will laugh.

22 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. 23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.

24 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich,
    for you have your only happiness now.
25 What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,
    for a time of awful hunger awaits you.
What sorrow awaits you who laugh now,
    for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow.
26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds,
    for their ancestors also praised false prophets.”

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.

35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”

There is a blunt contrast between what God cherishes and what our world loves. And frankly, it’s one we all get caught in all the time. What do I put first in my life? Is it God and what he wants from me? Or is it what makes my life more comfortable/tolerable?

Luke paints a picture of that stark contrast. Those who are poor, hungry and sad will be satisfied and full of joy. Those who are rich and enjoying life like crazy will end up full of mourning and sorrow. Where do we concentrate our priorities? When I look at my day, my week – what is it that motivates me? Am I trying to make decisions, use my time, use my resources in a way that reflects my loving God to those around me? To be honest, that is me sometimes. But a lot of the time, I just think about what makes my day the most enjoyable – or when I was working full-time, what made my day more profitable.

Jesus tells us that this vast difference between what God wants and what our world wants will bring us difficult times. People might “hate you and exclude you and mock you”. I don’t think these verses are saying that we should be people who are hard to get along with, people who are so blunt and critical that others dislike us. In fact, as we go through this chapter, we are encouraged to be the most loving, nice people around. But folks in this world do get upset with people who reflect God’s standards, and we should expect that. Maybe we should be concerned if we are considered the most fun, successful, loved person at work. Why do these people who have rejected Christianity want to include us so much?

When we get to verses 27 to 36, I just hang my head. Is that me? Do I go out of my way to be kind and helpful to people who give me a hard time? Or do I prefer to just “hang with” my friends, the people who go to my church. What hits me the most is that God loved me when I had nothing to do with him. God sent Jesus to this world – he gave up living in heaven- to live a hard life on earth and die for us. How much more of an example could God have given us? Just read these verses from Colossians 1: 15 – 20:

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

These verses in Luke make me want to stop reading them, to stop looking at myself. I do love God, and I do want to reflect him to those around me. But I also like my pleasant lifestyle, and giving away something I’d like to have is not something that would come easily at all. “If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back.” (v. 29 – 30) That’s radical! That’s not the way I think most of the time. If people give me a hard time, I avoid them. I’m happy to help someone as long as it doesn’t make my life more difficult.

Oh, Heavenly Father, forgive me for my centredness. Help me to be loving and generous to those around me, to those who I could help. Help me not focus on living well here on earth, but to focus on what you want.

Our song for today is Love God, Love People by Michael W. Smith

June 1 – Who Makes a Difference?

Luke 6: 12 – 19 NLT

“One day soon afterwards Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. 13 At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names:

14 Simon (whom he named Peter),
Andrew (Peter’s brother),
James,
John,
Philip,
Bartholomew,
15 Matthew,
Thomas,
James (son of Alphaeus),
Simon (who was called the zealot),
16 Judas (son of James),
Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

17 When they came down from the mountain, the disciples stood with Jesus on a large, level area, surrounded by many of his followers and by the crowds. There were people from all over Judea and from Jerusalem and from as far north as the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those troubled by evil[b] spirits were healed. 19 Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone.

Jesus had been followed by thousands of people in these early days of his ministry. But now, he is going to choose 12 men in whom he will invest his time and energy to disciple – or what we often call mentoring today. These are the men who will continue to spread God’s message of love and grace to the world when Jesus returns to heaven. There is one detail I find fascinating and humbling at the beginning of these verses:

“One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.” (v. 12 – 13) Jesus prayed all night before he chose those 12 men. Jesus is human, but he is also God. In his life on earth, he could do things no other person could do or has ever done. Yet, before making that decision in naming the 12 disciples, he prayed all night.

How much do I pray before making decisions? How close do I get to God to discern what he wants me to do? How much of my life is aligned with what God wants?

Then Jesus chooses 12 ordinary men. We know Peter was a rather impetuous kind of person – rushing to do things before thinking them through. James and John, fishermen, were named by Jesus as the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3: 17) so they likely were outspoken men. We know Matthew (Levi from chapter 5) was a tax collector, one of the despised folks of that day. We know that Thomas was later referred to as a doubter, and he was the one who questioned Jesus’ resurrection. Simon, the zealot, was a political guy, one who was all for Israel’s independence from Rome. These were not men known as the leading scholars, important business men, or religious leaders of their day. Yet they were chosen to be the leaders of this new about-to-be church.

In our culture, we look up to people who are successful – people who lead in business, sports’ stars, successful actors and musicians. We want to hear from scientists and medical people who are at the top of their game. Success – that’s the banner in 2021. Yet Jesus chose his disciples from ordinary people.

Do you ever feel that God has specially chosen you? Or do you feel like you are just an ordinary, unknown Christ follower? Do you think you are not the smartest or most successful person you know? Way too many others are better than you? The Apostle Paul knew what that felt like as he talked about a physical problem that he had to deal with: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9 – 10)

Just like Jesus chose those 12 ordinary men, God knows you. He knows how you can influence the people who are around you. Don’t be afraid to get involved in various areas of church life. Don’t be afraid to lead or host a small group for Bible study in your home. Don’t be afraid to invite a neighbour to church with you when churches finally are open again. Don’t be afraid to tell a co-worker you’ll pray for them when you hear about their problems. Don’t leave sharing faith to the “successful preachers”. God chooses ordinary people. God chose you to make a difference in your world.

Our song for today is Only Jesus by Casting Crowns.

May 31 – Keeping the Sabbath

Luke 6: 1 – 11 NLT

“One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grain fields, his disciples broke off heads of grain, rubbed off the husks in their hands, and ate the grain. 2 But some Pharisees said, “Why are you breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
3 Jesus replied, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He went into the house of God and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests can eat. He also gave some to his companions.” (1 Samuel 21: 1 – 6) 5 And Jesus added, “The Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath.”
6 On another Sabbath day, a man with a deformed right hand was in the synagogue while Jesus was teaching. 7 The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.
8 But Jesus knew their thoughts. He said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” So the man came forward. 9 Then Jesus said to his critics, “I have a question for you. 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?”
10 He looked around at them one by one and then said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! 11 At this, the enemies of Jesus were wild with rage and began to discuss what to do with him.”

Here is a turning point in the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus is openly contradicting their ideas of what following God means. As they were walking through some grain fields, the disciples plucked some grain and rubbed it so it was edible. Did they need to eat something that day? For sure! Jesus deliberately taunted the Pharisees on another Sabbath by bringing a man with a deformed hand to the front of the synagogue and healing him. Was having a healed hand a blessing for that man? Of course. But …

Follow the rules! I suspect that was a motto for the Pharisees. In Charles Swindoll’s commentary on Luke, he writes about where the Pharisees got all these rules. Many think the Pharisees began when many Jewish people were exiled in Babylon, where we read the story of Daniel and his three friends who refused to follow Babylonian culture. To preserve their Jewish heritage, this new group clung to the law and later embellished it. They eventually became both a political and religious group who earned the respect of their nation. Over the years they created a huge document called the Mishnah which outlined all the rules and regulations. Apparently, there are 24 chapters on just how to keep the Sabbath.

What is the Sabbath really about? Let’s look at Exodus 20: 8 – 11 (NLT)

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”

This is a day of rest, a day dedicated to God and our relationship with him. If you read verse 10 carefully, you realize that it’s talking about the daily work we do to keep our lives functioning. Today that would include things like the work we do for pay, the work we do to keep our households running well, those new projects to improve our house and yard, etc. It doesn’t mean you can’t do any work at all, that you can’t help someone. If you’ve taken the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality course by Peter Scazzero at LSA, you likely discussed the concept of Sabbath keeping. It’s a day when you step back, rest and enjoy life – reflect on your relationship with God.

In our culture, we all don’t have the same days off. Work goes 7 days a week. So Sunday can’t always be our day of rest. But here’s my challenge for you today. Find a day every week where you can rest and enjoy life. If it happens to be on a Sunday, include going to church, online or in person, in your day. If it’s another day of the week, set aside some time to be with God in prayer and reflecting on His Word. But also find time to rest – whatever that looks like for you. Find some time to enjoy being with family and friends, go for walks, go for drives, go out for dinner, head to the beach – whatever recharges you for the coming week. Take that one day each week to step aside from all the busyness of the 21st century and relax knowing God loves each one of us and he never intended for us to go, go, go 7 days a week.

Our song for today is Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher

May 28 – Focus on the Good

Philippians 4:4-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 7: “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27 – A Discussion about Fasting

Luke 5:33-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 26 – Jesus Calls Levi (Matthew)

Luke 5:27-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Jesus wants me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 25 – Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man

Luke 5:17-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 24 – Creator God! Personal God!

Today is Victoria Day. The holiday began as a celebration to honour Queen Victoria, who ruled Great Britain and Ireland for most of the 19th century. Victoria Day has been observed since 1845 in the UK, and it was officially declared a Canadian federal holiday in 1901 — the year of Queen Victoria’s death. We tend to think of it as the beginning of summer, of gardening and outdoor activities.

But on this holiday Monday, we can celebrate someone who is much greater than Queen Victoria ever was – our Creator God, our Personal God.

Psalm 8 (NLT)

“O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
    Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you.
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
    and crowned them with glory and honour.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
    putting all things under their authority—
the flocks and the herds
    and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
    and everything that swims the ocean currents.
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!”

This psalm is filled with contrasts that emphasize how wonderful our God is. I’m going to try a question format again. So, here we go:

Verse 1 – “O LORD, our Lord” – What is the contrast here? What does this contrast tell us about God? Really think about this.

Verses 1 and 2 – What is the contrast between these two verses? The NASB version of verse 2 uses this language, “from the mouths of infants and nursing babes”; I like this wording because it stresses that even babies, who can’t talk, tell us about God. Has something a young child said or did ever made you stop and realize they said something true about God?

Verses 3 and 4 – What is the contrast shown in these two verses?

Verses 5 to 8 – If you put the world on a scale of 1 to 10 with God being number 1 and the smallest creatures being number 10, where does man come on the scale according to this psalm?

It is so easy to think of myself as insignificant – just one person among the billions on the planet. When I think of how “busy” God must be running the universe and caring for all those people, my issues don’t seem that important. Does God really care?

I love this psalm because it makes me want to shout with joy and wonder in praise – not that I would actually do such an uninhibited thing. Shouting around the house is not my thing, but feeling inside like I might is the best this introvert can manage. God is so mighty, and I am loved by a mighty and creative God.

I love the first few words of this psalm. O LORD – an acknowledgement of how big our God is. I think of a chorus my kids used to love to sing – “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty; there’s nothing my God cannot do”. I can still picture their enthusiasm as they sang the song and did the actions, making their little arms go as wide as they could to illustrate how big God is. But then “our Lord” – this big, mighty God is my God. He made the universe, but He has a personal relationship with me. How amazing is that!

There is that same huge contrast in the next verses as well. We go from the God of the universe to the God who cares for babies, the most vulnerable of the human race. Yet it’s interesting how the psalmist says that little children can tell of God’s strength most effectively. There is an interesting story in Matthew 21. The chief priests were having a really bad day. First there was the triumphant entry to Jerusalem by Jesus riding on a donkey with hordes of people praising him and shouting Hosanna in the highest. Then Jesus drove out the people buying and selling in the temple courtyards as He declared the place a robbers’ den. Jesus also healed some people in the temple. Children were shouting Hosanna to the Son of David in the temple as well. The chief priests came to Jesus and said, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” Jesus replies with verse 2 of this psalm. End of story. What can you say to the truth spoken by children?

Have you ever been in a somewhat tense situation when a child asks a question or makes a comment that strikes right to the truth, and there is a silence and awe that shuts the adults right up? I remember once having a conversation in a parking lot as my husband and I along with our daughter’s family (who were visiting from Toronto) tried to decide how to spend the rest of the day. There were various points of view on the situation, and at one point, someone said, “I don’t know what’s best”. Our five-year-old grandson piped up, “God knows”. There was silence, then laughter, and Nate was assured he was right … and it was surprising how quickly after that the decision was made about what we would do next.

Then there is the contrast in verses 3 and 4. When we look at the creation God has made, it does fill us with awe and it does make us feel insignificant in comparison. Why would God even think about us when He can do whatever He wants? The last part of verse 4 gets to the heart of the matter – why would He even care about us? The rest of the psalm talks about this. We are not insignificant; we are made “only a little lower than God”. The Bible tells us we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). We were created to rule over planet earth, and to have a relationship with God. Is God way greater than we are? Yes! But we are not insignificant to God. And we have a job to do in caring for our world – a whole other topic.

So, on this day while we’re trying to have fun, but also thinking about all the restrictions the pandemic has brought, and all the frustrations that go along with the lockdowns, remember how the psalmist ends this psalm:

“O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!”

Creator God! Personal God!

Our song for today is Good God Almighty by the Crowder Band

May 21 – The First Disciples

Luke 5:1-11 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Swindoll says in his commentary on Luke:

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

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

In his commentary on Luke, Charles Swindoll also says:

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

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

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

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

May 20 – GOD Cares For You

By Gretchen Potma

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

Here is a little verse, tucked in among parables and teachings of Jesus that is easily missed, but it is full of hope and encouragement for any day and especially these days when life seems to be even more full of concerns about dangers to our bodies and to our souls.

As Jesus is teaching in the midst of a very large crowd, he directs his words specifically to his disciples and tells them not to be afraid. Since we are his disciples, his words are also meant for us. Jesus does not give us commands without also giving us the strength to do them. In this verse, the strength comes as we understand more about who God is and what he is like and treasure him more.

In this short sentence, Jesus packed five reasons why we do not need to be afraid.

  1. His disciples are a little flock and flocks have shepherds. Jesus is the good shepherd who knows his sheep and lays down his life for them (John 10). The LORD is our shepherd who is always with us so that we don’t need to fear any evil (Psalm 23).
  2. God is our loving Father. No matter how good (or bad) our earthly father is, God is better. Jesus instructed us to pray to him as our Father (Luke 11). He is happy for us to continue to be his dependants no matter what our age is.
  3. He has a kingdom, so that means he is a king. “For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!” (Psalm 47:7-9)
  4. God has the positions of shepherd, father and king and the authority that goes with them. He could be stern and authoritarian as he holds those roles, but Jesus reminds us that he takes pleasure and delights in his relationship with his defenseless sheep, his vulnerable children, his poor subjects.
  5. God gives generously. He doesn’t sell or lease his kingdom. He doesn’t need any payment. He can freely give and then give more without any concern for whether he has enough to spare.

This is a short verse that we can easily memorize and call to mind throughout the day and maybe especially during the night. Trusting in these words as Truth, not being afraid and anxious, magnifies God as our gracious and generous Shepherd, Father and King, for “where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”

May 19 – Healing

By Mark Potma

Luke 4:31 – 44

“And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath,32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39 And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

40 Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

These last verses from the fourth chapter of Luke reveal Jesus to us in all his power and authority. First, we see him casting a demon out a man in the synagogue – confronting evil head-on. Then he is restoring Simon’s mother-in-law back to full health, and then healing many people of various diseases and casting out even more demons. Finally, Jesus goes to a desolate place, but people follow him there, too. He reminds them of the purpose of why he was sent: “to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 4:43)

This Scripture passage gives us evidence of Jesus’ authority and power. Jesus entered into this broken and desperate world with a hope and a purpose. Jesus came to fix what was broken. And Jesus provides this hope and purpose to each one of us today. What is hurting in our lives? What is broken? What is lacking? What needs to be renewed? Jesus is here to heal, to fix, to fill, and to restore. Jesus is going head-to-head against the forces of evil, ultimately to destroy evil once and for all, and to usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Jesus is the only one who can accomplish all of this – not just because of what he does or what he says, but because of who he is. Jesus is the great I AM, the Holy One of God, sent by the Heavenly Father to redeem us and to reconcile the world back to God. Even the demons recognized Jesus’ power and authority and obeyed his word! And Jesus won the ultimate victory on the cross. By crying out, “It is finished!”, Jesus defeated Satan, sin, suffering, and death. Yes, Satan still has limited ability to wreak havoc in the world and in people’s lives, but his days are numbered. We already know how it ends – God wins, and Satan will be destroyed!

But until that great and glorious day comes, our world continues to suffer under the curse of sin and disobedience to God. Sickness, sorrow, sadness, suffering and death continue to be a part of the human condition. It reminds us of the consequences of rebellion against God, and it increases our longing for Jesus to come again and to make all things new. In the mean time we do desire to “make the world a better place” – to restrain evil and improve what is in our control. But it is ultimately beyond our power to remove all hate, pride, lust, greed, and murder from the world. Any amount of money or politics or medicine or military or medicine that we throw at the problems of this world will simply delay the inevitable. Only Jesus can redeem and restore this world, and it is only by casting ourselves upon his mercy and grace that we can experience true hope and joy, peace and forgiveness.

When we come face to face with Jesus, when we experience his healing and renewal in our lives, when we repent and give our lives over to him as our Lord and King, our response and desire is to worship him and to serve him. We see this with Peter’s mother-in-law, who immediately rose and began to serve those who had come to bring her healing. The people who witnessed Jesus casting out demons went throughout the region, sharing with everyone who would listen about the wonderful deeds and words of Christ, the Messiah. When we worship, we recognize Jesus for who he truly is – the Holy Son of God, the Saviour of the world.

So why hasn’t Jesus removed all evil and suffering from the world? If he did that, he would at the same time need to eradicate that segment of mankind that is currently rejecting him and actively working to thwart his purpose. There is still evil in the world because there are still evil people in the world. And the fact that there are still evil people in the world is, in fact, the evidence of God’s amazing patience with this world and with fallen humanity. God’s patience has not yet run out. Today is still the day of salvation. God is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

How then should we respond to today’s passage in Luke 4? Yes, we really need to pray and serve to help end suffering in the world. But that is not our ultimate calling. God is most glorified when we are loving, worshipping, and serving him. Even more, we can multiply this joyful worship buy inviting others to enter into a loving and saving relationship with the Almighty God through Jesus Christ. We need to know and heed the words of Scripture and be led and filled by the Holy Spirit. The gifts that we have been given are meant for us to serve through the body of Christ, to reach those who are lost and hurting, and in this way to “preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 4:43). Maranatha – come, Lord Jesus!