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

Taking Inventory

Have you ever taken inventory? Grocery stores take inventories of their food shelves. Factories take inventories of their stock. In a little twist on the same theme, for those in Alcoholics Anonymous, taking inventory is one of the recovery steps. It’s a self-examination of what’s in their heart, and what’s on their mind.

In Psalm 139, David asks God to take inventory of what is in his heart. He tells him to search the shelves of his heart so that he can test and know the kinds of thoughts that are there. He wants to have a completely transparent and authentic relationship with God.

Most importantly, he wants to know that he is on track to enjoy everlasting life in heaven. Is his heart pointed toward the promised Savior? Are his thoughts focused on God’s grace? Is sin an issue that needs to be dealt with? Have his anxious thoughts been replaced by thoughts of forgiveness and God’s acceptance, of God’s certain love and constant protection?

This is a prayer that every Christian should pray daily. It belongs with every confession of sin. It is a great way to begin reading and studying God’s word. It is a tremendous prayer for before the Lord’s Supper. It is an awesome way to end the day, and ready one’s heart for a peaceful night of rest.

It means that we simply want to have a frank, open, honest, authentic and transparent relationship with our God. And we do not want to hold on to any thoughts or feelings that might block or hold back our relationship to him.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV).

Prayer: Repeat the words above from Psalm 139.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 8, is Zechariah 5:1 – 8:23, Jude 1:1-25 and Psalm 139:17-24.

Header image based on "Pre-Packaged Bread/Peanut-Butter Department" by Anthony Albright, CC By-SA 2.0

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

We live in a world that will throw the kitchen sink at us. In an unsteady world, it can be difficult to have hearts that remain steady. We’re frequently tempted to tank emotionally when our life’s circumstances tank. And our hearts soar along with situations that soar.

Markets have bears and bulls. Relationships have ups and downs. Work has successes and failures. Life has its victories and it has its crushing defeats.

What makes for a heart that’s steadfast throughout all of this? Interestingly, the answer is found in the word itself. In the original Hebrew language, the root of the word “steadfast” means to lean, lean upon, lay, rest or support. And the Old English is similar. A literal translation of steadfast would be “placed firmly.”

So a steadfast heart is a heart that is leaning upon something, and placed firmly in its position so that it will not shift or budge. It is fully and securely supported and unable to be tipped or toppled.

Isaiah tells us what supports a steadfast heart. It’s God. God is our Rock eternal. He is strong and firm forever. When we place our trust in him, we become steadfast because he is steadfast.

Our hearts firm up, because he is firm. Our minds become unwavering in faith because he is unwavering in love and power. Plainly and simply, what keeps us steady in a very unsteady world is leaning upon our steadfast God.

Anthony J. Showalter said this so beautifully and poetically in a hymn that he composed way back in 1887. This was one of my favorite hymns when we lived in Zambia. I still recall singing with great gusto the refrain in Chitonga, “Yaama, yaama, yaama ku maanza atamani”:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine, Leaning on the everlasting arms; What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain: Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus, safe and secure from all alarms; Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus, leaning on the everlasting arms.
O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, Leaning on the everlasting arms; O how bright the path grows from day to day, Leaning on the everlasting arms.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the everlasting arms; I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, Leaning on the everlasting arms.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3-4, NIV).

Lord, forgive me for my wavering, weak heart. I want it to be firmly placed upon you, my Rock eternal. By your Spirit’s power make me wise enough to lean on your everlasting arms and as a result, be blessed with a steadfast heart.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, September 10, is Isaiah 24:1 – 26:21, 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 and Psalm 106:32-39.

Header image based on "The Ladder" by Celestine Chua, CC By 2.0

Masquerading As An Angel of Light

Satan works undercover. And it’s important to understand this.

The devil is very good at masquerading. He knows how to look like a good guy. He understands how to win our confidence. He is an expert in getting us to drop our guard.

So we need to learn to keep our guard up. Our feelings can mislead us. Our eyes can deceive us. Our mind can play tricks on us.

Satan — and the messengers who work for him — are out to to deceive us with their lies. And they they will not be satisfied until they depart with our lives in their hands.

This is the high-stakes war we are fighting. And souls are at stake.

So be vigilant. Test everything. Step carefully and walk soberly.

Let the word of God be your measuring rod. Let prayer be your mother tongue. Let Jesus be your constant companion.

And don’t forget: Wolves sometimes wear sheep’s clothing.

“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15, NIV).

Lord, protect me from Satan’s lies. Help me to recognize the devil when he tries to deceive me. Forgive me for all the times when I have believed his lies, and fallen for his deceptions. Thank you, Jesus, because your forgiveness and righteousness always protect me from the devil’s schemes.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 9, Isaiah 20:1 – 23:18, 2 Corinthians 11:1-15 and Proverbs 22:7-16.

Header image based on "Mask" by Ricardo Liberato, CC By-SA 2.0

A Target on His Back

Jesus was very busy — doing one good deed after another.

People who had been knocked down in life were being helped back up. The broken and ill were being made whole again. The suffering were being relieved of their hurt and pain. With all this going on, one would think that it would be hard to question Jesus’ heart, or his power and purpose.

But instead of resolving all the questions about Jesus, all this simply served to put a target on his back. His mom and brothers came to proclaim him a crazy person and declare him incompetent. The religious teachers explained it all as the work of Beelzebul — Satan.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons” (‭Mark‬ ‭3‬:‭20-22,‬ NIV).

Have you ever sincerely, with all the right intentions, tried to do something good? Maybe you thought to yourself, “This is really great!” And then you discovered that all your good work was only going to bring intense criticism. Doing the right things in God’s eyes sometimes invites the people of this world to put a target on our backs and throw a lot of darts.

Not fun, is it? And it certainly couldn’t have been fun for Jesus either. But one thing it does tell you is that your Savior understands from experience what it’s like to go through trials like this.

You have a Savior who has been tested and tempted in the same ways you have. His heart is full of patience, empathy and most of all, forgiveness. When we get discouraged, or hurt or angry, or even when we are tempted to retaliate, we need a Savior like Jesus.

Because we can trust that Jesus has the power to heal our wounded hearts too.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, February 17, is Exodus 21:1 – 22:31, Mark 2:18 – 3:30 and Proverbs 5:1-14.

Jesus, thank you for coming down to this earth to be my Savior. It helps so much to know that you have experienced the things I am experiencing. It encourages my heart to know that you will forgive my sinful responses to the sin of others. It strengthens my resolve to continue doing what is right to know that you will heal my wounds.

Header image based on "On Target" by, CC By 2.0

…to this day

Sometimes you get amazing wisdom from children. And sometimes it comes from those who have been around the block a time or two.

Jacob had definitely been around the block a few times. He lived to be 147 years old, and shortly before his death he asked his son Joseph to bring his grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to him. He wanted to give them his blessing.

It’s as he’s bestowing a blessing upon Joseph and the two boys that Jacob (by then renamed Israel) says, “Then he blessed Joseph and said, ‘May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys'” (Genesis 48:15-16a, NIV).

At the very end of his 147 years of life, Jacob looks back and affirms that God had been with him all the way, had walked with him and shepherded him throughout his life, and had protected him every time something threatened to harm him… to this day.

What was Jacob thinking in that exact moment? Was he contemplating all the sins of deception he had committed? Was he reflecting on his brother Esau’s once murderous intentions toward him? Was he considering his father-in-law Laban’s cheating, conniving ways that cost him 20 years of that life? Was he pondering the time he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord? Or the time when Esau and his 400 men were riding out to meet him as he made his way back to Canaan?

Maybe it was all of the above. But whatever it was from the past, Jacob claimed that the very same shepherding and protecting was still happening in the present!

Jacob saw it all clearly, both the past and the present. He saw God’s providence and protection… to this day. He spied many evidences of God’s love… to this day. He witnessed many instances of God’s guidance and forgiveness… to this day.

How about you? As you look back, do you see in your own life what Jacob saw? Do you see the same shepherding and protecting… to this day?

Lord, give me the eyes of Jacob. I want to see you as he did. I want to have the eyes of faith to know that as I walk through life, I am in your eyesight. You are shepherding me every day. You are delivering and helping me at all times, keeping me from harm… to this day!

Our Bible reading for Saturday, January 24, is Genesis 47:13 – 48:22, Matthew 16:21 – 17:13 and Proverbs 3:1-10.

Header image based on "Calendar*" by Cholet, CC by 2.0

Placed in the Fire

When we go through periods of testing, when life takes us through the fire, this is a time to call on God’s name in prayer. And we can do that remembering that God uses those trials to refine our faith.

No matter how serious the trial, no matter how critical the test, God hears and answers our prayers. And Jesus walks with us in the fire. Even if the fire is very, very hot, we can be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:13-20) and say, “The God we serve is able to deliver us. But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods or worship your man-made idol.”

Rest assured, because of Jesus, God hears both our bold prayers and the confessions of faith that accompany them. When we hear God say, “They are my people,” our Spirit-inspired response is to confess boldly, “He is our God.”

As God says through the prophet Zechariah, “This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9, NIV).

Lord Jesus, walk with me through the tests and trials. Refine my faith in you, so that I confess you boldly as my God and my Savior.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 30, is Zechariah 12:10 – 14:21, Psalm 149:6-9, Proverbs 31:1-9 and Revelation 20:1-15.