April 3 – You Give Me So Much!

Psalm 103: 2 – 22 (NLT)

2 Let all that I am praise the LORD;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
6 The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
7 He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel.
8 The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
13 The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
15 Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
16 The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here.
17 But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!
19  The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.
20  Praise the LORD, you angels,
you mighty ones who carry out his plans, listening for each of his commands.
21  Yes, praise the LORD, you armies of angels who serve him and do his will!
22  Praise the LORD, everything he has created,
everything in all his kingdom.
Let all that I am praise the LORD.

If you were struggling yesterday to come up with some words that praised God, then today my challenge should be easier. However, it might take more time since you will have to read slowly. But I’m banking on the likelihood that you have more time with social distancing. So here’s the challenge – make a list of all the things God does for you. You might want to write the number of the verse down, and then summarize what it says. I’ll get you started.

v.3 – He forgives my sins and heals my diseases
(the messed up parts of my life)
v.4 – He has stopped death from being the end and He showers me with love
v.5 – He fills my life with good things and gives me energy
v. 6 – He gives justice to anyone who is treated unfairly

Keep writing, and then put your list somewhere you can see it as you go about your daily routine. Take a quick peek at it as you pass by, and praise God for that particular gift as you continue in your work. I think you could even use this list for several days of praise.

“Praise the LORD, everything
he has created, everything in all his kingdom.
Let all that I am praise the LORD.”

April 2 – “Bless the Lord, O my soul”

Psalm 103: 1 (NLT)

Let all that I am praise the LORD;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.”

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” (NASB)

Nothing like a short verse for devotions today. On Friday, we used Psalm 18 to think about thanking God for all he has done for us. I was delighted that some people actually wrote a poem and posted it. Bravo to you courageous people! In the midst of this Coronavirus pandemic, I think it’s good to focus on positive things so today we’ll focus on praise.

I don’t know about you, but my prayer life tends to focus on praying for others. As names pop into my head over the course of the day, I pray for those people. Or as I ponder situations I’m facing, I ask for God’s wisdom and help in making good decisions. I also thank God when I hear about prayers answered or when I sense His leading on some issue. I know I should also include praise in my prayer life, but I seem to find that more difficult. For an English teacher, struggling with finding the right words seems weird, but I do.

One thing I learned from Glenn Hart (who was our Small Group Pastor and then a Teaching Pastor at LSA), when I took his course on prayer, was to write down the alphabet vertically on a piece of paper, and then find words that describe God which start with each letter. I also got an idea from a friend of mine who kept an address book to write in because those pages were already in alphabetical order. On those pages she wrote verses that started with that letter and also wrote the words of songs that started with that letter. She added to those pages as she did daily devotions or some thought came to mind. Then on any given day, she’d turn to one of the pages and use that information to praise God.

So I challenge you – and me – to figure out a way to increase your praise time with God. But today, I’m going to give you a specific challenge. Use the initials of your name and write a characteristic of God beside the initials. If you’re feeling brave, share it with the rest of us. And, more importantly, use those words today in praise. Here is my own example:

A(udrey) – almighty; accepting; adviser M(ae) – majestic; merciful
B(auman) – beautiful; beginning; blameless

Look up the song, “Bless the Lord, O my soul” by Matt Redman, on YouTube music.

April 1 – Where Do I Find Joy?

It’s been two weeks since I decided to stay at home as much as possible. I am still healthy, and I will continue to follow the advice our government is giving to keep us safe. At first, it really felt strange to stay at home so much. I live near some walking trails, so on pleasant days, I go out for a walk by myself. As time goes on, I am adjusting more to staying home. My company is a list of things I’ve been meaning to do for at least 4 years; maybe I’ll actually get them done.

I suspect that you are feeling a lot like that too. Life just seems a little off. But there is one thing I’m discovering – I’m becoming more aware of God’s presence in my life. If there’s something that fills me with joy, it’s knowing God loves me and I can trust him to give my life meaning. Whether it’s out being busy or staying at home, God brings joy and purpose to life.

April 1 is also the first anniversary of my heart bypass surgery. I am so thankful the problem was discovered before a heart attack would have done some damage. I am especially thankful for my daughter who insisted I get checked out since I didn’t think I had any symptoms apart from chest tightness for a couple of weeks after my husband’s death. So, I celebrate this anniversary with thankfulness to God for his protection.

Today our devotions will concentrate on verses that talk about the joy that God brings to our lives. Read each verse carefully. Look for the reason for that joy. I’ll start with the first verse to give an example, but once more I’m asking you to do some work. I think when we discover things for ourselves, we remember them better and it is much more personal than someone else telling you what to think.

Psalm 5:11

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.

I am a Christ follower, and as such I love God’s name. It brings joy because I know he is a refuge for me when I am anxious. He spreads a protection over me. That feels like being warm and dry in a home, or under a tent in the rain, or having someone’s arm around me in a crowd. Knowing I am not alone, but protected, gives me such joy and security.

Now it’s your turn:

Psalm 28:7

The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

Psalm 59:16

But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.

Psalm 63:7

Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.

Here is another verse from the psalms. We’ve been looking at verses that bring joy to us because of God’s care. Here’s a verse that tells us to bring joy to others.

Psalm 41:1

Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!

I don’t think the word “poor” means someone who has little money; it can also mean someone who needs something. Is there someone I know who cold use some kind of help? Is there something specific I could do?

March 31 – Did You Know that God Prays for You?

The first prayer I think of is Jesus praying for his disciples – and that means us too – at the Last Supper. It is told in John 17. It’s a long chapter, so this is a summary of what Jesus prays that I found in gotquestions.org.

“In John 17, Jesus prays for His followers, and from that prayer we can learn the kinds of things Jesus might be praying for us now. Jesus prays for us that we would do and be these things:

• Know God and His Son, Jesus Christ (verse 3)
• Be protected from apostasy (verse 11)
• Be one in spirit as the Father and Son are one (verse 11)
• Be filled with His joy (verse 13)
• Be kept from the evil one (verse 15)
• Be sanctified through God’s Word (verse 17)
• Remain unified in Christ throughout the generations (verses 20–21)
• Let our love convey Christ’s message to the world (verse 23)
• Join Him in heaven for all eternity (verse 24)
• Experience the same kind of love for each other that the Father and Son share (verse 26)

Here are more verses that come to mind when I think about the Holy Spirit praying for us.

Romans 8: 26 – 28 (NLT)

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

Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know what to pray for? You were just so overwhelmed and anxious, you couldn’t see a solution or steps to take? Did you know that when you feel like this, and just admit to God that you are at the end of your rope, that God prays for you?

Look at this again – “the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words”. (Romans 8: 26) The Bible tells us that God knows we are weak, and He knows the broken world we live in – and He reaches out to us, He “knows all hearts”.

What is even more exciting is that the Holy Spirit’s prayers are “in harmony with God’s own will”. That means I’m praying for the right thing. I might be confused, but the Holy Spirit isn’t. That is such a comfort to me. On those days when I’m scared and curled up on my bed worried about something – and I’ve had lots of days like that over my life – I can just admit to my Heavenly Father that I don’t know what to say or do, and leave it with Him.

I think it’s also important to zero in on another idea in these verses. God has a plan for me. Look at verse 28 – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” There is a purpose for my life. Look at the Jeremiah verse – “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.”

So when I bump into the broken events of this world, I can know that God will bring something good out of the mess. It doesn’t mean that everything works out just beautifully – no stress, no pain, no difficulty, no loss. It means that those broken, frightening events are not useless; something good will come from them. Here is where I have an advantage being 72 years old – I have seen good come from very difficult things. In fact, sometimes the good that comes from a hard situation is amazing because those who witness it realize that something (someone) has to be behind it all – a realization that there is a God at work.

There is an old song by Bill Gaither that reflects these ideas. It came to my mind as I was writing this devotion. You can find it on YouTube if you’d like to hear it. It kind of sums up what I’m saying today.

Something beautiful, something good
All my confusion He understood
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife But he made something beautiful of my life

If there ever were dreams
That were lofty and noble
They were my dreams at the start
And hope for life’s best were the hopes
That I harbour down deep in my heart
But my dreams turned to ashes
And my castles all crumbled, my fortune turned to loss So I wrapped it all in the rags of life
And laid it at the cross.

Something beautiful, something good
All my confusion He understood
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife But he made something beautiful of my life

March 30 – Protection

Psalm 9: 1 – 4 (NLT)

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

Protection is something we hear about every day. On the news and on Facebook, there are so many questions and suggestions about how to protect ourselves from Covid-19. Do we need to wear gloves in public to protect ourselves? Should we all wear face masks? How long does the virus live on various materials – skin, plastic, cardboard boxes, etc.? Do we need to disinfect our groceries? Tons of questions.

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

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

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

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

Exodus 33:18-23 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

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

The plans are not for my life to be or end in disaster, but I do have a hope of living forever with him.

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

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

Romans 8:35-39 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

March 27 – I Love You, LORD

Psalm 18 NLT

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

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

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

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

  • Has God given you the inner strength to face a difficult time?
  • Has prayer, God and the Holy Spirit helped you make a good/right decision?
  • Has there ever been a time when you were struggling, and you sensed God’s presence and love for you?

Right now, I want you to pray and thank God for the support you have received from him in the answers to those questions.

If by any chance, you like poetry, I want you to try something. The psalms were poems written by various authors. Remember David was a shepherd who wasn’t afraid to take on Goliath. He was a king who was creating the borders of his country and he led his army into battle many times. But he was also a poet. I don’t know what life experiences or abilities you have, but I want you to try to be a poet. Write a 4 line poem thanking God for helping you. You can start with David’s opening line:

“I love you, LORD, you are my strength”

March 26 – Creator God! Personal God!

Psalm 8 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love the first few words of this psalm. O LORD – an acknowledgement of how big our God is. I think of a chorus my kids used to love to sing – “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty; there’s nothing my God cannot do”. I can still picture their enthusiasm as they sang the song and did the actions, making their little arms go as wide as they could to illustrate how big God is.

But then “our Lord” – this big, mighty God is my God. He made the universe, but He has a personal relationship with me. How amazing is that!

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

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

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

No wonder the psalmist ends by once again declaring “O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!”

Creator God! Personal God!

March 25 – My Strength or God’s?

Psalm 20 (NIV)

1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.
4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the LORD grant all your requests.

6 Now this I know:
The LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
9 LORD, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!

David frequently writes about ‘distress’ in the psalms. I can understand that because he had a difficult life. Israel was in its early infancy as a nation, and David was the king who had to lead the wars to establish its borders and make sure surrounding nations respected Israel. He was the first king from his family line. (We’ve recently been made aware of the royal line with Harry and Meghan’s exit from the royal line as they decided to step back and try to live as regular people.) In David’s time, Saul was the first king, and that turned out to be a disaster. David was the next king, and his family became the royal line, but there were people who challenged that – even David’s own sons fought over who would be the next king. So life was never calm and peaceful for David.

This psalm is divided into two parts. The first 5 verses are a prayer, asking for God’s help. Those verses are just like the way I pray – God make everything turn out well. David even mentions that God should answer his prayer because David has made sacrifices. Doesn’t that sound like us sometimes? God, please make this turn out all right because you know I’ve served You the best I can. I’m so thankful that God is patient with me. He has plans for me – and everyone else too – and those plans don’t mean that I get everything I want.

But then, David shifts gears in the last 3 verses and expresses his confidence in God. I like verses 7 and 8 as David states that confidence in your own plans and strength will only bring failure. Confidence in God helps us to ‘stand firm’.

A phrase in the Bible that has often caught my attention is “right hand”. It’s used in verse 6 where it is referred to as “the victorious power of His right hand”. It’s also in another verse that has been a special one to me for many years. Isaiah 41:13 “For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” (NASB) I looked that ‘right hand’ phrase up in a Bible dictionary*, and found these definitions. Sometimes it is used as a sign of a pledge; other times it is a sign of power or authority. It also indicates a place of honour in heaven. In this psalm and the verse in Isaiah, the power definition is the one that fits.

What do you rely on in difficult times? When I am honest, I have to admit that I often look to a variety of sources for strength. I count on family to help me with advice or practical help. I count on my church family, especially the small group that I’ve been a part of for a couple of years. I count on my own intelligence to figure things out. I count on the advice of some mature wise people I know. I might read a self-help book – made better if it’s written by a well-known Christian author. I count on experts in whatever area I’m concerned about. Sometimes I just hope for some “luck” to solve the problem by chance.

I really have to ask myself how much do I count on my Heavenly Father for the strength to deal with the issues life brings? How much do I give Him credit when things turn out well for me? Over the years I’ve often been surprised at comments made by my husband, a smart and very educated man. He’ll say he was looking for a parking space near the hospital and someone pulled out right where he needed the space; he says he was praying for a space and God answered his prayer. Or he’ll say he was praying that God would help him find his keys, and God answered his prayer. I find myself being amazed since I likely wouldn’t pray about such mundane things or expect God to care about those kinds of things.

There have been things that have happened that I definitely give God the credit for. I do “shout for joy” and “lift up the banners” openly about what God has done. My husband’s miraculous cure from cancer was certainly one of those times. To his doctors and anyone who asks, we state firmly right up front that this was God’s doing entirely – and his doctors agree since they can’t explain it. But on so many other things – stresses that tend to bog me down, problems at work or where I volunteer, my own aging health issues, and most recently the death of my husband – do I really count on God for strength or on my “chariots and horses”? I have the benefit of experience. I still have a tendency to turn to my own resources first, but I have also learned that ultimately, I have to turn to God for the strength to keep going. It’s a faith journey and a learning process that God will patiently guide me and you on, until we too can say:

“Now this I know:
The LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.”

*Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words – W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White Jr. Thomas Nelson Publishers 1980

March 24 – Our Hope is in You Alone

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

Psalm 33 New Living Translation (NLT)

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

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

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

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

10 The LORD frustrates the plans of the nations and thwarts all their schemes.
11 But the LORD’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken.
12 What joy for the nation whose God is the LORD, whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.
13 The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race.
14 From his throne he observes all who live on the earth.
15 He made their hearts,
so he understands everything they do.
16 The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
17 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory— for all its strength, it cannot save you.

3. In verse 12, David is likely referring to Israel, God’s chosen people. Today, as the church, Christ followers, we can experience the joy that God gives to His people. Do we need to worry about the world conditions around us?
4. Reread verses 13 to 17. Does God understand how we try our best to control things? Does God think our strength is effective?

18 But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
and keeps them alive in times of famine.
20 We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.

Life can hand us some real confusing times, and even scary times and the Covid-19 pandemic is definitely one of them. The news is full of reports on the virus, and the facts seem to change every day. If you don’t have a job that leads to EI, this is super scary. Even if you have access to EI, but work in a minimum paying job, the benefits likely won’t cover your expenses. People are hoarding things. A walk around a grocery store shows many empty shelves and even nothing much in the freezer section. You wonder if you go out, are you putting yourself in danger. For people who love interacting with others, staying home alone is frightening. We wonder how long this will go on. At times like this, we need to remember who is in control.

Take a deep breath and slowly read these verses again.

18 But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
and keeps them alive in times of famine.
20 We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.

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

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

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

March 23 – Be Still

Psalm 46 (NLT)

1 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.

8 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 honored by every nation.
I will be honored 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. Some other overwhelming things 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 small 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 that 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.

There is an amazing song on YouTube Music called Still by Hillsong United. It is based on this psalm and takes about 6 minutes to play. There are many other verses from the Bible posted on the beautiful background scenery. You won’t regret taking some time to listen to this song.

March 20 – Held in God’s Hands

Isaiah 41: 10 (New American Standard Bible NASB)

Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 (New Living Translation NLT)

“ Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 (The Message)

Don’t panic. I’m with you.
There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.

As a young mom, I experienced a time of depression, that may have been postpartum depression – something they didn’t talk about way back then. This verse was my rock and foundation through that period of my life. I copied it out on a card and taped it to my frig. I also had a small imitation vase of daffodils that I set in the room where I spent most of my time playing with my girls. Those daffodils reminded me of spring, a time of renewal. I still have those daffodils and they come out every spring and are placed somewhere I can see them often. They are a reminder that God was with me then, and is with me now.

These days I don’t turn the TV on to a news channel until later in the day to catch up on the latest news about Covid-19. It’s all you hear on the news channels all day long, and that’s way too much to listen to. Now they’re saying it may be months before things return to normal. That’s scary! How long will restaurants, movie theaters, sports facilities, Parks and Rec activities, social events, etc. be shut down? Will I be able to have friends over if we have to stay 2 meters apart?

It’s easy to see how we can be anxious, afraid, panicking. And that is what this verse addresses. I like The Message translation of the verse. “Don’t panic. I’m with you.” God is with us. His Holy Spirit lives within us. You can’t get closer than that. “There’s no reason to fear for I’m your God”. We need to stop and comprehend – as much as we can – just who God is. When we realize who God actually is, we can calm down because we know that God will “hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”

To help remind us who God really is, I’ve copied a section from gotquestions.org that talks about this. It’s good to refresh ourselves even though we may think we know it all:

“First, God exists. The Bible never argues for God’s existence; it simply states it. The fact that God is should be self-evident through the works He has created (Psalm 19:1-6). Genesis
1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is a simple yet powerful statement. The universe includes time, space, matter, and energy, so that all discernible elements in the universe came into being by God’s decree. Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity states that all time, space, and matter had a definite, simultaneous beginning. What has a beginning has a cause. That is the law of causality, and the fact of God easily explains the ultimate cause. God is the creator of all that is, and so we know something else about Him: He is almighty (Joel 1:15), He is eternally self-existent (Psalm 90:2), and He exists above and beyond all of creation (Psalm 97:9).

The same God who made all things also controls those things. He is sovereign (Isaiah 46:10). He who creates an item owns it and has power to utilize it as he sees fit. The ultimate cause has ultimate authority. In Isaiah 44:24 God presents Himself as the One “who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” The next verse says that He “overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense.” This is obviously a God with power to do as He pleases.

God is spirit (John 4:24) and cannot be represented by any created thing; in fact, the attempt to create such a representation is blasphemous (Exodus 20:4-6). God is unchanging (Malachi 3:6). God is all-knowing (1 John 3:20) and all-present (Psalm 139:7-13). He is holy and glorious (Isaiah 6:3). He is just (Deuteronomy 32:4) and will justly judge all sin and unrighteousness (Jude 1:15). …

When Jesus entered our world, He showed us the Father (John 14:7-9). Through Jesus, we understand that God seeks to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He is compassionate (Matthew 14:14),

He is merciful (Luke 6:36), and He is forgiving (Matthew 9:1-8). At the same time, Jesus shows us that God will judge unrepentant sin (Luke 13:5) and that God is angry with those who live falsely and refuse to acknowledge the truth (Matthew 23).

Most of all, Jesus showed us that God is love (1 John 4:8). It was in love that God sent His Son into the world (John 3:16). It was in love that Jesus died on the cross for sinners (Romans 5:8). It is in love that He still calls sinners to repentance to experience the grace of God and to be called the children of God (1 John 3:1).”

March 19 – God Takes Care of Me


With all the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’m going to pause for a couple of days from reading through 1 John. Depending on how things are going in the coming weeks, I will likely switch back and forth from our usual reading through a book of the Bible to daily words of encouragement from our Heavenly Father.

Psalm 23
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

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

In these days of panic, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all I need” jumps out at me. When I look at the empty shelves in the grocery store, and wonder if I will be able to get what I need, God reassures me that he supplies what I need. I actually have a lot of faith in Canadians to calm down and stop stockpiling supplies. But I need more than canned goods and paper supplies. I am more on the introverted side of personalities, so I have always thought being by myself is a good thing. However, when we are told to stay at home and not go out unless it’s necessary, I’ve discovered a sense of unquiet in this ‘aloneness’. I know the extroverts need other people, and I suspect they find social isolation really difficult.

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

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

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

March 18 – 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. 6 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. 7 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.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 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 people are basically good; they can be 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 practicing 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 and expect that God forgives us; 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”.

March 17 – The Word of Life

We are going to start going through 1 John today. If for any reason, the Covid-19 crisis seems to be getting worse, and I think devotions about peace and calm are needed, I will interrupt our reading through 1 John.

1 John 1: 1 – 4 NLT

1 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 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 those verses from Colossians that we read so recently?

“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 this epistle. 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.

2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

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 also 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? We read those awesome verses posted in yesterday’s devotions about how totally and incredibly amazing God is. 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. Amid all the craziness, we can know we are safe and 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.”

March 16 – Find New Strength

I said last week that we would start 1 John today, but after watching the news over the past few days, I decided we need some reassurance that God is in control. We’ll start 1 John later this week.

These are scary times with the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). I went to a couple of grocery stores on Friday looking for a few things and was amazed at the huge number of people in the stores. I chatted with a cashier who I see frequently, and he said the stores have been full since Thursday morning. Some areas of the shelves are cleaned out. On Saturday morning I read an article in The Windsor Star about the huge line-ups at Costco – the hour or more it took to check out. I am an organizer and I like things to be planned well ahead, so I understand why people are panicking, and in the coming week or so, I will make sure I have basic things on hand. But as Christ followers we need to take a step back and take a deep breath.

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

Isaiah 40: 12 – 31 (NLT)

“Who else has held the oceans in his hand?
Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?

Who else knows the weight of the earth
or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?

13 Who is able to advise the Spirit of the LORD?[c]
Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?

14 Has the LORD ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice?

15 No, for all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth
as though it were a grain of sand.

16 All the wood in Lebanon’s forests
and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough to make a burnt offering worthy of our God.

17 The nations of the world are worth nothing to him. In his eyes they count for less than nothing— mere emptiness and froth.

18 To whom can you compare God?
What image can you find to resemble him?

19 Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold, overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains?

20 Or if people are too poor for that,
they might at least choose wood that won’t decay and a skilled craftsman
to carve an image that won’t fall down!

21 Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand? Are you deaf to the words of God— the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant?

22 God sits above the circle of the earth.
The people below seem like grasshoppers to him! He spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them.

23 He judges the great people of the world and brings them all to nothing.

24 They hardly get started, barely taking root, when he blows on them and they wither. The wind carries them off like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.

26 Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.” I’m stopping you right here so you can take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is God able to deal with my problems?” But then, you might say to yourself, “But does He care enough to help me out?” Well, let’s keep going with verses 27 – 31.

27 O Jacob, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?

28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.

He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

29 He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

30 Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.

31 But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

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

March 13 – Peace

We finished Colossians yesterday, and we’ll start reading through 1 John on Monday. So today, I decided to write another favourite verse devotional.

Philippians 4:6-8 New Living Translation (NLT)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

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

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

Now that I’m older, I still like that verse a lot. Our culture makes it easy to get dragged down and focused on the strangest stuff. Just look at the ads on TV. But I think even more than that, I find this verse helps me when I tend to get bogged down in anxiety and depressing thoughts. If I “fix my thoughts” on positive and uplifting things, life has so much more hope.

I think anxiety strikes us when we are not sure what the future might hold, and we’re not sure if we can cope with whatever it is. Living with my granddaughter who is in her second year at university reinforces that idea. For two of her courses, she is quite sure she will do well. She finds the classes easy, and so far, has done well on all assignments and tests. Another two courses have her really nervous. She finds the content of those courses challenging, and some of the tests she has written this term didn’t turn out as well as she had hoped. She’s not as sure about what will be on future tests since the profs of those courses have thrown the classes a curve or two on past tests. So when the future seems positive and we’re sure we have it under control, we are not anxious. But when the future is uncertain, and we’re not sure we can cope as well as we’d like, then anxiety strikes.

The Philippian church was anxious. They were experiencing a lot of persecution from the Jewish leaders and from the Roman occupying forces. Their future was definitely not certain. So Paul has some advice for them. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I guess you could say – Pray, pray, pray. He also tells them to pray with thanksgiving. That’s interesting. That thanksgiving reminds us that God is in control and God will be there for us no matter the outcome.

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

And then I focus on the positive things of the day – the things that are “true, honorable, right, lovely, etc.” I am so thankful for the peace that God gives. It really is incomprehensible. If I didn’t have God’s divine intervention in my life, I would be falling apart – totally failing at coping. Although I wouldn’t say I deserve an A+ in coping skills, I am aware of God’s presence and I know He will sustain me not matter what the outcome. For that I am so thankful! It is something that every single one of us can be thankful for!

March 12 – Who are the Significant People in Your Life?

Colossians 4: 7 – 18 (NLT)

“Tychicus will give you a full report about how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper who serves with me in the Lord’s work. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. 9 I am also sending Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, one of your own people. He and Tychicus will tell you everything that’s happening here.

10 Aristarchus, who is in prison with me, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin. As you were instructed before, make Mark welcome if he comes your way. 11 Jesus (the one we call Justus) also sends his greetings. These are the only Jewish believers among my co- workers; they are working with me here for the Kingdom of God. And what a comfort they have been!

12 Epaphras, a member of your own fellowship and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. He always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God. 13 I can assure you that he prays hard for you and also for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

14 Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas. 15 Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house.

16 After you have read this letter, pass it on to the church at Laodicea so they can read it, too. And you should read the letter I wrote to them.

17 And say to Archippus, “Be sure to carry out the ministry the Lord gave you.” 18 HERE IS MY GREETING IN MY OWN HANDWRITING – PAUL
“Remember my chains. May God’s grace be with you.”

Who are the people who have made a big contribution to your life? Many of you would likely start with your family members, and certainly those people have made a huge impact on you. But

today, I want you to start thinking about people and friends outside your family who have really helped you in some way.

Paul mentions some interesting people who he values. Onesimus was a slave who ran away and ended up in Rome where he met Paul. After becoming a believer, Onesimus wanted to make things right with his master, and that was why Paul wrote Philemon.

“I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison. 11 Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. 12 I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.

13 I wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf. 14 But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced. 15 It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. 16 He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me.” (Philemon 1: 10 – 18 NLT)

He also mentions Mark. John Mark had accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey but left half way through. That eventually caused a split between Barnabas and Paul when Barnabas wanted to give Mark another chance.

“Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care.” (Acts 15: 37 – 40 NLT)

It looks like Mark has matured over the years and Paul has become more forgiving and patient. That relationship between Paul and Mark with a rocky start ended up helping both of them.

Luke was definitely someone who impacted Paul greatly. He was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. He traveled with Paul and witnessed first-hand the beginning of the

new church. He also likely helped Paul live with the medical condition that Paul referred to as a “thorn in the flesh”. (2 Corinthians 12: 7)

When I look back over my life, I remember my Sunday School teacher when I was a young teenager – Mrs. Grant. She was a quiet woman and a business woman who owned a jewelry store. We admired her so much because she dressed well and always looked good. But more importantly, she explained scripture to us in such an understandable way. Her interest in each of us in our class made us take our faith seriously. The next teacher when in my older teens was Art Stephenson, a chemical engineer with Dow Chemical. He was so good at answering all our questions about Christianity. We were at that stage where we wondered if we had just been brought up with church stuff, and maybe it wasn’t that realistic. His calm and intelligent approach made it easy for us to say what we really thought and know he wouldn’t tell our parents, nor would he think any the less of us.

At university, Pastor Bill Steeper at Adelaide Baptist Church in London had been a full-time staff member with Inter-varsity Press before he settled down as a lead pastor at the church. So many university students went to his church, and he took a personal interest in each one of us. Again, it was a time of life when I questioned my faith, and having this pastor who found time to talk with me on various occasions made me think.

There are many more I could talk about, but now I want you to think about your life. Make a list of the people who have really helped you in some way. Thank God for the influence they brought in your life and pray for them. Maybe even write them a note and thank them. That could make their day.

March 11 – A Challenge

Colossians 4 (NLT)

Colossians 4

“Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. 3 Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. 4 Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should.

5 Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be gracious and attractive (Greek – seasoned with salt) so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

The first verse smacks me ‘upside the head’ – “pray with an alert mind”. I don’t know about you, but I find prayer difficult. I will begin to pray and then dozens of thoughts about my day (what to make for supper, appointments that week, need to call someone, do I need to buy new pillows for my couch – all scattered irrelevant thoughts) flood my mind. I can pray about things during my day as they come to mind, and that is fine. To be conscious of God’s presence throughout our day is good. But I struggle to find time to pray in a serious thoughtful way. Paul tells us to pray “with an alert mind and a thankful heart”.

When do I have an alert mind? If we stopped and thought about it, we could probably find a time of day when we know we are wide awake. Some of us are morning persons and some are night hawks. We need to be aware of when we are alert and figure out a time for prayer. Paul also encourages us to pray with a thankful heart. Start prayer by thanking God for any small thing (or big thing) that has happened in the past couple of days. I really think praise helps our minds to focus.

Charles Swindoll writes about these verses and says that we should determine to improve our prayer life but not get too strict with our expectations. Instead, determine to pray more this week. Next week, ask ourselves if we met that expectation, and if not, determine to make it better. If we improve a little over a month, that is good. He feels people sometimes set their expectations too high and then quit because they fail. Look instead for a gradual improvement. That sounds like good advice to me, and if you struggle with prayer, try that approach.

Then Paul tells us to “live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive (Greek – seasoned with salt) so that you will have the right response for everyone.” There is another wise instruction. Do non- Christians find us fun to talk with? Do they enjoy being with us? Do they find us to be kind, humble, gentle, patient, understanding and forgiving, loving and peaceful people? (Remember Colossians 3?) How can we share our faith with non-Christians if they see judgmental and isolated neighbours or co-workers? People who are just too religious?

One thing I do love about the Bible – and also dislike – is its honesty and the challenge it brings to my life. I am so thankful when I read about how much God loves me. And I’m so thankful when I read about what God wants from me; at least I have great advice on how to live well. I’m not always thankful when the Holy Spirit takes those words and challenges me ‘to smarten up’. But as I read verses like the ones we read today, I am thankful that God does challenge me in his loving way. His Holy Spirit helps me as I struggle to pray and live well.

“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. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8: 26 – 28 NLT)

Isn’t that wonderful?!

March 10 – Positive Actions

Colossians 3: 12 – 4:1 New Living Translation NLT

“12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Instructions for Christian Households
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.
20 Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not aggravate your

children, or they will become discouraged.

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the
Lord. 23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. 25 But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites.”

4: 1
Masters, be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master – in heaven.”

(NASB – New American Standard Bible – the translation of 3: 25

“For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”

I didn’t like the New Living Bible translation of verse 25 so decided to include another translation that is considered accurate. The NLT tends to suggest that God punishes us for everything we do wrong. Being punished and taking consequences are different.)

The person described in these verses is completely different from the one described in the earlier verses of this chapter that we looked at yesterday. These are the characteristics of God!

Tender-hearted Merciful
Kind
Humble

• • • •

Gentle Patient Forgiving Loving Peaceful Thankful

Can you imagine what kind of world we would live in if all people acted with those characteristics? That is how God treats us. As his children, that is how we share our faith in a marvelous God, by behaving the way he does. We want people to come to know our wonderful God because they see those God-like qualities in us.

How in the world can I develop all those amazing qualities? Galatians tells us about the work of the Holy Spirit in each of us.

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.” … “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! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (5: 16, 22 – 23)

These godly qualities make a huge difference in the way we treat other people. Paul gives us examples in household situations. Wives are asked to submit to their husbands. That sounds absolutely awful in the 21st Century! This is not talking about a relationship where a man treats his wife badly, orders her around, checks her every move, etc. In fact, the husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Paul expands on this idea in Ephesians 5: 25 – 29:

“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.”

• • • • • •

If every husband loved his wife as much as Christ loved the church, no wife would hesitate to follow his leadership.

This loving relationship should also characterize parent/child relationships. Take another look at those characteristics the Holy Spirit develops in us – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If that defined the relationships in every home, it would be a peaceful place.

Our culture doesn’t have the slave and master situation, but Paul’s advice could apply to our work situations. Employees who are Christ followers should “try to please them (their bosses) all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (v. 22 – 23) Is that your attitude toward your job, toward the person you work for?

If you are “the boss”, someone who is over other employees, you have a responsibility too. You are to be fair in the way you treat those under you. In fact, God is the example you need to follow. Oh … that means as a boss I need to be tender-hearted, merciful, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, loving, peaceful, and thankful. Now that brings the level of being the boss to a whole new level.

Paul tells us in these verses what we are to hope and strive for. “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (v. 16 – 17)

There is a very old hymn that became my favourite hymn back in my late teens, and it is still one of my favourites. The words of this hymn echo these verses in Colossians. You can hear it on YouTube.

May The Mind of Christ My Saviour

By Kate B. Wilkinson, 1925

May the mind of Christ my Saviour Live in me from day to day
By His love and power controlling All I do and say.

May the Word of God dwell richly In my heart from hour to hour
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of God my Father Rule my life in everything
That I may be calm to comfort Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me As the waters fill the sea Him exalting, self abasing This is victory.

May I run the race before me Strong and brave to face the foe Looking only unto Jesus

As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me As I seek the lost to win
And may they forget the channel Seeing only Him..

March 9 – Some Unpleasant Advice

Colossians 3: 1 – 11 New Living Translation (NLT)

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in
God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.”

Paul begins his very practical guidelines for the way Christ followers should live with that statement. Does he mean that we should live some ‘other worldly’ lifestyle? Should we spend all our time praying and living a ‘reclusive monastery-like’ existence? No!

What does he mean when he says, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” Let’s look at a couple of things Paul said in the first two chapters. “ … you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 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.” (1: 21 – 23) “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.” (2:6)

There are two worlds out there – one world that is influenced primarily by Satan. Paul tells us that before we accepted Christ by faith, we were in that world. “You were his enemies”. Our thoughts and behaviour centered around ourselves and what we wanted; not what God wanted. We saw that in the Garden of Eden when Satan urged Eve to eat the fruit of the one forbidden tree. His argument was that the fruit was forbidden because God didn’t want Adam and Eve to be as smart as God was. Adam and Eve fell for that line; the idea of being as important as God and controlling their own lives introduced sin into this world.

Paul asks us to set our sights on the “realities of heaven”, a very different world. This is a world where God was willing to die and take on all the sin of each one of us, so we could have a close relationship with him. God is a God of love, wisdom and creativity. And that is what Paul tells us to set our sights on – “think about the things of heaven”. It doesn’t mean we pull ourselves away from our families, friends, jobs, hobbies, etc.. It means as a child of God, we put God’s priorities first in our minds and actions.

Now Paul is going to tell us what we need to avoid. Tomorrow, we’ll look at what God wants us to concentrate on.

“5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”

That is quite a list! If you stop and look at that list, you will see that all the behaviour mentioned has at its root, selfishness – the desire to get what we want regardless how much it might hurt or diminish someone else. Paul first mentions sexual issues. Sexuality is not evil; God created it for us to enjoy within marriage. Paul’s list of sexual sin is all about sex outside of marriage and for making sex something that controls our conduct and thoughts.

Paul next mentions greed. Our culture is obsessed with getting more. It’s not wrong to want better or nicer things. God created this amazing world. He loves beauty and variety, and he made us in his image. There is nothing wrong with wanting a better job, a nice home, lovely clothes, a new car, fun gadgets, etc. But when those things become our major focus, that is greed. And it’s so easy to do in our culture. Just stop and think about all the things you were focusing on today.

How much had to do with the things you own or hope to own; the success you have and hope to have?

Then Paul talks about our relationships with others – anger, rage, malicious behaviour, slander, dirty language, and lying. All of those things happen when we’re upset that we didn’t get our own way. They involve putting people down and getting some kind of revenge; treating someone with disrespect or just plain being dishonest.

Paul pleads with us to “put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him”. (v. 10) We belong to Christ; he has given us a new life and forgiven us all the self-centered things we’ve done. We want to be like him. And that is what Paul will talk about tomorrow. Just what should we be like in practical terms?