November 2 – Truth or Fiction?

Before we start reading today, I want to mention a couple of things that will make the reading easier. In verse 18, John writes, “You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared.” What is he talking about when he says antichrist, and why is one capitalized and the other not? Various scriptures talk about an individual who lives shortly before Christ’s return – someone who wields a lot of power and does not believe in God or Jesus nor the Holy Spirit. That person is called the Antichrist. However, throughout the time between Jesus’ ascension into heaven and his second coming, there will be people who don’t believe in the truth of scripture who will deny that Jesus is God. These people are called antichrists, because of what they say.

1 John 2: 18 – 27 NLT

Warning about Antichrists

“Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. 19 These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.

20 But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. 21 So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. 22 And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. 23 Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

24 So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. 25 And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.

26 I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. 27 But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.”

John is warning us about people who will deny that Jesus is God. There are various religions that may agree that Jesus was a special prophet, but don’t agree that he is God in the flesh. For example, Islam agrees that Jesus was a prophet, but that Mohammed was the most recent prophet from God and therefore should be listened to most. Mormons also believe that Jesus was just a prophet with many good things to say. Many New Agers don’t believe the Bible is truth, but it may have some good advice. Our emphasis on science today often steers us away from anything spiritual. I know many scientists who are Christ followers, my husband included. They see science as more proof of a super intelligent being who created our world and space. But many other scientists need to have repeated physical proof that something is true. As well, much of science fiction paints a universe of eerie beings with power; they would likely say that God is only one of those extra-terrestrial beings.

So, John warns the church not to be influenced by those who deny Christ’s deity. It was the early church, and they did not have the complete Bible text we have today. I’m sure he was worried about people being influenced by false teachers. But John also writes a positive note and one that we can be assured about today.

“But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.”

As a Christ follower – one who agrees that Jesus was God in human form, who died to take our punishment for sin, and rose again to declare God’s victory over sin and death, and who ascended to heaven and will return again someday – we have the Holy Spirit within us to help us discern truth from falsehood. Jesus, himself, talked about that in John’s Gospel.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.” (14: 16 – 18)

“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” (14: 26 – 27)

Paul also talks about the Holy Spirit helping us in Romans.

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. “(8: 11)

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. (8: 14 – 16)

“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. 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.” (8: 26 – 27)

In practical ways, how do we keep ourselves from getting influenced by people who are feeding us lies? We need to read our Bibles, something we are doing in these devotions – and that includes me. We can pray. The Holy Spirit guides us in our prayers, and he also reveals truth to us. We can stand strong with God’s help.

Our song for today is Holy Spirit by Francesca Battistelli

October 30 – All of Us – Be Careful

1 John 2: 12 – 14 NLT

“I am writing to you who are God’s children
    because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.
13 I am writing to you who are mature in the faith
    because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I am writing to you who are young in the faith
    because you have won your battle with the evil one.
14 I have written to you who are God’s children
    because you know the Father.
I have written to you who are mature in the faith
    because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I have written to you who are young in the faith
    because you are strong.
God’s word lives in your hearts,
    and you have won your battle with the evil one.”

The first time I read these verses, I wondered if I had somehow made a mistake and gone back and reread them. But no. The ideas in verses 12 and 13 are repeated in verses 14 and 15. John is about to give some warnings in his letter. He refers to three groups of people in the church. The “fathers” are the older mature Christians; the “children” would be the very new believers. Those who have been Christians for a few years would be “young in the faith”. In these verses he wants to remind them of what they have accomplished so far; he is reinforcing their commitment to Jesus.

Everyone can know their sins have been forgiven by Christ who was God from the very beginning. Knowing who Jesus really is gives us so much more strength because we can believe what he says. In being forgiven by the eternal God, we can know that Satan no longer has any power over us. We are free from the control Satan has over this world. John repeats those ideas again. We know God. There is a personal relationship with him. We know Jesus, God’s son, and who also was with God right from the beginning. We can be strong since the battle with Satan has been won by Jesus.

Why would John repeat these ideas? He wants us to know who God is, that we have a relationship with him, and that we can be strong against Satan’s efforts to get us off track. We are going to be tempted by Satan to get back under his influence, so we need to know we can stand strong. And now John is going to tell us what we have to be careful about.

1 John 2: 15 – 17 NLT

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”

If some of you have read these verses in older translations, you might have heard these phrases. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (v. 16  New American Standard Bible) I like the way the New Living Bible (NLT) translates them. I can relate to those words better. What do we have to watch out for?

Our culture in Canada and North America puts those three things at the top of priorities. We want to feel good; we want more of everything – fun times, more experiences in different places, better living conditions – just everything; we are encouraged to do better and own more, be more important. Many of those things are not necessarily bad. It’s when we put them as priorities that we lose sight of God. For example, I want to feel good. Massages feel so good; even exercise classes give me energy and uplifted spirits. I love my soft, big recliner that makes it so easy to relax and read or watch TV. Clothes made with lovely fabrics feel so good against my skin. I want beautiful landscaping so my eyes have a pleasant view when I look out my window. None of those things are bad/wrong. But if a lot of my time (and money) is spent on making myself feel good, then I need to stop and reconsider.

John warns us about craving everything we see. When we decided to downsize a little over 7 years ago, it was interesting to think about my reactions to some of the houses we looked at. I was definitely drawn to the more expensive places with high-end features. Do I shop at the pricey boutiques? Do I buy the latest gadgets? Again, it’s not wrong/bad to have nice things, but is that a priority in my life?

Then there is the whole area of “pride in our achievements and possessions”. We definitely look up to people who are successful in our culture. We admire the sports stars, the business people who grow large companies, movie stars and singers. In our own jobs, we want to be important. It’s nice to drive a flashy car; live in a suburb with huge houses, join the clubs with prestigious people.

John is telling us to be careful and not get taken up with all those things. They can lead to behaviour that is not loving and caring for others. They can fan jealousy, greed, pride, self-absorption, even hate for people or things that get in our way. God can get put on the back-burner instead of being front in our lives.

Philippians 4:8

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

Our song for today is First by Lauren Daigle.

October 29 – Out of our hands

This skin and bones is a rental”
Where I belong, Switchfoot

There have been many conversations I’ve had with a dear friend who would remind me that what we hold so closely is out of our hands. She would sometimes do this by physically opening her hands towards the sky, mid-conversation, symbolizing that some of life’s biggest issues and worries can’t be solved by human might. Perhaps you’ve also walked away from a situation in defeated surrender, hands held high, wondering how the problem will figure itself out. The gesture my friend displays is the physical act of saying to God, “you know better than me.” Acknowledging that He knows beginning and end, past, present, and future. That when all is said and done there are events, people or things that need to be left with God. It is a freeing feeling knowing our loads are being taken, our trials being dealt with. Yet, a challenge as we feel the deep ownership over our schedules, friends, children, spouses, outcomes etc. All must be brought back to God, who has created these things, who has gifted us these things, even our time on earth and bodies.

Exchange your overthinking for overwhelming peace that says, ‘I can be okay without knowing everything.’”
Morgan Harper Nichols

Our prayers are a form of surrender. Open palms symbolize grace and thanks, yet they also show our humanness, and faith in God. When we don’t understand or comprehend life, we find hope in God with us.

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
Isaiah 7:14 NLT

God is with us, He is our Prince of Peace, and Everlasting Father. As we continue through the unmet expectations of this year, let us sink into the hope of holding our hands high in surrender, in thanks and in expectation of what God will do as we let go.

We cannot micromanage God, but we can trust Him. We can count on His sovereignty, especially when we don’t completely understand. We can abandon our thrones and trust the King of all kings to be a worthy one. And, we can yield to His guidance, knowing He only leads us in the right direction.”
Jenn Jewell

Further Reading:

Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to GOD! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor GOD with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over. But don’t, dear friend, resent GOD’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction. It’s the child he loves that GOD corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.”
Proverbs 3:5-12 MSG

October 28 – Commandments or Love?

1 John 2: 1 – 11 NLT

“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.

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

John begins this chapter with the phrase, “my dear children”. Scholars say that John was likely between 88 and 93 years of age when he wrote this book., likely near the end of his life. When I think of his age and that he calls his readers, “dear children”, it makes me think of a grandfather. John is not writing this to be a critical, grumpy old man. This is more like a loving grandpa who wants to give some good advice to his children/grandchildren.

When I read verses like these that talk about not sinning, but rather obeying God’s commandments, I tend to shrink back inside. Over the years, I’ve met legalistic people who have lists of what Christians should not do – dancing is wrong, going to movies is wrong, drinking alcohol is wrong, too much make-up is wrong, certain types of dress are wrong, playing cards is wrong, and on and on it goes. Most Christians don’t go along with those legalistic ideas. But many non-Christians look at church people and think that our lifestyle is cramped and unattractive, that we have lots of rules and regulations. So just what is meant when John talks about “not living in the truth” when they don’t follow God’s commandments? Are we supposed to be rule followers?

First of all, John says he is “writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” (v. 1 – 2) John mentioned this in chapter 1 as well. “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1: 9) Our sin doesn’t have to separate us from God. Jesus paid the price for my sin and your sin. He is willing to forgive.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know we do sin. We put our own interests first in many situations. We know we don’t always tell the truth; we try to cover it up by saying it is a ‘little white lie’. We get angry and say things we later regret. We spend so much time focused on getting ahead, promoted, acquiring stuff, etc. but for all that and so much more, Jesus died and took the punishment for our sin. There is forgiveness, total forgiveness.

“And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments.” (v.3) So we have to obey laws after all? Just stop for a moment and think about someone who has treated you extremely well. It may be a parent who has put up with tons of your goofy and obnoxious behaviour. It may be a boss who has mentored you and helped you do well in your job. It may be a husband or wife who has loved and supported you in so many ways. Do you treat those people badly? Do you ignore what you know would please them? No. When we are in a loving relationship, we do our best to maintain that relationship in healthy ways. And that is what John is saying. “Those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him.”

Again, does that mean obeying rules and laws? John tells us one important thing and it’s not a rule. “Love one another.” Love is shown is so many ways. It’s not a rule or law. Jesus gave us an example to follow. As we read the gospels, we see Jesus act in so many loving ways. He was quite willing to spend time with the people that the rulers and synagogue leaders thought were way beneath them. He was willing to stop the stoning of a woman caught in adultery. He was willing to keep on teaching and travelling with his disciples who often didn’t really get what Jesus was all about. They even betrayed him and ran away when he was about to be crucified.

I wonder if John was thinking about some of his times with Jesus. Was he thinking about the Last Supper when Jesus washed their feet? “After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” (John 13: 12 – 17) Jesus showed them what a loving person will do.

Or was John thinking about what Jesus said that night after the last supper when Jesus was sharing his last words before the crucifixion with them. “Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14: 23 – 27)

Love is a characteristic of a Christ follower. If people take a look at our behaviour and see a criticizing demanding person, they won’t see Jesus. If they see a gossiping person who likes to stir up trouble, they won’t see Jesus. If they see a person who ignores those who need help, but only looks out for themselves, they won’t see Jesus. It’s not about following rules, it’s about love.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 7; 13

Our song for today is Love God Love People by Danny Gokey

October 27 – God is Light

1 John 1: 5 – 10 NLT

“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.”

“God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.” What does that mean? Charles R. Swindoll gives an excellent definition in his Living Insights commentary:

“Light is a single term that captures the essence of God’s nature. It represents the holiness and purity of God. In John’s metaphor, God isn’t simply a source of light, a being brilliantly illumined by light, or a reflector of light. God is Light. As such, there’s no possibility of even a trace of darkness with Him. God is ALL LIGHT, ZERO DARKNESS.

What does this mean? It means that God is all good, with nothing bad. He is all pure, with nothing impure. He is all clean, with nothing dirty. He is all right, with nothing wrong. He is all truth, with nothing false.” (pages 30 – 31)

In our churches we hear that God is perfect, and we believe that as Christ followers. But do we really understand that perfection? I think our sin nature tends to obstruct our view of God. We make excuses for the way we behave. In these verses in 1 John 1, we are made aware that there is a distinct separation between light and darkness.

The Bible tells us that we are born in spiritual darkness; we have a sin nature. God’s perfection is something we will never attain ourselves in this life. Today, that’s an idea that really doesn’t go over all that well. We tend to say that most people are basically good; they might influenced by other ‘evil people’ such as Hitler. Or they can make slips, but it’s minor. Or they have been influenced by a dysfunctional childhood. We tend to blame others, not ourselves when things go wrong. But the Bible tells us that we have this basic sin nature.

“As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:10-12  NLT)

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” (Ephesians 2:1-3  NLT)

John says we try to avoid admitting we are sinful, that we are not perfect, in three ways:

“We say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practising the truth.” That is like ‘sticking our heads in the sand’. We would tell people that we love God and are Christ followers, but our actual behaviour doesn’t live up to what we say. Outside the church on Sunday, God doesn’t really factor into the way we live.

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” If we take a look at ourselves and think we are living very well, we don’t sin at all or very little, we are not facing up to the truth. Frankly, I suspect a lot of us do that. We aren’t cheating on our taxes, we aren’t lying to our bosses or family, we put in a good day’s work, etc.. We’re good people! But John tells us we are kidding ourselves. We haven’t really grasped that God is light – God is perfect.

“If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” If we actually say that people don’t sin, then we don’t believe what the Bible says at all. The Bible is completely irrelevant to us.

This doctrine of God’s perfection and our sinfulness is not popular in today’s culture. We like to see things in shades of gray, not in black and white. Yet if we acknowledge that what the Bible says is true, there is wonderful news of hope. “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness”. (v. 9) I don’t think that means we can sin repeatedly and purposely; we can’t be flippant about God’s love and forgiveness. But if we are “living in the light” (v. 7), then forgiveness is ours for the asking when we mess up.

Psalm 32: 1 (NLT)

“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight.”

Paul repeats this in Romans 4: 7 (NLT)

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

God is light, but he has made a way for us to have a relationship with him. “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness”.

Our song for today is Greatness of Our God by Newsboys.

October 26 – The Word of Life

Today, we begin going through 1 John. There are 3 different scriptures that you will read today that tell us who Jesus is. Read those verses slowly. Absorb what they say; they make such a huge difference in our lives.

1 John 1: 1 – 4 NLT

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. (Or so that our joy may be complete NASB)

Before I begin these devotions in 1 John, I have to give credit for many of my ideas to Charles R. Swindoll in his New Testament commentary, Living Insights, as well as from reading the Intervarsity Press online commentary before I begin writing. So, what I write is a combination of what I think about after reading the verses, and then what I read in those commentaries.

John begins by saying Jesus was “the one who existed from the beginning” and was “the Word of life”. This truth that Jesus is God, that he created life on this planet, that he is the source of all life both here and in eternity is so crucial to our faith. Sometimes I think after reading about Jesus’ life on earth in the gospels, we focus on his humanity and forget who he really is. Remember these verses from Colossians?

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” (Colossians 1: 15 – 20)

John stresses this idea as he begins 1 John. He stressed it as well when he began the Gospel of John.

“In the beginning the Word already existed.
    The Word was with God,
    and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
    and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
    and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1: 1 – 4)

In his epistle, John goes on to tell us that he, along with the disciples, “saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands”. And he repeats that idea two more times: “This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him”, and “We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard.” John wants us to know that he is telling the truth. He is not making up some crazy mythical story. Jesus is real. I find it exciting that John indicates that we can share in knowing this God. “We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” John doesn’t have an exclusive relationship with Jesus because he actually saw him. We have that relationship with Jesus too.

Do you ever stop and think about your relationship with God? Jesus is God. Jesus is the Word of life. He only has to speak and life begins. And yet we can have a personal relationship with this God. No wonder John states, “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete”. The word, joy, used here isn’t about being happy about getting an income tax refund, or seeing a great movie, or having a good time with friends. It’s about a deep sense of knowing life is worthwhile, that God is in control and that we are his children.

In our chaotic world today, these facts stated in 1 John 1 are calming words. We need to stop and reflect on who God is. We don’t have to panic about what is happening in our world. We belong to a God who has infinite power and who loves us more than we can comprehend. Amid all the craziness of Covid 19, we can know we are secure in God’s hands.

Psalm 4:8 NLT

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.”

Our song for today is How Great is Our God by Chris Tomlin

October 23 – Be Still

Psalm 46 (NLT)

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
2 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3 Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! 
4 A river brings joy to the city of our God,
    the sacred home of the Most High.
5 God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
    From the very break of day, God will protect it.
6 The nations are in chaos,
    and their kingdoms crumble!God’s voice thunders,
    and the earth melts!
7 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress. 
Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
    See how he brings destruction upon the world.
9 He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
    He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honoured by every nation.
    I will be honoured throughout the world.”
11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress. 

Sometimes things just seem overwhelming. The Covid – 19 crisis has certainly got us all on edge. Sometimes we face things that are really serious such as the unexpected death of a family member or friend, or we receive news from some medical tests that are scaring us horribly. Most of the time, the overwhelming things are not so serious, but they never seem to stop coming – one crisis after another.

During upsetting times, Psalm 46 is a good one to read. We need to know that our God is in control and that we can get help from Him. I love the first verse in this psalm: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” That is a fact, and that is true. But, how do we experience that strength? Personally, I think verse 10 contains the answer. “Be still, and know that I am God!” There are times when we need to literally stop right where we are standing, and say out loud, “God, I know You are there, and You are willing to help me, so I’m taking a deep breath and waiting on You”.

I have that verse on a wall hanging in my bedroom. It used to hang in the entranceway of the home where I raised my kids. Both those locations are ones where I needed to have that verse located. I needed to know as I came in my front door with arms loaded with stuff and kids whirling about my feet that I was coming home to a place where God lived as well. Now as I wake and start each day, I need to be aware that God is with me in whatever comes my way that day. I need to know that God is there and that He is all the wonderful things recounted in this psalm.

The words “be still” are translated a variety of ways depending on the version you read. The King James Version says, “be still” and that seems to be the most popular one. The NASB says “cease striving”. It can also be translated ‘let go’ or ‘relax’. One thing that stands out to me in all of those translations is the idea that I need to stop and get in touch with reality. There is action on my part – my willingness to let go. I don’t know about you, but I suspect that you may identify with me. I do strive. I do try my best to do all the things on my schedule. I do overbook my time. I do care that I’m doing a good job. See all that striving? See all that busyness? See all that tension? I need to stop that and consult God much more. When things happen that mess up my plans (my strivings), I need to stop and know who is really in control.

So that takes me back to verse 1. “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble”. And to verse 10. “Be still, and know that I am God!”

And that’s something to think about today.

Our song for today is Still by Hillsong United. It’s a longer video with lots of scripture included.

October 22 – Goodness & Mercy

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Sinking into these words can change our outlook, perspective and hope. There are times God’s goodness doesn’t feel present, and all our minds can see is hopelessness. Yet Psalms reiterates that, it is there. Perhaps our eyes haven’t opened? Or they are looking at the wrong things. Goodness is there, it’s always been there, love is there, mercy is there. A smile, a laugh, a kind word, a sunny day, the changing colours of the sky. Goodness is here now; it has never left.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Even if we don’t want it, or think we need it, God’s love follows. When we think we’re empty of any help, or alone in our struggle, we are followed by a trail of beauty and love.

“Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.”
Psalm‬

Faith challenges us to see and believe these promises, let’s keep looking.
”Faith is an expectation. Faith enables me to wake up in the morning knowing that, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” And since this is one of the days of my life, Goodness and Mercy are my bodyguards. One on my right, and one on my left. You can’t see them, they’re invisible, but if you look real close I’ve got security. Goodness and mercy.”
Steven Furtick

Further Reading:

Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.
John 14:1-4 MSG

I saw God before me for all time.
Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side.
I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic;
I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope.
I know you’ll never dump me in Hades;
I’ll never even smell the stench of death.
You’ve got my feet on the life-path,
with your face shining sun-joy all around.”
Acts 2:29 MSG

October 21

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

11 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
12 Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence.
13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

In this Covid time, do you feel depressed? The topic of depression has come up several times in the past couple of weeks on the news. Today, a doctor on CBC said that 25% of adults are experiencing depression as a result of the pandemic. I know there are days when I wake up and just feel kind of lost. What do I need to do today? Where can I go? Who can I see? The answer to those questions is – zero. Many of my friends are not “in my bubble” right now. I’m not supposed to go places if it’s not necessary. Many of my family live far from Windsor. What do I need to do around my house? Not much. No one is coming over. For some of you, you have another question. Where am I going to find work, now that I’ve lost my job? 2020 has a lot of bleak moments.

David had a hard life too. As king, he certainly had the money and prestige. But, he had to lead in many battles; he had family problems; at times he got totally off track doing things he knew were wrong; as all leaders do, he faced political opposition. I want you to go back and reread this psalm. Look specifically for the problems that David mentions. I want you to understand that David faced difficult times and was scared.

Despite being scared, what does David say?

One thing we do know for sure is that God is our refuge, our strength to face this challenging world. Now, let’s look at some of the phrases from this psalm that tell us that:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?” (v. 1)

God does have a purpose for our lives. Jeremiah 29: 11 says, “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.” Romans 8: 28 says, “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.” We can trust him. We don’t have to be afraid. Bad things can happen, things we wish we didn’t have to face, but God is “my light and my salvation”. He knows what is happening and we can trust him.

“The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple” (v. 4)

David delighted to be in the Temple. That was the place where he felt God’s presence. But Jesus changed all that for us. Today, we are constantly in God’s presence as the Holy Spirit lives within us. Romans 8: 11 says, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.” Paul goes on to say in the same chapter, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (v. 14 – 16) Knowing that God is with us at all times is so comforting. 

“Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (v. 7 – 8)

Here is another place where we can find strength to face the day – prayer. Find that time where you can talk with God, where you can tell him about your struggles and fears, where you can ask for his advice, where you can just be quiet and sense his presence. 1 Thessalonians 5: 17 says, “Never stop praying”. We need to find those “alone moments” with God, but we can also talk to God throughout our day. Prayer is something I have struggled with all my life – and still do. I usually try to figure everything out on my own before I realize I need to pray. I’m learning and getting better, but still have a long way to go. But that ability to be in God’s presence and talk with him does make life so much more peaceful and strong.

“Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” (v. 12 – 14)

Be patient. If you are struggling with depression, keep what David has told you in your conscious thoughts. Paste verses around your home to remind you of God’s love and strength. Know that God has a plan and purpose for your life. Set aside time to read the Bible and pray. Pray all the time. Praise God for all the times he has helped you in the past.

“Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord”

Our song for today is Praise You in This Storm by Casting Crowns.

October 20 – “The LORD himself watches over you.”

1 John is the next book of the Bible we’ll be reading through in our devotions. However, for this week we’re going to take a break and read some Psalms. Thanksgiving is past, a holiday that may have had some sad memories if your family did not meet as usual this year. I suspect many of us are looking forward to Christmas with a lot of trepidation, wondering if this second wave of Covid will be over by then. Will we be able to celebrate Christmas with friends and family? So, I thought we’d take a few days to concentrate on God’s faithfulness and love for us.

Psalm 121

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know about you, but my emotions are all over the place these days. I find the physical distancing so hard. This Thanksgiving my family shared pizza on our patio and I made some homemade desserts – a far cry from our usual Thanksgiving dinner. No hugs allowed – not even from my 16-year-old grandson who is now just over 6 foot 4. I love those hugs from my gentle giant. I talk with my daughter who is a teacher in England. She usually comes home for the month of August, and now it looks like Christmas is in doubt as well. Will we go for 2 years without being with each other?

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

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

I love the phrase, “The LORD himself watches over you!” We sometimes talk about guardian angels, and that’s a great thought. But God himself is watching over you. Think about that for a moment. This isn’t the only place in the Bible that tells you that God is watching over you. Psalm 33: 18 says, “But the LORD watches over them who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love.” Psalm 95: 7 also says, “For he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.” God knows those moments of frustration, worry, stress, and loneliness. He sees them and cares for you.

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

Joseph was an example of someone who experienced a lot of hardship. His brothers were jealous of him being Dad’s favourite son, so they sold him to a slave trader from Egypt. His master’s wife got upset when he refused to have sex with her, and Joseph ended up in prison for years. Through divine intervention, Joseph ended up a key government figure who managed the country through years of famine. When his brothers showed up looking for food, Joseph made sure they got what they needed, but also arranged to meet with them. They were embarrassed and frightened for their lives, knowing they had intended to harm Joseph. This is what Joseph told them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50: 20) We don’t know the good that may come from this pandemic time. The words you speak to someone, the help you may give to someone, the moments you spend alone with God venting your feelings and getting to know Him better … may have some good results.

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

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

Our song for today is a classical choral rendition of Psalm 121 written in 1867 by John Douglas Townsend – Unto the Hills.

October 19 – Commitment?

Nehemiah 13: 10 – 30 NLT

10 I also discovered that the Levites had not been given their prescribed portions of food, so they and the singers who were to conduct the worship services had all returned to work their fields. 11 I immediately confronted the leaders and demanded, “Why has the Temple of God been neglected?” Then I called all the Levites back again and restored them to their proper duties. 12 And once more all the people of Judah began bringing their tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the Temple storerooms.

13 I assigned supervisors for the storerooms: Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah, one of the Levites. And I appointed Hanan son of Zaccur and grandson of Mattaniah as their assistant. These men had an excellent reputation, and it was their job to make honest distributions to their fellow Levites.

14 Remember this good deed, O my God, and do not forget all that I have faithfully done for the Temple of my God and its services.

The people weren’t taking care of the Levites, the men who took care of the Temple. They were supposed to make sure they had enough food; as a result, the Levites had returned to work on the farms. What do you suppose the Temple looked like? Clean or dirty? Would the various sacrifices and other things needed for worship be ready? Today, many churches hire companies to do the cleaning. Office staff is also hired to make sure the phones are answered, people are contacted, documents run off, etc. We hire various staff members to run the programs – youth pastor, children’s programs, worship leader, etc. What would happen if we stopped paying those people? Everything at our church would be chaotic.

Nehemiah was upset. How could the people neglect the necessary things to keep the Temple operating? Didn’t they realize the Temple was the centre for the God they claimed to love? I have a feeling that some of them were embarrassed when Nehemiah started asking them to get back to taking care of the Temple – and so they should have been.

15 In those days I saw men of Judah treading out their wine presses on the Sabbath. They were also bringing in grain, loading it on donkeys, and bringing their wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of produce to Jerusalem to sell on the Sabbath. So I rebuked them for selling their produce on that day. 16 Some men from Tyre, who lived in Jerusalem, were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise. They were selling it on the Sabbath to the people of Judah—and in Jerusalem at that!

17 So I confronted the nobles of Judah. “Why are you profaning the Sabbath in this evil way?” I asked. 18 “Wasn’t it just this sort of thing that your ancestors did that caused our God to bring all this trouble upon us and our city? Now you are bringing even more wrath upon Israel by permitting the Sabbath to be desecrated in this way!”

19 Then I commanded that the gates of Jerusalem should be shut as darkness fell every Friday eveni] not to be opened until the Sabbath ended. I sent some of my own servants to guard the gates so that no merchandise could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 The merchants and tradesmen with a variety of wares camped outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21 But I spoke sharply to them and said, “What are you doing out here, camping around the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you!” And that was the last time they came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and to guard the gates in order to preserve the holiness of the Sabbath.

Remember this good deed also, O my God! Have compassion on me according to your great and unfailing love.

And … they are back to doing business on the Sabbath. Remember the joy they had as they worshipped and celebrated the building of the wall? Remember how thankful they were that God had helped them restore Jerusalem – the Temple, the protecting wall and houses? Now it appeared that God was put aside. Business carried on every day of the week.

In 2020, we live in a culture that really has nothing to do with faith of any religion. Our culture tries to be inclusive to a variety of religions – we tolerate them. But, religion is almost looked upon as something a person uses to cope with life – kind of a psychological cushion – or perhaps a cultural practice. As a result, life is carried on 7 days of the week in every way – work, entertainment, sports, restaurants, etc. – you name it. Things that Christians would object to – such as abortion, or the ability to end your own life with a doctor’s help – are legal, and any attempt to object is met with ‘push-back’ or indifference. I’m not a big fan of Andrew Sheer, but as an example of our culture, his political life ended because of his stance on abortion and gay marriage.

It’s so easy to run with our culture. Setting aside one day a week for worship and spending time with God is actually very difficult. As Christ followers, we have to be very deliberate to find time to be in a good relationship with God. It may not always be on a Sunday; our jobs often require us to work then. Yet, if we don’t find the time, we may discover as Samson did that God has slipped out of our consciousness.

23 About the same time I realized that some of the men of Judah had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 Furthermore, half their children spoke the language of Ashdod or of some other people and could not speak the language of Judah at all. 25 So I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear in the name of God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land.

26 “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” I demanded. “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives. 27 How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?”

28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest had married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite, so I banished him from my presence.

29 Remember them, O my God, for they have defiled the priesthood and the solemn vows of the priests and Levites.

30 So I purged out everything foreign and assigned tasks to the priests and Levites, making certain that each knew his work. 31 I also made sure that the supply of wood for the altar and the first portions of the harvest were brought at the proper times.

Remember this in my favour, O my God.

And then there is the intermarriage between Israelites and the surrounding nations. One of the sad things mentioned in those verses is what was happening with the children. In their culture, children were looked after by their mothers. The men were out at work, and rarely spent time with their children unless they had their sons working with them. So when the men married women from other cultures, the children didn’t learn their Jewish language. They spoke primarily with their mother. How would you expect the Jewish traditions and faith to continue in that situation?

Again, as Christ followers, we need to encourage our children to marry people who are also Christians who take their faith seriously. Being married to a non-Christian makes life harder since there are so many things we look at differently.

The last chapter of Nehemiah is so sad. We see a nation who had God as their head slipping away again. They had been in captivity for hundreds of years as a result of turning their backs on God before. They knew that God championed them when they were faithful. They had just returned to their homeland and their identity as God’s people – and look what they did!

You know – I can’t point my finger at them. How many times have I not read my Bible or prayed because I was too busy? How many times have I wished I didn’t have to show up at church because I’d rather spend my day relaxing and having fun? Did I talk with my kids about my faith? Did I pray with my kids? How many times have I gone along with something that deep down I didn’t agree with, but wanted to be accepted?

I am so thankful that God is faithful. We read so many times in the Old Testament of God punishing his people because they had turned away from him. But, he always accepted them back when they were sorry. Forgiveness and patience are major characteristics of God. For that I am very grateful. I mess up so often.

As you’ve read the devotions today, if you are feeling guilty about slipping away from God is some way, stop and pray. Ask God for the strength and determination to stay faithful yourself.

Our song for today is You’re The God Who Stays by Matthew West. It’s a song that so reflects what we’re learned today from Nehemiah 13.

October 16 – In the Face of Disappointment

This is the last chapter in Nehemiah. We’ll take 2 days to finish the book to keep the devotions at a reasonable length.

Nehemiah had been the governor of Judah for some time. We know that he asked Artaxerxes to grant him a leave of absence to build the wall of Jerusalem in the 20th year of Artaxerxes’ reign. We don’t know for sure how long it took for Nehemiah to prepare to leave and travel the approximate 800 miles to Jerusalem, nor do we know how long he was the actual governor there. It appears to have been around 12 years. Again, we don’t know how long Nehemiah was back in Artaxerxes’ court before he returned to Jerusalem again. But in looking at the first 6 verses we can guess that the problems Nehemiah discovers when he comes back to Jerusalem have been going on for a few years. It’s not that surprising that the joy and commitment when the wall had been rebuilt faded over the years. That seems to be a normal situation. You start out strong and get tired out – things change as time goes on.

So what did Nehemiah discover on his return?

Nehemiah 13: 1 – 9 NLT

“On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read to the people, the passage was found that said no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God.[a] For they had not provided the Israelites with food and water in the wilderness. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing. When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly.

Before this had happened, Eliashib the priest, who had been appointed as supervisor of the storerooms of the Temple of our God and who was also a relative of Tobiah, had converted a large storage room and placed it at Tobiah’s disposal. The room had previously been used for storing the grain offerings, the frankincense, various articles for the Temple, and the tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil (which were prescribed for the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers), as well as the offerings for the priests.

I was not in Jerusalem at that time, for I had returned to King Artaxerxes of Babylon in the thirty-second year of his reign,[b] though I later asked his permission to return. When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib’s evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God’s Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense.”

Do you remember that name – Tobiah? Back in chapter 2 when Nehemiah first told the city officials that he was there to rebuild the wall, we first heard about Tobiah.

“Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.

They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.

19 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard of our plan, they scoffed contemptuously. “What are you doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” they asked.

20 I replied, “The God of heaven will help us succeed. We, his servants, will start rebuilding this wall. But you have no share, legal right, or historic claim in Jerusalem.”

As the wall was rebuilt, we hear Tobiah’s name repeated whenever there is opposition to the wall. As a result of him and his comrades, they had to station people to protect the builders. Eliashib was the high priest (3: 1) who agreed to let Tobiah have a residence in the Temple in one of the rooms where they stored grain. What was Eliashib thinking? It says he was a relative of Tobiah’s (perhaps by marriage?), but to actually give him a room in the Temple? Why would he invite someone who had done his best to keep Jerusalem in ruins to live in the sacred Temple?

Perhaps the warning for us is to make sure our closest friends are supportive to our faith. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have non-Christian friends. How will others know about how wonderful our God is if we keep to a closed circle of fellow believers? But we should be aware of how our beliefs can be softened and gradually disappear if our closest friends don’t share our faith. In his book, Hand Me Another Brick, Charles Swindoll mentions an Old Testament story about Samson that caught my attention. Samson had been attacked by the Philistines many times, but always came out the winner. But he had a girlfriend, Delilah, who was not an Israelite, and who colluded with the Philistines to capture Samson. Samson finally tells her that he cannot cut his hair, so she cuts off his hair when he is asleep which leads to his phenomenal loss of strength and capture. Notice the words in bold in these verses:

“Then she cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!”

When he woke up, he thought, “I will do as before and shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him.” (Judges 16: 20)

Samson had been a judge in Israel for 20 years at the time of his death. He had been a leader in his country, and one would think he would have known better than to spend most of his time with non-Israelites. The fact that he didn’t realize that God’s presence had disappeared from him is startling.

Yet that may not be as startling as we think. Pause for a moment and think about your life. In 2020, we live in a culture that is busy- even in a pandemic. It’s so easy to put our relationship with God on the back burner. Could we get so immersed in our jobs, family life, volunteer work, friendships, etc. that we don’t even realize we haven’t spoken with God lately? It happened in Samson’s day, in Nehemiah’s day with the high priest inviting Tobiah to live in the Temple – it could happen with us. It’s never too late to ask for forgiveness and start again.

Our song for today is Forgiven by Sanctus Real

October 15 – Falling

“Don’t laugh when your enemy falls; don’t crow over his collapse. GOD might see, and become very provoked, and then take pity on his plight.”

Proverbs 24:17-18 MSG

My daughter scooted out the door the other morning, and in her attempt to crawl, landed flat on her face. Her reaction luckily wasn’t too bad, but I felt bad as some purple began to develop on her forehead.

The consistency and effort she exerts each day to move forward and develop her movement has been such an adventure to witness. The amazing part is most babies, in general, only keep developing! When they master the crawl, they move towards pulling themselves up to balancing, to standing eventually, walking, then running. As these tiny humans physically develop so quickly, we as humans are constantly on the move as well.

Yet as we move and grow through life there are guaranteed falls and shortcomings and yes, we all will fall. Early in the Bible, the beginnings of humanity, Adam and Eve took and ate the forbidden fruit. This at times is referred to as the fall.

Hate and anger, us and against them mentalities, only lead to our own shortcomings. The Bible says pride lands us flat on our faces.

“First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.”
-Proverbs 16:18 MSG

We don’t know what each person is going through, so taking each interaction with grace is important. As we hear of name calling in the news, and politics that are frustrating, I’m reminded not to hate but to take our world with a grain of salt. All of us uncertain, fearful and anxious – I’m reminded that our stronghold and certainty lies in who God is and His truth. And that when we do fall, He is there to help us.

“He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep.”
-Psalm 121:3-4 MSG

For the many reasons we do fall, I’m assured to keep my footing in God’s word. That when life gets hard, and things break us, His faithfulness endures and He graciously helps and gets us on our feet.

You stood before my failure
And carried the cross for my shame
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders
My soul now to stand
-The Stand, Hillsong United

October 14 – Joyful Thanksgiving

Nehemiah 12: 27 – 47 NLT

Dedication of Jerusalem’s Wall

27 For the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, the Levites throughout the land were asked to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28 The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites. 29 They also came from Beth-gilgal and the rural areas near Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built their own settlements around Jerusalem. 30 The priests and Levites first purified themselves; then they purified the people, the gates, and the wall.

31 I led the leaders of Judah to the top of the wall and organized two large choirs to give thanks. One of the choirs proceeded southward[n] along the top of the wall to the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah. 35 Then came some priests who played trumpets, including Zechariah son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, a descendant of Asaph. 36 And Zechariah’s colleagues were Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani. They used the musical instruments prescribed by David, the man of God. Ezra the scribe led this procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went straight up the steps on the ascent of the city wall toward the City of David. They passed the house of David and then proceeded to the Water Gate on the east.

38 The second choir giving thanks went northward[o] around the other way to meet them. I followed them, together with the other half of the people, along the top of the wall past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 then past the Ephraim Gate to the Old City Gate,[p] past the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel, and on to the Tower of the Hundred. Then we continued on to the Sheep Gate and stopped at the Guard Gate.

40 The two choirs that were giving thanks then proceeded to the Temple of God, where they took their places. So did I, together with the group of leaders who were with me. 41 We went together with the trumpet-playing priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah— 42 and the singers—Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam, and Ezer. They played and sang loudly under the direction of Jezrahiah the choir director.

43 Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away.

Provisions for Temple Worship

44 On that day men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the offerings, the first part of the harvest, and the tithes. They were responsible to collect from the fields outside the towns the portions required by the Law for the priests and Levites. For all the people of Judah took joy in the priests and Levites and their work. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as commanded by David and his son Solomon, and so did the singers and the gatekeepers. 46 The custom of having choir directors to lead the choirs in hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God began long ago in the days of David and Asaph. 47 So now, in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel brought a daily supply of food for the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Levites. The Levites, in turn, gave a portion of what they received to the priests, the descendants of Aaron.”

This time I did leave out the long list of priests and Levites. Nehemiah was obviously a detail person. He made sure he recorded every situation and every person in this rebuilding of the wall. As I’ve read through Nehemiah and figured out what to write in the devotions, sometimes I think I’m repeating the importance of everyone in a project too much. But in reality, we can’t thank every person – those who lead and those who fill in all the little necessary jobs – too much. We definitely need to recognize how much we appreciate every single person’s contribution.

Before the celebration began, “The priests and Levites first purified themselves; then they purified the people, the gates, and the wall.” (v. 30) This was a custom laid down in the Mosaic Law. This practice of being clean before God is something that applies even in 2020. Our joy and peace of heart only comes when we are right with God. Our prayers of confession and repentance keep our relationship with God open and honest. “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” 1 John 1: 9. That is what keeps our relationship with God close and joyful.

I want you to try to picture the celebration ceremony in your mind. All the people – priests, Levites, singers, instrumentalists, men, women, children – were divided in two parts. The musicians and singers led the groups along with the priests and Levites. Nehemiah and Ezra led the two groups of people who followed them. These people included the ones that came to live in Jerusalem along with the people from the towns around the city. How many thousands would that be?

Just stop for a moment. Have you ever been to a sports event where a lot of people were in attendance? For example, the WFCU Centre in Windsor holds 6500 people. Ever been to a game there? Or have you been to Detroit for a hockey or baseball game? Think about the noise generated by the fans. Even today in Covid time, when we watch sports events on TV, although there is no one in the audience, they still play the roar of crowds when someone scores. Being in those crowds celebrating sports events is really quite exciting. You get caught up in the joy of the occasion.

Nehemiah says, “the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away”. (v.43) Imagine that. It wasn’t just the music or the singing of the crowds of people that could be heard. It was the joy! This wasn’t an easy time for them. They had been working hard to clear the debris and build the wall. People had been brought to Jerusalem to build their homes by the “sacred lottery” and others had volunteered. They had experienced opposition from enemies surrounding the area. But on this day, they were celebrating what God had done. There was joy.

We are going through tough times in 2020. I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving this year was not its usual celebration. With various family members busy at jobs and in school, we decided to ‘play it safe’ – no indoor gathering around the table. Yet despite the circumstances, we can have joy. We can know we are God’s children, loved by him. We know the Holy Spirit indwells us and brings peace to our lives. We can look around us and find those small joy filled moments.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5: 22 – 23

Let’s resolve to do what the people did in Nehemiah’s day. Life might be tough but we can celebrate God’s goodness.

Our song for today is Joy of the Lord by Rend Collective

October 13 – Unknown People are Important

Nehemiah 11 is another chapter full of names and data. I was so tempted to skip over it and go on to chapter 12. But, before we read chapter 11, I want you to remember the beginning of chapter 7.

 “After the wall was finished and I had set up the doors in the gates, the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed. I gave the responsibility of governing Jerusalem to my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah, the commander of the fortress, for he was a faithful man who feared God more than most. …. At that time the city was large and spacious, but the population was small, and none of the houses had been rebuilt.”

Notice that Nehemiah gave his brother, Hanani, and a soldier named Hananiah, responsibility for governing Jerusalem. Are those two names familiar at all to you? I suspect not. If someone a few months from now asked you who Nehemiah’s brother was, you probably wouldn’t remember. We know he got Jerusalem back on its feet after years of laying waste – a very important job – but really, he is an unknown.

The other thing I want you to notice is that Jerusalem was empty. It had sat for ages in ruins. As Israelites returned to the area, they lived outside of Jerusalem where they could likely find land for pasture and crops. You could build a home without clearing out the mess in Jerusalem. Try to picture in your mind moving to a city where the walls had been knocked down, with the inner city destroyed and burned. What a colossal mess!

So, in chapter 11, Nehemiah tries to get people to move back into the city. Again, I’m going to put in bold, phrases I want you to notice.

Nehemiah11 

The leaders of the people were living in Jerusalem, the holy city. A tenth of the people from the other towns of Judah and Benjamin were chosen by sacred lots to live there, too, while the rest stayed where they wereAnd the people commended everyone who volunteered to resettle in Jerusalem.

Here is a list of the names of the provincial officials who came to live in Jerusalem. (Most of the people, priests, Levites, Temple servants, and descendants of Solomon’s servants continued to live in their own homes in the various towns of Judah, but some of the people from Judah and Benjamin resettled in Jerusalem.)

From the tribe of Judah:

Athaiah son of Uzziah, son of Zechariah, son of Amariah, son of Shephatiah, son of Mahalalel, of the family of Perez. Also Maaseiah son of Baruch, son of Col-hozeh, son of Hazaiah, son of Adaiah, son of Joiarib, son of Zechariah, of the family of Shelah.[a] There were 468 descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem—all outstanding men.

From the tribe of Benjamin:

Sallu son of Meshullam, son of Joed, son of Pedaiah, son of Kolaiah, son of Maaseiah, son of Ithiel, son of Jeshaiah. After him were Gabbai and Sallai and a total of 928 relatives. Their chief officer was Joel son of Zicri, who was assisted by Judah son of Hassenuah, second-in-command over the city.

10 From the priests:

Jedaiah son of Joiarib; Jakin; 11 and Seraiah son of Hilkiah, son of Meshullam, son of Zadok, son of Meraioth, son of Ahitub, the supervisor of the Temple of God. 12 Also 822 of their associates, who worked at the Temple. Also Adaiah son of Jeroham, son of Pelaliah, son of Amzi, son of Zechariah, son of Pashhur, son of Malkijah, 13 along with 242 of his associates, who were heads of their families. Also Amashsai son of Azarel, son of Ahzai, son of Meshillemoth, son of Immer, 14 and 128 of his[b] outstanding associates. Their chief officer was Zabdiel son of Haggedolim.

15 From the Levites:

Shemaiah son of Hasshub, son of Azrikam, son of Hashabiah, son of Bunni. 16 Also Shabbethai and Jozabad, who were in charge of the work outside the Temple of God. 17 Also Mattaniah son of Mica, son of Zabdi, a descendant of Asaph, who led in thanksgiving and prayer. Also Bakbukiah, who was Mattaniah’s assistant, and Abda son of Shammua, son of Galal, son of Jeduthun. 18 In all, there were 284 Levites in the holy city.

19 From the gatekeepers:

Akkub, Talmon, and 172 of their associates, who guarded the gates.

20 The other priests, Levites, and the rest of the Israelites lived wherever their family inheritance was located in any of the towns of Judah. 21 The Temple servants, however, whose leaders were Ziha and Gishpa, all lived on the hill of Ophel.

22 The chief officer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi son of Bani, son of Hashabiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Mica, a descendant of Asaph, whose family served as singers at God’s Temple. 23 Their daily responsibilities were carried out according to the terms of a royal command.

24 Pethahiah son of Meshezabel, a descendant of Zerah son of Judah, was the royal adviser in all matters of public administration.

25 As for the surrounding villages with their open fields, some of the people of Judah lived in Kiriath-arba with its settlements, Dibon with its settlements, and Jekabzeel with its villages. 26 They also lived in Jeshua, Moladah, Beth-pelet, 27 Hazar-shual, Beersheba with its settlements, 28 Ziklag, and Meconah with its settlements. 29 They also lived in En-rimmon, Zorah, Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, and Adullam with their surrounding villages. They also lived in Lachish with its nearby fields and Azekah with its surrounding villages. So the people of Judah were living all the way from Beersheba in the south to the valley of Hinnom.

31 Some of the people of Benjamin lived at Geba, Micmash, Aija, and Bethel with its settlements. 32 They also lived in Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, 33 Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, 34 Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, 35 Lod, Ono, and the Valley of Craftsmen.[c] 36 Some of the Levites who lived in Judah were sent to live with the tribe of Benjamin.”

Verse 1 tells us that the leaders in Jerusalem already lived there. We would expect that. Can you imagine what the people in Windsor would say if our mayor and city council lived outside Windsor somewhere in the county? I suspect the leaders in Jerusalem were people who had toughed it out and started rebuilding the city. But they needed more residents. So, they had a ‘lottery’ system, “sacred lots”, that required 1 tenth of all the people living outside Jerusalem in the surrounding towns to move into the city. Again, stop and think about that. The names of all the people who lived in the surrounding territory of Judah and Benjamin were ‘put in a hat’, prayed over, and then they drew out 10% of the names from the container. If you had lived back then, how would you have felt when your name was drawn – having to leave your home for a place in ruins and start all over again? Verse 2 says that others actually volunteered, and the people commended them for doing so.

As you read through chapter 11, I put in bold the various numbers so we could concentrate on the large number of volunteers. I added up the numbers – 3044 people voluntarily moved into Jerusalem. Notice there are no names of women and children, so that number is actually much higher. We have a long list of names based on the patriarch of the family. For example, my dad’s name was Frank. If we were to include all the people that came because of Frank, there would be 51 altogether. That counts his wife, 4 children, their spouses and the grandchildren. In reality in Nehemiah 11, there were likely thousands of people who moved into Jerusalem so that city could once again be the capital for God’s people. We don’t know who they were. They made huge sacrifices to go from their little towns to this big mess.

Who were some of these people? Some appear to be just regular people from the surrounding towns. Sometimes, Nehemiah refers to them as ‘outstanding men”. We know the priests and Levites came into the city – some to work in the Temple and some to work outside it. There were people who guarded the gates of the city. Some were singers in the Temple. One person was named as a royal adviser. But do you know who they were? Are they names you recognize? Nehemiah is an outstanding leader. He knows how to make people feel valuable, important. He could have just said many people agreed to live in Jerusalem and rebuild the city. But he does include names and numbers. Even though those people haven’t gone down in history the way many of our leaders have, at the time, they knew they were appreciated. That is a lesson that we can learn today when we are leading somewhere. A leader is not successful without the support and work of many helpers. Those workers should have that recognition.

But there is something else you should know. You may not feel important in our city, in your workplace, in our church, etc. But God knows who you are. He knows all the little things you do to help someone else. Hebrews 6: 10 – 11 says: “For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers as you still do. Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts.” God knows when you mowed your neighbour’s lawn when they were sick. He knows when you took a meal to a new mom. He knows when you helped paint a room at your church. He knows when you made someone feel welcome when they came to your church for the first time. He knows you help clean the washrooms at the church every week. He knows you have helped in the nursery at church.

No matter how unimportant you think you are, no matter that your name won’t go down in the history books – you are important. God knows.

Our song for today is Reckless Love by Corey Ashbury. This song reinforces knowing God loves each one of us:

October 12 – Thanksgiving Day

Today, let’s be thankful all day long. Let’s think of all the things we are grateful for, and talk about them with family and friends, and express our thankfulness in prayer as well.

“Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5: 20

What are some things we can all be thankful for? We live in Canada, a country where we are free to worship our God. It’s also a country that has coped with the pandemic fairly well, definitely well in comparison to some other countries.

“Sing out your thanks to the Lord; sing praises to our God with a harp.” Psalm 147:7

“Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” Colossians 4: 2

We can be so thankful we have our new senior pastor, Brian McGuffin. We can thank God for bringing Brian and his family safely to Windsor, and that they have found a home in this crazy Covid time. Thank you, Heavenly Father, that LSA can start anew in 2020.

“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2: 7

Think of all the people in your life who have helped you in some way. Think of your family members. I am so thankful for my parents who taught me and showed me what living for God actually means in so many practical ways. I am so thankful for my husband of close to 50 years, who led our family in such a steady and loving way. I am so thankful for my three daughters and four fantastic grandchildren. I am thankful for friends who I could count on when life was difficult, friends I could call no matter what time of the day or night.

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” Philippians 1: 3

Can you think of a hard time in your life when you just prayed and asked God for strength? Have you ever in this Covid time turned to God because you felt so frustrated and lonely? Have you thanked him for keeping you and your family healthy and safe? Has Covid thrown you into a financial storm? Can you thank him for keeping you strong in spite of all the difficulties?

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s’ will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 18

One of our family traditions was to spend some time between the main course of Thanksgiving dinner and the dessert going around the table and telling each other something we were thankful for. Often, we would go around the table at least three times, so everyone had to think of more than one thing. It was always fun to hear what the kids would say. Sometimes everyone would say “I agree with that one” when someone would mention a memorable moment in the past year. Sometimes we would laugh, especially when one of the little ones would mention some cute thing. Perhaps you could think of some way you could share thanks with your family this year. It may be a challenge since many of us are not physically with our families today – but there is a variety of in-person messaging.

However, your Thanksgiving Day looks like this year, find time to be thankful.

“Then we, your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.” Psalm 79: 13

Our song for today is a happy, bouncy one. Thank You Lord by Chris Tomlin, Thomas Rhett, and Florida Georgia Line.

October 9 – Thankful

This is Thanksgiving weekend. I thought I’d take a break from Nehemiah and take a look at what we are thankful for. The very first thing that came to my mind was how thankful I am for my relationship with God. That is the basis for everything in my life. As a Christ follower, I’m sure you would say “amen” to that as well.

Read verses 15 to 20 slowly. Concentrate on who Jesus is, and what he has and still does. You could even get a piece of paper and write those things down. I find that if I stop and take the time to put ideas in my own words, I remember them so much better.

Colossians 1: 15 – 22 NLT

“Christ Is Supreme

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

Now, let’s take a look at verse 20 again and the verses that follow. As you read, think about this question. What has Jesus specifically done for you?

“and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”

Stop and go back over those two verses. Put into your own words what Jesus has done for you.

Isn’t this absolutely amazing? Being thankful almost doesn’t seem like enough of a response. Perhaps being in awe and worshipping is better response. When we realize who Jesus is, and that we can stand right in front of him knowing we are absolutely perfect … that changes everything in our lives.

In our lives on earth, we are not perfect. We make mistakes. We sin. We often feel depressed and rather worthless. To those around us, we might look like we have everything under control and are sailing through life. But, on the inside we wonder if what we are doing actually counts for much.

Knowing that Jesus loves us and that we belong to him – Wow!

Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

Our song for today is In Christ Alone by Owl City.

October 8 – What is Seen

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?”
Psalm 8:3 (MSG)

There is something to be said about the steadfastness of the sky. Nature tends to have its own schedule; a sense of faithfulness. We can guarantee the sun will rise, and the night will come. We can predict the moon will become full, and the weather will change. Just as creation changes around us, we are changing. Yet, as we don’t see the wind, or how the moon pulls the tides, so there are days we don’t see the fruits of our labour. There are times we don’t get the answer to our questions, and days we don’t fully understand life or God. We know the stars aren’t visible by day, but they are there. A challenging parallel at times is the reminder that, the Christian life is meant to live by faith, not by sight.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”
-Hebrews 11:3 NLT

Faith challenges us to envision in the dark; see what cannot be seen. Perhaps we have to ask ourselves to see beyond the capacity of our minds, or our made-up minds or assumptions. As the moon lights up the sky because of the sun, God is an ever-present guarantee, and his love is something that never fades, whether we think we see/feel it, or not.

God’s Message, from the God who lights up the day with sun and brightens the night with moon and stars, Who whips the ocean into a billowy froth, whose name is God-of-the-Angel-Armies.”
-Jeremiah 31:35 (MSG)

The depths of our spirituality may come into further ripening when we can’t see the light. The trust of our plans, hopes, dreams and understandings may begin to rest in knowing the presence of a creator.

“We must accept we are there and settle enough so we can be carried by the deep. The willingness to do this is the genesis of faith, the giving over to currents larger than us.”
-Mark Nepo

Even though we can’t always see it, or fathom it – that is our humanity in comparison to Christ. As the earth doesn’t function without the sun, we can rest even in our misunderstandings that His presence is there.

You are the sun
You shine your light on everyone
I am the moon
I come alive because of you”
Gunger.

October 7 – Is God First in Everything?

Nehemiah 10: 30 – 38 NLT

Yesterday we read about the people who signed the ‘contract’ with God. Now let’s look at what they promised:

30 “We promise not to let our daughters marry the pagan people of the land, and not to let our sons marry their daughters.

31 “We also promise that if the people of the land should bring any merchandise or grain to be sold on the Sabbath or on any other holy day, we will refuse to buy it. Every seventh year we will let our land rest, and we will cancel all debts owed to us.

32 “In addition, we promise to obey the command to pay the annual Temple tax of one-eighth of an ounce of silver[b] for the care of the Temple of our God. 33 This will provide for the Bread of the Presence; for the regular grain offerings and burnt offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, the new moon celebrations, and the annual festivals; for the holy offerings; and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel. It will provide for everything necessary for the work of the Temple of our God.

34 “We have cast sacred lots to determine when—at regular times each year—the families of the priests, Levites, and the common people should bring wood to God’s Temple to be burned on the altar of the Lord our God, as is written in the Law.

35 “We promise to bring the first part of every harvest to the Lord’s Temple year after year—whether it be a crop from the soil or from our fruit trees. 36 We agree to give God our oldest sons and the firstborn of all our herds and flocks, as prescribed in the Law. We will present them to the priests who minister in the Temple of our God. 37 We will store the produce in the storerooms of the Temple of our God. We will bring the best of our flour and other grain offerings, the best of our fruit, and the best of our new wine and olive oil. And we promise to bring to the Levites a tenth of everything our land produces, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our rural towns.

38 “A priest—a descendant of Aaron—will be with the Levites as they receive these tithes. And a tenth of all that is collected as tithes will be delivered by the Levites to the Temple of our God and placed in the storerooms. 39 The people and the Levites must bring these offerings of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the storerooms and place them in the sacred containers near the ministering priests, the gatekeepers, and the singers.

“We promise together not to neglect the Temple of our God.”

What did they promise? They promised to keep themselves separate from the pagan people living around them – especially not to intermarry with them. They promised to keep the Sabbath day holy, to set it aside and not conduct business on that day. They also promised to keep every seventh year a year of rest and restart. (You can read the Old Testament instructions on this in Exodus 23: 10 – 11; Leviticus 25: 1 – 13) They were to leave their fields fallow that year, and anyone could come on the fields and take whatever crops happened to grow. Then there were several instructions on how to support the Temple and the priests, Levites and others who served there. They would even appoint a priest to supervise the collections of the various goods to make sure no one was taking advantage of the grain, wood, money, and produce from the land.

These promises involved their homes, making sure that their devotion and service to God wasn’t weakened by non-Jewish family members. Their businesses would also reflect their faith. They would keep one day separate for worship, and they would also keep their promise to rest their fields every 7 years as well as forgive debts that year. Keeping the Temple and supporting those who worked there was also promised.

What would those promises look like for us in 2020? Many of the laws stated in the Old Testament no longer apply to us, although many of the ideas behind those laws are pertinent today. Encouraging our children to grow in their faith and marry someone who also takes their faith seriously helps that marriage to stay firm, and for their faith to remain strong. And our grandchildren are more likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

Keeping Sunday as a day of rest is more difficult in 2020. Not all of us can take Sunday off from work because of shift-work in places that run 24/7. But it’s still crucial to find time for worship and refection. It’s so easy when we have to work on Sunday to just make every other day a work day too, with no time for God. That can gradually over time, erode and erase our relationship with God.

The Jewish practice of erasing debt every 7 years is interesting. If you read on in Leviticus 25, you discover that every 50 years, property was to be returned to its original owner. When I look at those laws, I see a God who wants wealth distributed fairly; those were ways for needy people to be able to get back on their feet. Being wealthy and successful doesn’t mean you take advantage of other people; there is a limit on how much you can take away from them. We don’t live in a primarily agrarian culture today. There is nothing wrong about being successful in business. But if we see God’s concern for the needy people in our society, maybe we should think about what we do with our wealth.

A lot of those verses dealt with keeping the Temple functioning and supporting the priests, Levites and other people working there. That is definitely something we can do today in our churches. It mentioned a tenth of income to be given to the Levites. Today we refer to that as a tithe. It also repeated many times that they were to bring the best of every item – grains, fruit, wine, oil, etc.. Today, do we spend our money on nice homes, vacations and other fun activities, new cars, etc. and also make sure we have good savings? Is money given to the church just whatever is left over?

Do we make sure the church has enough funds to support good programs? Do we make sure the church has enough money to help out someone who comes needing help? Do we pay our pastors a decent salary? Remember they are well educated, and also supervise multi-staff and volunteers – things we do to be successful in the work world.

These verses in Nehemiah really make me stop and think. Those verses stress that God comes first in everything. Is that how I live my life? Is God important in my family? Would my kids know that my faith is the central thing in my life? Do I reflect God’s values in my workplace? Do I support God’s work in my local church and around the world? Those are huge questions.

Does God come first in everything?

Our song for today is First by Lauren Daigle

October 6 – Everyone Is Involved

Nehemiah 10 NLT

“The document was ratified and sealed with the following names:

The governor:

Nehemiah son of Hacaliah, and also Zedekiah.

The following priests:

Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malkijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, and Shemaiah. These were the priests.

The following Levites:

Jeshua son of Azaniah, Binnui from the family of Henadad, Kadmiel, 10 and their fellow Levites: Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, 11 Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, 12 Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, 13 Hodiah, Bani, and Beninu.

14 The following leaders:

Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, 15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, 16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, 17 Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, 18 Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, 19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, 20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, 21 Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, 22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, 23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, 24 Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, 25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, 26 Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, 27 Malluch, Harim, and Baanah.

The Vow of the People

28 Then the rest of the people—the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, Temple servants, and all who had separated themselves from the pagan people of the land in order to obey the Law of God, together with their wives, sons, daughters, and all who were old enough to understand— 29 joined their leaders and bound themselves with an oath. They swore a curse on themselves if they failed to obey the Law of God as issued by his servant Moses. They solemnly promised to carefully follow all the commands, regulations, and decrees of the Lord our Lord:”

What is the document talked about in verse 1? Yesterday’s devotions focused on chapter 9 where the people confessed their sin and praised God. They admitted that God was a gracious and compassionate God who saved them despite their unfaithfulness. At the end of the chapter, the people said:

“In view of all this, we are making a solemn promise and putting it in writing. On this sealed document are the names of our leaders and Levites and priests.” (9: 38)

Chapter 10 outlines what they are promising, and the first verses of the chapter include the names of the people who signed it. The people have been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting about their relationship to God. It was at the beginning of chapter 8, right after the wall was completed, that Ezra stood in front of all the people and began reading the Book of the Law. This was a book that they hadn’t heard for 300 years while they were in captivity in Babylon/Persia. They took several days to read and interpret it with Ezra and other scribes. They celebrated the Feast of Booths, and now they are at the end of October, a month after the first reading of the Law.

So, they’ve been learning and thinking – and repenting for ignoring God. Now they decide to write down their promises to God. Have you ever reached some kind of crossroads in your life? When you’ve realized you needed to make some changes? It’s a good idea to write down what you decide you need to do. There’s something about putting it into words that you can see and read that helps you to actually make the changes. Otherwise, you may just think about it, and leave the ideas floating around in your mind.

Charles Swindoll in his book, Hand Me Another Brick, says this: “Why was it important for them to do this? (write their promises down) Because they drove a “literary stake” into the ground that said in effect, “this is our promise to you, O God. This is our constitution, our declaration of distinction. We don’t care if anyone else in the world lives by this. We will live by it. It will be our guide. Our homes will be distinct. Our philosophy of life will not be like that of those who live outside the walls – or even of some who live within the city’s walls. This is something, Lord, that we want to carry out before You.” (page 150)

The people who wrote their names on the document included Nehemiah, their leader. Usually leaders are committed to the plans they have instigated, but it is important that they show their commitment to the people they work with. It’s not a “I made the plan; now you do the work.” Priests, Levites, and various family leaders signed the document personally. In 2020, a pastor might decide to begin a new ministry of some sort. Perhaps like Nehemiah did, we should also have Session, staff, and other leaders in the congregation publicly support the new ministry. That shows a unified approach that all the congregation would understand, and want to support as well.

“Then the rest of the people—the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, Temple servants, and all who had separated themselves from the pagan people of the land in order to obey the Law of God, together with their wives, sons, daughters, and all who were old enough to understand –joined their leaders and bound themselves with an oath.” (v. 28 – 29) I love this idea of complete support and commitment. Everyone agreed that they needed a fresh start and a new commitment to their God. I found the phrase “and all who were old enough to understand” interesting. I know that in modern Jewish culture, children go through Bar Mitzvah around 12 to 13 years of age; that ceremony says they are now old enough to be responsible for their own actions. Today, we so often dismiss kids’ and teens’ opinions as not that crucial. But at that moment in Nehemiah’s time, every person from young to old was involved. And I think God includes everyone – even young people – in his plans today.

In October 2020, we have a ‘new’ time ahead of us. Covid is still raging, and life is not what we’ve been used to. We need to find new ways of communicating our faith to those around us. Like Nehemiah’s time, we need to reaffirm our faith in God. Put God first. And we all need to realize we have a part to play in this. Sure, the leaders will come up with plans, but it’s not just them. It’s everyone of us too – everyone who is “old enough to understand”.

Our song for today is And All the People Said Amen by Matt Maher