You need it. I need it. Our kids need it. Our coworkers and friends and neighbors need it. Our pastors need it and the grocery store clerk needs it. What is it? Encouragement. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because in this world-gone-mad, as well as in our own struggles, we desperately need to be encouraged. Look at the word – what do you see in the middle? Courage. Encouragement is about instilling courage in one another. Why do we need courage? I don’t know about you but without it, I will cower in the bed with my head under the covers all day. We need courage to get back up when we’ve been knocked down. We need courage to reject the wrong and stand for the right. We need courage to face the trials of life. Some days we need courage just to get out of bed. Most importantly, we need courage to be the people of God in a godless world. That’s my desire every time I write.
How can I give you courage today? With the testimony of the ages: Jesus Christ is alive and He rules and reigns! Paul declared, “[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:20-21). No human entity has more authority or power than Jesus. If you have surrendered your life into His hands, that is encouraging news!
But wait! There’s more! Not only is He alive and on the throne – Jesus is coming again! “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This was great news to the weary and oppressed Christians. It’s great news to us too.
The word for today, and every day is this: Be encouraged Beloved–the Lord is on His Throne and He is coming again!
I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could change one thing about my past…” The problem is I found a lot of things. Choices. People. Places. Priorities. Desires. I’ll bet you can finish that sentence with a few thoughts of your own. Who hasn’t lamented something in their past? For some, the choices were huge and life-altering. For others, they were moments, that while not quite as monumental, we wish we could do over. I have spent so much time living with regrets, living in the “if only’s,” and wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently. I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life.
But I am learning to trust in the sovereign providence of God. Those are words we don’t use much in our contemporary religion, but they are powerful. In the original Hebrew, the word combination has a rich and significant meaning. The word “sovereign” speaks to God’s rightful authority as Creator over nature, nations, mankind, and individual lives. Likewise, the word “providence” is speaking to God’s charge over everything He has made – including you and me. The root word means “to pay attention, to care for, to be in charge of.” This is His tender, loving oversight as our Good Shepherd and Heavenly Father. God has pledged to pay attention to you, to care for you, and to be in charge of your life – not as a dictator – but as One who seeks always and only what is best for you. Job 10:12 expresses this duality beautifully. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in Your providence watched over my spirit.” The combination of terms tells us that God is always looking out on your behalf, knows what you need and He has the authority to move heaven and earth to accomplish all things for you – because He loves you.
If you have grieved over your past, know that Your sovereign, providential Father has been watching over and caring for you all along. In His hands, the very thing that caused you the most pain can be the seed for a whole new life. Beloved, God loves you too much to waste the struggles of your life. He has a plan. He has a purpose. And He has you in the palm of His great hand.
I love the Word of God with all my heart. The Bible has transformed my mind and heart and life. It has become my passion, my calling, and my ministry. I believe every verse is true and right. I believe as Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-7). I honor the Scriptures as the authority over all creation – especially over me. But I don’t always like what it says. Sometimes the Bible meddles. Like Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing . . .” Uh-oh.
I believe that obedience to the Scriptures is vital to God’s people. It was a major issue with the Israelites. They wanted God’s blessings without obedience. I strive to obey God every day. I don’t always get it right, but I so want to follow Him and walk in His ways. But sometimes I do so with a chip on my shoulder and a bit of an attitude. “I’ll do it God, but I really don’t want to.” “I will make this sacrifice, but it’s not fair, they’ve done nothing to deserve it.” “Why do I have to take this on God? Don’t I have enough on my plate?” I’m like a petulant child stomping her feet in protest on the way to bed. I sure hope you’re nodding your head in agreement, otherwise, I’m the worst kind of Christian.
But Paul said God expects obedience with a humble and grateful spirit. That is exactly what Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus went to the cross – to His death with Joy. How could that be? Crucifixion was a horribly painful and humiliating way to die. Because He knew what the end result was going to be. Granted we don’t have that same advantage. But we have the same Heavenly Father who has never failed us, who works all things to fulfill His good purpose. We have a God we can trust when we are told to do something hard.
What is the end result of our humble obedience? We “become blameless and pure children of God [who] shine like the stars in the universe” (v. 15). In other words, we become like Jesus. And that is the desire of my heart. How about you, Beloved?
Jesus is coming back. Do you believe that? Does it show in the way you live your life? The writer of Hebrews said, “In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb 10:37). He offered this as both a word of encouragement and a warning. We’re going for the encouragement today and will take the warning in the next devotional.
The first-century believers were being harassed and oppressed daily for their commitment to Christ. They needed hope. So do we. So Paul said, “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thess. 1:18). What words? The Lord Jesus is coming again! Paul said, “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This was great news to the weary Christians – just as it is for you and me.
Jesus has promised to come again, to raise the dead in Christ to life, and to call the living to Himself. When He came in His first Advent, He entered the world as a helpless baby, lived as a humble servant, and died as the suffering Savior. But when He returns He will come with power and authority, and there will be no doubt that Jesus Christ is LORD. If that isn’t encouraging, if that doesn’t give you hope, then I don’t know what will.
Are you weary of this world? I know I am. But God has not yet called us home. That means for as long as we’re here, we need to continue in our faith – believing and walking in Jesus’ footprints, telling others about our Savior, and encouraging one another with the hope of His return. So I’m holding out this promise to you, Beloved. Keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the sky. He said He will come back for you and He is a Man of His Word.
He proved Himself as God over and over when He walked this earth. He proved His power over creation – His creation – when he commanded the wind and waves to “Be still!” (Mark 4:39). The demons proclaimed His divinity crying out that He was “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7). He proved His authority over the spiritual realm when He cast them out of a tortured man (Mark 5:1-20). He proved His sovereignty over disease and death when He healed a woman with a 12-year long issue of blood then raised a dead girl back to life (Mark5:21-43). He was – and still is – the all-powerful, all-mighty God of the Universe. Nature, spirits, sickness, and even death had no choice but to obey Him when He spoke. It was the same voice He used to call the heavens and the earth into existence (Genesis 1).
Yet here He was tiny and helpless in the arms of a peasant woman – the only one who responded to the sound of His voice. He was just a baby now – unable to form words into a command. Yet I wonder . . . did the wind and waves begin to still at the sound of His cries? Did the demons tremble when they recognized His cooing? Did weak legs strengthen when his wails filled the night air? Was there a stirring in the graves as He protested the hunger in his belly? Despite his physical state, the baby in the manger was still God. Still the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Still the Author of life. Still the long-awaited King. Did creation recognize Him, even if His image-bearers did not?
Yes, He was a baby just like any other baby who needed someone to feed and clothe Him, to carry Him from place to place, to wrap Him in swaddling clothes from the cool night air. But He was a baby unlike any other baby and heaven held its breath in awe at the sight of God in tiny flesh, so helpless and frail. I believe the creation that obeyed Him “in the beginning” knew that these were no ordinary cries. There was always power and authority and sovereignty in the sound of His voice. It was just small and quiet tonight.
If I’ve learned anything at all about the Bible, it is that this is a practical book with real-life answers for real-life needs. The Bible doesn’t just give us wise philosophy – or as my grandmother called it – “pie-in-the-sky thinking.” So when a friend came to me recently to talk about her constant negative, anxious thoughts, I offered her the Bible’s prescription for the mind.
“First, you have to get rid of those negative thoughts,” We talked about 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” “You have authority over what goes on in your head,” I said. “You must claim that authority and banish negative and anxious thoughts.” I showed her how I make a grabbing motion over my head to “take captive” my thoughts, then a motion of flinging them aside – literally casting them at Jesus’ feet. I’ve done this with thoughts of doubt and fear and sin. It may look kinda silly, but the physical acting out of it is powerful. I believe it also puts the devil on notice that I’m taking charge of my mind.
I continued, “Then immediately fill your mind with Philippians 4:8: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’” “What do you know is true?” I asked her. “God is in control.” “Yes! And God loves you.” “And God is good.” “Exactly! And God has a plan and a purpose.” Her face began to relax. “What do you know that is praiseworthy,” I asked. “Jesus!” she replied. “What can you praise Jesus for?” “He is my Savior. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords.” “What do you know that is lovely?” I said. “My daughter,” she answered with a smile. “And when you memorize scripture,” I reminded her, “you have a ready supply of ‘whatsoever is right.’ For every negative thought satan plants in your mind, you need a positive Word from God to counteract it.”
May I offer the same prescription to you, Beloved? Your thoughts are just that—YOUR thoughts. You have authority over them. You can make them obey you – but it takes effort and repetition. What is the result of this practical exercise? “The God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9b). Do you need some peace of mind?
I grew up on Bible stories. I loved hearing them, and as children do, I believed them. But come on you say, you’re an adult, isn’t it time stop believing in “stories?”
I suppose that’s a valid question, and it deserves a solid answer.
The truth is, I would stop believing if I thought they were only stories made up in the minds of men. But I am confident in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God from the mind of God given to human authors through the Spirit of God. That’s exactly what Peter said: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16, 20-21). David said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). The Bible is not man-made stories to support a man-created God. Nor is it man’s ideas, thoughts, opinions or views on what God has said.
Think about it, if God desires to reveal Himself to humankind, why would he allow men to include fantasy and fallacy in the written account of Himself? Archeological finds such as the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the Bible as we have it today. Most modern translations have been painstakingly taken from the ancient Hebrew and Greek from the most ancient manuscripts available and research has proven that any changes from those manuscripts are minimal and do not affect the original message.
That said, I don’t hold to the authority and authenticity of the Bible because of these things. They support my faith in the Bible, but they are not the reason I trust it. I believe in the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God because it has changed my life. It was there that I met Jesus and He turned this sinful woman into the daughter of the Most High God. That’s proof enough for me.
“Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth” (Matthew 22:16)
Quick, tell me, how many wise men were there?When did they come to see the Child-King?Duh, you might be thinking; there were three wise men who came to see Jesus when He was born.Those answers are part of our modern construct of the Christmas story.The Bible doesn’t tell us the number of wise men – only that they bore three different gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.We assume there was one wise man per gift.We also have the lovely Christmas hymn, “We Three Kings” to support that idea.Our Nativity scenes further drive the image home with all the shepherds and wise men together.But they didn’t come to the stable; scholars believe that Jesus may have been about 2 years old when the Magi visited the Bethlehem home the family had settled in.Matthew 2 records that they left “the east” after He was born – most likely the Mesopotamian area – that would have been a long, arduous journey.And recall that Herod ordered the murder of all male children in Bethlehem under two years of age.
My best friend, like me, is a stickler for accuracy in portraying biblical accounts.A few years ago she saw a nativity set that Fischer-Price produced and something struck her as very off.There was a smiling pig among the animals.My friend wrote to the company and told them that no good Jewish family would have pigs around, they were unclean animals according to Levitical Law.Would you believe the company pulled the pigs out of the set?There’s a Christmas miracle for you!
The point I’m making is we need to be very sure we are listening to and absorbing accurate information when it comes to spiritual things and biblical portrayals.Our traditions have painted over the Bible’s account of the Christmas story.Now the wise men may seem to be a very small part of the whole account, and what harm is there is a happy little pig welcoming the newborn King?None, if you don’t hold to the authority and accuracy of God’s Word.But when you let wise men and pigs come to the manger you’re taking the world’s view over God’s record.One little detail becomes another and another until the truth and authority of the Bible is lost in a cultural soup.
Here’s the truth about Christmas:“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).The truth about Christmas is that God came to His lost creation in human form, to die that we might live eternally.That’s what you need to know about the Christmas story.