Jude (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He provides the defense for our faith in His Holy Word

No one wants a lawyer defending them in court who is not acquainted with the case.  A casual flipping through the trial brief by our defender would not offer much confidence for the desired verdict.  We want our lawyer to know our case forward and backward, up and down and all around.  We want him or her to know the history of other cases that pertain to our trial, and we want the lawyer to know us and to understand our motives and heart.  We want our lawyer to stand firm with us and remain committed to us and our cause regardless of how things look throughout the process.  Well, we are defenders today, defenders of our faith.  Would God expect any less of a commitment from us in our defense?

“Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share.  But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.” (3)  Jude was the half-brother of Jesus and the brother of James and wrote this letter to the Christian world of his day as well as to us.  “I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (4)  Obviously, these ungodly teachers have been around for quite a long time.

So if we are defenders of the faith, we should know the trial brief inside and out – God’s Holy Word.  Studying His Word is the only way to know what we are defending, its history and its future. Lawyers today live, eat and sleep the case they are defending because they want to win.  As we read His Word, we become personally involved with our defendant and come to understand His heart and motives, and we build our case on truth, not the lies of His accuser.  Then, as a unified team, we are not swayed by the ungodly people who want to destroy our faith.  We stand firm with our defendant for a sure victory.  We celebrate when His coming to earth, but that was just the beginning of our eternal relationship with Him.

In this process, we bring along others to work with us. “But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.” (20-21)   Our courtroom strategy is not so much on paper but in the power of the Holy Spirit, praying in the Spirit, where our faith is strengthened to encourage each other.  What a team!  Move over Perry Mason, here we come! 

Moving Forward:  I claim this today for all of us on the defense team:  “Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with GREAT JOY into his glorious presence without a single fault.” (24) 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 32-34

Acts 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: One holy night long ago He sent His presence to abide with us

Selling a home, especially in today’s market, can be tricky business.  Through the years, I’ve had several home sellers tell me that their home sold before they even had it on the market or shortly after that, and this miracle was God’s stamp of approval on their upcoming move or change.  I’m always at a momentary loss of words at this point. The two beautiful homes we owned in the past took months and months to sell even though well priced.  Does this mean we were moving outside of God’s will?

Knowing that we were in God’s will is what carried us along during those difficult months.  And this begs the question in our reading today – Was Paul out of God’s will when he insisted his case be tried in Rome?  The hardships he incurred on the way to Rome were extraordinary, but in spite of it all, he ultimately answered God’s call to preach to the Romans.  As we celebrate Christmas, another question comes to mind. Were the difficulties, then, that Mary and Joseph faced at the time of Jesus’ birth an indication that God was not with them?

@ Acts 27-28
Paul was under armed guard as they set sail for Rome, and the trip was treacherous, to say the least.  A violent tempest tossed the ship for days, and Paul’s life was threatened as the soldiers attempted to kill the prisoners rather than risk their getting free in the storm. When they finally ended up shipwrecked on the island of Malta, miraculously not one life was lost.  If this wasn’t enough peril, Paul was bitten by a deadly viper, yet not even a mark remained.

“Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him… Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (28:16,30-31)  The sailing was not smooth, the house did not sell, but God was with Paul on his trip to Rome, and his mission was accomplished.  Paul preached the gospel to the Romans. 

@ Luke 2
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (4-8)

Having just accepted the unbelievable truth of an Immaculate Conception, Joseph and pregnant Mary traveled the difficult road to Bethlehem to find there was no lodging available.  Then Mary went into labor and gave birth to the Messiah, the very Son of God … in a stable.  And, if that wasn’t trial enough, the king tried to kill their son.  With all these difficulties, some would say that this couple was out of the will of God and perhaps this Holy Spirit conception was a farce.  And they would, of course, be wrong.

Now, some 2,000 years later we honor this glorious birth as we sing, “Joy to the World,” “The First Noel” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  We join with the multitude of the heavenly host praising God and say:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (14)

As with Paul, Joseph and Mary and so many others who have gone before us, the path to our future may not always be smooth sailing, and we may find ourselves in difficult situations from time to time. However, there is one thing we can be certain of today in our celebration of Christ’s coming to this earth, and it is that He is with us!  As we travel His path, He is with us.  Merry Christmas, fellow travelers! 

Moving Forward:  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” He has come, and He is with me as I travel life’s path. 

Tomorrow @ Jude

Revelation 12-17 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He defeated the enemy through His birth, death and resurrection

Pink and soft and sweet.  There’s nothing like a newborn baby!  As we gaze at God’s workmanship, we marvel at the intricate details right down to the tiny fingers and fingernails.  No doubt Mary and Joseph we enthralled with their new little bundle of joy.

At Christmas, I enjoy setting up the many nativity sets that I’ve collected over the years.  One set is beautiful porcelain made by Goebel, another is elegantly designed by Thomas Kinkaid, but just as precious to me is a rustic wooden set carved in Paraguay.  One thing they all have in common is the peaceful, serene setting depicted on that night so long ago when the Prince of Peace came into the world.  However, not everyone was at peace that it was Israel that delivered the Savior of all mankind. 

@ Revelation 12
“Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth. Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads.  His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born. She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne.” (1-5)

I’ve watched many Christmas pageants over the years filled with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, angels, shepherds and the erroneous wise men at the stable, but I’ve never seen one that included a huge red dragon with seven heads.  I’m thankful for that.  Most believe the woman of Revelation 12 to be actually symbolic of Israel rather than Mary, but regardless, Israel brought forth the One who would defeat the enemy.

“Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.” (7-9) Jesus sacrificed his life for our redemption, and it was the final nail in the coffin that secured Satan’s defeat!

“And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” (17) So, if we’ve wondered why the enemy throws his arrows at us and attacks us at every turn, we now understand it’s because he is angry at us for keeping God’s commandments and maintaining our testimony for Jesus. This is why Paul encourages us to put on all that armor every day found in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”

The war will continue until Christ’s return, but we will defeat our enemy in the battles we face each day by suiting up and by using the very things that made Satan angry in the first place: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” (11, NKJV)

The enemy’s time is short, and he knows it, “For the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.” (12)  And we know it as well, “He who is the Faithful Witness to all these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon!’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” (22:20) 

Moving Forward:  As I celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am ever mindful of His ultimate mission and the victory He has brought to my life to defeat the enemy. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 26-28

Song of Solomon 5-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He calls us to fellowship with Him and with all those we love

Indifference in a marriage or in any relationship is an indicator of trouble and disharmony, and it’s a signal to us that requires a response.  I don’t care much for the old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” but familiarity does sometimes cause us to take for granted those who are dear to us.  The Young Woman of Song of Solomon responded to this challenge in our reading today and discovered the truth in another old adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” 

@ Song of Solomon 5
“I slept, but my heart was awake, when I heard my lover knocking and calling:  ‘Open to me, my treasure, my darling, my dove, my perfect one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.’  But I responded, ‘I have taken off my robe.  Should I get dressed again?  I have washed my feet.  Should I get them soiled?’” (3-4)  She heard her lover knocking and calling to her, but she hesitated to receive him because she had washed her feet?  Well, she was asleep and obviously in bed for the night, but this doesn’t sound like the Young Woman from earlier chapters, so desperately in love.  When she finally came to her senses, he was gone, leaving only the scent of his cologne on the door handle.  Help!

When we take for granted the familiar and the comfortable, we miss an opportunity to enrich that relationship and secure its future.  The Young Woman came to her senses, “I searched for him but could not find him anywhere.  I called to him, but there was no reply.”  He was already gone, and in her search for him, she met with further heartache and trouble. (7)  The longer his absence, the fonder her heart grew as she remembered his handsome features, his love for her and their friendship. (10-16)   We all love a story that ends well, and thankfully she finds herself with her beloved once again, a little wiser and more responsive to his love. (6:12)  A valuable lesson for us.

Jesus addressed this issue on another level in Luke 9 when he called to those around him, “Come, follow me.” (59)  Just like the Young Woman, they responded with Yes, but…“Lord, first let me return home and bury my father…Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.  But Jesus told him, ‘Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.’” (59-62)

Jesus was not insensitive to their family needs, but He was looking for devote followers.  He is knocking and calling at our heart’s door as well and is looking for quick response without excuse, regardless of washed feet, sleepiness or family needs.  When we respond to His call without hesitation, He helps us with the needs and challenges that may follow

We are challenged through our reading today to never take for granted the familiar, the love of our spouse, our children and our friends.  If we have been hesitant in our response to them, we should seek them out and cherish our time with them.  If we have been hesitant in our response to God, He is waiting to be found just like the Young Man, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:13)   May our hearts grow fonder for those we love without the need of absence or hesitancy to wake us up, and may we be ever ready to respond to His call. 

Moving Forward:  I’m listening for the knock, for the call from those who are so dear to me, never wanting to take them for granted.  And I respond to His call for fellowship with me today. 

Tomorrow @ Revelation 12-17

Psalms 146-148 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He delights in those who put their hope in Him

My husband tells the story of watching a television program a few years ago of Congress interviewing the smartest man in the world.  Congressmen were trying to figure out how the bottom fell out of our economy in the United States, and they brought in Alan Greenspan, then Chairman of the Federal Reserve, to question.

After much pontification, they finally put the question to Mr. Greenspan, “How did this happen?”  And the smartest man in the world and one of the most powerful men in the financial world replied with all seriousness, “I don’t know.”  Tom got a good laugh out of that.  Our Psalms today give us a clue as to who we can depend on and who we can’t. 

@ Psalm 146
“Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there.  When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.” (3-4)  This writer in Psalms understood the risk involved in placing our trust for the future in powerful people.  Paul wrote about it to the Corinthians, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.  We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” (I Corinthians 2:4-6)  There is only one power in which we should place our confidence and trust, and that is God’s forever power. 

@ Psalm 147
“Praise the Lord! How good to sing praises to our God! How delightful and how fitting!… He takes no pleasure in the strength of a horse or in human might.  No, the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (1,10-11)  The Lord is delighted by our trust and confidence in His unfailing love, and this response to Him on our part comes with a promise.  “Trust in the Lord and do good.  Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord.  Trust him, and he will help you.” (Psalm 37:3-5)  We delight in Him, He delights in us and gives us our heart’s desires.

It makes us wonder why we would trust in the establishments of this world, in the smartest men of our day or any human wisdom that is coming to nothing.  God is the one who “Heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds…whose power is absolute…whose understanding is beyond comprehension…” (3,5-6)  God is the one to trust today to meet our needs, to heal our bodies and to protect our homes. “How good to sing praises to our God!  How delightful and how fitting! (1) 

Moving Forward:  I’m placing my confidence today in the only One who can be trusted, He will delight in me, and I will sing praise to our God. 

Tomorrow @ Song of Solomon 5-6

Esther 1-5 (NLT Link) 

Discover His heart: He positions us to fulfill His purpose

Chess is a game of strategy using specific characters on a chess board with the ultimate goal of blocking the opponent’s king so he cannot move.  Many people find this to be entertaining.  In fact, I  joined dozens of people one time to watch a game of chess in Salzburg played on one of the town squares with chess pieces 3 feet tall.  Every move not only involved cerebral energy but physical energy as well.  I must admit that I don’t play chess.  I spend most of every day strategizing how to get accomplished all that needs to get done before bedtime, so why would I play a game of strategy for fun?

However, the different characters on the chess board do intrigue me.  Each piece has a specific function and direction of movement from the lowly pawn to the queen herself.  A pawn that is moved to the correct position can bring down the king – checkmate!  Imagine that!  When a pawn is positioned for a purpose, anything can happen.  Today we read about a lowly Jewish girl, some would call a pawn in the scheme of things, who was positioned for the purpose of saving a nation. 

@ Esther 4
While most believed that Esther had become the Queen of Persia because of her great beauty, her uncle Mordecai understood that God had positioned her to save her people.  Through the influence of his advisor, evil Haman, the king had issued a decree that all the Jews be killed, but Mordecai encouraged Esther to consider that she had been positioned for purpose. “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”(14)

Sometimes we find ourselves in a position that we find uncomfortable for various reasons.  That position may be boring and dull, or it may be stressful and risky, or it may be downright painful.  Regardless of the reason, we just don’t like it.  We complain a lot and feel like we’re bumping into a brick wall as we try to change things, but have we considered the possibility that we have been positioned for purpose?

We may not save a nation in the position we find ourselves, but just as important to God, we may help to save a soul – a neighbor, co-worker, a sales clerk.  God loves every soul on the planet enough to position us for the purpose of reaching each one.  Or perhaps in our position right now, He is changing us and making us ready for His purpose.  Positioned for purpose!  May the question of Mordecai reach down through the centuries to open our eyes to the possibility that we, too, are positioned for a purpose, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” 

Moving Forward:  I submit to the endless possibilities that His purpose has positioned me for today. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 146-148

Deuteronomy 29-30 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He offers us the choice between life and death

When my grandparents left their homeland of Italy in the early 1900s as single young people, I’m reasonably sure they were not thinking about me, their other grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. Nevertheless, I have a feeling the potential of our existence was somewhere in the mix of their decision-making process for the future.  They were seeking greater freedoms and opportunities to provide a future for themselves and for the family they would one day have.  Whether we realize it or not, our decisions profoundly impact future generations. 

@ Deuteronomy 29
“By entering into the covenant today, he will establish you as his people and confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ‘But you are not the only ones with whom I am making this covenant with its curses. I am making this covenant both with you who stand here today in the presence of the Lord our God, and also with the future generations who are not standing here today.’” (13-15)   By choosing to enter into the covenant with God, the Israelites would change everything for future generations as did God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

@ Deuteronomy 30
This was the choice that was put before them, “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways…But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed.” (15-18)

The Israelites could never say that they didn’t understand the terms of the agreement with God when they decided years later to worship other gods.  With God, there are no gray areas today either, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  A choice between life and death!

The Israelites’ broken covenant has affected the lives of the many generations ever since.  In the process, they missed Him, the One they had been waiting to deliver them.  They missed Him.  And our choices may well affect the lives of generations to come should the Lord tarry.  When we break our covenant with God or with our spouse and family, the ramifications are endless.  I know this because I have spent a great deal of time over the years counseling the youth from broken covenants.

Today God offers this same choice to us, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.” (19-20)  The key to life is not all the substitutes we often choose.  No, this, my friends, is the key to your life! 

Moving Forward:  I can’t help but repeat it, “Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” 

Tomorrow @ Esther 1-5