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One Day Closer to Christmas

Today's Devotional





Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

“I can’t believe Christmas is over,” my dejected daughter said.

I know how she feels: The aftermath of Christmas can feel dreary. Presents have been opened. The tree and lights must come down. Listless January—and, for many, the need to shed holiday pounds—awaits. Christmas—and the breathless anticipation that comes with it—suddenly feels eons away.

A few years ago, as we were putting Christmas stuff away, I realized: no matter what the calendar says, we’re always one day closer to the next Christmas. It’s become something I say frequently.

But far more important than our temporal celebration of Christmas is the spiritual reality behind it: the salvation Jesus brought into our world and our hope for His return. Scripture talks repeatedly about watching, waiting, and longing for Christ’s second coming. I love what Paul says in Philippians 3:15–21. He contrasts the world’s way of living—with “mind[s] set on earthly things” (v. 19)—with a lifestyle shaped by hope in Jesus’ return: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20).

The reality that our “citizenship is in heaven” changes everything, including what we hope for and how we live. That hope is fortified by the knowledge that with every passing day, we’re indeed one day closer to Jesus’ return.

What are some of the things you hope for in this world? How do you think your hope in Jesus influences and affects the earthly things you long and hope for?

Father, thank You for the hope that I have in Jesus and in His return. When lesser hopes compete for my heart’s affection and attention, help me to lift my eyes to You.

INSIGHT

Paul lived such an exemplary life that he asked the Philippian believers to imitate him—to use him as a model of living the life of a believer in Jesus (Philippians 3:17; see 1 Corinthians 4:16). They were to follow Paul’s mindset and actions. He dared to ask believers to follow his example because he himself had “[followed] the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul’s mindset and actions were that of Jesus’—self-denial, unquestioned obedience, and humble service (Philippians 2:5–11). They were to imitate Paul in his relentless pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness (3:7–14). In fact, the Philippian believers were encouraged not only to imitate Paul, but to imitate any believer whose life was undeniably modeled upon Christ’s (3:17). On the other hand, Paul warns of following the wrong models—those who profess faith but “live as enemies of the cross of Christ”; those who live a worldly and immoral life (vv. 18–19).

By |2021-12-31T03:00:00-05:00December 31st, 2021|
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Better Than Gold

Today's Devotional





[Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. Proverbs 3:18

When gold seeker Edward Jackson set out for California during the Great Gold Rush in the US, his diary entry on May 20, 1849, lamented his grueling wagon journey, marked by disease and death. “O do not leave my bones here,” he wrote. “If possible let them lay at home.” Another gold-seeker named John Walker penned, “It is the most complete lottery that you can imagine . . . . I cannot advise any person to come.”

Walker, in fact, returned home and succeeded at farming, ranching, and state politics. When a family member took Walker’s yellowing letters to the American TV program Antiques Roadshow, they were valued at several thousand dollars. Said the TV host, “So he did get something valuable out of the Gold Rush. The letters.”

Even more, both Walker and Jackson returned home after gaining wisdom that caused them to take hold of a more practical life. Consider these words about wisdom from King Solomon, “Blessed are those who find wisdom . . . . She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her” (Proverbs 3:13, 18). A wise choice is “more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (v. 14)—making wisdom more precious than any earthly desire (v. 15).

“Long life is in her right hand . . . and all her paths are peace” (vv. 16–17). Our challenge, therefore, is to hold tight to wisdom, not shiny wishes. It’s a path God will bless.

What shiny wishes have you been chasing in life? Where could the path of wisdom take you instead?

Heavenly Father, when I’m blinded by the lure of shiny wishes, inspire me to take hold of wiser choices, walking the path of wisdom back to Your blessed peace.

INSIGHT

Many of us believe that more material possessions—or at the very least, fewer financial burdens—will bring us happiness. Solomon, who compiled most of the book of Proverbs, understood that such happiness is fleeting. What good is great wealth if we squander it? How much better to have wisdom! By wisdom we can learn how to better manage what we have, how to navigate the relational conflicts we face, and what the true source of fulfillment is.

But what’s wisdom and where do we find it? Our search takes us to the Source of all wisdom. The first chapter of Proverbs tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). Solomon echoes this later in the book when he tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10).

By |2021-12-30T08:06:03-05:00December 30th, 2021|
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Lion, Lamb, Savior!

Today's Devotional





The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. Revelation 5:5

Two stately stone lions watch over the entrance to the New York Public Library. Hewn from marble, they’ve stood there proudly since the library’s dedication in 1911. They were first nicknamed Leo Lenox and Leo Astor to honor the library’s founders. But during the Great Depression, New York’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia renamed them Fortitude and Patience, virtues he thought New Yorkers should demonstrate in those challenging years. The lions are still called Fortitude and Patience today.

The Bible describes a living, powerful Lion who also gives encouragement in trouble and is known by other names. In his vision of heaven, the apostle John wept when he saw that no one was able to open the sealed scroll containing God’s plan of judgment and redemption. Then John was told, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah . . . has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5).

Yet in the very next verse, John describes something else entirely: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” (v. 6). The Lion and the Lamb are the same person: Jesus. He’s the conquering King and “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Through His strength and His cross, we receive mercy and forgiveness so that we may live in joy and wonder at all He is forever!

What’s your favorite name for Jesus? What aspects of His character make you want to praise Him most?

Beautiful Savior, I could praise You for all eternity and never come to the end of all that You are. Thank You for giving Yourself for me, so that I may live in Your love forever!

INSIGHT

In Revelation 5:1–7, we see Jesus depicted as both a lion and a lamb, seemingly polar opposites. Yet in Jesus, they’re not. He’s a Lion to conquer Satan (Revelation 20:10) and a Lamb to satisfy God’s justice by being sacrificed for our sins (John 1:29). And He’s no ordinary lamb. Though slain, this Lamb is still standing, bearing the wounds of His sacrifice, and He has seven horns and seven eyes (Revelation 5:6). Commentator Matthew Henry states that this series of seven (the perfect number) signifies “perfect power to execute all the will of God and perfect wisdom to understand it all and to do it in the most effectual manner.” Why? Because He has seven spirits of God: “He has received the Holy Spirit without measure, in all perfection of light, and life, and power, by which he is able to teach and rule all the earth.”

By |2021-12-29T08:06:05-05:00December 29th, 2021|
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Great Wisdom

Today's Devotional





Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear. Jude 1:22–23

“The shepherd needs great wisdom and a thousand eyes,” wrote the beloved church father John Chrysostom, “to examine the soul’s condition from every angle.” Chrysostom wrote these words as part of a discussion on the complexity of caring well for others spiritually. Since it’s impossible to force anyone to heal, he emphasized, reaching others’ hearts requires great empathy and compassion.

But that doesn’t mean never causing pain, Chrysostom cautioned, because “if you behave too leniently to one who needs deep surgery, and do not make a deep incision in one who requires it, you mutilate yet miss the cancer. But if you make the needed incision without mercy, often the patient, in despair at his sufferings, throws all aside . . . and promptly throws himself over a cliff.”

There’s a similar complexity in how Jude describes responding to those led astray by false teachers, whose behavior he describes starkly (1:12–13, 18–19). Yet when Jude turns to how to respond to such grave threats, he doesn’t suggest reacting with harsh anger.

Instead, he taught that believers should respond to threats by rooting themselves even more deeply in God’s love (vv. 20–21). For it’s only when we’re deeply anchored in God’s unchanging love that we can find the wisdom to help others with appropriate urgency, humility, and compassion (vv. 22–23)—the way most likely to help them find healing and rest in God’s boundless love.

Why is it crucial to “[build yourself] up . . . in the Holy Spirit” (v. 20) before you respond to perceived threats? What examples have you seen of great wisdom and compassion used in helping someone in great pain?

God of love, when I’m faced with evil and hate, help me not to respond in kind but anchor myself in Your love. 

INSIGHT

Written by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, the book of Jude opens and closes with a charge or calling for believers to stand firmly in their faith (“contend for the faith,” v. 3). They are to build themselves up in “most holy faith” (v. 20). The context of Jude’s concern is false teachers whose primary failure is an ungodly way of life. The false teachers are unapologetic about their immoral choices, using the truth of God’s grace as “a license for immorality” (v. 4). Speaking to an audience presumably familiar with Jewish Scriptures, Jude recounts cautionary tales of the consequences of an immoral lifestyle, drawing from both Hebrew Scriptures and the book of 1 Enoch (vv. 14–15). First Enoch, while not part of our scriptural canon, would have been held in high regard by a Jewish audience.

By |2021-12-28T08:06:02-05:00December 28th, 2021|
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God’s Right Hand

Today's Devotional





I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

I helped my elderly dog, Wilson, out to the grass and in the process, I released the leash of our younger dog, Coach, for just a minute. As I bent to pick up Coach’s lead, he spied a bunny. Off he went, ripping the leash from my right hand and corkscrewing my ring finger in the process. I fell to the grass and cried out in pain.

After returning from urgent care and learning I’d need surgery, I begged God for help. “I’m a writer! How will I type? What about my daily duties?” As God sometimes does, He spoke to me from my daily Bible reading. “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13). I scanned the context, which indicated that God’s people in Judah, to whom Isaiah was communicating His message, enjoyed a special relationship with Him. He promised His presence, strength, and help through His own righteous standing, symbolized by His right hand (v. 10). Elsewhere in Scripture, God’s right hand is used to secure victories for His people (Psalm 17:7; 98:1).

During my weeks of recovery, I experienced encouragement from God as I learned to dictate on my computer and trained my left hand in household and grooming functions. From God’s righteous right hand to our broken and needy right hands, God promises to be with us and to help us.

How do you need God’s help today? How have you experienced His help in the past?

Healing God, I need Your help! Please use Your righteous right hand to take hold of my broken, weary hands and help me, I pray.

INSIGHT

Isaiah, whose name means “the Lord saves,” prophesied for about fifty years (740–685 bc). He warned an unrepentant, idolatrous Judah that God would use the Assyrians and the Babylonians to discipline her for her covenantal unfaithfulness (chs. 1–39). But Isaiah also speaks of God’s grace for those who repent and a future glorious restoration (chs. 11; 40–66). In Isaiah 41:8–13, God reminds His people that they have a special relationship with Him—they’ve been sovereignly “chosen” to be “his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6–8); they’re “the apple of his eye” (32:10). They were the descendants of Abraham, whom God affectionately called “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8). Only Abraham and Moses (Exodus 33:11) were privileged to be called God’s friend. Judah is accorded a special status as “my servant” (Isaiah 41:8–9)—the same honorific name given to Moses (Malachi 4:4) and David (1 Kings 11:13).

By |2021-12-27T08:06:04-05:00December 27th, 2021|
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Timely Resolution

Today's Devotional





Settle matters quickly with your adversary. Matthew 5:25

The unresolved hurt between Simon and Geoffrey had persisted for years, and Simon’s attempts to reenter the relationship had been resisted. Upon hearing the news of the death of Geoffrey’s mother, Simon traveled “up country” in Kenya to attend her funeral service. Simon reflected on their encounter: “I had no expectations at all in terms of how the whole thing would turn out, [but] after the service, we opened up and had a fruitful talk. We hugged, shared the moment, prayed together, and planned to meet again.” If only Simon and Geoffrey had been able to reconcile earlier, so much ongoing pain could have been avoided.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 5:21–26 help to put unresolved relational tensions in perspective. The anger that can lead to such rifts is a serious matter (v. 22). Furthermore, getting things in order relationally is a fitting prelude to worshiping God (vv. 23–24). The wise words of Jesus to “settle matters quickly with your adversary” (v. 25) remind us that the sooner we do what we can to work toward reconciliation the better for all.

Relationships are risky; they demand work—in our families, in the workplace, in educational settings, and among people who share our faith in Christ. But as those who represent Him, the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), may we find ourselves going out of our way to extend our hearts and hands to those with whom we have unresolved conflict.

Who comes to mind when you think of someone you need to reach out to so that relational healing might begin? What’s keeping you from doing so?

Father, You know where the relational fissures are in my life. Forgive me for my slowness to attempt resolution. Give me the strength to take the next steps.

INSIGHT

The Greek word translated “quickly” in Matthew 5:25 (“settle matters quickly”) is takh-oo. This adverb means “speedily,” “shortly,” “with haste,” “without delay.” The noun form is included in the root of the word tachometer, an instrument that measures speed. Jesus commanded His disciples to make things right with others as soon as possible. He wasn’t alone in teaching this principle. Paul wrote, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26–27). Similarly, the author of Hebrews wrote, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone . . . . See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14–15).

By |2021-12-26T08:06:03-05:00December 26th, 2021|
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Christmas Child

Today's Devotional





He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:7

Imagine the One who made cedars spring from seeds starting life over as an embryo; the One who made the stars submitting Himself to a womb; the One who fills the heavens becoming what would be in our day a mere dot on an ultrasound. Jesus, in very nature God, making Himself nothing (Philippians 2:6–7). What an astonishing thought!

Imagine the scene as He’s born in a plain peasant village, among shepherds and angels and bright lights in the sky, with the bleating of animals His first lullabies. Watch as He grows in favor and stature: as a youngster, astounding teachers with answers to grand questions; as a young man at the Jordan, getting His Father’s approval from heaven; and in the wilderness, as He wrestles in hunger and prayer.

Watch next as He launches His world-changing mission—healing the sick, touching lepers, forgiving the impure. Watch as He kneels in a garden in anguish and as they arrest Him while His closest friends flee. Watch as He is spat on and nailed to two wooden posts, the world’s sins on His shoulders. But watch, yes watch, as the stone rolls away, an empty tomb ringing hollow, because He is alive!

Watch as He is lifted to the highest place (v. 9). Watch as His name fills heaven and earth (vv. 10–11).

This Maker of the stars who became a dot on an ultrasound. This, our Christmas Child.

What would life and history be like had Jesus never been born? What prayer or poem can you offer God to thank Him?

Jesus, thank You for making Yourself nothing so I could be forgiven.

INSIGHT

Along with Jesus’ ultimate and horrific sacrifice of death on the cross to pay the debt we owed for our sins (Philippians 2:8), Jesus also sacrificed by coming to earth as a man. Why was this a sacrifice? Philippians 2:7 says, “he made himself nothing.” Although still God (and possessing His attributes, such as omniscience and omnipotence), Jesus didn’t cling to the privileges of deity. Instead, He gave them up (including heavenly communion with the Father) to become a man subject to pain, suffering, temptation, thirst, hunger, and a need for sleep. And though He could have come as a king with a palace full of servants, He instead was born to a poor couple in a lowly manger. He suffered pain, betrayal, and desertion; He humbly served as a healer and teacher; and He was obedient to God—even to death—so that we could be reconciled to Him (Romans 3:23–26).

By |2021-12-25T08:06:04-05:00December 25th, 2021|
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The Prince of Peace

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And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

When John’s cold turned into pneumonia, he ended up in the hospital. At the same time, his mother was being treated for cancer a few floors above him, and he felt overwhelmed with worries about her and about his own health. Then on Christmas Eve, when the radio played the carol “O Holy Night,” John was flooded with a deep sense of God’s peace. He listened to the words about it being the night of the dear Savior’s birth: “A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” In that moment, his worries about himself and his mother vanished.

This “dear Savior” born to us, Jesus, is the “Prince of Peace,” as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He came to earth as a baby, bringing light and salvation to “those living in the land of the shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16; see Isaiah 9:2). He embodies and gives peace to those He loves, even when they face hardship and death.

There in the hospital, John experienced the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) as he pondered the birth of Jesus. This encounter with God strengthened his faith and sense of gratitude as he lay in that sterile room away from his family at Christmas. May we too receive God’s gift of peace and hope.

How have you experienced God’s peace in the midst of a difficult situation? Which aspect of God in Isaiah 9:6 do you most need today? Why?

God of peace, when I’m anxious and fretting about many things, help me to turn to You and receive Your gift of peace.

INSIGHT

The prophet Isaiah lived during the reign of four kings of Judah—Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah—around 740 years before Jesus’ birth. According to tradition, Isaiah was sawn in half, and thus many believe Hebrews 11:37 refers to him. In Isaiah’s beautiful prophecy of the coming Messiah, this child to be born (God incarnate) would be called the “Prince of Peace” (9:6). Elsewhere, Isaiah offers a glimpse of the peace He’ll bring (11:1–9; 65:25). Jesus, the Prince of Peace, will usher in this peace with His second coming and millennial reign, and “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” (9:7; Revelation 11:15).

By |2021-12-24T08:06:04-05:00December 24th, 2021|
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How They’ll Know

Today's Devotional





The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:26

“The Gathering” in northern Thailand is an interdenominational, international church. On a recent Sunday, believers in Jesus from Korea, Ghana, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, the US, the Philippines, and other countries came together in a humble, thread-worn hotel conference room. They sang “In Christ Alone” and “I Am a Child of God,” lyrics that were especially poignant in that setting.

No one brings people together like Jesus does. He’s been doing it from the start. In the first century, Antioch contained eighteen different ethnic groups, each living in its own part of the city. When believers first came to Antioch, they spread the word about Jesus “only among Jews” (Acts 11:19). That wasn’t God’s plan for the church, however. Others soon came who “began to speak to Greeks [gentiles] also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (vv. 20–21). People in the city noticed that Jesus was healing centuries of animosity between Jews and Greeks, and they declared this multi-ethnic church should be called “Christians,” or “little Christs” (v. 26).

It can be challenging for us to reach across ethnic, social, and economic boundaries to embrace those different from us. But this difficulty is our opportunity. If it wasn’t hard, we wouldn’t need Jesus to do it. And few would notice we’re following Him.

Why is it challenging to reach out to those who are different from you? What has Jesus provided to help you do so?

Jesus, may they know I’m a Christian by Your love.

INSIGHT

The disciples mentioned in Acts 11 weren’t Jewish. And it was these believers in Jesus whom the secular Greeks chose to label “Christians.” It’s possible that the term was used flippantly, to dismiss their faith as just another political party like the Augustinians (patriots of Nero) or Pompeians (loyalists to the Roman general Pompey). But the new believers embraced their title anyway.

The new name, however, also came with risks. Early believers had enjoyed religious protection under Roman law because the rulers believed they were just another sect of Judaism. But now as non-Jews joined, the secular world saw believers in Jesus as unique, which jeopardized the believers’ “safe” status. Jews were protected, Christians were not—as Paul and the apostles would later find out. The term “Christian” brought people together, but it also put a target on their collective back.

By |2021-12-23T08:06:03-05:00December 23rd, 2021|
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Virtual Presence

Today's Devotional





Though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit. Colossians 2:5

As the novel coronavirus marched across the globe, health experts advised increased physical distance between people as a means to slow the spread. Many countries asked their citizens to self-quarantine or shelter in place. Organizations sent employees home to work remotely if they could, while others suffered a financially debilitating loss of employment. Like others, I participated in church and small-group meetings through digital platforms. As a world, we practiced new forms of togetherness despite being physically disconnected.

It isn’t just the internet that lets us maintain a sense of connection. We connect to one another as members of the body of Christ through the Spirit. Paul expressed this notion centuries ago in his letter to the Colossians. Though he hadn’t personally founded their church, he cared deeply for them and their faith. And even though Paul couldn’t be with them in person, he reminded them that he was “present with [them] in spirit” (Colossians 2:5).  

We can’t always be with those we love for financial, health, or other practical reasons, and technology can help fill that gap. Yet any form of virtual connection pales in comparison to the “togetherness” we can experience as fellow members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). In such moments, we can, like Paul, rejoice in one another’s firmness of faith and, through prayer, encourage each other to fully “know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Colossians 2:2).

How have you experienced a sense of connection with other members of the body of Christ? Who needs your prayers of encouragement today?

Jesus, thank You for being with me even when no other person can be physically present. Thank You for the connection You give me to others through the Holy Spirit.

INSIGHT

The significance of Paul’s relationship with the believers in Jesus in Colossae is noted in his word choices: “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea” (Colossians 2:1). The words “how hard I am contending” are a translation of hēlíkos, “how great” (see also James 3:5), and agṓn, a place where people assembled “to celebrate solemn games.” Figuratively, agṓn referred to the contests, fights, and races that took place there. Paul used this word in 2 Timothy 4:7, where it’s translated as “fight”: “I have fought the good fight.” Though Paul was in prison (or under house arrest), that didn’t diminish his concern for the spiritual well-being of the Colossian believers. His prayers for them were constant (Colossians 1:3, 9), and his teaching was meant to help them battle the spiritual forces that lurked among them to turn them away from the supremacy of Christ (2:8–23).

By |2021-12-22T08:06:03-05:00December 22nd, 2021|
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