Thursday, December 24, 2015

God Chosen Shepherds

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

I know what I am about to ask is a stretch, but let’s try it anyway. If you were God, and could use any means to announce the arrival of the world’s Savior on a specific night, what would you do? Would you choose shepherds whiling away on their nighttime watch? I didn’t think so. 

Shepherds. Rough characters at that time. They labored at the tedious job others were not willing to do. Not only that, they slept with their flocks and probably produced a flock-like scent—OK, they were smelly! 

But there is a link; a thread that connected the town of Bethlehem and shepherds who lived about two thousand years apart. David, the Shepherd-King. He cared for the people of Israel just as he cared for his father’s sheep when he was a lad in Bethlehem. He even wrote a Psalm about a heavenly Shepherd, because he knew what a good shepherd was like.

Jesus, the Son of David, came and announced Himself as the good shepherd [John 10:11]. When talking about it He said that He knows His sheep and they know Him. But most importantly, He said that a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. 

So consider this: on the night when Jesus' life began, an eternal plan was set in motion. That plan would lead to a day when the good Shepherd would lay down His life to save people from their sins. So maybe an angelic vision to shepherds wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Since they understood feeding, guiding, and saving, it seems to me the best way for chapter one to begin. 

I don’t do this often in my eDevotions, but today would be a good time for a prayer. Join me in a prayer of praise, a declaration of the God we serve:

1    The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want. 
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters. 
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. 
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over. 
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.  AMEN!

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2:8

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

God's Chosen Virgin

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Can you think of anyone in the history of the world who was asked to have more faith than Mary? She was young, probably a teenager, and a virgin. More than likely, her hope was to live a normal life in a small, Galilean village — the no-name town of Nazareth. But things were about to change in a big way!

A message came from heaven, sent by God, Himself — not in a text, but through an angel. They were, undoubtedly, troubling and confusing words. So much so, she had to be reminded at the very beginning, “The Lord is with you.“ Now we all know that generally speaking, God is with all of us. True. So I’m thinking the emphasis was, “The Lord is with YOU!” The God who chooses made another choice. He had done so before with Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Ruth, David and others. But once again He chose an instrument through which He would work in the world. “Highly favored” may be the understatement of its time. 

You will be with child,” he said, “in a way no woman has ever conceived before, as a virgin.” Would she believe it? Well, let me ask you, would YOU believe it? Don’t think for a minute that people of that day didn’t understand human anatomy and conception. They were not ignorant of the birds and bees. 

Is it too much to ask of the 21st century to believe that God could do something so utterly unique? Most, today, would say “Yes.” I would say, “No” because I don’t think God is limited to only one creative time. Who can make such a rule for God! 

She was asked to believe the unimaginable, and she did. Mary believed, and so it came to be that she was “with Child.” What a remarkable young lady! That being said, she is not to be worshiped, but neither should she be ignored. She stood at the end of an era, the Old Testament, and the beginning of a new. And we see her life, from stable to cross, pointing to Jesus. 

It really makes me wonder: If Mary were here today, how would she celebrate Christmas? It’s a good question for all of us. How will YOU celebrate Christmas? I have an idea. Let’s exercise our faith and, like Mary, say, “Lord, do whatever you choose to do in my life.” AMEN!

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. Luke 1:26-31

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Peace: More than Non-Violence

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Peace. I think it is safe to say that everyone wants it. It is a noble aspiration. In a time of war, or when a conflict seems to have settled down; when you’re battling your own demons, or feeling rather good about your relationships; when you’re on God’s side, and when you aren’t so sure —there is no time when it is not a good time to pursue peace. 

Unfortunately, many settle for a false peace. All they are looking for is the cessation from hostility. When you go to bed at night, you may be thankful that you weren’t beaten and robbed that day, but that is not the same thing as experiencing peace, especially if fear of the next day is still there. If a husband and wife get weary of yelling at each other and agree to a mutual, icy indifference, no peace there either. 

Peace is more than non-violence. In Hebrew, the word for peace is shalom. It has a depth of meaning, but at its core, it’s a well-wishing that says, may you be whole and complete. On one of my trips to the Holy Land, I was talking with our guide about the word shalom. He said that ancient Rabbis used the word to encourage a person to find out where they fit in the universe and be tranquil in it. Let me say it this way, when you know your place in God’s world - that you are more than a beast, but less than God - that sense of order brings peace. 

So I wish you peace this Christmas. Yes, it includes the hope of fewer people killed by terrorists, bullets, hunger, and AIDS. But I wish you much more than that. This Christmas, may you know real shalom, confidence that when God’s favor, His grace, rests on you, you have a peace that is beyond comprehension, an orderliness that comes only from Christ. By the way, that orderliness began on the first Christmas. Christ came to make things right. It began with His birth, and was completed in His sacrificial death and triumphal resurrection.

When you know Christ, you know peace!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:13-14

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Joy

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

I’d settle for a bit of joy these days. But “great joy”? Is that too much to hope for?

Where did all the Christmas joy go anyway? Why are things so complicated? Why so rushed, squeezed and cluttered? Does it have to be this way? Is there any Christmas joy left to be enjoyed? 

For the shepherds on that first Christmas, it started out as any other ordinary night. Same, same. Another uneventful night caring for their flocks. For thousands of years, shepherds had done the same thing. Even King David, when he was just a boy, stood watch over sheep, perhaps even in those very fields of Bethlehem. Life hadn’t changed much for the shepherds. 

But this was no ordinary night! Angels, beaming with the glorious light of God Himself, showed themselves to the shepherds. One announced, “I bring you good news of great joy!” Now, if it were me, I’m thinking fear, not great joy. Joy would have to come later!

Please understand, I’m not talking about enjoyment here. Enjoyment is biting into a Christmas cookie, or opening a shiny Christmas package. But on that day, great joy came in the startling realization that God came to make His home on earth. He had come to reclaim this sin-sick world. 

That, dear Christ follower, is joy. Furthermore, it is “great” joy because it “will be to all people.” All people—then and now. That includes you and me! 

May your days be filled with “great joy.” 

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

Friday, December 18, 2015


Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Did the angels get it wrong on that night so long ago? In beautiful harmony they proclaimed to the shepherds, “Peace on earth, good will toward men” [Luke 2:14]. Those divine messengers heralded peace and goodwill because, in Bethlehem, a Savior would be born.

Seriously, Peace? Good will? With global terrorism ongoing, and the great number of impoverished people in the world, or perhaps your own upheaval and unrest, do you wonder if the angels got it wrong?

Is it any wonder that people mock the message of peace rather than marvel at it? Of course, the angels weren’t proclaiming peace between nations. Their message was the good news about peace with God—the payment He would make to deliver mankind from their sins.

He is our peace because He paid the ultimate price to abolish sin. He died and rose again, and because of that, all the angst and unrest in our lives—the guilt of sin—has come to an end. 

So now, as a Christ follower, He declares, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” [John 14:27]. The Prince of Peace has come, and He is in charge of your life. Neither the turmoil in the world, nor the problems you face can diminish for one second the freedom from the guilt of sin that is yours in Christ. 

Talk about peace and good will! And not just at Christmastime. Always. Because “unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given—the Prince of Peace.”

For unto us a Child is born, 
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mighty God

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Some of the prophecies about Christ in the Old Testament are statements so bold, so large, that generations have been spellbound. They have been held as treasures, and still are yet to be fully comprehended. Isaiah’s oracle about the Son who would be born is one of those. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…and in that moment of great inspiration, Isaiah revealed Him as Mighty God!

In the Jewish mind, nothing was more important than the belief in one God. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” [The Shema: Deuteronomy 6:4]. Not two gods, not two thousand gods, but one God and only one who is to be worshiped above all. Now, fast forward to the coming Mighty God, Jesus. The Magi worshiped Him. The fishermen worshiped Him. Mary and Thomas worshiped Him.

When Jesus, the Mighty God, came, there is not a hint at anything suggesting there is more than one God. It’s just that God, being who He is, chose to be with us — another of those bold statements: “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a Son, and name Him Immanuel—God with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23].

The Christmas story is about the true entry of God into human affairs. The same God who created humanity, took humanity on Himself when it suited his purposes—to save that same humanity.

Not any kind of god would do that. Only the one, the true, the "Mighty God.” A God who would do that is truly worthy of worship. 

For unto us a Child is born, 
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Encouragement for your daily walk with God

When it comes to the names or titles of Jesus — Lord and Messiah are good examples of names well known to Christ followers — I can think of none as dear as Savior. In Matthew’s narrative of Christ’s birth, a lot of emphasis is placed on that name. He recounted what an angel said to Joseph, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21]. From the very moment of His birth, we are witness to the nature of His work. 

The name Savior is dear to us because we need saving, especially from sin. God hates sin with a holy wrath. The book of Romans makes it very clear that we store up for ourselves wrath from God for our sins. Paul said, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed” [Romans 2:5].

That is why we desperately need a Savior. And for those who have put their full confidence in what Jesus did for them on Calvary’s cross, they need not fear that day of wrath. Jesus is our Savior. Paul encouraged the Thessalonian Christ followers to wait for God’s Son “whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” [1 Thessalonians 1:10].

Far too many people think that God is not concerned with sin. So let’s be clear; God’s wrath will be poured out upon unrepentant sinners one day. But Jesus bore His wrath against sin on the cross. He took your place, and you are saved from God’s wrath when you trust Him alone. Paul said it well, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” [Romans 5:1].

What a Savior!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Encouragement for your daily walk with God

My life has been radically influenced by the example of godly men and women who wholeheartedly sought the Lord. I wanted the same kind of relationship that they had with God, and I knew the only way that would happen was if I, too, earnestly sought after God and His ways. All these years later, I can honestly say that the most exhilarating aspect of my life is a vital, personal relationship with my heavenly Father. 

An intimate relationship with God doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires continual, intentional decisions to make room for the pursuit of God. Intimacy is not something that happens once at a Bible conference, or Summer camp, or reading a chapter of Scripture every day. Seeking God is a day by day, year by year commitment—a persevering lifetime commitment.

Some Christ followers are content with a shallow, superficial relationship with God. They approach Him when they want relief from something, or a need met, but they are unwilling to spend extended periods of time in prayer and the Word. What a tragedy to forfeit such a great blessing.

Is that your desire too? Do you long for a vital, intimate relationship with God. I believe you do, so listen carefully. Slow down! Seeking the Lord is not something you rush through. It takes time and effort, but the rewards… they’re priceless!

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Isaiah 55:6

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Nearness of God to His Word

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

James told his readers to draw close to God and, in return, He would draw close to them [4:8].  So, how do we experience the nearness of God? How do we draw close to Him? If you ask Christ followers that question, you may get a variety of answers, from sappy to biblically and theologically robust. For me, more than anything else, I am closer to God while reading and meditating on Scripture. 

The theological word for the nearness of the Lord is His attribute of immanence. Theologically speaking, He is present in His creation (but not identified with His creation) whether one feels close to Him or not. However, the Bible also reveals that God promised to manifest His presence at special times and in special ways. For example, He uniquely manifested Himself in the Wilderness Tabernacle and Jerusalem’s Temple. Another manifestation of His presence was in the person of Jesus, God made flesh who dwelled among us [John 1:1-18]. However, in both the Old and New Testaments, one clearly sees the association of God’s presence when reading, studying, and meditating on Scripture. 

The Psalmist affirmed this in Psalm 119 (particularly vv. 145-152). The enemy was close by and ready to attack him, but he had confidence that God would rescue him. He specifically noted the nearness of the Lord while extolling the Lord’s commandments [vs. 151]. Do you see the connection? He knew God was near him—he had confidence in the truth of Scripture. There’s a great biblical truth here; the Lord comes alongside His Word, making it effectual for His divine purposes [see Isaiah 55:10-11]. In other words, when you have the Word, you have God; when Scripture speaks, God speaks! [2 Peter 1:20-21]. 

God attends every word of Scripture. So whether you are reading the Word, or hearing it preached, you are enjoying a personal encounter with God. Every word of Scripture manifests His authority and truthfulness [2 Timothy 3:16-17].

The Holy Spirit also attends the reading and hearing of the Word, instructing us, convicting us, and conforming us to the image of Jesus. You don’t have to seek “mountaintop” experiences to know that God is near. God is always near His Word.

But You are near, O LORD, and all Your commands are true. I have known from my earliest days that Your laws will last forever. Psalm 119:151-152

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Do You Want for Christmas?

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

What do you want for Christmas? We hear that a lot these days. I’m going out on a limb here, but I doubt you’ll hear anyone say this, “I’d really like to be more righteous.” The fact of the matter is people want to be more spiritual, but seldom do you hear the desire for righteousness. 

Maybe it’s because we don’t want to appear self-righteous. Or maybe it’s that so little attention is paid to righteousness these days. It hasn’t always been that way. It wasn’t too long ago that a group of people lived so righteously they were known as Puritans. Righteousness was a major concern for them, and rightly so. The Bible  is concerned also. 

The apostle Paul told the Roman Christ followers that the Law could not bring one to righteousness; it’s purpose was to make mankind conscious of sin—held accountable to God. He continued, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” [Romans 3:21]. Jesus told the people of His day to seek righteousness [Matthew 6:33]. Clearly Scripture emphasizes this theme.

Jesus made a remarkable statement when He said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:20]. By now I think it is obvious that we are to seek to become righteous people as we obey God’s Word and walk in His ways.

Are you a righteous person? Would it embarrass you to be known as a righteous person? First and foremost, we should think about ourselves biblically, using biblical language as much as possible. Don’t shy away from words like righteousness. And don’t let the world scare you away from being righteous. Instead, be a model of righteousness even in our hostile culture.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Comfort from the Word

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

Let’s start with a question today. Where do you go in times of distress, trouble, and tribulation? For a Christ follower, it’s easy to answer—we go to our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we are “weary and heavy laden,” we go to Him because His “yoke is easy and His burden light” [Matthew 11:28-30]. When we are at our weakest moment, it’s in Him we find the strength to do all things [Philippians 4:13].

We go to the heavenly place where Christ is. There, we enter with confidence (not arrogance) to hear His Word that will sustain us in times of trouble [Hebrews 10:19-22]. His eternal Word is what we need.  

That has been the belief of God’s people throughout the ages. The Psalmist found God’s Word to be the source of comfort in his time of affliction [Psalm 149]. In fact, he believed that the promises in God’s Word gave him life [vs. 50]. He was confident in the Lord’s sovereign will to save His people, and in God’s blessing for those who were faithful to Him [vv. 55-56].   

John Calvin beautifully stated, “If we meditate carefully on [God’s] word, we shall live even in the midst of death, nor will we meet with any sorrow so heavy for which it will not furnish us with a remedy.” 

We have Christ. In Him, Scripture says, we have every blessing we need [see Ephesians 1:3]. His Word to us is sufficient for all things because “they are spirit, and they are life” [John 6:63].

This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your promise gives me life.  Psalm 149:50

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Duty Calls

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

What comes to mind when you hear the word duty? For many, duty is something we have to do but do not want to do. “Do your duty” is often said by people who know that our heart is not in doing what we are doing. Others think of duty as something that is owed. That can make doing one’s duty even less appealing. Most of us don’t like owing anything to anyone.

Doing your duty is not absent in Scripture. In fact, it abounds. Take the Ten Commandments for instance. They were set up as laws that the Israelites had to obey because God had redeemed them from slavery (see Exodus 20:1-17). Or how about the book of Romans as another example. The first 11 chapters recount all the things that Christ has done for us. That is followed by 5 chapters of ethical instruction. The implication is that we have a duty to live out those instructions because of the Lord’s work on our behalf.

One could argue that the Word of God compels us to do our duty regardless of whether we feel like it or not. But I hope you have found that one of the wonderful blessings of our Lord is that He makes our duties into delights. Psalm 149 bears this out. Israel was given a duty to “rejoice” in their Maker. It wasn’t optional. It was commanded; given to them as their duty. 

But the Lord would not make it a drudgery for them. I guess He could have. He could have ordered them to rejoice and be done with it, but He held out good reasons to find joy in their Maker.  

The LORD takes delight in His people” (vs. 4). Imagine that! The all-powerful, all-sufficient Maker chose to find pleasure in those whom He saved. Furthermore, He allows His delivered ones to participate in His work (vv. 6-9). Unworthy as they were, still they could rejoice in that they shared in the Creator’s work.

C. H. Spurgeon said that God “would have His people happy and, by His Grace, He makes them so! We rejoice in our King because our King makes us rejoice! … Blessed religion, in which happiness has become a duty!” (Spurgeon’s Sermon: Jubilee Joy—or, Believers Joyful in Their King).

Perhaps you are in a period where you don’t feel like rejoicing in the Lord. We all experience that from time to time. When you find yourself in that time, I encourage you to rejoice anyway—do your duty to seek your joy in Him. But not grudgingly or reluctantly. Take time to think about all that the Lord has done for you, and remember that He “takes delight in [us] His people!”

O Israel, rejoice in your Maker. O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.  Psalm 149:2

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Coming Paradise

Encouragement for your daily walk with God

We just returned from a vacation in Maui. It’s not the first time we’ve been to the Islands, and I certainly hope it’s not the last. It really is paradise on earth. On our first day there, I heard from friends in the town that we're from that it was snowing! And there we were, basking in 80 degree weather with a gentle breeze blowing through beautiful palms. Ah, paradise!

Paradise. God is preparing a Paradise for those who know Him. It’s called Heaven. It’s the place where we will enjoy God forever. I am looking forward to the bliss that we will experience there. We will get a tiny foretaste of it in the intermediate state we call The Millennium. But its fullness will only be ours when Christ comes to consummate His kingdom. That will be possible because there will be a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (see 2 Peter 2:13).

That Paradise will be free from all sadness. There will be no more tears, for God will have wiped them all away. Death, disease, emotional pain, sin—all the things that bring us so much suffering will pass away. We will bear the image of God with utter clarity, and there will be no strife. 

It will be a place both grand and beautiful, perfectly lit as the Lord’s glory will illumine His creation. No need for candlelight, LED or incandescent light. In fact, no need for the sun or moon. The Light of the World will reveal Paradise in a grand way, and we will dwell in its incredible glory.

As good as that might be, there’s more! We will see our Lord face-to-face. We will never be bored learning more about Him and His perfect love for us. And whatever we have endured in this life, it will have been worth it because we will be in the presence of God's full beauty and glory.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:3-4