My journey though the Christmas scriptures has brought me to Christmas Eve with a humble and open heart. I know I did not get to the Wise men or aged Anna and Simon yet, but the Mary, Joseph and Jesus did not meet them until after his birth. Anna and Simon were encountered in the temple when Jesus was circumsized after 8 days as was their custom. The wise men saw the star when Jesus was born and followed it, arriving about 2 years after his birth. The gifts they brought provided monies for Joseph, Mary and Jesus when they had to flee in the night to Egypt to avoid Herod’s executioners. I’ll continue with their part in the story next week. However, the journey thus far has given me renewed hope in the Sovereignty of God. He was then and is now in control of all things. God has a plan which is to bring as many people to himself as are willing to come. 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” All the details before, during and after the birth of Jesus shout of His sovereign power to bring about the impossible.
This Christmas Eve, meditate on the delivery of all mankind from the power of sin and the freedom revealed in Jesus’ birth. Power over sin-Matthew 1:21 “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Romans 5:9 “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Freedom- 2 Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Lastly, take time to rejoice in the Savior. He is worthy of all our praises and brings joy for you and me. Romans 5:11 “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”
Have a blessed day remembering how God led us in the journey, delivered His promises and provided unending joy for all mankind through the birth of His Son.
Our Advent journey continues with Mary’s answer from the heavenly angel. He had surprised her, soothed her fears and told her she would give birth to a son whom she would name Jesus. She asked the angel how this was even possible as she was a virgin and had known no man. Here is the angel’s unexpected answer from Luke 1:35-38.
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Talk about a miracle birth! Wow! Imagine Mary’s surprise at those words, “the Holy Spirit of God will come upon you.” She was to bear the Son of God. In her wildest dreams she would not have conceived the idea that she could bear the Messiah. It was the impossible. It was the unthinkable! But God, said it would be so and she knew that would it would be true because God keeps His promises. She knew how God had kept his promises to her people by bringing them out of Egypt, giving them the land of Israel, bringing them back from Babylon and keeping them for generation to generation as a people who called Him Lord. If she was doubting at all, the angel added in the fact of Elizabeth’s pregnancy which would be considered a miracle at her age and something only God could make happen. His final words brought hope to Mary and definitely to me, “with God nothing is impossible.”
What was Mary’s response to the unexpected news? Mary answered in faith. She did not question the angel but accepted his miraculous news by faith, trusting God to work out the details. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What would you have said? Do you have that kind of trusting faith in God and His plans for your life? Perhaps Mary recalled Jeremiah 29:11 and claimed it for just a time as this, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She trusted her future to the Lord and looked forward with expectation knowing He was going to do great things for her good and His glory. Can you have that same attitude this Advent season? Can you look forward to the way God can and will use you to bless others and show His love? Claim Jeremiah 29:11 in your own life and look expectantly for the ways God will use you for your good and His glory each day.
This final day before Thanksgiving, let us consider Psalm 91:9-16. The reason God protects us spiritually is because He loves us and we recognize Him. We claim Him and He claims us. Since we are not perfect we can cling to 2 Timothy 2:13 “if wearefaithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” It is in God’s character to be faithful always. Let these words of promise sink in to your soul and give you more reasons to be thankful today.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— 10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
I have underlined our part in this- faith in Almighty God, holding fast to His love and calling or asking Him for help. The rest thankfully is all God’s part: being a refuge, protecting me with His angels, allowing nothing or no one to take our salvation away (John 10:28 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”), rescuing me from trouble, long life and salvation (John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.) These are things only Almighty God can provide for you and me. Let them be added to your thanksgiving list today!
As I continue this Thanksgiving week looking at reasons for praising God and giving thanks, I came to Psalm 91. It has long been a favorite of mine and is known to be a favorite among soldiers. Why is that you might ask? Are you frightened today about the future or events in your life? Are you struggling and despairing over people or things? Soldiers facing battle struggle with all of these, and yet the words of this psalm sooth and comfort them. May you too find comfort and be able to give thanks to God who is sovereign and All-Sufficient. Psalm 91:1-4
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
My friend Bob who lived at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville, CA used to recite this psalm. He told me he used to put his name in verse 2 as he personalized and claimed God’s truth of love and protection over himself and his bombing crew as they flew missions in WWII. “I, Bob, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I, Bob, trust.” He would do the same with Psalm 23. “The Lord is Bob’s shepherd I will not want…”
Do you find scripture personal? Bob believed in God’s Word and the power of the truths God placed there for our benefit. Can you claim the truth of verses 1 and 2- that God is your refuge and fortress and you can trust in Him in all situations? What about verses 3 and 4? Do you believe that God is greater than any foe or force you will face? Does He faithfully cover you and enfold you in His love and care?
I pray this Thanksgiving, as you reflect on God’s goodness and care, that you can see God’s hand in your life protecting and leading. That you feel his loving arms surrounding you and giving you strength. May God’s faithfulness and love speak to you in a new way this holiday creating in you greater gratitude for God.
In Psalm 138 David repeatedly expresses his thanks to God. He gives good reasons for his attitude of gratitude.
I give you thanks, O Lord, with all my heart; I will sing your praises before the gods. 2 I bow before your holy Temple as I worship. I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. 3 As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength.
In these first 3 verses, David proclaims his thanks to God with his whole heart and being. David is ‘all in’ for God. What things receive your total commitment and wholehearted love? Are you ‘all in’ for God or do you hold back? David saw that the Lord listened to his prayers and acted on his behalf. He gave him strength and encouragement. David knew in his heart that God stood behind all of His promises. God loved him with an unfailing love. David knew love in his life but saw the fleetingness and fickleness of the men and women around him. By comparison, David knew that God would always love him and be with him. He had learned at an early age while tending his father’s sheep, when confronting a gigantic enemy in Goliath and fleeing from Saul for 14 years as he awaited being made king of God’s faithfulness. He knew that God alone was the one who always stood with him and went before and behind to keep him safe.
How about you? Has God been with you 24/7 and gone before and behind you? Do you see His faithfulness day by day? If you do, then be ‘all in’ like David and love God wholeheartedly. Your wholehearted love for God and His wholehearted love for you is cause for great thanks and praise!
I stumbled upon these verses in Jeremiah today and pondered the significance of this prophecy to the discouraged, exiled Jews. Babylon had come and conquered Israel, destroyed the beautiful temple, God’s Spirit had departed and many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were transported to Babylon. Daniel left in the first wave of those exiled, Ezekiel left in the second and then total destruction came to the city. Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem during this whole time. You can only imagine his bereavement over the state of the city, the temple and his anguish over lost friends. God gave this prophecy to help Jeremiah and the people remember the good times and also to have hope for the future. God promised to restore it all. It would take a strong faith in Almighty God to look at ruins and see restoration, but Jeremiah did just that! It came to pass just as God said it would. That gives us hope for today and assurance that what God says He will do, He will do it!
“Thus says the Lord: In this place of which you say, ‘It is a waste without man or beast,’ in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man or inhabitant or beast, there shall be heard again 11 the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord:
“‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!’
For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.
12 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: In this place that is waste, without man or beast, and in all of its cities, there shall again be habitations of shepherds resting their flocks. Jeremiah 33:10-12
Give thanks for God’s faithfulness, His truth, His Word and His omniscience. Even when we lose hope, He is faithful. Even when we stray from the truth. He is faithful to His Word. Even when we doubt, He is faithful. Let Him know today how thankful you are for His faithfulness to you and me.
Today’s focus for giving thanks comes from Psalm 46:1-3. In my book, Promises for Dynamic Living, I used these verses on the printed bookmark that accompanied the book. These verses never cease to bring thankfulness, awe and extreme encouragement to my soul.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Why am I always encouraged? Because, God is my refuge and strength. God is with me 24/7, ever-present. God is greater than any circumstance I will ever face, even if it looks like everything is falling apart. Knowing that God has my back allows me to move forward in life without fear. Trusting in God eliminates the threat of fear and fills me with hope, reassurance and peace.
Why am I in awe? Because, who am I that God would love, protect and care for me in all circumstances? Knowing I am loved and cared for by my heavenly Father brings joy to my soul.
Why am I thankful? Because, I have God as my protector and nothing can befall me that will leave me alone and forgotten by God. He is always with me and has this world in His control.
These verses are true cause for encouragement, awe, and thanksgiving. May they lead you towards greater thankfulness for the power and might of our loving God.
And the journey continues….. Isaiah. Isaiah is considered a major prophet due to the fact that the book is lengthy with 66 chapters. The first 35 chapters are marked with prophesy after prophesy about the coming judgement due to the Israelites not staying faithful in worship of the one true God. Isaiah uniquely refers to God as the Holy One of Israel. The middle section of Isaiah, chapters 36-39 are an interlude with specifics about Judah’s present day problems with the Assyrians and the growing Babylonian Empire. King Hezekiah prays for guidance as he spread the letter from attacking Sennacherib before the Lord. God answered by saving Judah and later extended the life of Hezekiah by 15 years from an illness that had him at death’s door. The final chapters 40-66 are some of the most beautiful and comforting in the Bible. Isaiah prophesizes about God’s love, protection and restoration for the nation that He alone will provide during their coming exile in Babylon and promises they will return to the land He has given them. When they returned from 70 years of exile from their homeland, they did not stray to the worship of other gods and their man made idols. They worshiped the one true God, the Holy One of Israel.
My favorite verses are found in Chapter 49. Several of the verses in this chapter have given me great encouragement and strength. I want to share them with you. God promises restoration in verse 8-9a “This is what the Lord says:
“In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, 9 to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ Whenever God says, I will, He is making a promise to Israel and to you and me. God keeps His promises always. Here we see and feel God’s love and commitment to those who believe in Him. He will make things happen in His time and in His way. His ultimate way of freedom is in Christ as He freed us from the bondage of sin and restored our relationship with Him.
Isaiah 49:15-16 speaks of God never forgetting me and knowing who I am, and what I need is ever before Him. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. This is a precious image of the depth of God’s love towards me. I know He goes before me and is always with me. He knows exactly who I am and has me engraved in the palm of His hand.
Isaiah 49: 23 “Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” When I see things happening in my life that are beyond my control and frighten me, I can take comfort in knowing- God has this. He will be victorious and trusting in Him will never lead to disappointment.
Isaiah 49: 25 But this is what the Lord says:
“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. God acknowledges that many times things will look overwhelming or bleak in my life, but I need to remember that He will fight for me and that He will save me and those that will come after me. God promises there will always be a remnant of those who believe in Him.
One last favorite from Isaiah 55:11. I claimed this verse when I wrote and published my first book. I cling to God’s promise each time I give out God’s Word whether it is in a book, blog or when speaking. “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. We can be assured that putting forth God’s Word will not return empty or void. His Word has meaning and eternal value and He guarantees it will not come back empty but will always accomplish that which He desires. I claim and stand on this promise because- God says it and His will cannot be thwarted! Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
I pray that these precious verses of promise speak to you today. May you believe that God loves you, that your faith in Him will not bring disappointment, that you will lean into Him trusting in His protection and supreme ability to fight your battles and that you will continue to speak out for Jesus knowing His words and truth will not return empty.
As I was praying about what direction to go with my blogs this summer, I was led to share with you my favorite passages from throughout the Bible. Each week I will seek to blog on one Old Testament and One New Testament passage. I am excited to glimpse lessons and truths from the whole council of God. He uses all His Holy Scriptures to speak to us so we can live full, fruitful and glorifying lives as we walk with Him.
This week I was studying in the book of Ruth. Calamity surely befell this young widow and her mother-in-law Naomi as they lost their husbands. Naomi seeks to send Ruth back to her family, but Ruth clings to Naomi and speaks from her heart. Ruth 1:16-17 “But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” This pagan young woman saw love and faith in Naomi in spite of her circumstances and chose to cling to her and her God.
They return to Bethlehem where Naomi’s husband’s family lived and they owned land. Ruth was devoted to Naomi and went daily to glean in the field to provide their food. Boaz, a relative, sees her devotion, work ethic, and love for her mother-in-law even though she is considered a foreigner in their land and would be looked down upon. He treats her with kindness and Naomi instructs Ruth to approach Boaz and seek his aid in redeeming their life and their land. Through a series of events, Boaz cleverly presents the buying of the land to a closer relative but tells him thoughtfully that purchasing the land that belonged to Naomi’s husband would entail marrying Ruth, the foreign girl from Moab so that her husband’s line could continue. The closer relative refuses as it would put his own inheritance in jeopardy, so Boaz ‘redeems’ the land and marries Ruth. Boaz is the ‘kinsman’ redeemer which is a beautiful pictured of Christ.
Ruth and Boaz marry and have a son they name Obed. Naomi is uplifted and renewed by this new grandson to love and cherish. Ruth is cared for by a kind loving husband. Boaz is rewarded for his love and kindness by a loving wife and family even though he is older. God shows favor upon Ruth, Boaz and Naomi as Obed becomes the father of Jesse and Jesse the father of King David who are in the line of Jesus the coming Messiah.
What do we take away from this lovely story? I see God’s providential care of Ruth and Naomi who loved Him. There was no luck involved in their circumstances as God knew what they needed and provided for them in a miraculous way. I also see God’s Sovereignty over horrible things that happened to them in Moab, the death of her sons and husband, yet bringing good from all those hard times. Two promises come to mind as I ponder this story. Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, “ Naomi and Ruth loved and trusted God and He worked the circumstances of their lives for their good as He cared for them. Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Really hard things happened to Ruth and Naomi and God turned the circumstances so that they were mightily blessed and provided for. Ruth, the pagan girl from Moab, finds God, His people and has her life redeemed. God is indeed good.
Where do you see God’s hand of care and love in your life? Is He moving and changing things so that you can see Him more clearly? He drew Ruth and Naomi closer to Him. How is God doing that for you? Has something difficult happened to you in the past that you can see where God brought good out of tragedy? Many times we will not see why the hard things in life happen to us, but one day we will see how God has woven our lives with the dark and light threads of life into a beautiful tapestry. Until then, we need to trust Him and cling to His precious promises with hope and reassurance that He is sovereign and loves us beyond measure.
Take some time this week and read the story of Ruth. It is only 4 short chapters and will surely bring you hope and blessing.
40 days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. His ascension is recorded in Mark, Luke and the book of Acts. It took place on a mountain top in the vicinity of Bethany according to Luke 24:50-51 “And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” Mark also adds in Jesus’ destination after His ascension, Mark 16:19 “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” In the book of Acts, Luke, the author, gives us a more complete picture of this event. Acts 1:9-11 “And after He said these things, He was caught up as they looked on, and a cloud took Him up out of their sight. 10 While they were looking intently into the sky as He was going, two men in white clothing suddenly stood beside them, 11 who said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This [same] Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will return in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
The disciples who were focused on where Jesus went and the angels assured them that Jesus will return in the same way He left. Jesus had lovingly told them that He would send a helper to guide and empower them in His absence. Acts 1:7-8 “He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power and ability when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses [to tell people about Me] both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.” Jesus wanted His followers to be about telling others of the kingdom and the good news of the salvation and forgiveness available to each one though Jesus. The promised Holy Spirit would come upon them in just 10 days at Pentecost and then the truth of Christ and His work would revolutionize the world!
Are you anticipating the return of Christ? Be encouraged with these words from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Are you telling others about your Savior as you wait? Be encouraged by Peter’s words: 1 Peter 3:15 “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” Be ready to tell others of your HOPE in Jesus!