God’s Wonderful Decrees

Read 
Psalm 119:25-32
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.Verse 27 (NIV) 

Reflect 
The writer of Psalm 119 uses “law,” “ways,” “decrees,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commands,” and “word” to refer to the same thing. At first glance you might think God’s Word seems like a heavy set of do’s and don’ts weighing on all our actions. 

But that’s not how the psalmist views God’s Word. In his prayer for deeper understanding of God’s precepts, the psalmist connects God’s Word with God’s “wonderful deeds.” We don’t know for sure but the psalmist may be thinking of God’s “mighty hand and . . . outstretched arm” in freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt and bringing them into the promised land (Deuteronomy 26:8-9). Certainly, the psalmist could be referring to all of God’s mighty deeds done on behalf of his chosen people throughout history. 

I believe that God’s Word crowds his mind with memories of God’s faithfulness to his people and to the psalmist personally. God’s goodness and his amazing intervention on behalf of his people stand in stark contrast to his displeasure with Israel for the psalmist.  

That’s what God’s Word does for us too. It teaches us about God’s deep love for us and his power to save us. Such knowledge allows God’s Word to work in our hearts to increase our love for him and to nourish our desire to serve him in gratitude. Look back and see what God has done in your life, the life of your family or even the life of your church and like the psalmist, let you mind fill with God’s faithfulness and intervention in your life. 

Pray 
Lord, help us to choose the way of faithfulness, and set our hearts on your Word. Amen. 

 

 

New Every Morning

Read 
Lamentations 3:19-26
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Verses 22-23 (NIV) 

Reflect
I don’t know about you, but I never thought that I would find the beauty of the words found in verses 22-23 in a book called Lamentations. But the very fact that they are there tells me that our God is anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves. 

Lamentations is a collection of desperate cries from the bottom of a pit. The author laments the suffering of God’s people during their time of captivity, which left them trapped in misery for years. But in the middle of the book, a glimmering light shines through the darkness, as the mournful writer looks up and proclaims hope in the God of love and compassion. We witness the transition from a downcast, bitter soul (in verse 20) to an upright, resolute warrior refusing to be overcome by the troubles of life (verse 22). 

The confident cry is that God will ultimately save his people. 

I went to visit a dear saint in the hospital. He told me there was no cure and he was looking at just days left to live. He asked me to read the scripture that was behind the writing of the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). 

“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” Lord, unto me! 

Most of us know that problems don’t disappear overnight, yet we can testify that God’s mercies are new every morning. We can all find God’s blessings in big and small ways each day if we make a point of looking for them. Great is God’s faithfulness. 

Pray 
Lord, when life is dark and there is little light to see, help me to see your compassion poured out on me. Shine the light of your love on us each day so that we can see your blessings. Amen. 

 

 

Practice What You Preach

Read
Matthew 23:1-12
“You must be careful to do everything [the Pharisees] tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”  Verse 3 (NIV) 

Reflect 
Over the years I have met all kinds of Christians. Or at least they claimed to be Christians. The ones that I had the least sense of connection with were the ones who could quote chapter and verse to prove their point. Not because they knew the Word (I envied that part of their life) but because they used the Bible like a battering ram to beat anyone into submission who did not agree with them. 

The Pharisees were religious leaders who wanted people to keep the law of Moses. So, they built up all kinds of rules around the basic law, and they burdened the people with them. In the process, many of the leaders got so distracted by the rules that they forgot the heart of the law (love God; love your neighbor), and they did not practice what they preached. 

In today’s reading, Jesus let the Pharisees know what he didn’t like about them. Jesus agreed with a lot of what the Pharisees taught. Jesus was a faithful Jew, so he thought the Pharisees had good things to say about what it meant to love God and to serve God. But Jesus showed that the Pharisees cared more about the appearance of loving God than about actually loving God. 

Following Jesus does not mean throwing out all religious traditions. Religious tradition helps us to keep our focus on Jesus and we can have many different practices. Jesus knew that faith is meant to be practiced in community. We cannot be Christians by ourselves; we live within the guidelines of a community of other Christians. 

But following Jesus also does not mean following the rules just for the sake of the rules. Jesus always called his disciples to put people first and traditions second. Jesus challenged the Pharisees for making the rules of the law more important than people. He called them to show love to people, as the law was intended to help them do. Jesus calls us to love people today too, following his excellent example. 

Pray 
Father, thank you for giving us your law of love. By your Spirit, help us to love you and others. Amen. 

 

 

Called by Name

Reading 
Mark 10:46-52 
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”   So, they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 

 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.   The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV) 

Reflect 
On occasion I can feel like I am just another follower of Jesus. Who really knows me? Who cares about me, apart from those that depend on me and those who love me? The Gospel of Mark tells of many other healings by Jesus without ever giving them a name. They were just a man in a crowd or just a woman with an illness for years 

In our text today Mark takes the time to name this blind man, Bartimaeus. We are told his name and we are told that Bartimaeus followed Jesus after being healed, and this event happens only a short time before Jesus goes to Jerusalem to die on the cross. 

Jesus told Bartimaeus that his faith had healed him. Bartimaeus believed not in himself but in Jesus’ power to heal. When he heard that Jesus was near, he called out “Jesus, Son of David,” a royal title. And when Bartimaeus went to Jesus, we read that he threw his cloak aside. Bartimaeus was willing to toss aside perhaps the only thing he owned in order to seek Jesus. And when Jesus asked what he wanted, he simply said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 

No matter who we are, we can approach Jesus with the same kind of simple faith. We can trust that Jesus will heal us and save us by his power alone, and we can follow him. We can know beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus knows us and knows us by name (John 10:3). Like Bartimaeus we are important to Jesus, regardless of our position in life. 

Pray 
Jesus, help us trust in your power to heal. Give us faith like Bartimaeus. Help us to know and understand that Jesus knows us intimately and loves us. Amen. 

Up a Tree

Read 
Luke 19:1-10   
He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short, he could not see over the crowd. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree… Verses 3-4 (NIV) 

Reflect 
Have you ever been very excited to see a celebrity or a sports hero or anyone who was famous. My youngest son had the privilege of meeting Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors). He was very excited. In the end he was given Kyle’s basketball shoe, which was also signed by Kyle.  

Zacchaeus was very excited to meet Jesus. He was so eager to see him that he climbed up into a tree in order to watch as Jesus passed by. We aren’t told what Zacchaeus was feeling that made him so eager to meet Jesus. We do know that he was a tax collector who had gotten rich by cheating people out of their money. Perhaps he realized that was not the best life he could be living, and he was looking for someone to show him a better way. Or perhaps he was just curious about Jesus because he had heard about all the miracles Jesus had done. 

No matter what reason Zacchaeus had for wanting to see Jesus, Jesus took their interaction a step further when he told Zacchaeus that he would come and stay at his house. Imagine how shocked he would have been. Even if Zacchaeus didn’t know what he needed, Jesus knew what Zacchaeus needed. And during their time together, Zacchaeus’s life changed. He became a generous person, giving half of his possessions to the poor and paying back the people he had cheated. 

No matter what your reasons are for being curious about Jesus, Jesus gladly seeks out a relationship with you too. He invites himself into your life. And when you open your heart to him, your life will change too. 

Pray 
Lord, open my heart to receive your love. Open my life to receive your power to change me. Make me a person who wants to live God’s way with gratitude for all you have done. Amen. 

Well Done

Read
Matthew 25:14-30
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”  verse 21 (NIV) 

Reflect  
Many Christians dream of what it might be like to stand before Jesus one day and hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Could any other declaration be more important or more valued? 

Can we be assured of receiving that kind of affirmation from Jesus? Yes, we can – through faith in him, as Ephesian 2:4-10 explains: saving grace comes through faith as a gift to us from God. 

That is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 25:14-30. Two servants receive significant gifts and trust their master enough to go out and invest those gifts. Any investment involves risk, and yet these servants are willing to take the risk because they trust their master. The third servant doesn’t trust the master, doesn’t invest his gift, and then loses his gift and his job when the master returns. It was not so much about not investing as it was about why he did not invest. The servant was afraid of the master, meaning there was no real relationship. 

 Trusting him enough to use our gifts his way isn’t always easy. But if we want to hear him say, “Well done,” we must trust him anyway. Knowing that Jesus loves us always and invites us to participate in establishing his kingdom should motivate us to use our gifts as often as we can. 

Pray 
Dear Jesus, help me to trust you and to be faithful with all you have given me, and may I look forward to the joy of hearing you say, “Well done!” Amen. 

Lighting a Candle

Read
Matthew 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (NIV) 

Reflect 
On a road trip from Kigoma to Mwanza in Tanzania, our car broke down. Despite some clear intervention from the Lord into our situation we had to spend the night at a local guest house. In a strange place, with no light and no candles provided, I could hardly see my hands in front of my face. I had a very old cell phone with a very poor flashlight attachment. Maybe because it was so dark, but when I turned on that almost useless flashlight, it seemed to light up the whole room. A little light in a dark place makes a big difference. 

I’m not sure where I saw the proverb printed, but I have thought of it many times: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” That is a proverb that I would like to be associated with – maybe I have some work yet to do? 

Every day, and in so many places today, we can see and hear loud voices cursing the darkness. Anger and accusation are commonly accepted ways of speaking out, often with half-truths and even blatant lies. 

What are Christ-followers to do in a time like this? We are called to light candles: offering words of encouragement; living out Jesus’ kind of meekness when manipulation and deception are often used to wield power godlessly; working to help others, advocating for them openly as well as serving quietly behind the scenes. 

In the midst of all the chaos, I am reminded of people and Christian organizations that continue to work diligently and with much effort to help those affected by the lies and half-truths. Despite their own objections to what is happening they serve and serve well for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom. 

Pray  
Jesus, light of the world, let your light shine through us to break the hold of darkness. Amen. 

God at the Centre

Read 
Psalm 115:1-8
Those who make [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.  Verse 8 (NIV) 

Reflect 
One of Naomi’s favourite saying is, “If I don’t have a list; I feel listless.” It is a little bit of humour with a message. Needless to say, that concept rubbed off on me and when I have lists it really does keep me on track and focused on what needs to be done. But I’ve also found that lists can easily distort not only my life but also me. 

The psalmist says that when we set up idols in our lives, we become like them. An idol can be anything in our lives (even lists) that becomes more important to us than God is or should be. 

When my lists become too important, I see everything and every person in my world as a task that needs to be crossed off the list. That really distorts the meaning of loving God and my neighbor and caring for people in need. If all they are is an item on my list, I am not loving or caring for them at all.  

There are hundreds of “things” that call out to us, saying, “Look! Pay attention to me! I’ll make you happy.” But they are all lying. Money and possessions turn our hearts toward “cold, hard cash.” Sexual pursuits reduce people and relationships to fleeting pleasures. Following all the “right” rules makes us judgmental of others and slaves to a law when what God intended for us was to have spiritual freedom. 

We can find true, full life when God alone is at the center. 

Pray 
Lord, help me see the idols and distortions in my life, and grant me the grace and wisdom to cast them aside so that only you are at the center of my life. Amen. 

The Vine

Read
John 15:1-17
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  Verse 5 (NIV) 

Reflect 
Growing up in Niagara I was exposed to working the grape vineyards from a pretty early age. I remember most the day that my dad took me to “sucker” the grape vines. It was in the spring and we walked up and down the rows of grape vines and to my astonishment we chopped off every green shoot that was growing up from the base of the vine. In my mind this new growth was green and fresh while the vines that had been tied to the wires and kept in rows seemed old and brittle. 

I asked my dad at the end of the evening, “Why did we cut off all the good growth and leave all the old growth?”  Dad explained, “The new growth that we cut off are called suckers. They are new and fresh. They look so much better than the old vines, but it is really just a trick. The new growth will take all the food meant for the vine. Then when it is time for the grapes to begin to grow there will be no food left and the grapes will be small and of a very poor quality.” 

That lesson did not have much spiritual impact on me until I studied this passage in Bible College. My dad’s words came racing back to me and I saw the beauty of what I was taught. There are so many things in life that look good, even beneficial, but if they distract me from staying strongly connected to Jesus, they are just suckers. There are even spiritual distractions in our lives these days. Even if they promise spiritual benefits if they distract me from my connection to Jesus, they are suckers. 

If we want to be about God’s business, if we want to be producing fruit to our greatest potential then we must focus on Jesus, we must know his word and the prompting of his Spirit. Apart from him you can do NOTHING! 

Pray 
Lord Jesus, keep me strongly connected to you and your Holy Spirit. Make me free to bear much fruit. Amen. 

Reflecting God’s Goodness

Read 
Psalm 145
My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.  Verse 21 (NIV) 

Reflect 
In Psalm 145 David calls us to take the time to look back on our lives and reflect on the goodness of our God. We are encouraged to praise God for his greatness, his compassion, and his faithfulness, and to thank God for his many gifts throughout our lives. In the words of an old hymn, we are urged to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” Our youngest child at home has no language, but he has music in his heart, and it comes out all the time. One of his favourite songs of late is “Count Your Blessings.” 

Of course, it’s possible that you don’t feel like praising God. Maybe you look back on this year and feel you were not blessed at all. Perhaps you feel like the person who said to me, “There is nothing to be thankful for in 2020, especially with this COVID 19 virus going on.” Then I think of my little guy who cannot talk, cannot walk, cannot do so many things that kids his age do and I hear him sing and laugh and I need to be thankful for so much. 

If you feel down and out, read Psalm 145 again. Take some time by yourself to reflect on every part of this psalm. Look back on this past year and trace the hand of God who provides you with everything you need, despite the negative things that have happened in our world. 

In spite of everything that happens in our lives, God never leaves us. Most important, he gave us the greatest gift imaginable, the gift of his only Son, the Lord Jesus. 

That is the key. As Paul states in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Be assured today that the giving God is always with you. 

Pray 
Lord, we praise you for your goodness and faithfulness. Help us to count our blessings and to be assured of your love. In Jesus, Amen.