November 30 – Protection

Psalm 91: 1 – 4 (NLT)

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
3 For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.

Protection is something we hear about every day. On the news and on Facebook, there are so many questions and suggestions about how to protect ourselves from Covid-19. We are told to wear face masks in public. Keeping social distancing and washing our hands frequently are also necessary. We also see people pushing back against those requirements given to us by health professionals. We see puzzling restrictions – close down small businesses, but keep open big-box stores. Just how safe am I when I go to the grocery store or to the mall, or eat in a restaurant? Questions? Uncertainty?

Today as we live through a pandemic, many people are feeling nervous and frustrated. Words from God as in Psalm 91 are what we need to hear.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.”

Who are we being protected by? The Most High, the Almighty, the LORD, my refuge, my place of safety, my God. The visual pictures given to us in these verses stress protection. We live and rest in the “shelter of the Most High” and in the shadow of the Almighty”. I try to visualize someplace very strong – like a cave in the rock.

I think of Moses on the mountain in God’s presence. Moses really wanted to see God. He had been given many instructions, including the Ten Commandments, and just like one of us in that situation, he wanted to see who he was communicating with. Here are the verses telling us about that incident:

Exodus 33:18-23  (NLT)

“Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

19 The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20 But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

That is the God who protects us today. He wants a relationship with us, and when we talk with him, he listens.

“For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.”

Verse 3 makes me stop and ponder. Is God really going to protect me from every deadly disease? Will he protect me from the coronavirus? Here is one thing I do know. God has plans for me. Some of those plans are for my life here on earth – the things he wants me to learn, the things he wants me to do, the people he wants me to share my faith with, etc. But God also has a plan for when I’m going home to heaven to be with him. So, there is no concrete assurance that I will stay completely healthy or that I will live forever here on earth. Death will come. This verse confirms this:

Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Whatever God’s plans for me are – living here on earth, or joining him in heaven – they are good plans, plans that promise me a bright future.

 “He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.”

Those words are so comforting, especially today. The metaphor of a bird covering its little ones with its wings brings the picture of a mother chicken with those cute little chicks peeking out from under her wings. The thought of God’s arms swooping me into a big hug, or pushing me behind him to protect me from what is coming, is so reassuring. It reminds me of my favourite verses that I’ve used in the devotions so many times.

Romans 8:35-39  (NLT)

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

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

See that line – “neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Isn’t that wonderful!

That is what makes living through a pandemic something you can do with peace and confidence.

Our song for today is My Fortress by Jeremy Camp

November 27 – I Love You, LORD

Psalm 18 NLT

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

 28 You light a lamp for me.
    The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.

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

Let’s look at some of the metaphors (comparisons) David uses in this psalm. God is his rock, his fortress, his shield, his lamp, and his right hand. Most of these comparisons have to do with strength, the ability to survive. David was a king and a warrior, so physical strength was extremely important to him. The lamp would give a person the ability to see around them, and even what may lie ahead. The right hand is a sign of personal help the way we reach out to help someone who is about to slip and fall.

I want you to think about what God has done for you over the years. Really take some time to think about this.

  • Has God given you the inner strength to face a difficult time?
  • Has prayer, God and the Holy Spirit helped you make a good/right decision?
  • Has there ever been a time when you were struggling, and you sensed God’s presence and love for you?
  • Have there been moments since March of this year, when you have experienced God’s leading to do something, help someone?

Right now, I want you to pray and thank God for the support you have received from him in the answers to those questions. Now, as we face the second wave of Covid-19, ask God to help you today. Pray with confidence.

Our song for today is a well-known one – Great is Thy Faithfulness by Chris Rice

November 26

And then God answered: “Write this.
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.
This vision-message is a witness
pointing to what’s coming.
It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait!
And it doesn’t lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
It’s on its way. It will come right on time.
Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—
full of himself but soul-empty.
But the person in right standing before God
through loyal and steady believing
is fully alive, really alive.”
Habakkuk 2:2-4 (MSG)

Vision is a term that gets thrown around a lot, and it can be disappointing when you’ve envisioned something that didn’t come to be. Plans fall out of place, and hopes get crushed. Yet, having vision is a source of life, essentially hope in action. Vision is expectant for things to come. The combination of vision plus action allows dreams to come to fruition. Each human being has vision lying inside them, and uniqueness to change the lives of others. There are many biblical stories that elaborate having vision.
A passage in Daniel 8 describes the hardship of vision when met with huge opposition.
Daniel 8 describes a beastly enemy of God, and how Daniel is made sick by the vision.

And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.”
Daniel 8:27

But, in spite of being sick and appalled, Daniel does his work. Just as our seasons in life, one day can bring hope and change, and others the negativity of our world and news. Headlines can make you sick, and hearts becomes weary. Yet, as we press forward-having a goal, or plan in mind, propels our lives forward.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Proverbs 29:18

I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
Isaiah 41:13

Can we do this? We know we can because we are deeply loved. The impossible and the unfathomable, whatever gets thrown in our paths. Our strength lies in the depth of God’s love for us.

You are loved with “great love”—omnipotent love, omniscient love, unstoppable love, eternal love. Therefore, do not fear. Be appalled at the world, and be productive in it.”
John Piper

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.”
Andy Stanley

November 25 – Our Hope is in You Alone

We’re going to try something different today. I’m not going to say much, but rather have you figure out what this psalm is saying. So I’ll post a few verses and then ask you to answer a question. Take a few minutes to really let this psalm sink in.

Psalm 33  New Living Translation (NLT)

Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord;
    it is fitting for the pure to praise him.
Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre;
    make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song of praise to him;
    play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.
For the word of the Lord holds true,
    and we can trust everything he does.
He loves whatever is just and good;
    the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.

  1. According to the first 5 verses, why should we be able to make joyful music?

The Lord merely spoke,
    and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
    and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries
    and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,
    and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began!
    It appeared at his command.

  1. According to verses 6 to 9, why should we be in awe of God?

10 The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations
    and thwarts all their schemes.
11 But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever;
    his intentions can never be shaken.

12 What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,
    whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

  1. In verse 12, David is likely referring to Israel, God’s chosen people. Today, as the church, Christ followers, we can experience the joy that God gives to His people. Do we need to worry about the world conditions around us?

13 The Lord looks down from heaven
    and sees the whole human race.
14 From his throne he observes
    all who live on the earth.
15 He made their hearts,
    so he understands everything they do.
16 The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
17 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you.

  1. Reread verses 13 to 17. Does God understand how we try our best to control things? Does God think our strength is effective?

18 But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
    those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
    and keeps them alive in times of famine.

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.

Life can hand us some real confusing times, and even scary times and the Covid-19 pandemic is definitely one of them. The news is full of reports on the virus, and the facts seem to change every day. How specifically is the virus spread? What kind of masks are best? It looks like a vaccine is on the way, but when exactly will it be ready?

Take a deep breath and slowly read these verses again.

18 But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
    those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
    and keeps them alive in times of famine.

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.

Those verses express exactly where our hope lies. It is in God alone. One of the things I love about the psalms is the way they often start out reminding us of God’s power, a power way beyond our comprehension. When we remind ourselves of that very fact, trusting in God makes sense. ‘The icing on the cake’ is that God is just not powerful. He is loving!!! So when times are confusing and unsettled, remember Psalm 33.

22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.

A Challenge: We know that God loves us, but he also tells us to love each other. “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15: 12) Who do you know that is likely finding this second wave scary? Give them a call and chat a while to add some joy to their day.

Our song for today is Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham

November 24 – God Takes Care of Me

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honour to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honour me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

This is such a familiar psalm, it is easy to skim over it and not really take in the details. What I want you to do right now is read the psalm again slowly and look for a word or phrase that jumps out at you. This is how God speaks to you. What is God telling you today? Before you read on, stop for a moment and think about those words that God brought to your mind.

In these days of panic, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all I need” jumps out at me. I am more on the introverted side of personalities, so I have always thought being by myself is a good thing. However, when we are told to stay at home and not go out unless it’s necessary, keep to your small household “bubble”, I’ve discovered a sense of unquiet in this ‘aloneness’. I know the extroverts need other people, and I suspect they find social isolation really difficult. We need the company of others. Does God realize this?

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid for you are close beside me”. Knowing that God is near me is so comforting! I can talk to him any time of the day or night. He’s with me, so he is very aware of my circumstances. He knows how I am feeling. We are sharing this moment in time together. He’s not even across the room; he is “close beside me”. Stop and think about that. Pause and think. God is “close beside you”.

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life.” Pursue! Now there’s an amazing word. God pursues me. I don’t have to go looking for him. He is looking for me. And in what way does he pursue me? With “goodness and unfailing love”. Think for a moment about a loving relationship you have experienced. It may be with a parent, sibling, a good friend, a child, a husband or wife … When you were having a tough time, was that person there for you? Every time? I had an amazing marriage for almost 50 years, and my husband definitely took care of me in so many ways. But sometimes he was too busy with work to be there when I needed him. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be with me, he just had other demands on his time. Sometimes he was just too tired and wanted to be alone. Sometimes he didn’t understand why I was upset, and couldn’t fully relate to how I felt …

BUT, God isn’t like that!!!! God pursues me with “goodness and unfailing love”. “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” God is right there all the time! You may be going crazy with little ones racing around your house, and you have nowhere to take them to keep them happy. You may be living alone and feeling very isolated. You may be feeling edgy and nervous about what will happen over the next month of two. How will we be able to celebrate Christmas this year? Stop and reread Psalm 23. Look for those words that your Heavenly Father is speaking to you. Take a deep breath and know he is close beside you.

Our song for today is I Am Not Alone by Kari Jobe

November 23 – Peace

Philippians 4:6-8  New Living Translation (NLT)

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

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.”

These verses became one of my favourites when I was a teenager. Those were the years that I was sorting out what I believed, and what I thought was the right thing to do as I spent less time with my family and more time at school, with school friends, and at my part-time job. My Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Grant, gave each of us in her class a fancy card with that verse on it, and told us to tuck it in our mirrors at home so that we could be aware of God’s suggestions for our standards.

Now that I’m older, I still like that verse a lot, especially in these pandemic times. I find this verse helps me when I tend to get bogged down in anxiety and depressing thoughts. If I “fix my thoughts” on positive and uplifting things, life has so much more hope.

I think anxiety strikes us when we are not sure what the future might hold, and we’re not sure if we can cope with whatever happens. You may be wondering if you will return to your job which is currently shut down. You may be stressing over your kids at school – are they safe from Covid there? You may have college aged children, and you hope they are distancing, wearing masks, etc – all the things that young people tend to ignore. You may be worrying about your elderly parents. You may be working in an essential job yourself, and hope your co-workers are doing the right things away from work.

The Philippian church was anxious. They were experiencing a lot of persecution from the Jewish leaders and from the Roman occupying forces. Their future was definitely not certain. So Paul has some advice for them. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

I guess you could say – Pray, pray, pray. He also tells them to pray with thanksgiving. That’s interesting. That thanksgiving reminds us that God is in control and God will be there for us no matter the outcome.

The verse I really like is “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I see two things that are guarded by God – my mind and my emotions. Both are under attack when I’m anxious. The thoughts that go through my head about what might possibly happen are extremely unsettling. I find it hard to concentrate on the simplest of chores around the house. My emotions are all over the place. I feel like I could break down crying way too easily. I get angry about the stupidest things because my emotions are not under control. Prayer changes all that for us.

And then we can focus on the positive things of the day – the things that are “true, honourable, right, lovely, etc.” I am so thankful for the peace that God gives. It really is incomprehensible. If I didn’t have God’s divine intervention in my life, I would be falling apart – totally failing at coping. Although I wouldn’t say I deserve an A+ in coping skills, I am aware of God’s presence and I know He will sustain us no matter what the outcome. For that we can be so thankful! It is something that every single one of us can be thankful for!

Our song for today is Be Still by Hillsong Worship

November 20 – Find New Strength

These are frustrating times with the second wave of the coronavirus, especially as we see Christmas approach, and many of us wonder if we will see family this year. Even though it may be hard to do, as Christ followers we need to take a step back and take a deep breath.

God wants us to know that we can trust Him. The verses today speak of God’s incredible power and ability to do things. When we get caught up with our worries and nervousness about what lies ahead for us, these words from God’s Word are so reassuring. We can stop trying to control everything and turn to a God who can do something and cares for us. So read these verses slowly, and even read them out loud. Impress on your mind and soul just who God is.

Isaiah 40: 12 – 31 (NLT)

“Who else has held the oceans in his hand?
    Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?
Who else knows the weight of the earth
    or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?
13 Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord?
    Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?
14 Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?
    Does he need instruction about what is good?
Did someone teach him what is right
    or show him the path of justice?
15 No, for all the nations of the world
    are but a drop in the bucket.
They are nothing more
    than dust on the scales.
He picks up the whole earth
    as though it were a grain of sand.
16 All the wood in Lebanon’s forests
    and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough
    to make a burnt offering worthy of our God.
17 The nations of the world are worth nothing to him.
    In his eyes they count for less than nothing—
    mere emptiness and froth.
18 To whom can you compare God?
    What image can you find to resemble him?
19 Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold,
    overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains?
20 Or if people are too poor for that,
    they might at least choose wood that won’t decay
and a skilled craftsman
    to carve an image that won’t fall down!
21 Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand?
    Are you deaf to the words of God—
the words he gave before the world began?
    Are you so ignorant?
22 God sits above the circle of the earth.
    The people below seem like grasshoppers to him!
He spreads out the heavens like a curtain
    and makes his tent from them.
23 He judges the great people of the world
    and brings them all to nothing.
24 They hardly get started, barely taking root,
    when he blows on them and they wither.
    The wind carries them off like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.
26 Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.”

I’m stopping you right here so you can take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is God able to deal with my problems?” But then, you might say to yourself, “But does He care enough to help me out?” Does he notice me? Well, let’s keep going with verses 27 – 31.

27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 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.”

Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that enough? If you are in a place right now where you find your mind returning to the same problem, turning it over and over, trying to understand what you should do, how you should react, worrying about Christmas – read those verses over again. Soak them in. We are human; we are not God. It’s not a surprise that we worry about things over and over again. But God understands that – “No one can measure the depths of his understanding” (v. 28) So if you have to stop many times a day to remind yourself that God cares and can give you the strength to deal with whatever is bothering you, God understands. It doesn’t mean you are pathetically weak and beyond God’s compassion. He cares and He will give you strength.

Our song for today is Trust in You by Lauren Daigle.

November 19

You have not seen all there is to see, and that, my friend, is a beautiful thing.
Morgan Harper Nichols

Beautiful things take time as I preach to myself. Our entire backyard looks like a mud pit as we await the renovation plans to continue for our new home addition. In a season of uncertainty, we watched as our decision to build onto our home took effect not knowing when we’d see the end goal.

Digging up old bones is messy. I see physically as our home’s foundation is exposed and pipes and material are sprawled everywhere. Before our house comes back together as a functioning space, we have to go through the process of properly gutting and putting it back together. In order for things to fit back into place there tends to be a season of disarray. Perhaps this can mirror our lives at times. The beautiful can take time

Living in the mess isn’t always fun, and waiting day by day for the finished result can be trying. 

But you’re trying.

I’d like to simply encourage you, that today keep trying. Keep digging through, pulling through in order to see the light.

The end result will come, perhaps you’re just in the middle of things. Or perhaps you can’t see the full picture because it’s still being painted. 

You’re doing things, and that’s what matters.

We do what we can during a world pandemic, we do what we can within the space limitations we have. Let’s keep seeing things through, because the only way out is through. And you’re going to get through this.

I will lead the blind on unfamiliar roads. I will lead them on unfamiliar paths. I will turn darkness into light in front of them. I will make rough places smooth. These are the things I will do for them, and I will never abandon them.
Isaiah 42:16 GW

Further Reading:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.”
-James 1:2-7 MSG

November 18 – God Comes First

1 John 5: 18 – 21 NLT

“We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. 19 We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.

20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life.

21 Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”

As our relationship with God grows over our lifetime, we don’t make a “practice of sinning”. Why not? “God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them.” (v. 18) Will we struggle with sin? Yes. We are human. We are not perfect. But God’s Holy Spirit lives within us and helps us to become the people God wants us to be. This is a relationship between a father and child.

When I was a child, my relationship with my dad was a good one. He was fun to be with, although I needed to be careful not to break the rules set in our home. As a teen, I learned lots from him – he was amazing at helping me with my math and science homework. As a university student and young wife, I was quite happy to move away from my home town and dad. But the older I got, the more I appreciated him. My husband and I regularly asked for his advice as we made decisions. His death ripped a huge hole in my life; my mentor was gone.

As a young follower of Christ, I was excited to be part of my church, and all its programs. As a young adult, life was busy. God was there, but in the background a lot. I thought I could figure things out on my own. But as life started dishing out bumps and crises, I started to realize that I needed God’s presence in my life on a daily basis. I needed his guidance and help. He was my Heavenly Father, and I needed his love and forgiveness for all the messes I made. Those verses that end 1 John reinforce my life experience.

“And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”

Romans 8 is one of my favourite chapters in the Bible. It also describes this amazing relationship we have with God. To close, here are some of the verses in that chapter to ponder over:

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power[a] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (v. 1 – 2)

“But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. … 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”] 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” (v.9 – 17)

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

Our song for today is a well-known older hymn – God Will Take Care of You

November 17 – A “Sin Unto Death”

Today is going to be a “teaching day”. The verses today are difficult to understand, and many theologians have come up with various interpretations. As you know, my passion is that you read Scriptures completely – not just look at verses here and there. We need to know what God is telling us. I must admit, I’d like to skip over some verses because they are difficult, but here we go:

John 5: 16 – 17 NLT

“If you see a fellow believer sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. 17 All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death.”

Those verses that are quite puzzling, actually rather scary. We are going to look at what Charles Swindoll has to say in his commentary Living Insights 1 John.

“But what, exactly, does John mean by “a sin leading to death” and “a sin not leading to death”? To what sin, specifically, is he referring? Is it a single sin? Or a category of sins? And what kind of “death” is this? Physical death? Spiritual death? …

First, we need to determine whether John was referring to a specific sin – or to a type of sin – or to a certain duration of sin. If this is a specific sin, it could be a reference to what Jesus calls the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3: 29). On the seriousness of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, William Hendriksen writes, “when a man has become hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the promptings of the Spirit, not even to listen to his pleading and warning voice, he has placed himself on the road that leads to perdition. He has sinned the sin “unto death”. If this is the kind of sin “unto death” John meant in verses 16 to 17, then the kind of “death” John meant was eternal damnation – the death of the unsaved.

However, it is equally plausible that John was referring not to a specific kind or quality of sin, but to a situation in which a person’s persistent sin ultimately results in their being punished by physical death as judgement from the Lord. We see examples of this in the New Testament, as in the cases of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5: 1 – 11).” (page 132, Living Insights 1 John)

Just so you don’t have to look it up, this account in Acts occurred in the early church when they were collecting money to help those in need. Everyone had decided that their belongings were not their own, but God’s gift to them, and so should be shared.

“All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.” (Acts 4: 32 – 25)

Ananias and his wife decided to bring some of their money and claim it was everything they had. Peter, under the Holy Spirit, questioned what they were doing. “Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”” (Acts 5: 3 – 4)

This resulted in the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. God stepped into this situation in the early church to emphasize his presence. You didn’t try to deceive God, and that early church needed to know that.

Personally, I have always thought verses 16 to 17 in 1 John talked about someone who refused to acknowledge that Jesus was God’s son, someone who turned their back on any belief in God and the Bible. That would result in eternal separation from God. Charles Swindoll’s first explanation is the one that resonates with me.

That God would punish a believer by removing them from physical life, is a possibility, but I don’t think we have to be anxious thinking God is watching and ready to pounce on us for sins we commit. There are so many verses in the Bible that tell us that God forgives – even in 1 John. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1:9) I remember as a young teenager, reading those verses about a “sin unto death” and being quite scared. If I lied, would God strike me dead? As years have passed, I have come to know that God is loving and forgiving. When we are in a relationship with him, we continue to grow closer to him. Let’s look at some verses that talk about God’s forgiveness.

“But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you.” Psalm 130: 4

“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.” Romans 4: 7

“I am writing to you who are God’s children because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.” 1 John 2: 12

Our song for today reflects the fear about these verses – You Never Are by Francesca Battistelli.

November 16 – More Things We Need to Know

1 John 5: 13 – 15 NLT

“I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. 14 And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. 15 And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.

This 5th chapter of 1 John is a summary of what John has written throughout the book. These are the things he wants to make sure we know. That word “know” is used several times throughout this chapter. Here it is again: “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.” (v. 13) This is actually a repetition of the verse that concluded the verses we read on Friday. “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (v. 11 – 12)

Along with John, I can’t stress that enough. It’s so easy to get side-tracked into thinking we have to do something to earn God’s favour. There is nothing we can do ourselves to merit eternal life. It is totally provided by God and his Son, Jesus. In talking with people over the years, I know that someone will say that they believe that faith in Jesus gives them eternal life, but then, down deep, they are afraid that they have “lost” their salvation – or are not sure they have done enough to earn God’s love and eternal life – by not living as well as they should/could. Our salvation is a complete gift from God when we believe that Jesus is who He said he was.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2: 8 – 9)

Now John turns to another thing we need to know. “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” (14 – 15)

Verses 14 and 15 have sometimes been interpreted to mean we can get anything we pray for. We can pray for a promotion at work, we can pray for better health, we can pray for more wealth, etc. No! Let’s reread that phrase in verse 14 – “he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him.” Even Jesus knew that our prayers needed to be in alignment with God’s will, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Not my will but yours be done”. (Luke 22: 42)

Prayer is a crucial part of our faith, yet we often struggle with it – finding time, concentrating while we pray, wondering what to pray for – even forgetting to pray when something unexpected crops up. Yet talking with God is the way we keep our connection with him strong. Can you imagine what a relationship between a married couple would be like if they didn’t talk to each other on a regular basis? Can you imagine a mother and a young child not talking to each other? Best friends rarely talking – or texting?

Maybe we have a concept of God being almighty and powerful (which He is), and so we don’t approach him because we think of ourselves as unimportant to him. It doesn’t seem like a relationship between two friends, or a married couple. It seems more remote. What are we supposed to be talking to God about?

Well, there is something we can be sure of. God loves us. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16)  “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4: 9 – 10) Knowing that this incredible, amazing God loves us changes everything. I am not some insignificant person who God ignores. He cares about all the miniscule things in my life, just as a best friend does.

And there is something else I can know. God understands my weakness as a human being. He knows I struggle with prayer. God is committed to helping me in my prayer life. Isn’t that wonderful!

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers[l] in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8: 26 – 28)

So, take a deep breath. Talk to God regularly. Know that he will answer your prayers according to His divine will and for your good. Be confident that God wants to hear from you. Isn’t it amazing that God initiates everything? He sent Jesus to take the punishment for all our messes, and he also gives us the Holy Spirit to keep our relationship with our Heavenly Father vibrant and close. Amen!

Our song for today is Your Love Never Fails by Newsboys

November 13 – What You Need to Know

1 John 5: 1 – 12 NLT

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross – not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony. So we have these three witnesses – the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son. 10 All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.”

In this last chapter of 1 John, he is summing up the major points we need to know about our faith. His first point is “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God.” The key to our relationship with God is to believe that Jesus is the Christ – the son of God, a member of the trinity, the Messiah, God in human flesh. With that belief, we become God’s child. The word “become” indicates it is something that happened after our physical birth. There is a rebirth when we become God’s child. John mentions this fact as he talks with Nicodemus in John 3: 3 – “Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Becoming a child of God occurs when we believe who Jesus is.

There is some practical proof that this rebirth has happened. “And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too.” The love and caring we show to all the other people in our church – to anyone who loves God – is evidence of belonging to God’s family.  Does that make you stop and think for a minute? Are Christians in our world today known for their sacrificial love for one another? Or even just that they get along well with each other?

And then John makes another clarification. “We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. 3 Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” What are God’s commandments? He tells us clearly in Matthew 22: 37 – 40. “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.  40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  There you go – loving God and loving people are the two most important things in any believer’s life. They go hand-in-hand. Charles Swindoll in his commentary Living Insights 1 John says it’s like a piece of paper. Love God is on one side of the sheet of paper, and love others is on the back side of the same paper. You can’t separate them.

It’s interesting that John says these commandments are not “burdensome”. I can imagine if you’re anything like me, you know that loving God and other people is often not the primary focus of your life. Just looking after the ‘nitty-gritty’ of day to day living consumes most of my time; going to work takes up at least 8 hours every day. Knowing that I fall short of what God wants is burdensome. Thankfully, John gives us an answer to that problem. “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.” We don’t have to put God on a list of to-do things – things we must do to keep God happy with us. It’s our faith in God’s ability to change us that makes all the difference. I have the benefit of being God’s child for many years. I know that God has changed me over my life, and is still changing me. For example, while writing these devotions in 1 John, the Holy Spirit has convicted me of my non-loving attitude towards some people in my life. I don’t like admitting I’ve messed up, but I am so thankful that God keeps working with me. Keeping his commandments are not burdensome because God knows exactly when he needs to convict me, and at what point I’m ready to listen. “And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”

John goes on to tell us why we can believe who Jesus is. What proof is there? What is our faith based on? “And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross – not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony. So we have these three witnesses – the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree.” What is John referring to when he talks about the Spirit, water and the blood?

Let’s start with the “water”. He is likely referring to Jesus’ baptism. You can remember as John the Baptist baptized Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Mathew 3: 17) As John writes his first gospel, he talks about the day Jesus was baptized. I wonder if he was one of the 2 disciples mentioned in v. 35. In these verses from John’s gospel, we see the Holy Spirit mentioned as well as the water: “I (John the Baptist) didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.” 35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.”

The Holy Spirit was mentioned in those verses, but he is mentioned in other situations as well. On the Mount of Transfiguration we see the Spirit present as well. God makes sure we know that Jesus is his son. “Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.

Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials[a]—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground.

Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.” (Matthew 17: 1 – 8)

The blood refers to Jesus’ death on the cross. There are so many prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus’ coming to earth and his sacrifice for our sin. Isaiah 53 is such an amazing account of Jesus’ life and death. I’ll just include a few verses of that amazing chapter. (Isaiah 53: 5 – 6)

“But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.”

John concludes these verses by saying that our belief in Jesus, God’s son is the one thing that makes us a child of God. If you don’t believe that Jesus is God’s son, God in the flesh, then you are not part of God’s family. That is the crucial belief. “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.”

If for some reason you think you have to do something to be God’s child – to be a good person, to give to charity, to attend church faithfully, to … whatever you think God might want. Know this. It’s your belief that Jesus was God’s son, a member of the trinity, who came to earth and died for you – that is what makes the difference. Not what you can do, but what God has done.

Our song for today is Jesus by Chris Tomlin.

November 12 – Rise above it

Above the floodwaters is GOD’s throne from which his power flows, from which he rules the world.
Psalm 29:10 MSG

Hear our voices rise
Hear our battle cry
We’ve been under the curse
With our arms raised high
Hear us sing tonight
Like the last night on earth
We will rise like the tide
Like dead men
Coming back to life
We are rising
Rising

Rise Above It, Switchfoot

As the flames rise above the tree line in our late autumn bonfire I look above and my eyes are met with clear stars. We have been fortunate enough to experience warmer than normal temperatures this week and a summer-like bonfire was a nice cap to the season. As the smoke rises, I reminisce on how ‘rising above’ is a phrase I’ve heard used in lyrics and guidance given when in the middle of an argument.

Each of us on a journey, there is something always deeper or bigger than what we see at face value. In each person carries a depth of stresses and stories that shape the emotions each are portraying, the reactions they are alluding. Taking things “as is” or at face value isn’t always the full story. We must either rise above these emotions, look further to find a deeper and fuller understanding of our relationships.

Think about the things of Christ and don’t get distracted by the trivial.

Even within ourselves is such depth. We ourselves are fluid beings, and taking the time to explore our emotions, and core beings brings out our truer selves. So, rising above an argument, or the news, or our reality, isn’t a call to dismiss what is. But to look a little deeper. Or perhaps, look above. Where is God in this situation? Let’s remind ourselves to rise above it. To take a step back and acknowledge that God is above all.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”
Colossians 3:15-17 MSG

When the night is closing in,
Don’t give up and don’t give in.
This won’t last, it’s not the end, it’s not the end
You’re going to be okay
Bethel Music

November 11 – A Practical Application of God’s Love

1 John 4: 7

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”

Today, I’m quoting a section of Charles Swindoll’s commentary, Insights for Living: 1 John. He gives us a way to apply what we learned yesterday about God’s love for us that really made me think, and so I decided to pass it along to you. Are you up for the challenge?

“We’re to love one another – those brothers and sisters in Christ beside whom we worship during our Sunday services, among who we sit in Sunday school, with whom we minister in the nursery, and whom we pass by silently in the hallways. And that’s just the brothers and sisters in our own churches! We’re to love them unconditionally, selflessly, and sacrificially.

But how? What’s that supposed to look like? Isn’t it enough that we drop a few bucks in the offering plate on Sunday morning so the church has enough money to turn on the air conditioning and my brother in Christ doesn’t overheat? Or does the Lord expect something more tangible … and more real?

To help get a clearer picture of what’s involved in genuinely loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, take some time to reflect on some verses that flesh out the concept of loving one another. For each of the passages below, jot down a few words that summarize what specific actions would be expected in light of this kind of love. Then note a specific person (or persons) in your life for whom you can exercise this love. When you’ve completed the chart, prayerfully consider how you can start living in light of Christ’s command to love, by the power of the abiding Spirit.” (pages 117 – 118)

If you want to take this challenge seriously, go get a piece of paper and a pen. Put a line down the centre of the page. For each of the following verses, in the first column write down what God is asking you to do. Then think about a particular situation in your life that this passage speaks to. What do you need to change? What person comes to your mind – do you need to change your attitude/behaviour to this person? Is there something you need to start doing? Write what comes to mind in the second column.

Our 5 challenging verses for today:

“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” Romans 12: 9 – 13

“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbour, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet. These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” Romans 13: 8 – 10

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”] 15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” Galatians 5: 13 – 15

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Ephesians 4: 1 – 3

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 24 – 25

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed after reading what God wants you to do? Here is our song for today – God Help Me by Plumb.

November 10 – LOVE

1 John 4: 7 – 21 (NLT)

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

13 And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love19 We love each other because he loved us first.

20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.”

In 14 verses, the word love is used 27 times! I guess we should pay attention, wouldn’t you say?

John starts by emphasizing that God is the source of love; a major characteristic of God is love. The proof of that is that Jesus came into the world as a sacrifice for sin. He didn’t have to do that. We don’t merit it; we didn’t earn it in some way; he didn’t owe it to us as a reward for something. God did that because he loved us even though we were a mess.

No one has seen God. He is a spiritual being. However, in human history, some people saw Jesus, God in human form. John was one of those people. He knew beyond a doubt from his life with Jesus, that God is love. In John’s gospel, John mentions that he was the disciple that Jesus loved (John 13: 23). I don’t think he was saying that he was a special, favourite disciple. He was overwhelmed that God loved him – loved him personally in spite of who he was. But, John now says that people today see God’s love through us. We are the visible evidence that God is love. Wow! That is a challenge! The way I love is the way people around me get to know God!

Am I up to that challenge? Likely not. But – “God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us … God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect” (v. 13; 16 – 17). God is the one who empowers me, grows me to be a more loving person.

When I look at myself, I see a person who is definitely imperfect in loving others. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit I often live more for my own comfort and pleasure than for loving/helping others. How am I going to face God someday knowing I should have been more loving? John assures us that we don’t have to fear facing God. God is love and he is living in us and growing us to love more. His love for us has no limit – “perfect love expels all fear” (v. 18).

If I understand God’s love for me, that makes such a difference! Do you worry about not living up to God’s standards? Somewhere down deep, do you think you need to do things to please God and be accepted by him? Do you look around you and think to yourself that you are not as good as the other people you meet at church? GOD LOVES YOU! God is love. God lives in you when you accept Jesus as the one who took the punishment for your sin. God’s love flows through you more each day as you depend more and more on the Holy Spirit living in you.

So – what is the practical side of all this? We as Christ followers should be known for our love for others. John frequently mentions that we should love one another – that is love the other people in our church, and other Christians no matter where they live. “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3: 17 – 18). How we treat other Christians is a demonstration to the world around us of God’s love. Do others see my church as a safe place where people are accepted, loved and cared for? John says that “we live like Jesus here in this world” (v. 17). Do I love others no matter what they are like just as Jesus did? When I meet someone I’d rather avoid, do I accept them knowing God loves them just as much as he loves me?

I think that when I start to comprehend how much God loves me, I am more willing to love others. Take a moment and think about yourself – the things you know that you mess up. God loves you no matter what. Really praise him and thank him for that love. You are his child. You belong to him. From that acceptance, you can love others.

“We love each other because he loved us first” (v. 19).

Our song for today is The Love of God by Mercy Me

November 9 – Check It Out

1 John 4: 1 – 6 (NLT)

“Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.”

Once again, John talks about the false prophets, or in some translations they are called antichrists. The Bible is consistent in saying that there will be many people who claim they know about all things spiritual and have some special tie to God, but who not acknowledge Jesus is God in human form. Just before Christ’s second coming, there will be someone called the Antichrist, a specific one person who will have world-wide influence and be against the Christian faith.

John is writing these letters (epistles) to small churches that meet in homes all around the mid-east. It is very early in church history, and although those early believers agreed that Jesus was God’s son, there were teachers who were travelling around to the various churches with incorrect teaching. They didn’t have the Bible as we know it today, so it was likely more possible for them to be influenced by false teaching. This is why John continues to stress that they must be able to figure out what is true and what is not.

The key basic truth that they must look for when listening to these various teachers is what is said about Jesus. Charles Swindoll gives a good statement of what we must believe about Jesus in his commentary, Living Insights: 1 John: “Genuine teachers must hold to the right Jesus, not a different Jesus. They must accept Him as the incarnate God-man, sent by God the Father in the power of God the Holy Spirit. They must believe in His virgin birth, His sinless life, His atoning death, and His glorious resurrection from the dead. This means accepting Him as the only Savior and Lord, and it means hoping for His future coming as King.” (page 103)

There are religions today that agree the Bible is good, but see Jesus as an important prophet or moral person, not as God in human form. New Age thinking agrees there is a spirit world, but doesn’t acknowledge God as supreme or Jesus as God in the flesh. We also need to be careful about groups that operate under the Christian banner, but actually stress the spirit world. They have combined New Age with Christianity. John also stresses that behaviour is linked to belief. If a “church leader” claims to be a Christian but their lifestyle isn’t following Jesus’ example, then we should be careful. We’ve seen church leaders who have lived very lavish lifestyles and promoted a prosperity gospel. As we see popular church movements rise, we need to check to see if Jesus’ death for our sin and his resurrection are pivotal to their message. Is accepting Jesus, God incarnate, as my personal Saviour the most important part of their teaching?

John goes on to say that we have an amazing support as we check out these attractive movements in our world. “The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” (v. 4) We have the Holy Spirit to guide us in our thoughts. Jesus, himself, told us this as well:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. 18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. …

26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart.” (John 14: 16 – 18; 26 – 27)

When you see a new popular movement begin that claims to be Christian, check it out before you get involved. Know what the Bible says about following Jesus, and listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” (v. 16 – 17) “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” (v. 26)

Our song for today is In Christ Alone from #strongtower27

November 6 – Love

1 John 3: 11 – 24 NLT

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” (v 11)

Verse 11 is the crucial statement of this chapter. John heard that statement at the Last Supper, and he took it to heart.  

John 13:34-35  (NLT)

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

This is a pivotal characteristic of a Christ follower. If a person truly believes that Jesus loved them so much that he died for them, they will in turn love others, especially other Christ followers. Those loving/caring relationships will stand out to the world in which we live – that egocentric world.

12 We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. 13 So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

14 If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. 15 Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. 20 Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.

21 Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. 22 And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.

23 And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us.”

John gives us a contrasting picture of people who love God and those who don’t. I’m going to give you a summary of what Charles Swindoll said in his commentary, Living Insights: 1 John about Cain. The account of Cain murdering his brother, Abel, is told in Genesis 4. In the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned, God made them clothes of animal skins. Perhaps, that was the beginning of animal sacrifices for sin. When Cain offered fruits or veggies, God said he wanted a blood sacrifice – which is what Abel gave. Cain was angry and apparently didn’t want to go along with God’s request, and as a result, killed his brother out in the fields. People who are not believers don’t follow God’s instructions, and may even be hostile to Christians.

In contrast, Jesus demonstrated “what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us” (v. 16). Christ followers are encouraged to follow Jesus’ example – not that we have to give up our lives (although that might be a possibility), but John says we should be willing to give up our money if we see fellow believers struggling. Now in our culture today, that likely hits a sore spot. We’re so focused on doing well and getting all the latest stuff. But John is telling us if we are aware of a need, we should do something. We’re not just words, but action as well. That’s a challenge!

At the end of this chapter, John again stresses our need to love one another. “We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us.” (v.23) He has actually told us 5 times in these 13 verses that we should love one another. The wording changed a little, but the message didn’t. Although John talks about our need to love other Christians, I don’t think that means we can treat non-Christians poorly. Sometimes I get the feeling that non-Christians see us as legalistic, judgmental people. What we really should be known for is our love for others – period. God didn’t decide to die only for wonderful people. Jesus died for every single one of us. Our thankfulness to him for that should be obvious to the world around us – we are loving, gracious people.

John definitely challenges me today – hopefully you too.

Our song for today stresses how much God loves me/you. Sometimes I think we need to concentrate on what God has done for us rather than on what we need to do. When we realize how much we are loved, our love for others becomes a natural outcome.

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us by Fernando Ortega

November 5 – Heart to heart

Listening to a sermon earlier in the week, I’m reminded that God can handle the full weight of what we’re dealing with. At times, it’s difficult to envision a God so present, and so in-tune when we can’t physically see him. As God knows our every lives’ detail, I’ve learned that he longs to hear the authenticity of our hearts, as raw and real as they may be. But at times our rants and longings get poured in other directions of our lives. A better idea is to bring these frustrations to God, as we know they are all going to come out one way or another! And God can handle our realities.

“Give it to me straight”, is the saying. In a sense, a prompt to be real, authentic, to tell someone how it really is. Maybe as Canadians we tend to sugar coat our responses, or politely communicate our feelings. And in personal experience, I found my prayer life to mirror that. Whether in writing or in prayer time, there would be a tendency to make my requests sound nice. But in my own personal mindset, that’s really not how I felt. There were times that left me frustrated, defeated, and lost for words.

As there are times to sink into God’s joy, and faithfulness, there are times to dig deep and explore our hurts and in turn express them. But if we’re being real with ourselves, that’s not where our hearts lie. If we dug down deep, we’d find some pain and perhaps even anger.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Philippians 4:6 NIV

When we let our requests be made known to God like this—in the devotion of prayer, in many specific requests for help, with a heart that is thankful for everything God designs for us, the pleasures and the pain—then his peace will guard our minds and free us from anxiety in a way that defies mere rational explanation; it surpasses all understanding.
Desiring God, John Piper

Bring all to God in prayer.
We find fulfillment and freedom when we’re able to simply talk with God candidly about our struggles. As God longs to hear about the depths of our soul, he longs to bless us with the peace that comes in quieting in prayer with him. I’m learning as I go, but hoping you’ll also be encouraged by the reminder to release your worries and detailed wonderings to God. He knows, cares, and as always, longs to free us in anyway.

Prayer is for turning the tide, for changing the seeming course of history.”
David Mathis

November 4 – Be Thou My Vision

1 John 3: 4 – 10 NLT

“Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.

Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. 10 So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.”

These are strong words! I don’t think it means that we must be perfect, sinless. In our human state, we have a tendency to sin. Earlier in 1 John, he talks about admitting our sin and asking for forgiveness. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1: 9) That verse was forever etched on my mind when I was 18 years old. I spent a summer working with Child Evangelism Fellowship, an organization that works with children to introduce them to faith in God. The summer program meant we travelled to various places in Ontario and held club meetings in people’s backyards for one week. We told Bible stories and played games to keep the children wanting to return each of the five days. We were trained on how to lead someone to faith in Jesus. We had several verses about what sin is, why Jesus died and rose from the dead – but then we had to talk about living through life with a close relationship with God. That verse was 1 John 1: 9 – the assurance we can mess up and God will forgive. (By the way, one week I stayed with Chuck Congram’s parents – who knew I would meet Chuck later in life at LSA?)

What John is talking about in these verses is someone who claims to be a Christ follower, but deliberately continues to sin. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they don’t care. Think about a love relationship between a husband and wife. That most often means both people care for the other person and want to please them. If we know something really bugs the other person, we stop doing it. Suppose you were in a marriage when one of the partners said, I won’t be home for supper at least 5 nights of the week because I have some friends I’d rather be with. Would you call that a good marriage? The person prefers to be with other people? That is what John is talking about. How can we say we are Christ followers if we ignore what God wants, if we ignore God most of every day?

When we love God, we want to live in a way pleasing to him. We want to follow Jesus’ example. We want to do what is right. We are sorry when we realize we’ve done something wrong. Sometimes it takes the Holy Spirit a while to convince us to give something up. We hear that small voice in our spirit making us uncomfortable with our attitude or behaviour. We can be assured we can turn to him for forgiveness.

To close today, I want you to read what Paul says about the Holy Spirit guiding us to live the way God wants.

Galatians 5: 16 – 25 NLT

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. “

Our song for today is Be Thou My Vision. This hymn was thought to be originally written in the 6th century by an Irish Christian poet, Dallan Forgaill. Eleanor Hull translated it from that old Anglo-Saxon version in 1912, and an Irish folk song became its music.

November 3 – Heaven!

1 John 2: 28 – 3: 3 NLT

“And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.

29 Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”

John talks about Christ’s second coming. This is an event that God’s children can look forward to. Stop for a moment and think about this phrase – “he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” Think about family relationships. I know that over years family relationships can become strained, but let’s think back to those earlier years – preschool and elementary school years. Remember looking at your children after they fell asleep at night, and feeling that overwhelming sense of love and thankfulness for that little one? Remember those times when they fell and scraped their knees or arms, or even broke a bone – remember how protective you were. How you empathized so strongly to the point of feeling their pain too? Remember Christmas mornings or birthdays when they opened their gifts, and you were so happy to see their excited faces? That is the relationship God has with us. He marvels at his creation, he feels our pain, he rejoices with our successes. Someday we’ll be together in heaven and that will be the most exciting time of our lives as we are with our Heavenly Father.

John mentions that we should live today in the expectation of that day. That means “all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.” Again, remember your younger years. Remember how important and confident your felt when your parents praised you for something you had done? Remember times when you went out of your way to do something that you knew would make your parents happy? That is the relationship we have with God. It’s a love relationship and we know to keep it flourishing we need to treat it with respect. John will continue this idea in tomorrow’s devotions.

Today, let’s look at some verses that talk about Jesus’ second coming – the event we look forward to. As we get older, I suspect we anticipate it more, but even as a young person who still looks forward to life here on planet earth, knowing there is a wonderful future ahead is a foundation to build this life on.

In Matthew 24, Jesus describes the end time before he returns and what it will be like on that wonderful day. Here are two of the verses from that chapter.

Matthew 24:30-31  (NLT)

“And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.”

Paul describes the Jesus’ second coming in two places:

1 Corinthians 15:51-52  (NLT)

“But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18  (NLT)

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.”

If you want more detail about the second coming, read what John wrote in Revelation, chapters 19 to 22. To close I thought I’d include some verses about heaven – that destination we look forward to:

Revelation 21:22 to 22: 5 (NLT)

“I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. 26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. 27 Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.”

Our song for today is I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me: