Speak Up!

Jay Leno once asked random people on the street to name one of the Ten Commandments. And the most popular response was, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Not only is this not one of the Ten Commandments, it’s not to be found in the Bible at all.

Instead, it is in actuality a proverbial “truism” that has likely been around for thousands of years. Versions of it have been found in ancient Greek dramas as far back as 400 BC. The Roman poet Ovid, who lived in the time of Caesar Augustus, also had a version of this saying in his poetry.

In fact, the Bible’s message is the exact opposite. The very concept of grace is founded on the fact that God helps those who cannot help themselves. God loves the helpless, the poor, the lost and the needy.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3, NIV).

The grace of God excludes our helping ourselves. Jesus is not our business partner or our teammate, carrying the baton only after we have first run our leg of the race. He is our Savior. He is the Advocate who speaks up for us, because there is nothing we can say for ourselves.

Jesus displaces our guilt with his grace, our sin with his righteousness. Our work is nothing. His is everything. The apostle Paul writes, “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5, NIV).

Now, as we were helped when we were helpless, as we have an advocate when we are powerless to speak for ourselves, so we too can be advocates for those around us who cannot speak for themselves. We can stand up for the poor and needy.

Jesus speaks up for us before the throne of the Father. And now, we speak up for others who cannot help themselves.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for helping me when I was poor and needy because of my sins. You spoke up for me when I could not speak for myself. Empower me by your Spirit and your gospel promises to speak up for those who are poor and needy, for those who are powerless to speak up for themselves.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 22, is Ezra 8:15 – 9:15, Revelation 14:1-13 and Proverbs 31:1-9.

Header image based on "Fraternidad_Cuba 292" by James Emery, CC By 2.0

The Confident Life

Confidence is highly honored and praised in our culture. One of our society’s most well-known quotes comes from Henry David Thoreau, and it shows the esteem we possess for this attribute:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”

 As Christians, we have a high view of confidence, too. Search through the Bible and you’ll find more than a few passages that start with the phrase, “I am confident,” or “we are confident,” or “being confident of this.”

Our culture often builds it’s sense of confidence on what we accomplish in life. Have we, as Thoreau suggests, “lived the life we imagined”? Our preparation, our performance, our years of experience, our willingness to authentically “be who we are” — these are the things on which our society recommends we build our sense of confidence.

Our society says that we should stop looking outside of ourselves. True confidence is found by digging deep and looking within. Self-respect, self-worth and self-love all begin with self. And many in our world today believe this.

The Bible also wants us to learn and build confidence. But it suggests an entirely different path to confidence. This path directs us away from ourselves to God.

It’s tough to be confident with consistency when we base our confidence on ourselves. Our preparation is shaky at times. Our performance can occasionally be sub-optimal. What if we haven’t yet built up those years of experience? Or what about those times when we go through seasons of self-doubt, and aren’t really sure who we are?

Confidence is good. But we can possess a confidence that’s far more solid and consistent if we build it on the Lord.

As David writes, the Lord keeps all his promises. He always does what he says he’s going to do. He reaches down to us when we’ve fallen and gives us a hand up. He gives us our daily sustenance, and he satisfies our desires. Take note, he fulfills not just our needs, but even our desires.

Jesus. And Jesus’ accomplishments. Now there’s a solid place upon which to build our confident life.

“The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:13b – 21, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you alone are my confidence. Help me turn away from self to you, to resist the temptation to look at my own accomplishments and instead look to you and your accomplishments as my true source of confidence. You keep your promises, and I know you will open your hand and satisfy my desires.

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 21, is Ezra 7:11 – 8:14, Revelation 13:1-18 and Psalm 145:13-21.

Header image based on "Go Confidently" by Son of Groucho, CC By 2.0

The End of Accusation

The Greek word for devil is “diabolos.” And this word refers to someone who is a slanderer or a false accuser.

Satan is our adversary, and one of the ways he loves to fight against us is through lies and accusations. Have you ever wondered why your heart still makes you feel guilty and filled with shame, even when you know in your mind that Jesus has forgiven you for your sin?

This is the way it is when Satan is at work. Even many years — sometimes decades — after we have committed a particular sin, and after being told again and again that Jesus has forgiven us, the devil will still call our past sins to our attention. Guilt floods in. Shame overtakes us.

But the message of Christmas, and the beauty of the book of Revelation, is that the accuser is defeated. We can stop listening to him.

Because Christ, our King, is born. His salvation, his power, his kingdom and his authority are ascendant. And our accuser has been hurled down.

We triumph over Satan today, and over his accusations, when our eyes move from the manger to the cross. There our Savior bled and died to win our forgiveness. We triumph over the power of the devil when we go back to God’s words and promises, and hear once again of the righteousness Jesus won for us through his perfect life and his innocent death.

Christmas (and Good Friday, and Easter) makes us conquerers. It is the end of accusation, because the accuser himself has been banished.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11, NIV).

Lord, Jesus, thank you for becoming a man like us and triumphing over the devil, our accuser. Help me by your gospel promises to remain confident in that forgiveness every day, and to refuse to listen to Satan’s lying accusations. I no longer have to subject myself to his constant accusations because you have overthrown him. I am forgiven, truly forgiven!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 20, is Ezra 6:1 – 7:10, Revelation 12:1 – 13:1 and Psalm 145:8-13.

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It’s Christmas time and that’s the time of year when we frequently get to hear the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. It’s such an amazing work of art that even unreligious people are struck by the divine nature of this music.

A few years ago, Michael Christie, musical director of the Phoenix symphony said to the Arizona Republic that although he is not a particularly religious person, “I come out of ‘The Messiah’ and think, ‘Wow. I feel devout in this moment.’ It’s like I’m converted for those couple of hours whilst it’s happening. And I’ve felt that way every time.”

While it’s a familiar piece of music, many may not recognize that the words of the chorus are quoted directly from the book of Revelation. These words are sung at the “coronation” of Christ as the eternal King. The old world of sin, death, and decay is passing, making way for a new world of everlasting purity, peace and joy.

When the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation from the isle of Patmos, he was writing to people undergoing extreme persecution for their Christian faith. Their property was being confiscated. Their loved ones were being arrested and tortured. Their movements and actions were under constant scrutiny and suspicion. They had no power or clout. Their freedom was severely curtailed.

Through John, God gives these people a prophetic vision of a future kingdom where their freedom will be perfect. Their power will be restored, their peace will be eternal, and their joy will exceed all boundaries.

All of this will be brought about by the coronation of their eternal King, Jesus. Because of him, they have hope and a future. Because of him, they have an eternal kingdom waiting for them.

For any Christian of two thousand years ago or today, no matter what troubles we are facing in life we are confident. Because of Jesus, we may be hard pressed, but we are not crushed. We may be perplexed, but we’re not in despair. We may be persecuted, but we’re not abandoned. We may be struck down, but we’re not destroyed.

Because of Jesus, we are more than conquerors and our reward awaits.

“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

‘The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.’

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry,
    and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
    and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
    both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth'” (Revelation 11:15-18, NIV).

Jesus, you are my hope and future. Thank you for making me more than a conqueror, despite my sins and guilt. Thank you for rescuing me from my troubles, giving me strength to endure, and an eternal place in your kingdom, under your everlasting rule.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 19, is Ezra 4:6 – 5:17, Revelation 11:1-19 and Psalm 145:1-7.

Header image based on "Hallelujah Chorus - it's Handel Messiah season." by brownpau, CC By 2.0

Sweet and Sour

As we approach Christmas, we’re reminded once again that we’ve been blessed with an amazing message to share. The Son of God has become a human being just like you and me. It’s a sweet message of forgiveness, grace, hope and salvation through that Babe of Bethlehem.

The gospel message is meant to be taken in and fully digested. And for those who are hurting, or those who struggle with habits that have them locked into a downward spiral, or those who have hang-ups in their lives that are deeply frustrating right now, the message of Jesus Christ tastes like pure, sweet honey.

But, let’s face it, for those of us who love Jesus Christ and deeply trust the gospel as pure truth, we soon discover that our new gospel-centered “worldview” is not compatible with the false philosophies and theologies of the world around us. The spiritual lies of Satan, often informing the majority view in our culture, make our message sound foolish and alien to the ears of the world.

And that is not a sweet experience, but frequently quite a bitter one. We go out into our world with its different peoples, nations, languages and kings and we find we are often at odds with the beliefs and views we encounter. Like the apostle John, the author of the book of Revelation, we can expect opposition to our message, even hatred.

Yet, our great mission in the world remains the same, despite what pushback we might encounter because the gospel sours our relationships with the people of the world. In response to Jesus’ great love for us, we have the joy and the great honor of being God’s spokesmen in our world — to declare the message that Jesus is the Savior of all nations.

As the angel declared to the shepherds so long ago, we also say to our neighbors, friends and family members, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, NIV).

“So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, ‘Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’ I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings'” (Revelation 10:9-11, NIV).

Lord, thank you for the sweet gospel message that assures me of forgiveness, new life and salvation through Jesus Christ. I know that while there is nothing sweeter to my soul, this message will also bring bitter experiences at times. Ready my heart so that I continue to share the beautiful message of the cross and the empty tomb with those whom God has placed around me.

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 18, is Ezra 2:68 – 4:5, Revelation 9:13 – 10:11 and Proverbs 30:24-33.

Header image based on "Honey" by Siona Karen, CC By 2.0

Our Focus, Our Worship

What made David’s heart sing for joy?

More than anything, God did. The Lord had rescued him many, many times over. David had repeatedly experienced the kinds of victories that only God can grant (think about Goliath, for one).

David was intentional about his worshipful attitude. It would have been easy to dwell on the constant attacks, the enemies, the people who lied about him and backstabbed him. But David focused the spotlight of his attention on the blessings instead.

This is truly the way to live. There will always be “negatives” to think about. We are sinful. And we live in a sinful, fallen world.

So when events, circumstances and people aren’t conspiring to bring us down, our own sinful flesh is all too willing to cooperate with the devil. The end result is our own pride, greed, selfishness, anger, lust, or depression bring us down (David knew all about that, too).

The way to avoid this fall — this failure of faith, peace and joy — is the worshipful life. The worshipful life comes from acknowledging our sin transparently, being transparent about our anger and worry over the attacks of others, but doing this without constantly dwelling there. The worshipful life is sustained when we, like David, turn our focus spotlight back to the goodness of God, and the blessings he has showered on us.

Take a moment and read Psalm 144. You’ll see that David does just this. First, he acknowledges how undeserving he is, and how frightening the attacks are. Then he launches into a soliloquy about God’s grace to him. God’s deliverance from attack, his care for David’s sons and daughters, his filling of David’s barns, his increasing of David’s flocks, his protection of David’s city — these were all in the spotlight of David’s focus.

Worship, gratitude and joy were the inevitable result of that focus.

Do not try this on your own. You need Jesus’ forgiveness. And you need Jesus’ help. But with that help, accessed in his gospel promises to you, and with the Holy Spirit’s boost, you can control your “spotlight of focus.”And it’s one of the most powerful spiritual strengths you will ever develop!

Because our focus produces our thoughts. And our thoughts will control the attitude of our heart.

I will sing a new song to you, my God;
    on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,
to the One who gives victory to kings,
    who delivers his servant David…

Blessed is the people of whom this is true;
    blessed is the people whose God is the Lord (Psalm 144:9-10, 15, NIV).

Lord, my mind and heart are prone to focus themselves on the negatives: my sin, my guilt, my shame, my anger, my hurt, my depression. Help me to cling to your gracious promises of love and redemption through Christ, and to turn — in your Spirit’s strength — my spotlight of focus to your goodness, grace, help and protection. Help me to remember that I dwell among the blessed people.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 17, is Ezra 1:1 – 2:67, Revelation 8:1 – 9:12 and Psalm 144:9-15.

Header image based on "spotlight" by Fred Faulkner, CC By 2.0


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


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