Battles

Let’s face it. It’s war out there. And the battlefields multiply. They are everywhere you turn.

There are battles in our schools, battles in our workplaces, battles on our roadways, and battles in our own homes.

There are battles with our parents, battles with our spouse, battles with our children, and battles with our boss.

There are battles with our health, battles with our finances, battles with our careers, and battles with our relationships.

And most deadly of all, we have battles with the devil, battles with the world, and battles with our own sinful flesh.

But we also have a God — a Savior, Jesus — who gives us a solid place to plant our feet for all these battles. He trains us for life’s battles through the teaching of his word. He provides us a safe fortress to run to, a stronghold in which to hide. He is our shield, our refuge and our deliverer.

He is our confidence, our courage, our hope and our ultimate victory.

No matter what the current battle might be.

“Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
    who trains my hands for war,
    my fingers for battle.
He is my loving God and my fortress,
    my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
    who subdues peoples under me” (Psalm 144:1-2, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I have many battles going on in my life. But with you at my side, I am confident of victory. You train my hands. You provide me a place of refuge. You are my shield and my deliverer. Thank you for all your love, mercy and forgiveness. Grant me especially to obtain victory over the devil, the world and my own sinful flesh.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 16, is Malachi 2:17 – 4:6, Revelation 7:1-17 and Psalm 144:1-8.

Header image based on "Think He Got The Point" by Paul Kitchener, CC By 2.0

Crucial Decisions

Right, or left? Go on, or turn back? Take a stand, or give ground?

Sometimes in life we face decisions like this. And it’s not always easy to know the correct answer.

It may be that we feel like we lack the information we need, or the wisdom required, to make such a decision. And sometimes we worry that our emotions are getting in the way of a rational decision (or is it, instead, that our our head is getting in the way of where our heart wants to lead us?).

David was under constant pressure from his rivals and enemies. He was also quite aware of his own sin and how undeserving he was for the position he’d been given as king of Israel.

Many scholars believe that David wrote Psalm 143 in his desolation after he had been driven from Jerusalem by his own son, Absalom. David knew that he had to deal first with his own sins, and then determine how to respond to this crisis in his leadership.

Not an easy decision when your own son is creating the crisis!

When big, crucial decisions loom, the place to go is to your knees. Seek God in prayer. Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer wrote: “A man can say to his God, ‘Behold, take my heart, and lead me according to your will. I surrender myself completely to you.'”

This is what David said to God as he was facing his crucial decision. And this is what we can still by grace say to our Lord, when we face crucial decisions in our own lives.

Jesus, our Savior, makes such prayers possible. But even more, he guarantees that our Father’s ears are wide open to our pleas for forgiveness and guidance.

As David promises us, he will show you the way you should go. He will lead you onto level ground.

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you…

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:1-2, 7-10, NIV).

Prayer: Pray Psalm 143.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 15, is Malachi 1:1 – 2:16, Revelation 6:1-17 and Psalm 143:1-12.

Header image based on "decisions" by Martin Fisch, CC By-SA 2.0

Worship, Our Present and Our Future

In the apostle John’s vision that he is given on the island of Patmos, he sees people from every nation singing praises to Christ. This is a picture of what it will be like in heaven. God’s message of salvation through faith in Christ is not limited by race, ethnicity, culture or national origin. What a beautiful picture of eternal life!

All these people are singing to praise the work of Jesus. He was killed so that he could pay a ransom for our souls with his own blood. He gathered us into a kingdom. He turned all of us into priests who serve him. And one day we will reign with him in the new heavens and the new earth.

Worship is a beautiful privilege. It’s something we get to enjoy now, and by God’s grace, something we will enjoy forever in heaven.

Jesus makes all of that possible. More than that, actually. Jesus makes it all a present and future reality.

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NIV).

Lord, thank you for redeeming me and giving me every reason in the world to thank and praise you. I will worship you now, and eternally, for all that you have done for me.

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 14, is Esther 9:1 – 10:3, Revelation 5:1-14 and Proverbs 30:11-23.

Header image based on "Worship" by Ashley Campbell, CC By 2.0

Cornered

Have you ever felt cornered? It’s not a comfortable feeling. There’s no way forward. There’s no way back.

When we’re cornered, it’s a very overwhelming sensation. And that can lead to desperation.

David must have felt that desperation when he was backed against the wall, hiding from King Saul. Saul wanted his life. David and his men were forced to hide in the caves and crags — their “prison,” as David calls it.

David’s response was not to try and solve the problem himself. After all, David may have been the Lord’s anointed, but Saul was currently God’s chosen king of Israel. In no way was David going to rebel against the king that God himself had put in place.

Instead, David gave the unsolvable, overwhelming problem back to God. “Here, God, you take it,” David effectively said. “I look to you to solve this. And until you do, I’ll just be here with my back up against the wall in this dark cave.”

David cried out to the Lord. He wasn’t in the least reluctant to complain to him. He felt alone and helpless. The need was overwhelming. His desperation was rising.

Yet he still said to himself, and to God, “Waiting. And praying. That’s my job. Your job, God, is working it all out.”

When he didn’t know where to turn, he turned to God. When he felt downtrodden and ignored, he made his complaints to the Lord. When he sensed that he was alone and helpless, the Lord was his companion and his refuge. The Lord had the key to set him free from his prison.

You know what? That’s still not a bad approach for us today, when we feel cornered in life.

After all, isn’t that just what Jesus did for us when he was “cornered” in the Garden of Gethsemane?

“This sorrow is crushing my life out,” he told his disciples. “Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Then he prayed, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. Do what you want, what you know is best.”

And that led to his eternal victory (and ours), didn’t it?

I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

When my spirit grows faint within me,
    it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
    people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
    no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
    no one cares for my life.

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me. (Psalm 142:1-7, NIV)

Prayer: Recite Psalm 142.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 13, is Esther 6:1 – 8:17, Revelation 4:1-11 and Psalm 142:1-7.

Header image based on "Woman reaching out" by Helmuts Guigo, CC By-SA 2.0

Jesus’ Long-Range Vision

Jesus has a vision for you. Did you know that? Right now today, he sees you sometime in the future seated next to him on his heavenly throne. You and I may not always be able to keep that vision — that long-range victory — in mind.

But it never leaves Jesus’ mind.

First of all, it never leaves Jesus’ mind because he himself experienced the thrill of that victory. Following the agony of the cross, God the Father raised his Son from the dead and seated him at this right hand on his throne.

Jesus wants you and me to experience that same eternal thrill. That’s why he is unafraid to do whatever it takes to keep us on track to receive our crown of victory. If it means rebuking and disciplining us, well, that’s OK. If it means calling us out, and urging us to make a U-Turn, that’s what he’ll do.

Jesus is the very best of coaches. He is outside the door of our heart, knocking and wanting to be invited in. He can’t do anything for us as long as we keep the door locked and barred. But if we hear his voice, the good news he speaks to us will transform our hearts and remold our minds. And it will impel us to open the door to him.

That good news of the cross and the empty tomb is the power for our salvation from sin, death and the power of the devil. His voice — the gospel — is the power to fully restore our sin-broken relationship with God. Through Jesus, our connection will be so thoroughly restored, so completely reconciled, that we will sit down and eat dinner with Jesus.

So if you feel like you may be under God’s discipline right now, rejoice! It means God loves you. It means he wants to eat with you at the heavenly banquet. It means he wants you to sit next to him on his throne, and share his power and authority forever.

That’s his vision. And he is not about to give up on it. Or give up on you.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:19-22, NIV).

Lord, I want to receive the victory you’ve envisioned for me. Grant me a repentant heart, and faith in your redemptive authority. By nature, I have no power or desire to open the door of my heart to you. So, please change me. Transform my cold, dead heart into a heart of flesh, so that I may trust you as my Savior, and one day take my seat alongside you in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 12, is Esther 2:19 – 5:14, Revelation 3:7-22 and Psalm 141:1-10.

Header image based on "Twyfelfontein Binoculars" by Santiago Medem, CC By-SA 2.0

Who Is Your Go-To?

Do you have a “go to” person in your life — someone you can share your hurts and troubles with? Or maybe it’s a “go to” place where you’re certain you’ll be safe and protected?

Philip Philips has a song titled, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” In the song, there are some lines that go like this,

You’re my backbone.
You’re my cornerstone.
You’re my crutch when my legs stop moving.
You’re my head start.
You’re my rugged heart.
You’re the pulse that I’ve always needed.

In a time of uncertainty, we need something reliable to keep us going. In a time of powerlessness, we need to know that there is a source of power that we can access. In a time of loneliness, we need to know there is someone who loves us. In a time of danger, we need to know there is a shield that can protect us from harm.

Who better than the One who came down from heaven, who though truly divine, became fully human? Who better than He who has power over the wind and the waves? Who better than the Creator of the heavens and the earth? Who better than the Speaker of prophecies and promises?

Surely you know who I’m talking about. We have God the Father. And his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The living Word. He is our shield from harm.

This is why the book of Proverbs teaches us that the “fear of God” is the beginning of wisdom. When we respect God, when we trust his love and power, when we listen to his word as absolutely flawless, we have certainty in uncertain times, power in our powerlessness, a friend in our loneliness and a shield in times of danger.

He is our backbone, our cornerstone, our crutch, our head start, our rugged heart. Our very pulse.

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

‘Every word of God is flawless;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him'” (Proverbs 30:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 10, is Zechariah 12:1 – 14:21, Revelation 2:1-17 and Proverbs 30:1-10.

Lord God, thank you for being my certainty, my power, my friend, and my shield. When times are troubled and difficult, you are my “go to” and my refuge. Help me to always seek to be in you when my heart is hurting and weak. Your word is flawless, and your promises are my courage. You, Jesus, are my shield and refuge.

Header image based on "Kinard Beach today" by Barbara Walsh, CC By 2.0

Uniquely You

In today’s world, there’s a huge interest in having a unique identity. And our culture’s answer to discovering our identity, and being able to see ourselves as unique and special, is described beautifully in the song “Let it Go.”

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!

In other words to discover our true, unique self is to push the boundaries and declare ourselves free from restrictions. It is to pursue freedom without limits.

Interestingly, the Bible also makes the point that each of us possesses a unique identity. It addresses our yearning to be special, and especially loved. But how that identity is established, how our individual uniqueness and giftedness is to be understood is based on something completely different.

The book of Psalms reveals that we were unique from the word go. God himself presided over our DNA at conception, and subsequent creation in our mother’s womb. He carefully knit each of us together, paying attention to crafting our personalities, gifts, abilities and attributes down to the finest detail.

God’s works are wonderful. And that means you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

More importantly, by the blood of Jesus Christ, you were fearfully and wonderfully redeemed and remade into the image of God’s Son. By grace, you have a solid, secure identity as a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And now, your unique gifts serve to benefit God’s kingdom and bring glory to God.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 7, is Zechariah 1:1 – 4:14, 3 John 1:1-14, and Psalm 139:11-16.

Lord, thank you for your one of a kind love. That love has knit me together into a one of a kind person. Because of how you created me, and how you redeemed me through your Son, Jesus, I can know that I am a truly unique person. My identity is secure. The pressure is off to show how special I am. I can simply be the me you created me to be. What grace you show me!

Header image based on "Stand Out From the Crowd" by Steven DePolo, CC By 2.0

The Strongest Link

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

The well-known saying goes all the way back to the early days of our country’s history. In the year 1786, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Reid wrote, “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest” (Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man).

So, the proverbial saying clearly has a long and illustrious history. And it’s hard to deny that it’s clearly true in the case of a literal chain. Nevertheless, in at least one case, the chain is really as strong as its strongest link.

The apostle John points out that our relationship with God the Father is linked to our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the strong link in our relationship with him. A strong relationship to Jesus will always mean a strong relationship to our heavenly Father. And our possession of our eternal reward in heaven is linked to our restored relationship to the Father.

This is why John tells us to be very careful to guard and protect our faith in Jesus. If we lose Christ, we lose the Father. If we lose the Father, we lose our reward.

How do we maintain a strong relationship with Christ? How do keep our faith in him strong? John says, continue in the teaching of Christ. The more frequently we are reminded of the gospel, the stronger our faith will become. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, the cross, the empty tomb are our tie to Jesus. And his to us.

So the chain looks like this.

Me – the gospel – JESUS – God the Father – our heavenly reward.

What a chain that is! Step back for just a moment, and rejoice that with Jesus as the strong link in the middle, you stand at one end, and heaven stands at the other.

Pretty cool!

“Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (‭‭2 John‬ ‭1:8-9‬, NIV‬‬).

Jesus, thank you for being the strong link in the chain that will one day bring me into eternal life in heaven. Because of you, I know that my sins are forgiven, and the barrier of anger between the Father and me has been broken down. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you for all the blessings you give me every day.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 6, is Haggai 1:1 – 2:23, 2 John 1-13 and Proverbs 29:19-27.

Header image based on "chained" by Trevor Leyenhorst, CC By 2.0

Heroic Quest

We think of love as a feeling.

God says that love is more than a feeling. It’s a feeling followed up by action. When we love God, our actions will align with his will. It becomes not a burden, but a joy to follow God’s commands.

Being obedient to God is no longer a “have to.” It’s a “get to” for the one who loves God.

This is all because spiritually, we’ve been reborn. This rebirth gives us a changed heart, a new state of mind, and a will to no longer be a victim of the world.

We have victory over the world through faith in Christ. Instead of victims, we are overcomers.

As people of our culture, we relate well to putting an end to the victim mentality, taking responsibility and being on a heroic quest to overcome. This is a cultural narrative that we live with, and most of us simply assume it to be the truest and best way to live.

Be aware, however, there’s a huge twist. In our culture, victory over the world is achieved when we vigorously go after and subsequently accomplish our own individual hopes and desires. In this narrative, we are heroes on a quest to actualize our dreams. We are only overcomers if we make an outstanding effort, find our true selves, and in this way fulfill our heroic quest.

John the apostle teaches a completely different way to overcome. It begins with understanding that Jesus is the true hero. And the quest is actually his. He made the outstanding effort to overcome the world by first allowing the world to seemingly overcome him. His quest was to seek us, and save us: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV).

It’s really quite beautiful. We don’t have to be victims anymore. We can be overcomers from now on!

And it’s really quite simple. We overcome the world when we are attached, by faith, to the One Who Overcame the World.

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:3-5, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for overcoming the world on my behalf. Grant me your Spirit so that I can trust you, stop being a victim and overcome with you. I know you love me, and with your help, I want to obey your commands so that I can thank you for all you’ve done for me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 5, is Daniel 11:36 – 12:13, 1 John 5:1-21 and Psalm 139:1-10.

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Help Me Up, Lord

Let’s face it, there are times when life is the pits. We’re separated from the people we love. And we’re lonely. We didn’t get the promotion that we really, really were hoping for. Someone else got it instead. That project that we spent so much time on? Yeah, it bombed.

You work hard, sacrifice much, and throw your entire heart and soul into your family, your friends, your job, your life’s calling. But no one seems to see it or appreciate it. It just feels so frustrating. And so unfair.

You feel lower than a snake’s belly.

And maybe it’s Christmas time, so people are singing about peace, joy, togetherness and love. Not only are you not feeling it, but the lights, the songs, the scent of the Christmas tree — they just make it all feel worse.

Much worse.

God may seem far away. It may seem like he is simply ignoring our plight.

But he knows. And he cares. God, high above, sees far below. No matter the distance, he knows everything about you.

He loves you. And he will vindicate you. He will put things right. He will never abandon the child he loves. His love is eternal. He’s not going to quit on you now.

After all, didn’t he redeem you? And the work he has begun in you, he will lovingly bring to completion. Jesus always finishes what he starts. You will be protected and preserved. And his name will be glorified.

You may be down. But you’re not out.

So, go ahead. Because you can. Call out, “Help me up, Lord!”

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
    though lofty, he sees them from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
    with your right hand you save me.
The Lord will vindicate me;
    your love, Lord, endures forever—
    do not abandon the works of your hands. (Psalm 138:6-8, NIV)

Help me up, Lord!

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 4, is Daniel 11:2-35, 1 John 4:7-21 and Psalm 138:1-8.

Header image based on "Tears are tasteless" by LMAP, CC By 2.0