The Beginning of the End

It’s Christmas! And through all the lights and the gifts, the food and the family celebrations, one thing sets this holiday apart from other holidays.

Thousands and thousands of years ago, immediately following Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, God arrived on the scene and saw what the two had done. The world would be cursed. From that point on their labor would be hard.

When they told God that the devil had deceived them, he turned to Satan, and faced down the ancient serpent. God declared war. He told Satan right then and there that he would send an offspring — a descendant — of Eve to strike him, and deliver a crushing blow to his head.

Satan was not willing to concede defeat. He and his evil angels have fought back ever since then. And many people have lost their souls in this interminable series of counter-attacks against God, and against his Son, the Lamb of God.

But Christmas tells us that the unending war is finally coming to an end. God kept his promise to send an “offspring ” of Eve. As the Magi said, the star indicates that this child is the “the king of the Jews.”

More than that, the tiny baby lying in a manger will be named Jesus — Savior. Years later he will show himself to be not only the king of the Jews, but the victorious Lord of lords and King of kings.

He will triumph over Satan, sin and death itself by dying on a cross, and shedding his infinitely precious and priceless blood. He will be the sinless Lamb of God who offers himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. In this self-sacrificial act, he will redeem us from our sins and win eternal life for all who are his called, chosen and faithful followers.

Christmas. It’s God’s kept promise to us. It’s the beginning of the end for Satan and his allies. It’s merely the first taste of triumph and victory for those of us who are with him by faith, who trust that the baby born in Bethlehem is our Savior and our Lord.

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers” (Revelation 17:14, NIV).

Jesus, Lamb of God, today I want to thank you for coming to be my Savior. I am so grateful that you kept the promise made long ago to Adam and Eve, a promise that was made necessary by their sin and mine. But most of all, I need to thank you for coming to triumph over sin, Satan and death. You called me and chose me to follow you. And you keep me in the faith. With you, we enjoy today as the beginning of the end, and the guarantee of our complete victory. Because of you alone, eternal glory is our true and final hope!

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 25, is Nehemiah 3:1 – 4:23, Revelation 17:1-18 and Psalm 147:12-20.

Header image based on "Nativity" by Jeff Weese, CC By 2.0

Unpredictable Outcomes

Trusting God, even when the outcome is unpredictable, is always the right move.

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were three friends of Daniel, a Jewish exile in Babylon. The four banished friends were devoted to the Lord, and trusted that God would take care of them.

They had needed to exercise that trust when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, had drafted them into his royal service. They had been Jewish royalty and nobility. Now they would be servants of their occupier — the very one who had stolen their home from them. They trusted God to guard their footsteps. And that’s what God did.

Later, Nebuchadnezzar made an unreasonable demand of all his advisors, insisting that they should be able to not only interpret a dream he had dreamed, but even tell him what the dream had been in the first place. Daniel trusted God to reveal the dream and its interpretation. And that’s exactly what God did.

Then came an even greater test. Nebuchadnezzar made a huge monstrosity of an idol. Then he told all his officials to bow down and worship it. He ordered that anyone who would not bow down be executed by being thrown into a blazing furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down, wanting to worship only the true God. They trusted God to protect them.

They did not know how God would protect them. They did not know what the outcome in this life would be. But they still trusted that God would deliver them — whether in this life or in the next.

This is true faith — to be confident that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. When we are not sure what the outcome in this life will be, we can still be assured that the outcome in the next life will always be far better than anything we can imagine or dream of.

Perhaps you are currently facing your own furnace right now. You don’t know what the outcome will be. But you can still remain confident that God is able to deliver you from that furnace.

And if he does not? He remains God — a God who wants the best possible eternal outcome for you. He is still your Savior and your Lord. And, through faith in Christ, you remain headed for everlasting life in heaven.

What does a Christ-follower do when the outcome is unpredictable?

They trust God. They put their faith in his grace and his power in all things. And they remain confident that God will deliver them — in this life, or the next.

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 28, is Daniel 3:13 – 4:18, 2 Peter 2:1-22 and Proverbs 29:1-9.

Lord Jesus, forgive me for the times when I have allowed fear to take over my heart rather than faith. Grant me the trust in you that will give me great courage for the “furnaces” in my life. I want to worship and honor you — and only you — with all of my heart.

Header image based on "furnace flame" by Graeme Maclean, CC By 2.0

God of the Details

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV).

It’s interesting the way Solomon puts this. Because I think it’s the opposite of the way most of us think.

We tend to think that God is the big-picture guy, and that the only thing we control are the little decisions and choices along the way.

This verse from Proverbs reverses the roles. It says that we are the ones who make the big-picture plans. And God is the one involved in each step along the way.

I don’t know about you, but I find this extraordinarily comforting. Because as much as we sometimes feel like we know where our life is headed, the journey through life is often a journey through a minefield. And the path through that minefield is filled with many unexpected twists and turns.

So it’s really, really nice to know that God is not just involved in the big picture. He’s also there in the little details along the way too.

God pays attention to our every step. More than that, God steadies us for each step along the way. In fact, didn’t Jesus claim he even knows the number of the hairs on your head?

Now, that’s a God who’s a God of the details!

Our Bible reading for Friday, July 3, is 2 Kings 6:24 – 8:15, Acts 22:2 – 23:11 and Proverbs 16:8-17.

Jesus thank you for being involved in the details of my life. You know every step I take. And by your grace you make my steps firm. Keep my steps on the path of your purpose, and help me to walk for the glory of your name.

Header image based on "Les marches suspendues" by Yann Caradec, CC By-SA 2.0

A Safe Place to Be

If you’ve ever been to a coastline where you can watch big waves tumble over sharp volcanic rock, you know that’s a place to be cautious about swimming. You want to make sure that you have some bigger rocks to hide behind. Otherwise, the forces behind those waves are going to be awfully harsh, if not deadly.

Life can be like that. At times, we need something to hide behind. The rough and tumble of daily living can overcome us, and the constant, unrelenting battering of life’s powerful “waves” slowly, but surely, threatens to drain the life out of us.

Nothing saddens me more than the realization that most people don’t know where to find true safety and rest. So they wander around amongst the sharp rocks and the violent waves and the powerful undertow of life constantly searching, using a trial-and-error method.

In that scenario, every supposed safe harbor just ends up being a short-lived solution to the problem. The fear and exhaustion soon return.

Until we find what David found. There is a true place of safety — a rock to hide behind. There is a place of peace and restoration.

That place is God.

And how does one find refuge behind him?

  1. Know that God really exists as one who wants to be your refuge.
  2. Trust that he is strong enough and loving enough to be your Rock to hide behind.
  3. You hide behind him when you study the Bible and believe its words and promises.
  4. You hide behind him when you are baptized, or when you bring to recollection the benefits of your baptism.
  5. You hide behind him when you receive the Lord’s Supper.
  6. You hide behind him with others when you fellowship with fellow believers in church.
  7. You demonstrate that you are hiding behind him when you pray.
  8. You demonstrate that you are hiding behind him when you give the same grace to others that you have already received from Jesus.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8, NIV)

Our Bible reading for Sunday, May 17, is Ruth 3:1 – 4:22, John 9:35 – 10:21 and Psalm 62:1-12.

Lord, you are my rock and my refuge. Help me to hide behind you so that I always feel safe, even when life is very rough.

Header image based on "Volcanic rock on the shore line" by raider of gin, CC By 2.0

The Last Word

What gets the last word?

Well, with Moses, God does! Literally, his last recorded words were to point to God and say, “There is no one like our God!”

There’s no one who helps us like our God. There’s no one as majestic as our God. There’s no one you can always rely on to be your place of refuge like our God. There’s no one who will always catch you when you fall like our God.

You are safe and secure when you — by trusting in his promises — rest in his loving arms.

He’s the shield on your arm, the helper at your side, and the sword in your hand.

Fear no one else. God is with you.

And that’s the last word on the subject!

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’ So Israel will live in safety; Jacob will dwell secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew. Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LordHe is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights” (Deuteronomy 33:26-29, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, April 21, is Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12, Luke 20:27 – 21:4 and Psalm 49:1-20.

Lord, thank you for being the last word of grace, forgiveness, protection and safety in my life!

Header image based on "Mount Nebo" by Vyacheslav Argenberg, CC By 2.0

Look no further.

Are you looking for your “true north”? Do you wish you could find that solid foundation where you could build your life, and stand firm through all kinds of trouble and tribulation? Do you yearn for a guide — a coach and mentor — who can teach you the true difference between right and wrong?

Maybe you need love. You want faithful love. Solid love. Enduring love. Eternal love.

Or perhaps you seek forgiveness and mercy? You want just a small dose of grace instead of judgment in your life. There’s a lot of “history” in your life, a boat load of baggage. You long to grasp a sense of hope and peace, but it all just seems wispy, even as you reach for it.

Look no further. You’ve just found what you’re looking for…

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4, NIV).

“Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness… For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end” (Psalm 48:9-10, 14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, April 20, is Deuteronomy 31:30 – 32:52, Luke 19:45 – 20:26 and Psalm 48:9-14.

Lord Jesus, be my true north, my compass and my guide. Lead me in your gentle love through this life. Give me a sense of peace and certainty in the midst of a very shaky world. Thank you, Jesus, for offering yourself on the cross to be my Savior, and my guide even to the end.

Header image based on "Compass Study" by Calsidyrose, CC By 2.0

Take Off the Fear Goggles

The children of Israel are on the cusp of entering the Promised Land. After 40 long years of wandering they are about to go in and stake claim to their beautiful homeland — the home God was offering to give them as a personal gift.

As they stand at the border, Moses gives them a rousing speech. He reminds the Israelites that on their previous attempt to lay claim to God’s gift, fear had gotten in the way. They had sinfully allowed their faith to be displaced by a terror of people. Moses recounts a truth the people already really know. They know it because they have lived it.

God is stronger than any giants they might meet.

After all, God had gotten them this far, hadn’t he? And he did that through some gigantically adverse conditions.

You may have “giants” in your life. Giant problems. Giant assignments. Giant enemies. Giant time crunches. Giant health issues. But God is stronger than any of these.

And this is his promise: He will fight for you. He will put you on his back and carry you. He will give you everything he has promised to give you.

There’s no better time to hear that message than Easter! Easter teaches us that Jesus is stronger even than the most giant enemy of all — death itself!

So take off the fear goggles, and pick up the shield of faith. In faith, take hold of the eternal inheritance he has planned for you, and wants to give you through his death and resurrection.

And while you’re on the way? No fear! Because God’s got you!

“Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place'” (Deuteronomy 1:29-31, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, April 4, is Deuteronomy 1:1 – 2:23 (we cross the border today into the final of the five books authored by Moses, known as the Pentateuch), Luke 9:57 – 10:24 and Psalm 41:1-6.

Header image based on "Star Trek Goggles" by David Lytle, CC By 2.0

Stages in the Journey

As we come out of our spiritual “Egypt” and go on our way to the “Promised Land,” we all go through stages in our journey of faith.

When we start out, everything in Christianity is new and different. We leave behind the familiar territory of our slavery to sin.

And there are times, like there were for the Israelites, when that old way of life seems to call out to us with an irresistible siren’s call. Much as we know this new life is right, we still sometimes miss aspects of our old life of slavery.

But as we go deeper into the new territory, we learn more things about God. We come to know, as the Israelites did, just how patient, gracious and giving our God is. We begin to grasp his laws and commands. We see that each day he will give us our daily bread. And sometimes he will grant his blessings in wondrous ways, far beyond our comprehension.

And as for us? We remain sinful, even as we are drawn each day by the Spirit to live more fully in our new identity as children of God. There will be stages of pride and rebellion, of reversal in our faith, then repentance. There will be battles. And there will be wanderings.

But always, always, wherever we wander, whatever battle we are currently fighting, there is our faithful and forgiving God. And there is his word, pointing us back to him.

One of the reasons I love writing this blog is that it gives me the opportunity to record the stages in my own journey.

How about you? Do you take time to reflect and meditate on the stages in your journey of faith in Jesus? Do you take time to step back, and get up on the “balcony” of your life?

Doing so will give you time for repentance, for gratitude, for joy and for enjoying God’s faithful love.

“Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages…” (Numbers 33:1-2, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, April 2, is Numbers 33:1 – 34:29, Luke 9:10-27 and Proverbs 8:22-31.

Header image based on "hiking the Grand Canyon" by Rick McCharles, CC By 2.0

Living Under God’s Blessing

God loves to bless his people. In fact, it’s safe to say this is the thing God most loves to do! Isaiah writes, Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18, NIV).

Sadly, we often act as if God wants the exact opposite. We live the “Eeyore Life” convinced that everything is going wrong. Then we persuade ourselves that this is by God’s design. We become convinced that God just wants to punish us.

Of course, because we are sinners, the feeling of being under God’s wrath is both logical and persistent. And we should make no mistake, God does tell us that he will punish unrepentant sinners.

But God’s objective is always love. His intent is always to wake people up and draw them back into a more powerful relationship with himself.

Because the true heart of God is to call us by his name — to adopt us as his very own — and to be gracious to us. His real passion is to bless us, to keep us safe from harm, to always be smiling at us and helping us prosper.

And that’s exactly what he tells Moses to keep repeating to the Israelites as they journey through the wilderness of Sinai. It’s almost as if he never wants them to experience a doubt about what he feels toward them, isn’t it?

I hope that when you hear these words each Sunday at CrossWalk, your doubts are erased too. Like John Wooden says, “Magnify God’s blessings.” Even better, we might say, “Magnify God for all his blessings!”

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, “‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.'”

“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:22-27, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, March 17, is Numbers 5:11 – 6:27, Luke 2:1-20 and Proverbs 7:6-20.

God, erase all my doubts about your love for me, a sinner. Too often I fall under the spell of negativity caused by own guilt and shame. Remind me that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Help me to know that your deepest passion is to have me experience and live under your blessing! Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for your grace!

Header image based on "John Wooden: If We Magnified Blessings..." by BK, CC By 2.0

The Tones of Trust

As we live our lives we discover what we can trust and what we can’t.

One thing I’ve noticed is that both of those seem to go together with music. Just listen to country and western music and you’ll learn all about the things you can’t trust.

But a lot of beautiful music has also been written about the things (and the people) we can put our faith in.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but over the centuries, there’s something that has inspired a lot of music. Something that has inspired even more music than romance, or heartbreak, or bars, or cars.

And that’s because there’s no one you can trust like this…

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love” (Psalm 33:3-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, March 12, is Leviticus 25:1 – 26:13, Mark 16:1-20 and Psalm 33:1-11.

Lord, thank you for your faithful and unfailing love. Thank you for loving me enough to give me your word. I know I can trust you. Forgive me for the times when I doubt. Help me by your Holy Spirit’s power to trust you with all my heart.

Header image based on "Licht und Klang" by Krienke, CC By-SA 2.0