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. 

How God Became Man

Read 
Philippians 2:6-11
Being in very nature God … [Jesus] made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant …  Verses 6-7 (NIV) 

Reflect 
Unfortunately the summer Olympics have been postponed, maybe they will even be cancelled, due to the COVID 19 virus. I enjoy watching the events and the competition. People sit glued to their television sets as athletes compete for gold. Some of the athletes who do not win show their disappointment publicly. More than one athlete has left for their home country immediately after their event, upset and angry. Understandably so! They train, dreaming of gold and anything less is hard to take. Besides, it’s in our nature to want to outdo the other person. It goes against the grain to sit on the bench, to play second fiddle, or to be relegated to the back seat. 

But that’s what the Lord Jesus chose to do when he “made himself nothing.” Paul says that Jesus, “who, being in very nature God … made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” That’s what makes the coming of the Saviour the most amazing event in all history. The Lord of heaven and earth, who was from all eternity, made himself nothing. The eternal Son of God took on the nature of a servant. From the unknown but surely unmatched glories of heaven he stooped to be born in a stable.  

I encourage you to read these verses several times today. I still remember, like it was yesterday, when these verses became more than just words or just the account of Jesus coming. These verses sunk in so deeply that I was moved to tears to understand the sacrifice Jesus made.  Spend some time to thank Jesus for his willingness to become nothing so that we might be saved and become somebody – a child of God! 

Pray 
Lord Jesus, thank you for your willingness to leave the glories of heaven for us. Thank you for becoming a servant so that we might be saved. Amen. 

Under the Rug

Read
Luke 7:3647
I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. Verse 47 (NIV) 

Reflect 
Do you remember the popular song with a catchy tune called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Its bright melody and simple message could almost convince you that brushing all your worries under a rug and forcing a smile could fill you with happiness. 

But we know that true happiness doesn’t work like that. Instead happiness rides on the heels of gratitude.  Gratitude is always a response. Gratitude does not depend on ignoring what’s going on in our lives, but in choosing to see and accept the deepest reality about our existence. Jesus’ encounter with the woman “who lived a sinful life” demonstrates this beautifully. The Pharisee had swept all of his sins under the rug of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. He chose to ignore the truth of his own brokenness and his deep need for forgiveness. His ingratitude produced a toxic bitterness that caused him to completely miss the fact that the Saviour of the world and of his soul was standing right in front of him. He had no gratitude because he believed Jesus could do nothing for him. 

The woman didn’t miss the opportunity afforded her. There could be no sweeping of sins under the rug for her. Everyone seemed to know about them anyway. So, openly acknowledging her brokenness and receiving the forgiveness Jesus offers, her heart, her tears, and her hands poured out her gratitude. 

Have you ever looked under your rug? Jesus is not here to condemn us but is looking to forgive us. Let’s bring out the sin, acknowledge it, and accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers. Let’s show our gratitude.  What an amazing Saviour. 

Pray 
Lord, may we overflow with gratitude for your forgiveness of all our sins. In your name, Amen. 

Lavished with Love

Read 
1 John 3:1-3
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.  (NIV) 

Reflect 
Have you ever had love lavished on you – even for a few moments? I am not sure I even know what lavished looks or feels like. One thing is for certain if love has been lavished on me it was not for a long time. Not because of anyone else’s actions, but because I am who I am, and I would be objecting or trying to figure out what someone wanted from me. 

But the Father has lavished his love on us. The word lavish presents a picture of extravagant abundance. Being lavish borders on being wasteful. God’s love is even more than what a wonderful mother showers on her infant. God’s love and care are supplied to us all the time. God’s love is a constant bombardment of affection and care. We may be as oblivious as an infant to the presence of his love, but God still continues to pour his love into our lives. 

God’s love flows into us deeply and redefines who we are at the very core of our soul. When we open our hearts to God’s love, we are transformed by it. We are remade, regenerated into children of God. Some of us need to trust and open our hearts completely to the love of the Father. 

It is God who makes us his children, not us. We cannot earn that status. It is a gift of God’s great love. Because we are sinners, we don’t understand God’s love for us at first. We don’t even know we need him until we realize we are stuck in sin and cannot save ourselves. We become God’s children when we receive Jesus as our Saviour (John 1:12). 

Not one of us is worthy of God’s love. We cannot earn it. God just loves us. We would not be God’s children if he were not already deeply in love with us. How amazing is that! 

Pray 
Father God, grant us the ability to grasp how wide and deep and high and long is your love for us, expressed in all that Jesus has done for us, that we may be your children. In his name, Amen. 

Gratitude

Read 
1Corinthians 10:27-33
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Verse 31 (NIV) 

Reflect 
Living with a heart full of gratitude is a call to live with our eyes wide open. It calls for knowing that every good gift, everything beautiful, and right, and perfect, and lovely, comes from God. It calls for us to know that at the center of the universe is God who is strong, loving, and good, and therefore, where we must direct our thanks. It calls us to know what we are to be most thankful for – that when we were helpless, hopeless, and dead in our sins, Christ gave us a new life, a holy purpose, and a new slate to write on. We understand that although we deserve nothing, we have been given everything, absolutely everything through God’s grace. Going about our days with a mind focused on gratitude makes a difference in us and a difference to those around us. 

Paul wants us to be careful about the way we live out our faith. Our joy and thankfulness for God’s gifts should be something that others find contagious, not condemning. It has been said that our Christian witness in this world would be much stronger and more effective if we stopped shouting about the things we are againstand started speaking more compellingly about the things we are for. That shouldn’t be hard for us, for we believe that God is overwhelmingly for us and for the people of this world. 

We need to pray earnestly, how we might demonstrate that beautiful truth to our neighbors today? 

Pray 
God, you love this world so much that you gave your Son to save it. From the depths of our hearts we thank you. Help us to live with gratitude that moves our neighbors toward Jesus. Amen.