May 18 – Jesus Announces Who He Is

By Gretchen Potma

Luke 4: 14 – 30

“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marvelled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.”

As Jesus leaves his sojourn in the wilderness, Luke makes sure we know that Jesus has not left the Spirit behind and is still going forward in His power. He was on the defence against Satan, but he has not been exhausted by the confrontation. Jesus had refused glory on Satan’s terms, so it is gratifying to see that God grants that he would be glorified by the people who hear him preach, even though we can be sure that praise from the crowds of people is not what is motivating or strengthening him. And good thing too, because the praise doesn’t last long.

In the power of the Spirit, he goes on the offence and begins to intentionally butt heads with the system by going to the synagogue and announcing through the Scripture reading that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. At first his proclamation is well-received. The men in the synagogue like the passage he has chosen, and who wouldn’t want to hear about good news and liberty and the year of the Lord’s favour? It is a short but purposeful passage for a sabbath reading in the synagogue. They might not consciously realize it yet, but Jesus has basically told them that he is not just a rabbi, not just a prophet, not just someone who is saying the Messiah will come. He is saying that he is the Messiah. Those who were listening carefully would have realized that he left off an important phrase from the passage he read from the prophet Isaiah. The original says “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.” To our ears that sounds like good news that the day of vengeance has been postponed, but for the Jews who were currently being oppressed by the Romans, and previously by many others, this would more likely set their teeth on edge. Even so, they were still willing to praise Jesus. They knew his (earthly) father and wanted to compliment him on how well his son had turned out. If Jesus had stopped there, they might have even been willing to entertain the thought that he could possibly be the promised one. But still led by the Spirit, he knew what else needed to be said. He reached back into the Scriptures again and reminded them that God had been at work in the past outside the borders of Israel among the Gentiles. That was when his moment of being glorified and accepted by the people of Nazareth turned into outrage. Why did their opinion of him change so quickly? The Jews rested in being God’s chosen people and they didn’t have much else to call their own, so they were not eager to share that special privilege with anyone else.

Jesus was given a mission by God that he has passed on to the church, His chosen people. The Spirit of the Lord is also upon us and we are also “to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” while it is still the day of salvation. Believe it or not, the day of vengeance of God has not yet come because of His patience.

During this time, we shouldn’t allow our focus to be only on meeting the physical and social needs of people around us, but we should be actively looking for opportunities in our community and neighbourhoods to share the load of suffering.

But as we know that the Lord’s patience will one day come to an end, “let it be declared unashamedly and reasonably that the greatest and most loving thing we can do for anyone is release them from the captivity of sin (Romans 6:22-23) heal them from the blindness of unbelief (Acts 26:17-18, II Cor 4:4) and set them at liberty from the oppression of Satan (2 Timothy 2:26)” (John Piper)

We also need to be careful not to limit who we think God should be granting salvation to. It is just as easy for us to look at certain groups of people and decide that they don’t deserve salvation as it was for the Jews of Jesus’ day to decide that Gentiles were not worthy of God’s favor. The majority of the unbelieving world can be divided into 5 groups (easily remembered with the acronym THUMB): Tribal, Hindu, Unreligious, Muslim and Buddhist. Maybe when we encounter someone from one of those groups, we feel angry about and threatened by the worldview they represent. In more recent years, many have begun to wonder if they even have the right to say that the differing worldview or religion of those people won’t also lead them to God. Praise God that all those groups are represented in Windsor. Let’s pray for opportunities to confidently and boldly tell them about Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

May 17 – Testing

By Gretchen Potma

Luke 4: 1 – 13 NLT

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.” 

As I was reading once again this familiar passage about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, something stood out to me that I hadn’t thought about before. Jesus was being tempted by the devil, not just in the three conversations with Satan that are recorded here, but throughout the forty days. My perception always has been that Satan came at the end when Jesus was weakened by the forty days of fasting. I think most of us would see fasting and being alone in the wilderness as the biggest challenge. I’ve never tried being alone in the wilderness, but even fasting for one day for spiritual purposes is challenging enough.

I wonder what kind of temptations Jesus faced during those forty days. Matthew mentions wild beasts, he was alone, and he certainly didn’t have any kind of built structure as protection from wild animals or from wind and rain and sun. God had just affirmed that Jesus was his beloved Son, but after a few days, maybe those words weren’t ringing so strongly in his ears. In his humanity, Jesus could have struggled with self-pity and loneliness and fear. He could have been tempted to murmur against God like the Israelites did when they were in wilderness.

This account of Jesus’ temptations immediately follows the awesome signs of Jesus being affirmed by God’s voice and the dove of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. As Luke begins to tell this story of Jesus’ temptations, he emphasizes that Jesus was filled with and led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus was not relying on his divine nature to carry him through these temptations. Jesus was well-aware, as he states later in this chapter, that he was relying on the Holy Spirit to face temptation. This is encouraging to me and I hope it is to you as well. Jesus faced temptations as a human just like I do, and he was dependent on the same Holy Spirit that I have been given by God. I have never seen a dove descend over me or a flame on my head, but I know the Holy Spirit is living within me and the only way to overcome temptation or live as a Christian is with the Holy Spirit. Just do a search of “in the Spirit” or “by the Spirit” in a Bible app and it is clear that God never intended us to live as His sons and daughters without the Holy Spirit.

We can guess that Jesus was probably thinking about the Israelites because the passages from Deuteronomy that he quotes to Satan are taken from precisely that context. The Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years and Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. Jesus would have been aware of the significance of 40. Maybe he felt on day 40, like he had passed the test and could now move on to his time of ministry. How many times in the past year have we felt like we have passed the test of Covid, quarantine, lock-down, stay-at-home and now we can move on to doing what God called us to do? (We can all probably identify with those grumbling Israelites).

“Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.
11 And they will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.”

At this point, Satan threw some new angles of temptation at Jesus. He responded not just in the Spirit or by the Spirit, but with the word of God. I don’t imagine he was carrying a Torah scroll with him, so he relied on his biblical training and the spiritual disciplines of his Jewish community and his time alone with God.

We have those weapons available to us as well. We have the advantage of the whole Bible being available to us at any time in print and digital forms, but we do need to make it a habit to use them every day and throughout the day. I was struggling with reading my Bible and forgetting what I’d read during the day, so I’ve started making putting a verse from whatever passage I read on the home screen of my phone, so I see it frequently throughout the day. I’m thankful for all the verses I memorized as a child because memorizing is much more of a challenge as an adult, but the effort is still worth it. It is a way to meditate on Scripture, even if it doesn’t make it to my long-term memory.

Here’s one verse about temptation that I memorized as a child (in the King James Version, but I’ll quote it from the NIV) that is a great promise for every time we are facing temptations, big or small.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I Corinthians 10:13

The preceding verses in that chapter recount the temptations to which the Israelites had succumbed: sexual immorality, testing the Lord and grumbling. Paul points out that “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” I Corinthians 10:11-12 In short, he is telling us to defend ourselves from temptation, reading and learning from the examples and warnings in the Bible, and to be listening to the Holy Spirit who will make us aware when we have the potential to fall. These are the weapons that God gave to Jesus and that He has given to us!

May 14 – Moses and the Pandemic

Did you know Moses lived through a pandemic? He did! It was terrible. Moses and the Israelites were in lockdown in a place where there were no grocery stores. In fact, their bread and protein needed to be delivered to them 6 out of 7 days a week. There was a shortage of grain, figs, grapevines and pomegranates, and even melons were missed.1 They couldn’t shop for clothing or shoes, never got to swim or farm, and not only was there no bottled water but often there was no water at all. But water was brought in when needed, especially if the people in lockdown were verbal about it2. At one point, Moses’ wife, 2 sons and father-in-law came to visit and stayed for a while. 3 That was a nice break—but it was a full 40 years until the pandemic was declared just an epidemic4 and they were able to leave and enter a new land, one that had been promised long, long ago.

The pandemic? Caused by the virus of little faith. The scientific name would be ‘lack of trust in God.’ The length? 40 years, one year to represent each day spent spying out the land. It doesn’t sound fair, but the Israelites had just seen God deliver them from Egyptian plagues, as well as the death of the firstborn, parting of the Red Sea, and a pillar of fire to separate them from certain death. All that, and within 6 weeks they were grumbling and complaining and acting like spoiled children (Ex. 16:1-3) All that and they didn’t trust God when 10 out of 12 men thought the future looked too scary – too unknown. Their new normal was too unsettling.

There were government helps though, from the highest court in the Universe. The ‘power that be’ had manna and quail delivered daily; on Saturday a double portion so they all could rest on the Sabbath. (Ex. 16:11-32) It was free of charge. There wasn’t anywhere to swim, being the Desert of Zin, but God brought water out of a rock when needed (Ex. 17:3-7; Numbers 20:5-12) Walmart and Amazon weren’t options; but Alpha and Omega saw that they could wear their shoes and clothing.5 The visit of Moses’ wife and children was uplifting. In fact, much to my surprise, I even heard from Exodus 18:24 that Moses’ father-in-law had some creative ideas that helped things run smoother in the new living situation. In fact, Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said! Just imagine! Wisdom from a father-in-law!

40 years later, the Pandemic was simply an epidemic. There were still traces of the virus of little faith and lack of trust, but all those initially infected had died off. Sad, but true. This new life was seen with new eyes; they called it a land flowing with milk and honey.

Future generations would look back on the pandemic and wonder why the people grumbled so much. Strong believers would look back and say, “Ha. I would have known that God would eventually bring deliverance.” It makes me think though; I wonder how we would fare should we be asked to live through a pandemic? What if we had to trust God for income, no family visits, loss of employment, shortages of some foods, no shopping for shoes and clothes, and resting on the Sabbath. Hmmm. I wonder.

1 Numbers 20:5, 2 Numbers 20:8-11; Exodus 17:3-7, 3 Exodus 18:5, 4 Numbers 14:33,34, 5 Deuteronomy 29:5; 8:4; Nehemiah 9:21

May 13 – Moses – Standing in the Gap

This devotional is a hard one. It is never easy to see the mistakes or shortfalls of another person. But I want you to see two very important things about Moses, and to see that, we need to take an honest look. Great man of God? Certainly! Is he in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith? Yes. So, track with me and read through to the end.

Moses was born into a Hebrew home, grew up under Pharaoh, and after committing murder, fled to Midian. There he became a shepherd, married and had children. At the age of 80 God showed up in a burning bush and commissioned Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.

There were many things Moses didn’t have at the beginning of this mission:

  1. He didn’t have youth. He lived to be 1201 and at this point is 802, so 2/3 of his life has passed.
  2. He didn’t have the gift of speaking or preaching. In Exodus 3 & 4 Moses literally argues with God. Moses had a stammer or speech impediment causing him to stutter. He debates back and forth asking God to speak through someone else.
  3. He didn’t have confidence. Even after Moses presents all his arguments and God answers them patiently, he concludes with ‘O Lord, please send someone else to do it.’ (Exodus 4:13)
  4. He didn’t follow God’s initial plan. God asked to speak through Moses, and when Moses resists, he incites the anger of God. “The LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, ‘What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it.’” (Exodus 4:14-17)
  5. He didn’t know it all. God tells Moses, “I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.” (Exodus 4:15)
  6. He didn’t hold the staff. This one always surprises me, and I have to check that I am correct. Too many movies have Moses stretching out his staff over the Red Sea at the parting. But we are told, ‘Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake3…But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.’4 The LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron, Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt…and they will turn to blood…’5

As we get further into the plagues it appears Moses is growing bolder and more confident. God has Moses throw soot in the air from a furnace. It becomes festering boils on men and animals6. And after the last terrible plague of the death of all the firstborn, God tells Moses to extend his very hand over the waters of the Red Sea, and the Sea parts, allowing the Israelites to cross and then again, swallowing up the Egyptians.1

Moses grows in his faith of God so much so that we are told this:

Hebrews 11

24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

This old man with a stammering tongue, low self-confidence and much to learn had two great things that outshone all his shortcomings:

  1. He had a faith in God and in the promise to come (redemption through Jesus Christ). ‘He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.’ And ‘he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.’

The first great thing about Moses is he learned who God is, and never lost sight of that. He didn’t start out at that point, but he got there.

The second great thing about Moses is he loved his people and desired them to know God as well.

  1. He had such a great love for his people (had the heart of God for them) that he was willing to stand in the gap. “So Moses went back to the LORD and said, ‘Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:31, 32)

Wow! What a love. What a commitment. By the time the Israelites had crossed the Sea and received the 10 commandments, Moses was willing to stand in the gap and die in their place. Eternally. His heart was the very heart of God.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

Moses loved his people and was willing to stand in the gap. Today, Jesus Christ stands in the gap for us.2 Praise be to God for His plan of redemption and His weaving of this truth through all of Scripture. And praise God for His patience, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to enjoy eternal life in heaven with Him.

1 John 5:11.12 “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

May 12 – Moses: Time to Retire?

Retirement. Fun facts:

  1. When a man retires, his wife gets twice as much husband for half as much money
  2. Retirement is like coming home one day and saying, ‘Honey, I’m home…for good!’
  3. Congrats on being so tired you can retire!
  4. Sarah was 90 when she gave birth to Isaac
  5. Noah was 600 years old when he finished the Ark
  6. Moses was 80 years old when he led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert

Does the idea of approaching Pharaoh (who saw himself as god on Earth), rescuing a people and leading them through the desert (for 40 years), climbing a mountain for the 10 commandments and then writing and preaching sermons that basically fill the first 5 books of the Bible seem a little overwhelming as a retirement plan? For you ladies, what about having your next newborn at 90? I know, I know. If people lived to be 500 and 600 years old, 80 really is young. However, we have a verse in Deuteronomy 34:7 that basically annihilates this argument: ‘Moses was a hundred and twenty-years old when he died…’ YIKES! What does this say about what God expects of us?!

When we think of time and ‘working’ for God, we tend to fall into two camps. The first is that God is eager to get started with us. Let’s not go to Bible College or Seminary. Let’s hit the ground running and let the Holy Spirit be our teacher and guide. God needs us; there is a task waiting; let’s get moving. Moses was called at 80, but he spent the first 40 years or so as a shepherd in the land of Goshen. He certainly wasn’t overtaxed and burdened upon his new life after fleeing Egypt. God was patient, waiting for the perfect timing, and waiting for Moses to develop the character traits needed. And by this, I certainly don’t mean perfection. Take a read of Exodus 3:10-4:17 to hear Moses arguing with God. He even complains he can’t speak without stuttering and God replies, “Hey, Moses. Who do you think invented the tongue?”

The second camp is that of thinking that once we have fulfilled our service to God, we are done. It’s our time to rest, relax, do all those things that ‘really’ define life; do what we have been working toward.

The lessons are simple. God calls us to consecrate our lives to Him, and everything He does is holy and good. There is no such thing as important work and unimportant work. Life doesn’t start when we retire. It starts when we are born and is redefined when we are regenerated. Are you a shepherd? Great! Take care of those sheep, do your job well, and look for what God is doing in and through you. No rush. Are you in full time ministry? Great. Take care of those sheep and do your job well. Look for what God is doing in and through you.

God has a great plan. Maybe you are a Moses, or a Noah or heaven forbid, a Sarah who is destined to have a baby at age 90. You might be a corner piece on the puzzle, or even the centre of the picture. But maybe not–maybe you are the shepherd in Goshen, or a woman drawing water at the well, or simply an Israelite following someone on a journey through the desert. You are still a piece of the puzzle, and even if you aren’t the corner, or the very centre of the picture, that puzzle is rejected at the good will store because ‘it just isn’t complete without ALL of the pieces.’

The fault lays in our thinking that we are only doing work for God when we are ‘doing.’ Let’s not forget that God created the whole world, and on the seventh day, He rested. Did He need to? Was He tired? What was the purpose? He rested to enjoy what was made, and that day was declared holy.

Whether you are a great prophet, or a humble servant only matters if you count things as the world does. What really matters to the Father is are you doing what you were created to do? Loving Him and making Him known? I can’t reach my fellow prisoner because I’m not in jail. You can’t reach my Muslim neighbour because you don’t live where I do. And neither can do it anyway; it is Him working in and through us, to His glory.

My encouragement for you today is you are HIS unique and equally important piece of the puzzle. Regardless of age. Regardless of calling. Regardless of work or retirement. So, shepherd away!

May 11 – Moses: To God’s Glory Not Man’s

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, ‘Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?’ The man said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?’ …when Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled…” Genesis 2:11-15

We all know of Moses from the story of the baby in the bulrushes. We know of him as the one who gave us the 10 commandments, got angry over the golden calf, and most notoriously, led the Israelites out of Egypt during the first Passover after inflicting plague upon plague upon plague on a people who would not “Let my people go!” But did you know he was a murderer? Did you know he fled Egypt because Pharaoh had a price on his head?

Today’s passage finds Moses at his first recorded rest stop. He flees to Midian where we are told he went to live. One day Moses sits down by a well, and 7 sisters come to draw water for their flocks, but shepherds come along and drive them away. This was a common occurrence, so much so that their father expected the watering of the flock to take quite a while—the girls persevered until they could finally draw water from the well.

This particular day Moses was there. He saw what was happening, got up, came to their rescue watering their flock. He also drew water for the sisters to drink (Genesis 2:16-19) This kind act brings to light something I believe we often overlook. I believe that when we make mistakes, sometimes we have a hard time getting past the mistake and feel that we might as well give up even trying. We make a major faux pas or have some huge character flaw come to light, and we let that define who we are. How can God possibly use us when we have messed up so badly?

We are talking about a murderer here! Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh and his own actions meant that Pharaoh now was out to kill him. And what does he do? We don’t find him moping in the desert, giving up on life and on himself. Instead, we find him doing a simple act of kindness; watering a flock and helping a group of women who are being bullied. This is something we would expect of a gentle and kind-hearted man, not a murderer. And therein lies the dilemma. We are not defined by a single action or mistake in our lives; we know that God goes on to use this man greatly. In fact, God goes on and uses Saul (the grand persecutor of the Christian church) and writes 1/3 of the New Testament through him!1 Oh, how willing we are to give up on ourselves and write ourselves off when God is the one who redeems.

The key is found in Exodus 3:8: God hears the cry of his enslaved people. He calls Moses through the burning bush and says, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

It isn’t Moses who rescues the Hebrew peoples. It isn’t Moses who does such great things for God. It isn’t Moses who has made himself worthy to be used any more than Saul was found worthy. Rather, it is God Himself who chooses to do His work through us.

A willing heart. An obedient ear. A flawed life, first forgiven and then filled with the power from above. This is what God requires of us. This is how to be a hero of the faith. He never demands that we are perfect or have it all together before we come to Him because it is ‘while we were yet sinners, [that] Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

At the end of the day, it is God who does the rescuing, or saving, or preaching or feeding, and we are just called to be faithful with what has been given to us. They are all HIS works, through us.

So, the next time you mess up, and we know we will, remember: God isn’t finished with you yet. This mistake or sin does not define who you are; who I am. We can come to Him, repent, thank Him for the forgiveness available through Christ, and move on to the next act of kindness He has for us to do in and through us. He can make you a Moses, to His glory!

May 10 – Moses: More than a Mother’s Love

When I went to the movie theatre to see Breakthrough1, the true story of a young boy who fell through the ice, I was totally unprepared for the emergency room scene. The doctors and nurses had been working on this 12-year-old who had spent 20 minutes in the water and another 40 not breathing on his own. The medical staff finally and sadly declared him dead. The mother comes alone into the room to say goodbye, and she pleads with the God to send the Holy Spirit to breathe life back into her child. Her raw pain and evident love for her son overwhelmed every person in that theatre.

I feel this same desperate love when I read the story of Moses. Exodus 2:1-10 records a mother’s desperation, and the answer is not just miraculous, but laced with God’s loving kindness above and beyond what could be imagined.

The Birth of Moses

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So, the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So, the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

The love story between this mother and child begins in verse 2: ‘when she saw that he was a fine child…’ What mother doesn’t think their child is the most beautiful child in the world? This was a time in Jewish history when the midwives had been instructed to slay all male babies at birth. When they chose God’s law over man’s edict, Pharaoh captured all male infants and threw them into the Nile River. Now the Nile River was basically the temple of the crocodile god Sebek. A Nile crocodile is not anything like an alligator, and as someone who has lived along the Niger River, and visited the Florida everglades, that one terrifies me. It was with great trepidation and fear—certainly not a first-choice option–that Moses was gently placed, not to glide down the river but in the rushes on the bank. His sister Miriam watched nearby. I’m sure mom was on her knees imploring God to somehow spare and rescue him. Imagine her joy when he is not only saved but is returned to her. She is actually paid money by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse her own child. And it gets better. Moses doesn’t initially live in the palace but with his family until he is weaned, anywhere from 3-5 years old.

Is there anything greater than a mother’s love? Is there any greater force than having mom in your corner?

Surprisingly, there is. I was shocked when I first read this verse in Isaiah because my ‘natural’ answer to the question was ‘No, never! A mother’s love is greatest!’ So, when asked if a mother will abandon her breast-fed baby, I’d say there is no way.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me. –Isaiah 49:15,16

Yes! A mother, sadly, can turn and forget the child she has nursed. As unbelievable as it sounds, the greatest force of love is not a mother’s love. “Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” The love of God in Jesus Christ is written by nail marks in the palms of His hands. Comparison is being used here to amplify just how great God’s love is for us.

We ourselves have 4 girls, 3 of whom were severely neglected and rejected by their birth mom prior to their adoption. This verse makes sense when I think of her. But what about MY love as their mother? I know the depth and breadth of that love and know how I would give my very life to save each and any one of them. But even in comparison to a healthy unconditional mother’s love, nothing matches the love of God for our children. He will not abandon them. He has not abandoned them. They are loved.

You are loved.

My eldest daughter struggles with rejection, abandonment, being pushed aside. My words of devotion to her and unconditional love are not always reassuring—one mom has already let her go, so how is her ‘forever’ mom going to be any different? People do disappoint. People do fail. I fail and disappoint despite my best efforts. For all of us, our hope and our confidence of love and acceptance can only come in these two things:

  1. Although she may forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hand and
  2. As mom, it is from this source that our love flows.

Rest today in the truth that God can take the worst situation and redeem it. Rest today in the truth that His love for you is so great, that He has you engraved on the palms of His hands. Rest in the power of His love flowing through you on those days that are hardest to love others. Recognize that when it is impossible to love, God can love through you. Corrie ten Boom spent years in a concentration camp for helping hide Jews during WW2. Years later the very guard that stripped her sister Betsy and made her stand naked in the freezing cold extended his hand and asked Corrie for her forgiveness. Corrie writes, “When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” We are deeply loved, and when it is hardest to love others, He loves through us.

“See, I have engraved YOU on the palms of my hands.”

May 7 – Hard? Hope?

Romans 5: 1 – 5 NLT

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

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

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

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

But, it’s also hard to not be with family. I miss seeing my grandchildren who live across the city. I miss meeting my daughter for breakfast after the kids have gone to school, and just chatting and getting caught up on everyday stuff. My daughter who lives and works in England isn’t sure she’ll be home this August as she usually is – and hasn’t been since 2019 – hard for both of us. Not to mention dinner out with friends, or coffee breaks with friends.

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

What if you’re not working? The news tells us the economy is starting its come-back, but …Will I get my job back? Will my company go broke? How will I find another job when everyone else is doing the same thing? Financial stress is definitely difficult!

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

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

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

Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.

Here is a song that captures how God helps us in times of trouble – The Hurt and the Healer by Mercy Me.

May 6 – Get Ready

Luke 3: 1 – 23 NLT

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

“It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’” (Isaiah 40: 3 – 5)”

Once again, Luke is very careful to record the historical events of the time to make sure Theophilus knew these details were correct. That also helps us in our ‘fact-driven’ age to rely on the Bible as truth. Remember that John is just a few months older than Jesus, so he began this ministry likely in his late 20’s. Isaiah prophecies that John will prepare people for the coming of the LORD and make the way straight.

 “When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

John doesn’t waste any words. He tells the Jewish people he is talking to that they are a “brood of snakes” … Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing.” John says they should live what they say they believe – honesty, integrity, love and care. I suspect that is a message for us today as well. It’s so easy to attend church and look like you are a nice person while your everyday life is quite different. John’s words really made me stop and think. How much do I care for those around me who are in need? Do I share what I have with them, or do I give small sums to a charity and think I’m good? Am I honest with my tax returns or in any business venture? Do the people I work with see me as someone who can be trusted and is honest, a person who puts in a full day’s work?

“Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.

19 John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. 20 So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others.”

John was certainly honest. He wasn’t trying to take anything at all away from the coming Messiah – “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals”. He wasn’t patting himself on the back because many people were heading to the wilderness to hear him preach, the most famous prophet in the last 400 years. Although God had given him a special job to do, he wasn’t proud of that. He just wanted people to be ready for God to appear, to be ready to serve God in every way.

“The Baptism of Jesus

21 One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

The Ancestors of Jesus

23 Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry.

Jesus was known as the son of Joseph.
Joseph was the son of Heli. … “

(I left the compete genealogy of Joseph out)

Matthew gives the most complete story of Jesus’ baptism, but all the gospels include the words seen in Luke. “The heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” Right at the beginning of Jesus’ public three-year ministry, it was made clear that he was God’s Son.

I didn’t include the long genealogy of Jesus since I suspected most of us would skip over all the difficult-to-pronounce names. If you’re interested, look it up and look for names you recognize. But it starts in an interesting way – “Jesus was known as the son of Joseph”. Yes, the people who lived in the same town as Jesus thought Joseph was his father as Jesus grew up. But Joseph and Mary knew he wasn’t. And Jesus knew he wasn’t as he told his parents when he was 12 that they should have looked for him in his “Father’s house”.

These first 3 chapters in Luke tell the story of Jesus from birth to the start of his ministry. I love the way Luke makes sure all the details are correct and can be checked in historical documents. But, I especially love the message that God loves everyone of us. He doesn’t come to earth in a regal way, born in a castle, ready to get on the world stage as an important, wealthy person of influence. He’s not like the Caesars of Rome who are doing their best to control the world. It’s the exact opposite. Jesus was born to a poor young woman in a dirty, smelly stable, and raised in a small-town family where his dad was a carpenter. God knows us. He wants everyone to know that you don’t have to be special according to this world for him to love you.

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3: 18 – 19)

Our song for today is God With Us by Jesus Culture (Bryan Torwalt)

May 5 – With His Love He Will Calm All Your Fears

Zephaniah 3:17  (NLT)

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty saviour.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

In this pandemic time, we have so many conflicting moments. Sometimes I feel relaxed and happy to be able to read a good book, or get some things done I’ve been putting off. Sometimes I feel edgy, just can’t seem to concentrate on much. Sometimes I feel so sad that I can’t spend time with family and friends the way I used to. Vaccinations are finally coming more rapidly, but even with them, they are still telling us to keep all the protocols to stay safe. I wonder when things will return to normal – whatever that may look like. I suspect you feel the same way.

A verse like the one today helps calm those fears and worries. “For the Lord your God is living among you.” We need to remind ourselves that God is living with us, in the present, and in our lives. He is right here! Sometimes when I worry, God seems so far away. I need to remind myself He is present in these difficult times. “God is living among you.” He is living in you and me! He is living in this pandemic.

God is a “mighty saviour”. Sometimes when I think about Jesus as my saviour, the picture that comes to mind is Jesus on the cross. That’s almost a sad and helpless picture – one of someone suffering at the hands of others. But God is a “mighty saviour”, and that is truth. He can suffer absolute horror in bearing our sin, and rise again victorious. This is the God who is living with you – a might saviour. He knows how to live through a pandemic, and come out the other side triumphant.

“He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Aren’t those marvellous words? He loves you. He delights in being with you. He’s actually singing over you. Just imagine a deep, soothing baritone voice singing over you – calming all your fears. Oh, Heavenly Father, when I’m worried, angry and upset, help me to remember you understand and you are with me – that you love me and will take care of me.

Today, I want you to think about the positive side of dealing with Covid-19. Can you think of something in your life that has actually improved over the past year? Are there things you had been putting aside because you were too busy, and now you’ve had a chance to get caught up? Have you tried some new hobbies? My granddaughter works in a garden nursery, and apparently the business there is doing well as people are doing more gardening – even earlier than usual because of the warmer weather in April. I’ve been more in touch with my sisters who live around the province using media chat rooms. Sometimes it’s “game time” as my daughters and grandchildren get together to play games on Zoom – that includes my daughter who lives in the UK. I wonder if we’ll keep it up once the pandemic ends?

Think of those positive things, but more than that, think of the God who loves you.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty Saviour.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Here is our song for today – Nobody Loves Me Like You Do by Chris Tomlin

May 4 – Young Jesus

Have you ever known a child who seemed bright way beyond their years? A friend was telling me a story about her granddaughter who is in kindergarten. She was in the backyard with her dad who was wondering why the grass under the ice rink he’d built that winter survived better than the brown grass around it. His 5-year-old daughter asked, “Daddy, was it because of the even pressure of the ice on the grass?” Dad was rather surprised his daughter had any idea about pressure.

I wonder what it was like for Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus?

Luke 2: 39 – 52 NLT

39 When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. 40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was on him.

Jesus Speaks with the Teachers

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. 43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travellers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. 46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant.51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people.”

Have you ever wondered what Jesus would have been like as a child? What would he know? Did he have an IQ ‘off the charts’? Luke is the only gospel writer who mentions Jesus’ childhood. Remember that Luke was a physician who travelled with Paul. He was not one of the original disciples or followers of Jesus. As he wrote Luke and Acts for his friend, Theophilus, he wanted to make sure he had all the details correct. In his investigations, he likely interviewed Mary to get the account right from the beginning.

“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honourable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.” (Luke 1: 1 – 4)

Luke starts out with “the child grew up healthy and strong”. Can you imagine Luke talking with Mary about little Jesus? Apparently physically he was a great kid. He was also “filled with wisdom”. I don’t think that meant he somehow had God’s infinite superior mind as a child. He wasn’t a little body with a hidden mind capable of ruling the universe. But he was known for his wisdom; people around him realized he did good things, behaved well. We know Jesus was without sin, so he would have been kind, generous, helpful – definitely not selfish. “God’s favour was on him”. People in Nazareth knew he was a special person. I think he would have been a wonderful child to have around the house.

But then we hear about an incident when Jesus was twelve. Jewish boys had their bar mitzvah at the age of 12/13. That was when they were officially considered responsible for their own faith in God. Perhaps that is why Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem for that Passover festival so he could see what was involved in adult worship and practice.

The fact that Mary and Joseph didn’t realize Jesus wasn’t with them on the way home doesn’t mean they were irresponsible parents. They were travelling with friends and relatives from Nazareth. Have you ever gone on social events or holidays with family and/or friends with your kids? The summer I finished high school, my family and my dad’s brother’s family travelled to the west coast together as a last family holiday since myself and my cousins were all about to leave home for university. At the time there were 7 kids all together in these 2 families, and we changed up cars all the time to talk with our various cousins. One day, we managed to leave my youngest sister who was 7 years old behind after a stop. It didn’t take too long before my dad realized the numbers in the cars weren’t right – and back we went. So … I understand that Mary and Joseph didn’t notice Jesus was missing in the crowd along the road. Keeping track of your kids is sometimes ‘tricky’.

But they had travelled a day away from Jerusalem and now had a day’s trek back. Then they had to look around Jerusalem. Can you imagine how frightened Mary was knowing she hadn’t seen Jesus for 3 days? No wonder Mary said, “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” I guess so! But Jesus had been in the Temple talking and asking questions of the religious leaders, who were “amazed at his understanding and his answers”. At the age of 12, Jesus was beyond what was expected by the Temple teachers.

Then Jesus gives a strange reply to Mary’s question. “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what he meant (v. 50). By the age of twelve, Jesus is understanding he is not a typical human being. Yet he returned to Nazareth and was “obedient” to his parents. In fact, we don’t see Jesus again until he is 30 years old when he appears at the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

Verse 52 states, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people.” Notice that this time it mentions wisdom before physical growth – a switch from verse 39. Jesus is known in Nazareth for his wisdom and the people love him. He was a carpenter continuing in the family business. (Mark 6: 3)

This snapshot view into Jesus’ younger years shows us an amazing child and young man who is known for his wisdom and is loved by people. He was that special child! But he was also humble. Can you imagine God in human form being obedient to his parents and living with them for 30 years? Wow!

That is one more piece of evidence of God’s love for us. He was willing to leave heaven, become human and live with us. He was willing to obey parents who were sinful and flawed beings. In our culture today, we emphasize being individuals and standing up for our own rights and opinions. It’s almost a culture of “Me First”. Jesus tells us “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37 – 38) Jesus demonstrated that beginning in his childhood.

“Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people.”

Our song for today is Behold Him by Paul Baloche

May 3 – God knows what you need – even if you wonder if he does.

Luke 2: 21 – 38 NLT

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

22 Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” 24 So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord – “either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Did you notice that Jesus’ name wasn’t given by his mother or father? His name came from an angel. G. Campbell Morgan has some interesting things to say in his commentary The God Who Cares. There are only 4 babies named by God in the Bible. In the Old Testament – Ishmael and Isaac (the beginning of the nation of Israel and the Arabic nations): in the New Testament – John and Jesus (the beginning of the church). Jesus is the Anglicizing of a well-known Hebrew name – Joshua. It was likely a popular name since Joshua was the man who led Israel from the dessert into the promised land. Now Jesus is the one who will lead all mankind into a relationship with God.

Joseph and Mary were careful to follow the Old Testament rules for Jesus’ birth. Eight days after his birth he was circumcised. Then 40 days after his birth he was brought to the Temple for purification. Leviticus 12: 6 – 8 tells us the rules that needed to be followed:

“When the time of purification is completed for either a son or a daughter, the woman must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a purification offering. She must bring her offerings to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[a] The priest will then present them to the Lord to purify her.[b] Then she will be ceremonially clean again after her bleeding at childbirth. These are the instructions for a woman after the birth of a son or a daughter.

“If a woman cannot afford to bring a lamb, she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons. One will be for the burnt offering and the other for the purification offering. The priest will sacrifice them to purify her, and she will be ceremonially clean.”

Once again, we are reminded that Mary and Joseph were not wealthy at all. In our culture with its stress on success, we tend to think we have to do something, be someone for God to use us. God can use anyone- even the person we might think is most unlikely. God can use you!

The Prophecy of Simeon

25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
    as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
    and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

The Prophecy of Anna

36 Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. 37 Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. 38 She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

I try to put myself in Mary’s shoes. She knew that this baby was special. She became pregnant without having a sexual relationship. That alone would have been incredible. She also had a conversation with an angel and then Elizabeth who confirmed that she was carrying their hoped-for Messiah. Joseph had also talked with an angel and been reassured that Mary’s pregnancy was from God.

But as well, there had been the months of pregnancy when likely their neighbours had been gossiping. Then there was the exhausting trek to Bethlehem where Jesus was born in a pen for animals. If this had truly been God’s son, wouldn’t things have turned for the better after she discovered she was pregnant? Wouldn’t there be some obvious evidence that God’s blessing was upon them? Would a son of God really be born this way?

God isn’t going to let Mary wonder and doubt. Shortly after the baby’s birth, shepherds arrive to say they had received a message from angels that “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (v. 11 – 12) Shepherds? No one more important? Then at their visit to the Temple, Simeon prophesies over the baby. Anna also came along and praised God for this baby.

I doubt Mary truly understood what was said that day at the Temple. They were looking for a Messiah who would conquer Rome and establish Israel as an important nation. But Simeon prophesied that “He is a light to reveal God to the nations”. Then Simeon also told her that “a sword will pierce your very soul.” What would that mean?

At the end of this chapter, it says “and his mother stored all these things in her heart”. This past year would have been such a strange one for her. She was a poverty-stricken young girl, newly married. Yet these amazing things had happened to her. How would you ever comprehend what was truly happening?

Have you ever experienced times in your life when things didn’t seem to add up? Life was hard and you wondered if God really cared or was in control. And then, as things unfolded, you realized God was at work. Perhaps you learned how to depend on God with more patience than doubt. Perhaps you ended up making changes that you wouldn’t have, if left to your usual way of doing things. Perhaps you experienced an incredible peace during a very difficult time – when usually you would have been upset and worried.

God knows what we need. He knew that Mary needed a lot of support and confirmation. Life wasn’t easy for her, but she became aware of God’s presence.

God knows what you need – even if you are wondering if he does.

Our song for today is In Control by Hillsong Worship

April 30 – Does God Notice Me?

Do you ever wonder if you are important to God? Do you ever wonder because there are so many people in this world – many of them are doing necessary and influential jobs – does God notice you? As you read today, think about the people in these verses. How important were they in their world?

Luke 2: 1 – 20 NLT

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”

A carpenter and his young wife, who is in the last month of her pregnancy, travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a journey of about 80 miles (126 km). Pictures in our books today usually show Mary riding on a donkey. Maybe she did, but maybe Joseph wasn’t rich enough to buy a donkey for this trip. I suspect she arrived in Bethlehem exhausted and bedraggled. Our children’s Christmas books today usually show lovely pictures of that birth scene. Everyone looks peaceful and well-dressed; the stable is incredibly clean with well-behaved animals.

In reality, when they arrived, they couldn’t find a place to stay and so they ended up in an area where the animals were kept. Can you imagine giving birth to your first child in a situation like that? Can you imagine giving birth alone with your husband – or maybe some other travellers around, along with the animals? God is a supreme being, controller of the universe. Wouldn’t you think that he would send his son to the world in a better place? At least a “middle-class” place? Instead, God chose the least important place to introduce his son to us.

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”

In a commentary by William Barclay, he mentioned the custom of the day was to have local musicians sing celebration songs outside the house where a baby was born. This time the songs weren’t sung by the manger, but they certainly were in the countryside over the shepherds. Shepherds in those days were considered the ‘lowest of the low’. Because their duties required them to be on the job 24/7, they didn’t keep the usual customs and religious practices of the Jews. So that kept them on the fringes of their Jewish communities. Historians also think because of their location, they were keeping the flocks of sheep used in the Temple sacrifices. Isn’t it interesting that God would announce in such a spectacular way, the coming of the Lamb of God to them?

In our culture today, we like to think we treat everyone equally. In reality, there is racial bias. People who have money can access anything they want. We protect our neighbourhoods; no middle-class neighbourhood wants subsidized housing close to them. We want our children to be the best. This idea of success permeates our culture. As a result, I suspect many of us tend to think of ourselves as just ordinary folks, nice but not important.

Is that how God thinks? No! Just look at how he came to earth. Born in a dirty, messy stable to a young girl and her carpenter husband. Announced to shepherds who were considered the lowest in society. Jesus travelled Israel with no home of his own. Died a horrendous death on a cross with thieves on each side.

God loves every single one of us no matter who we are. God considers each one of us important. He has something he wants each one of us to do – “love God with all our hearts and our neighbours as ourselves”. You are important. In this pandemic time, you are God’s special messenger wherever you are. So, don’t wonder if God notices you. He does?

“You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” 1 Peter 5: 7 J.B. Phillips

Our song for today is Beloved by Jordan Feliz

April 29 – Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

While we’re in this lockdown, at the end of each chapter in Luke, we’ll take a day to reflect on how God steadies us in these difficult 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.” – Psalm 44:22) 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.”

I think these verses are in the top favourites of mine. There is really nothing more I can say about these verses. They state so clearly that God loves me. There is nothing that can happen, or that I can do, that will stop God from loving me. In this pandemic time, the phrase that stands out to me is “neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow … can separate us from God’s love”.

Stop for a moment and think about the loving relationships you have had in your life. We live in a broken world, so even the best relationships can have some rocky times. But think about the love your parents had for you, and all the crazy things you did that they overlooked because they loved you. Think about the love you shared with your siblings and your friends. Think about the love you have for your partner, your children. Despite the ups and downs of our human relationships, we tend to do as much as we can to make them flourish. We don’t ignore them or do things we know will upset them a lot. We usually go out of our way to show them we love them. Yet our love on earth is flawed, but God’s isn’t.

God is perfect, God Almighty. God says NOTHING can separate us from his love. If you are struggling with the isolation and frustration of living with all these restrictions, remember that you are loved and cherished by God. He will not abandon you or ignore you. Let’s reread these verses again in the paraphrase from The Message.

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

Song for today: The Love of God by Mercy Me

April 28 – Praise

Today we are going to look at Mary and Zechariah’s responses to these amazing events in their lives. Zechariah begins with praise and then goes on to talk about his son’s mission to bring people to repentance and introduce the Messiah. Mary mentions that she is blessed to be the mother of the Messiah, but most of what she says is just praise. Both of them refer frequently to the Psalms.

I am going to include the references to the Psalms at each verse where that occurs, so you get a chance to see how many references there actually are. Then I have a challenge for you today.

Luke 1: 67 – 79 NLT

Zechariah’s Prophecy

67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has visited and redeemed his people. (Ps. 41: 13; 72:18; 106:48)
69 He has sent us a mighty Savior
    from the royal line of his servant David, (Ps. 18: 2; 89: 17; 132: 17)
70 just as he promised
    through his holy prophets long ago.
71 Now we will be saved from our enemies
    and from all who hate us. (Ps. 106: 10)
72 He has been merciful to our ancestors
    by remembering his sacred covenant – (Ps. 108: 2; 106: 45)
73 the covenant he swore with an oath
    to our ancestor Abraham.
74 We have been rescued from our enemies
    so we can serve God without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness
    for as long as we live.
76 “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.”

Remember these events occurred after 400 years of silence from God – no prophets like Zephaniah or Malachi to bring a message from God; no kings and rulers to help keep Israel a God-fearing nation. Zechariah is overwhelmed with praise that God has spoken again. I love verses 76 to 78 as he talks about his son.

Luke 1: 46 – 55 NLT

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

46 Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. (Ps. 34: 2)
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! (Ps. 35: 9)
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed. (Ps. 138:6)
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him. (Ps. 103: 17)
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. (Ps. 98: 1)
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands. (Ps. 107: 9)
54 He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.” (Ps. 132: 11)

We’ve experienced a tough year with the pandemic, and things are still not the way we’d like them to be. Most of us are struggling with the loss of contact with family and friends, the loss of places to go, the loss of ‘normal’ church meetings and programs. Some of us are struggling with loss of jobs and income. Many of us have children who don’t do well with online learning. It’s been a difficult year. But in the middle of all this, we can turn to God who is the foundation for our lives. We can praise him for his protection and help.

My challenge for you today is to write a praise letter based on verses from the Psalms. You may have favourite Psalms that you can include because you can think of those verses right away – or at least, go right to the place in your Bible.

You may be thinking you can’t remember anything right now. Here’s something you can try. There is a website that I use called BibleGateway. In the search bar, write a word that you might like to use. (e.g. love, peace, might, power, kindness, etc.) A list of the actual verses where those words are used in the Bible will come up. You can also choose the version of the Bible you like. I like the New Living Translation, but choose your favourite.

Pick out the verses you like the best and make your personal praise letter. You might want to put it somewhere in your home to remind you when you’re feeling frustrated, angry or whatever – this is what you truly believe and count on.

Our song for today is Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven.

April 27 – God, You Noticed Me?

(We will be skipping some verses in Luke 1 today. We will look at them in tomorrow’s devotions.)

Luke 1: 26 – 45, 56 NLT

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings (or rejoice), favoured woman! The Lord is with you!” (some manuscripts add ‘Blessed are you among women’.)

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.” (some manuscripts say ‘For nothing is impossible with God’)

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” …

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home.”

Another incredible visit by an angel!!! Again, try to put yourself in Mary’s shoes. She is a young woman, likely a teenager. She would be busy helping her mother run the household, and looking forward to her upcoming marriage. Then … an angel appears? I actually have a hard time imagining what that would be like; it’s so far beyond any experience I have ever had. Verse 29 says she was “confused and disturbed”. I should guess so! How do you stay calm when an angel shows up at your side?

We know that this chapter in Luke describes a momentous time in all of history. God coming to earth in human form is a catalytic event. But that moment in history was during a time when God had been silent for 400 years. There had been no prophets during that time, and Israel had experienced being ruled by several different foreign powers. If you are interested in finding out more about those 400 years, go to gotquestions.org and ask “What were the 400 years of silence?” So, this time in history was not a time where Zechariah and Mary were used to seeing God at work, or sensing God’s blessing on Israel. This moment in Mary’s life would have been inconceivable.

Mary, like Zechariah, asks a question. “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” (v. 34) The angel’s response to the question is interesting. With Zechariah, the angel declared his name and position in heaven and then told Zechariah he would be deaf and dumb until the baby’s birth. With Mary, the angel explains how she will become pregnant, and tells her Elizabeth’s story as proof that God does miraculous things. Then when Mary meets Elizabeth, Elizabeth affirms that Mary will be the mother of her Lord. Later, the angel appears to Joseph and assures him that Mary’s pregnancy is from God – so in talking with Joseph, Mary’s experience will again be validated. For Mary there seems to be patience, explanation, and encouragement.

God knows us intimately. He knows exactly what we need. Do we need something to get us out of a rut, and spur us on to greater faith? Zechariah had been a priest for a long time, and he likely had everything figured out. He was devoted to God, but the requirements of his job likely had him in long-time routines. Or are we young in our faith? God is so patient with us as we learn how to include him in our lives. Like with Mary, he can find ways to assure us that he is with us.

Luke 1: 57 – 66, 80 NLT

57 When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. 58 And when her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her.

59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”

61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” 62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.

65 Awe fell upon the whole neighbourhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. 66 Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.” …

80 John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.

John’s birth was a great celebration. The people where they lived were so excited for Elizabeth – to have this baby when no one expected it was possible at her age. His circumcision took place likely in the temple 8 days later. Everyone was sure he would be named after his father, a custom of that day. But no, both parents said his name was John. In fact, when Zacharias confirmed the baby’s name was John, he was able to speak again. (We’ll look at what he said in tomorrow’s devotions.) Again, that astounded all the people who witnessed this amazing event. People all around that area were talking about John’s birth. They knew that God must be at work.

Have you ever experienced God at work in your life? It doesn’t have be some huge, well-publicized event. The events of Luke 1 are amazing. They are the beginning of God coming to this world. And they caused people in the area to talk and reflect on what God was doing. But just because God’s moments in your life seem so insignificant in comparison to Luke 1, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share them with the people around you. God is at work within each one of us. He wants us to share that story so those around us will also reflect on what they hear, and be drawn to God themselves.

Be brave. God is with you.

Our song for today is Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin

April 26 – A New Beginning

First of all, I want to thank you for all the wonderful replies to the devotions. In these difficult times, the devotions also help me and the other writers on the team to stay focused on our Heavenly Father. It is so comforting to know that God is at work both in us and in all those reading the devotions.

Over the next while, we are going to read through the Gospel of Luke with some breaks here and there. Getting to know Jesus better is our focus in life, and hopefully this will help us as we face all the difficulties of living in 2021.

Luke 1: 1 – 4 NLT

“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honourable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.”

Just who is Luke? As we read these first 4 verses, we do know his purpose in writing is for Theophilus to be certain that his Christian faith was true and he could rely on it. I decided to include an article found on gotquestions.org – a website I find very helpful in finding all sorts of information. This article is a summary from a book by Charles Swindoll – The Great Lives from God’s Word. The article tells us a lot about Luke. Knowing who Luke is helps us to be more confident that what he says is reality, truth. It also helps us in our culture with its focus on science to understand that the Bible can be relied on.

“Little is known about Luke, the author of the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible. We do know he was a physician and the only Gentile to write any part of the New Testament. Paul’s letter to the Colossians draws a distinction between Luke and other colleagues “of the circumcision,” meaning the Jews (Colossians 4:11). Luke is the only New Testament writer clearly identifiable as a non-Jew.

Luke was the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke does not name himself in either of his books, but Paul mentions him by name in three epistles. Both Luke and Acts are addressed to the same person, Theophilus (Luke 1:3Acts 1:1). No one knows exactly who Theophilus was, but we know that Luke’s purpose in writing the two companion books was so that Theophilus would know with certainty about the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:4). Perhaps Theophilus had already received the basics of the Christian doctrine but had not as yet been completely grounded in them.

Luke was a close friend of Paul, who referred to him as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Perhaps Luke’s interest in medicine is the reason his gospel gives such a high profile to Jesus’ acts of healing.

Paul also refers to Luke as a “fellow labourer” (Philemon 1:24). Luke joined Paul in Troas in Asia Minor during Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:6–11). Some scholars speculate that Luke was the “man of Macedonia” whom Paul saw in his dream (Acts 16:9). Luke was left in Philippi during the second missionary journey (Acts 17:1) and picked up again to travel with Paul in the third journey (Acts 20:5). Luke accompanied Paul on his journey to Jerusalem and Rome and was with him during his imprisonment there (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke’s vivid description of his travels with Paul in Acts 27 seems to indicate that he was well-travelled and well-versed in navigation.

Scholars have noted that Luke had an outstanding command of the Greek language. His vocabulary is extensive and rich, and his style at times approaches that of classical Greek, as in the preface of his gospel (Luke 1:1–4), while at other times it seems quite Semitic (Luke 1:5—2:52). He was familiar with sailing and had a special love for recording geographical details. All this would indicate that Luke was a well-educated, observant, and careful writer.”

Luke 1: 5 – 25 NLT

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, (Malachi 4: 5 – 6) and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. 22 When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.

23 When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterwards his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”

This was a very special day for Zechariah – the day he was chosen to burn the incense in the area in front of the Holy of Holies. According to InterVarsity Press online commentary, there were close to 20 000 priests at that time. Zechariah was chosen by lot, likely the only time in his life that he would have this particular job. As he offered the incense, he was likely thinking about God’s promises of a Messiah. He lived in a time when Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire, and also the assigned rule of Herod who promoted temples to the Greek and Roman gods. Messiah would be so welcome at that moment in history.

Suddenly, an angel appeared to him, and told him he and his wife would have a son who would have an extraordinary life preparing “the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (v. 17)

Just stop for a moment, and put yourself in Zechariah’s place. This is an exciting day in his life, a time when he was able to serve God in such a special way. Can you think of a moment in your life when your relationship with God was deeply moving and personal for some reason? Perhaps it was a special moment while you were serving God in some capacity. Perhaps it was a special moment when you sensed God’s leading in a decision you had to make.

At that moment for Zechariah, an angel appears and tells him he is going to have a son. Honestly, I totally understand Zechariah’s response. “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Would he be wondering if he was dreaming or hallucinating? How often does anyone see angels, especially an angel who tells him something highly unlikely will happen? Has the incense clouded his thinking? Has his excitement over the day messed his mind?

Zechariah is not a casual follower of God. Luke tells us that “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.” (v. 6) Yet, when the angel appears with a message, Zechariah can’t believe his eyes and ears. Have you ever questioned God’s leading in your life? Wondered why certain things happened? Like Zechariah, many of us are sincere in our faith, but at times have questions. We are human in a broken world.

This is a pivotal moment in human history. This is the beginning of God’s coming to earth. John will be the forerunner of Jesus. Nothing will be the same from this time onward. The angel deals with Zechariah’s stunned response by telling him exactly who he was – “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!”  And then he tells Zechariah he will spend the next months is silence – deaf and unable to speak.

Was that a punishment? Maybe, a bit. Zechariah would still be able to communicate by writing and reading. But he also had months of silence to contemplate what God had told him and to get prepared to be the father of this incredible son. Those months were likely actually a blessing. Gabriel had told him what John would be like, and some of the rules that needed to be followed as John grew up. Zechariah needed time to fully comprehend the joy and the stress of being John’s dad. Even Elizabeth went into seclusion for 5 months.

Sometimes I wonder if this pandemic is a time of silence for us. It’s certainly been a time for churches to reevaluate their programs and to find effective ways to reach people. But for every one of us, it has also been a reset time as we figured out what is truly important for us. For introverted me, I discovered I need friends and family; being busy is no longer a goal of mine. I’ve also discovered my relationship with God is more important. It’s God that keeps me hopeful each day in one more day of lockdown. It’s been tough, but it’s been a learning curve too.

One thing we do know. God has definite plans for this world. God also has definite plans for each one of us. “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.” (Jeremiah 29: 11) Sometimes, like Zechariah, we question God and wonder what He is doing. God doesn’t reject us for that. He doesn’t get angry the way we do when we tend to walk away from frustrating situations. God is patient and helps us get back on track with him. “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2: 4)

The beginning chapters of Luke tell us the story of how God came to this earth. Despite Zechariah’s doubt, he still came. Despite our brokenness and unbelief, he still came!

Our song for today is The God of All Our Days by Casting Crowns.

April 23 – My Strength, My Rock

Psalm 18  New Living Translation (NLT)

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

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. …
46 The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock!
    May the God of my salvation be exalted!

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that an amazing list!

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

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

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

Here is a song that reflects the words of this psalm. I Will Fear No More by The Afters.

April 22 – Our Hope is in You Alone

I’m 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 about the pandemic and how to deal with it changes every day. We thought we were doing well, and then the third wave hit.

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: Make a list of things/places in your life where you know that God helped you.

Our song for today is Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham

April 21 – Are You Getting Grumpy?

Do you find that you’re running out of patience a little these days? Running out of patience with the government for all its rules and regulations? Thinking the government has made too many mistakes? Angry with people who totally disregard the social measures designed to keep us safe? Frustrated with having to deal with your kids supposedly learning at home?

There are so many theories about how to deal with the pandemic out there. Some say we should throw away precautionary measures and just let everyone get sick and build up immunity. Some are insisting we need more vaccinations right now – and in the “hot spots”. Others are clamouring to be included in the “me first” list of people to be vaccinated. Some are afraid the vaccinations are not safe. When will things get better???

I started looking for verses for the devotions that talk about patience. I had in mind verses that would encourage us to be patient. But the verses that struck me first were verses about God’s patience. Let’s take a look:

1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

“But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Romans 2:4 NLT

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

2 Peter 3:9 NLT

“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”

Heavenly Father, forgive me for being so irritable and grumpy about things that really don’t matter when I look at them from an eternal perspective. I have to admit that every day, I do things (or think things) that don’t live up to your standards of behaviour. I am a sinner. First of all, I thank you for adopting me as your child through Jesus’ sacrifice for me. Thank you for being so patient with me as your Holy Spirit works in my life to bring me closer to you. Thank you for your patience with all mankind, as you wait for everyone to turn to you. Help me to see where your patience is focused so that I don’t get caught up with trivial things, but rather align with you.

When I look at the things that make me irritable and impatient, I have to pray for forgiveness and for the strength to turn my pathetic attitude around. One of the ways that God helps us to grow is to put us through hard times. I know we’d prefer that wouldn’t happen, but I think we all have to admit, that we don’t learn that much from easy, good times. When life is sailing along smoothly, we tend to coast along oblivious to making any changes. We think we have everything under control. I know from my own experiences in life, the times that have changed me the most and made me more reliant on God have been the hard times. That’s when I faced the reality that I was not in control, and often that I needed to change my attitude and priorities.

James 1:2-8  NLT

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

I am so thankful that during hard times, God is present – the Holy Spirit is at work in each one of us. It’s not a case of absolute determination on our part. Yes, we are thinking individuals made in the image of God, but we also must admit we need God’s help to make the necessary changes.

Psalm 40:1 NLT

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.”

Colossians 1:11 NLT

“We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy.”

Galatians 5:22 NLT

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”

We can be sure of this:

Romans 8: 26 – 28 NLT

“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 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.”

So, if you are finding this pandemic time frustrating, let’s pray for God’s patience. As we pray, God can give us ideas of how to handle our impatience. We may need to spend some time in prayer asking God to show us what is making us so frustrated. Maybe we can start looking for practical ways that we can spread God’s love and patience to those around us – our families, our neighbours, our community. Is there a person I can help in some way? Is there any organization that I could support? Is there someone who could be cheered up with a gift of home-cooked items, or with a phone call? Start thinking and praying about how God can use you in these difficult times.

Romans 12:12 NLT

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”

Our song for today is Be Still My Soul (In You I Rest) by Kari Jobe