Thanksgiving Day

Read
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Reflect
This year, while in the midst of the COVID pandemic, one may ask, am I really supposed to rejoice and give thanks? We know that we don’t have to be thankful “for” COVID, but yes in the “midst” of the pandemic we are called to give thanks.

As I thought about our situation in these days, I thought back to stories from my mom and dad about living under German occupation in WWII. The German army walked through the Netherlands and took whatever they wanted from the people. My parents both lived with their families in the countryside of southern Holland. My dad, as a young man was forced to drive a truck with sandbags to help keep the dams of southern Holland shored up. My mom was forced to peel potatoes and onions for the German army.

The families of both my parents lived on a few raw vegetables they had hidden in the field. My mom’s family lived on raw turnips for several weeks. Both families were believing families and my parents spoke of thankfulness for safety, for enough food to stay alive and for life itself. Maybe COVID-19, although a bit scary, isn’t so bad after all?

The Bible calls us to be thankful for and content with everything we have. Our family, health, meals we can share with loved ones, and of course life itself – all are precious gifts from the Lord. But discontent, greed, or fear doesn’t allow us to fully appreciate and treasure the precious gifts of life. Turn fully to the Lord and know his provision and protection. And oh YES give thanks!

We don’t know what the future holds. We might have to go through difficult times of having only turnips or raw veggies – or worse. But as the children of God we are assured of his continuous love and care. The Lord himself is our helper in this uncertain, sometimes scary life.

Pray
Father in heaven, thank you for being our consistent helper and protector. Give us a heart of contentment and thanksgiving! Through Jesus, your Son, Amen.

Quarantine

Read
Deuteronomy 23:1-14
For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.                                                                                                       Verse 14 (NIV)

Reflect
We have all become familiar with the concepts and terminology of isolation and quarantine these days. Once 14 days are passed and there are no signs of COVID-19 a person is declared virus free and allowed to integrate with their group of people or within their “social bubble.”

Our text today makes it clear that not everyone was allowed into the presence of God – only those who were clean. Israelites who were unclean according to the law needed cleansing before they could join the worship of God’s people. Some conditions prevented people from worship for life – an almost unbearable burden, if not for the Day of Atonement. Others were not allowed to join in worship because they opposed God’s people. In these ways God taught the people to reflect his holiness in the community. Nothing could stain the purity or break the wholeness.

The reality is that we are all sinners and we are all stained, broken and flawed. So, we give thanks that Christ came to cleanse his people from their sin, to open the way for all who are broken in body, in spirit, and in heart to enter into the assembly of the faithful. That’s what Philip told a eunuch from Ethiopia, and he was baptised (Acts 8:26-40).

Confession of sin and belief in Christ break the quarantine that keeps us from God. How very blessed we are to live in the grace of Jesus Christ. Offer him your heart and life, that you may be given new life in him today.

Pray: “Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to cleanse my sins by your blood, and please live in my soul forever. In your name I pray. Amen.

God’s Protection

Read
Isaiah 43:1-5
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Verse 2 (NIV)

Reflect
The year 2020 will be one all of us remember as a year we would rather not have again, because of dealing with the COVID19 virus.

I am so content in knowing that God understands the struggles of his people. Through Isaiah, God assured Israel of his power and presence as they were oppressed in exile. God reminded them of his power in the past, and God pointed to his promised presence now and for the future. The Red Sea had not swept over them as they left Egypt (Exodus 14), and in Babylon a fiery furnace would not burn Daniel’s friends (Daniel 3). God promised, “You are mine,” and “I will be with you always.”

The comfort in this passage, that God never let’s go as we face all kinds of dangers and struggles, is for God’s people both as a group and even for us as individuals. Nothing can destroy the people whom God has called, so we need not be afraid.

This year also brought our family some additional issues to deal with: heart surgery early in the year for me; the adoption process for our youngest son has been a series of problems and confusion, but in the end will be accomplished; our foster son was in the CCU at Sick Children’s hospital with Kawasaki Disease; my younger brother had heart surgery and a few weeks later was in a very serious car accident that kept him in hospital for weeks. I am not sure I want any more difficult issues to handle this year. But God did not allow us to be swept away, or burned, or even to lose hope.

We are blessed to know that almighty God personally promises to be our shield of protection as we navigate the harsh struggles of living in a fallen and broken world.

Pray
Almighty God and Loving Father, help me to trust you when life feels overwhelming and I am pummeled with problems. Thank you that I am precious to you and that your love is eternal. Amen.

Dying To Live

Read
Matthew 16:21-28
“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Verse 25 (NIV)

Reflect
Early in my days as a house builder I recall an accident that happened to my boss. A sheet of plywood was picked up by the wind, came flying directly toward us and we ducked. Unfortunately, my boss was six foot, four inches tall and he caught the edge of the sheet right on the head. It peeled his scalp back a good three inches. Two weeks later there was an infection that needed to be rooted out. In order to pull the skin back to clean the infection, they had to loosen the skin around the infected area and literally pull it all together. Believe it or not, they used two buttons so they would not tear the skin. The result: he got a free face lift and the wrinkles that were in his forehead were gone. Behold – A New Man.

The life of Christian discipleship aims to follow that pattern of removing toxic things from our lives every day. To surrender to Jesus is to “die to live,” giving over to him our sin, our wounds, and all our baggage so that he may refill us with new life through the Holy Spirit. It’s much more complex than an infection that was cleaned out, and the results are literally life changing.

The seeming paradox of finding our lives by losing them is a bit hard to grasp. This doesn’t come ­naturally to us. But when we take time to reflect on this call to change, we will see that dying to live is a journey of joy, gratitude, and grace.

I sometimes imagine what a Sunday service would look like if everyone prayed before coming to the church service, “Lord, please show me anew how to die for you.” I pictured communities in which the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, and more – could grow in abundance as toxins were cleaned out. That’s the fruit of a community that is dying to live.

Pray
Jesus, thank you for inviting me into full life with you. Help me to see what you need to clean out as I live with you. Amen.

Safe at Home! 

Read 

Psalm 91. Verse 1 – Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 

Reflect 

At a meeting of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank I spoke with a well-seasoned aid worker who told me the following story:  I met a refugee and asked her a number of questions through an interpreter. One question was “What is your favorite text in the Bible?” Without any hesitation she said, “Psalm 91.” When I asked why, she shared that she had been moving every six to nine months for her physical safety, but in her spirit she was safe in the Lord. 

I will never forget that story of faith and trust. That being said, the tension we face in life is that even though we may “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” and “rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” we have to deal with troubles and daily struggles.  For some people they even have to face deadly diseases and terrorizing attacks. The psalmist understood that this world is filled with uncertainties—and yet there is a place of safety. We can go up against giants like Covid19 and have to flee for our lives from dangerous enemies, and still we can be in a safe place with the Almighty. 

The question each of us has to ask ourselves is this: “What is our dwelling place? What is our shelter or safety net?” If it is our money, family, home, or work, or even government safeguards, they will all crumble. The enemy has come to kill, steal, and destroy. But the one place of safety in the universe from which no one can snatch us is “in the shelter of the Most High.” Our risen and ascended Lord has promised, “My sheep listen to my voice … and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and … no one will ever snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). In Christ we will always be at home, safe and secure.

Pray 

Lord Jesus, we praise you for the security and peace we have in you, regardless of what we experience in life. Amen. 

Lord of All

Read
Luke 8:22-25. Verse 25 – “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement, they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Reflect

Luke records four different kinds of miracles Jesus did in chapter eight. First, he calmed a storm. Jesus knew when he crossed the lake with his disciples that they would encounter stormy winds and waves. So why would he send them out into danger? He wanted to test how strong their faith was. But the disciples woke Jesus to complain. Their faith was still young and inexperienced.

Second, he cast out demons. Though the boat crossed the sea safely, another problem was waiting — a man possessed by many demons. Because the demons made the man so powerful and destructive, no one could help him or even restrain him. He was restrained by chains and kept under guard. But the demons were no match for Jesus. He freed the man of those demons and sent them into a herd of pigs.

Third, Jesus cured a woman who had been ill for 12 years. She believed she could be healed if she just touched Jesus’ cloak, and she was! During his ministry Jesus healed many others — people who were blind, mute, paralyzed, lepers, and more.

Fourth, Jesus raised a dead girl back to life. She had been sick and had died, but Jesus took her by the hand and brought her to life again.

Jesus is Lord over all things. Physical calamity, demonic powers, illness, and even death itself cannot snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). With Jesus for us, nothing can be against us (Romans 8:31). Jesus is Lord – Jesus is our Lord! Halleluiah!

Pray

Lord Jesus, thank you for always being with us. Help us to have faith that you can overcome any threat to us. In your name we pray. Amen!

Certainty in Uncertain Times

Read
John 1:29 John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Reflect
In lots of places around the world countries are reopening and exploring how far and fast re-opening can take place safely.  I am sure that “fear of the future and fear of the unknown” would be a clear number one fear with all the questions about the future on our minds these days as we face the threat of the coronavirus.

Two thousand years ago, the apostle John was also feeling uncertainty and anxiety about the future. In a vision God gave him, he saw a scroll with the future recorded on it. But it was rolled up and sealed. The uncertainty of the future reduced John to fearful tears. He said, “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside” (Revelation 5:4).

But when John finally wiped away his tears, he saw a Lamb which appeared to have been sacrificed but was alive and standing near the throne of God in heaven. And as the Lamb picked up the scroll, all of heaven broke into a joyful song with lyrics that went like this: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

That sacrificial Lamb next to God’s throne was Jesus, whom the Bible calls “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). At the cross, Jesus took your place and died for all of your sins. It’s a great comfort to know that the one who holds the future in his hands is the God who loves you so much he suffered and died and rose again for you!

But it gets better. The Lamb opened the scroll. He revealed the future. And it is good news! Life will not be easy. But through it all, the Lamb will be with you. Whatever comes, he will give you strength and comfort to get through it. And when death comes, he will share his victory over death with you and bring you to a life free of all danger and uncertainty forever in heaven. That is the assurance of our loving God, sealed by the blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Prayer
Lamb of God, comfort me in these uncertain times by reminding me that my future is in your loving hands. Amen

God is My Rock

Read
Psalm 18: 1-5; 16-19; 30-31 Verses 30-31 – As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? 

Reflect
Mwanza, Tanzania is the city where my family & I lived and worked during our two-year volunteer mission stint. The city is also known as Rock City with granite outcroppings stretched across the southern shores of Lake Victoria. When you observe how some of these massive boulders sit precariously atop one another you can’t help but see the creative hand of God in the formations. 

When the psalmist prays, “God is my Rock, in whom I take refuge,” we aren’t using an image of a small polished rock that we can put in our pocket. We are also not thinking of the rock as cold, hard, and unfeeling. 

When I pray, thinking of God as my rock I think of characteristics like strength, protection, shelter and unmovable. I find myself thinking of the safety of hiding in the cleft of the rock.  No matter what storms may come, how much our world is turning upside down there is nothing that can move that rock in whom I put my trust. This is why, no matter the reason, we can hide ourselves in the cleft of our protector, our God—our Rock—and he will provide shelter for us. He will keep us safe from the storm. 

Pray
O God, our Rock, we turn to you and give you praise because you are strong and powerful. We hide ourselves in you and thank you for surrounding and protecting us. In your perfect name. Amen. 

Are You Afraid?

Read 
Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? Vs. 1 (NIV)

Reflect
Have you ever been afraid? I remember looking at my young family while we were touring the countryside in Holland. We were on our way to Tanzania. We had no real idea of what we were headed for in Tanzania and this was a volunteer position. Suddenly I was terrified of the future on the inside, wondering what I had gotten us into. 

Fear is a fact of life, even for believers, and being afraid is a part of most people’s lives. Even David, who wrote Psalm 27, is described elsewhere in the Bible as being “very much afraid” (1 Samuel 21:12). 

Lots of children seem to have a fear of the dark. Parents are afraid about the future of their children. Many people are afraid of death. I am not afraid of death, but I certainly can think of manner of death and there are lots of those I do not want to experience. Fear does creep into our lives from time to time. 

I do not think we can eradicate fear from our lives, but I do believe we can keep fear in its proper perspective. The only way to keep our fears at bay is to turn to God and to remember that God is the stronghold of our lives. One way to accomplish that is to have God’s word tucked away in our hearts.  Like these words from Hebrews 13:6: “We say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.’” We can also reread and repeat the words of Psalm 27: “The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?” When we ask for God’s help and look to his Word, we can trust that the Lord will be our stronghold. 

 Pray
Lord, there are many things in life that create fear in our hearts. Help us to turn to you and to trust in you when fear creeps in and steals our joy. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.  

Do Not Fear

Read
Isaiah 43:1-2
(NIV)

But now, this is what the Lord says, he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Reflect
The simple words of our devotional title are easy to say, but really, they can at times be very hard to follow. There are lots of fears in our world: fear of public speaking, fear of failure, fear of change or of dying. There are more simple fears as well: fear of heights or closed in places or spiders and all sorts of bugs or snakes. Truth be told snakes give me the creeps.

The world can be a scary place and I believe all of us have some kind of fear and those fears are something that we must face.

The Bible tells us, “Do not be afraid.” Again and again we read stories of God coming to his people with comforting and empowering words such as, “do not be afraid. I am with you. I will not forsake you. You are my child.” In the account of Jesus’ resurrection, both the angel at the tomb and Jesus, as the women raced to tell the disciples, begin their conversation with, “Do not be afraid …”

The women’s fear was very real. What they were encountering was a supernatural event. Jesus settles their fear by speaking to them, so they recognize his voice and his words, “Do not be afraid.” The power of the resurrection assures us that the Lord cares for his people and is with them no matter what the situation maybe.

Jesus death, resurrection and ascension assures us that he is always with us through his Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20).  We can have freedom from fear because we are never, ever alone. In God’s presence and strength, we can face whatever comes our way.

Pray
Lord, you are always with us. Remind us of your power and fill us with your courage to face our fears, knowing we are never alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.