1/14/16 “Family Reunions” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 45-47).

“So Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; and he presented himself to him, and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die, since I have seen your face, because you are still alive’ ” (Genesis 46:29-30).

How do you feel about going to family reunions? Unless there is some kind of abuse or dysfunction going on in the family, many of us enjoy being reunited with our loved ones at such events.

A wonderful family reunion we read about in the Scriptures is when Jacob, his sons, and his sons family’s travel to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph. Jacob’s family was far from perfect. There was dysfunction going on as Jacob had loved Joseph more than his other children (Genesis 37:3). This led to his other children hating Joseph (Genesis 37:4). His others sons later sold Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:28) and lied to Jacob by deceiving him into thinking Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:31-33). This brought about great heartache for Jacob who for years bore the pain of thinking his beloved Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:34-35; cf. 42:4; 43:14).

However, Joseph himself had done much to help heal the dysfunction in his family by practicing forgiveness. When he was managing the famine that was happening in that region of the world by dispersing the grain that was still in Egypt (cf. Genesis 41:56-57), his brothers had come to him seeking grain (Genesis 42:3-6). After testing them (Genesis 42:15-45:4), Joseph reveals himself to them, and says, ‘But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life’ ” (Genesis 45:5; cf. 50:20). He had let go of the pain of the hurt they had caused him and had looked up to God and saw how God was working in his life to do good. Joseph realized one has to let go of the pain of the hurt caused them by others before healing can take place. This comes by practicing forgiveness towards those who hurt us.

After initially revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph sends them back to bring their father Jacob to Egypt (Genesis 45:9-13). Can you imagine how Jacob must have felt upon hearing the news Joseph was alive? The Scriptures say that when he heard this news his heart stood still (Genesis 45:26). Jacob gathers all the family, some 66 persons in all (Genesis 46:5-25, 26) and heads to Egypt. Joseph gathers the 4 people in his family including himself to meet them (Genesis 46:27). As the opening verses above show, when Joseph and Jacob see each other again, they embrace and weep in a joy-filled family reunion.

No matter what kind of dysfunction or pain we main have in our physical families, it is important to remember that as Christians we have a spiritual family in the church. The church is filled with our brothers and sisters in Christ. By remaining faithful to Christ, we can look forward to spending eternity with all of them in heaven. However, just as in any family, the church is not perfect. At times, we hurt each other and we must practice forgiveness for healing to take place (Ephesians 4:32). I rejoice that God has given me a spiritual family in the church. I will do my part to help my spiritual family function in a healthy way by loving them, practicing forgiveness, and looking forward and assembling at the family reunions we have on this earth as we meet each week to worship God!

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

1/13/16 “Behind the Scenes, God Is at Work” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 41-44)

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you’ ” (Genesis 41:39-40).

When you are experiencing challenging trials in your life, have you ever wondered what God is doing to help? Is He doing anything or just letting you endure your challenges all by yourself?

During such times, if you have questioned how God is acting on your behalf, you are not alone. For example, King David stated, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2). It is understandable for us as humans, who have limitations in our understanding of all things, to wonder what God is doing to help us?

Joseph experienced challenging trials in his life. He had been sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37:28). Later, he is cast into prison after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:20). Again, he is forgotten by the chief butler, whose dream he had interpreted, as the chief butler fails to mention his name to Pharaoh to request that he consider Joseph’s case (Genesis 40:14-15, 23). As Joseph continues to faithfully serve God and honor Him by his godly living, Joseph must have questioned: “God, what are you doing to help me and why am I suffering all of this?”

However, even though he did not necessarily know what good God was going to accomplish through the trials Joseph was enduring, it appears Joseph was aware that God’s blessings were upon him. After all, he had gained initially gained great favor in Potiphar’s house (Genesis 39:2-5). He had even gained favor in the eyes of the keeper of the prison who committed to Joseph’s hand the well-being of the prisoners (Genesis 39:21-23). I imagine Joseph knew God was at work on his behalf, but was puzzled as he thought: “What exactly is God trying to accomplish in my life?”

Two years after he had interpreted the chief butlers dream (Genesis 41:1), as Joseph was trying to put the pieces of this puzzle together, he receives word that he needs to get cleaned up, shaved, and put on some new clothes. He is being called up to see Pharaoh (Genesis 41:14). Pharaoh had a dream and he had heard that Joseph could interpret it (Genesis 41:1-13). Joseph stands before Pharaoh, interprets the dream about the upcoming famine, and advises Pharaoh on how to prepare for it (Genesis 41:15-37). The pieces of the puzzle of how God was using these trials Joseph was enduring to accomplish some good, must have begun to come in place in Joseph’s mind, when, as the opening verses above indicate, Pharaoh tells Joseph he will make him ruler over Egypt to prepare for this famine (Genesis 41:39-40). In fact, later, when Joseph’s brothers stand before him and he reveals himself to his brother, Joseph says to them, “And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).

The account of how God worked in Joseph’s life reminds me God is accomplishing His Will in my life as well, even though I may not know all He is doing. Today, as I endure whatever challenges or trials that may come my way, I will remember that behind the scenes of what I see, God is at work!

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

1/12/16 “Remaining Faithful in the Midst of Great Trials” Daily Bible Reading (Genesis 37-40)

“Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt” (Genesis 37:28).

James writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). Do you enjoy going through trials? Many times, I find I can look back on the trials through which I have gone and see how God has helped me through them and helped me grow because I went through them; but, I don’t always handle things so well in the midst of the particular trials through which I am going.

Joseph, the 11th son of the Patriarch Jacob, endured some great trials in his life. As the opening passage above indicates, he was sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37:28). He had experienced great anguish in his soul and pleaded with his brothers not to do this to him (Genesis 42:21). Another trial he faced was being cast into prison following a false accusation made against him by Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:20). He faced these trials with no family to support or encourage him. How did Joseph show his faithfulness to God while he was in the midst of suffering great trials?

First, Joseph honored God by his godly living. When Joseph arrived in slavery in Egypt, he was sold to an officer of Pharaoh named Potiphar (Genesis 37:36). We have no indication that Joseph wallowed in self-pity as he found himself in these horrific circumstances. He didn’t blame God saying, “God why are you letting this happen to me?” Instead, Joseph just continues to honor God by serving faithfully in whatever capacity he finds himself. In fact, he serves Potiphar so well that Potiphar makes him master of his house (Genesis 39:1-4). Later, after being thrown in prison for a crime he did not commit, Joseph doesn’t give up in discouragement or dwell on protesting his innocence. Instead, he again honors God by his service (Genesis 39:22-23). Because Joseph honored God by his godly living, God blessed him and was with Joseph in all he did (Genesis 39:2, 5, 21, 23). Joseph did not let the terrible circumstances in which he found himself to dictate whether or not he would remain faithful to God.

A second way in which Joseph showed his faithfulness to God was by his fleeing temptation. While in charge of Potiphar’s house, Potiphar’s wife tempts Joseph to commit sexual immorality (Genesis 38:7). She did not do this just once, but on a daily basis (Genesis 38:10). When one considers all he had endured, it must have been tempting for Joseph to want to find comfort in her arms. However, his commitment to remain faithful to God was far greater than any desire to give into this temptation. Notice his response: “But he refused and said to his master's wife, ‘Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ ” (Genesis 39:8-9). Joseph did not believe the trials he suffered gave him an excuse to cave into temptation.

I admit it is difficult to count trials a joy as I am going through them. I know I need to grow in this area and learn to do this. I find great encouragement from Joseph that it can be done! I refuse to allow the trials I face to cause me to give into temptation or dishonor God by ungodly living. Today, I will strive to follow Joseph’s godly example of how to remain faithful to God even in the midst of great trials!

“For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 1:19-20).

1/11/16 “Letting Go of the Pain by Practicing Forgiveness” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 33-36)

“Then he crossed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4).

When you have been hurt by someone, how long do you choose to hold onto that pain? Do you dwell upon the hurt or do you choose to let the pain go by forgiving them or desiring to forgive them?

As Jacob returns back to Canaan, having spent 20 years in Padan Aram (Genesis 28:6; 31:38, 41), there were many thoughts in his mind. One of the main thoughts on his mind was how was his brother Esau going to react to seeing him? When Jacob had left Canaan, he was fleeing for his life because Esau wanted to kill him for Jacob’s having hurt him by coercing him to sell his birthright and for deceiving his father Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob instead of him (Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-29; 41). As he travels back to his homeland, Jacob becomes pained in his heart with worry because he hears reports of Esau coming to meet him with 400 of his men (Genesis 32:6). It is easy to understand why Jacob would assume that Esau had ill motives for doing this.

There must have been a lot of thoughts on Esau’s mind as well. Esau and Jacob had been twins. Since their time in the womb of their mother Rebekah they had been struggling against each other (cf. Genesis 25:21-23). Even as Rebekah gave birth, as Esau came out of the womb first, his brother Jacob was grabbing hold of his heel (Genesis 25:24-26). Growing up, Esau and Jacob experienced their parents showing favoritism towards each of them: Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob (Genesis 25:27-28). Not only had Esau experienced the pain of parental favoritism, but then Jacob added to his brothers pain by refusing to let him have some food unless Esau sold him his birthright and, later, by robbing him of Isaac’s blessing through deception (Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-29). These brothers, Esau and Jacob, had taken the idea of “sibling rivalry” to the extreme!

All the pain of Esau’s rivalry with Jacob culminated following Jacob’s robbing Esau of Isaac’s blessing: “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob’ ” (Genesis 27:41). It is interesting that his mother Rebekah understood Esau “comforted” himself from the pain he felt at having been hurt by Jacob by having thoughts of revenge against and wanting to kill his brother (Genesis 27:42). Isaac and Rebekah send Jacob away to Rebekah’s brother Laban in Padan Aram. Their intent was to send him there for just a few days till Esau’s wrath subsided. What they thought would be a few days turned out to be 20 years (cf. Genesis 27:43-46; 31:38)!

As the opening verses above show, when Jacob and Esau meet again (Genesis 33:1-2), Esau forgives Jacob (Genesis 33:3-4). Esau is not typically depicted as an honorable character in the Bible. His descendants would be enemies of Jacob’s descendants for years to come. But in this instance, Esau demonstrates the forgiveness we should strive to practice towards those who hurt us.

May it not take me 20 years to let go of the pain others have caused me. Like Jacob, I have caused pain to others. I need to be forgiven. I have been blessed to experience God’s forgiveness of me. Today, I refuse to “comfort” myself by thoughts of revenge against those who have hurt me. Instead, I strive to “comfort” myself by letting go of the pain others have caused me by practicing forgiveness.

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

1/10/16 “Wrestling with God and Our Anxieties” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 30-32)

“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’ So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’ And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed’ ”  (Genesis 32:24-28).

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (i.e. 18% of U.S. population, http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics). While all “feelings” of anxiety should not be classified as a “disorder”, as a society, many of us struggle with anxiety. Do you fight with having anxiety? How do you cope with it?

As Jacob journeys back to his homeland of Canaan, Jacob had some concerns that weighed on his heart. When he had left his parents 20 years earlier, it was because his brother Esau had hated him for his having stolen both Esau’s birthright and blessing. Esau had wanted to kill Jacob (cf. Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-29; 41). Jacob battled with anxiety regarding how Esau would receive him now.

As he heads home, Jacob discovers that Esau was coming to meet him with over 400 men (Genesis 32:6)! He is scared (Genesis 32:7). What should he do? First, he devises his own plan as divides the people and the animals that were with him into two companies. With a scarcity mentality, it appears he thought: “If Esau attacked the one, then at least the other company could escape to live on” (Genesis 32:7-8). In addition, to his credit, Jacob calls upon God in prayer, clinging to the promises God had made to bless him, and asking God to deliver him from Esau (Genesis 32:9-12). Moreover, after sleeping with racing thoughts running through his head of Esau coming to attack him, Jacob comes up with another plan to solve his worries about Esau: He sends droves of animals which he has acquired ahead of him by the hands of his servants as gifts to Esau (Genesis 32:13-21).

However, Jacob’s worries have not left his heart in spite of all his efforts. He is still uncertain of how Esau will react to his coming home to Canaan. As the opening verses above indicate, after sending his family over the ford of Jabbok (Genesis 31:22-23), Jacob engages in an all-night wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:24-24; cf. Hosea 12:4). Jacob cries out for God’s blessing and receives it. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel meaning “Prince with God” (Genesis 32:25-28). God blesses Jacob once again and Jacob continues on his journey with a limp in his walk from his wrestling match, but peace in his heart as he is assured of God’s blessing (Genesis 32:29-32).

I can certainly relate to Jacob. Many times over my life I had been had to battle with my fears and anxieties. Sometimes, like Jacob, I have futility tried to use worldly tactics to overcome my fears. At other times, I have tried to figuratively wrestle with God (e.g. by blaming Him or doubting Him). Somehow, God puts up with me! While it is better if I just submit to God and His Will, I believe God knows there are times where, in vain, I will attempt to wrestle with Him. God is willing to endure me in this so I can learn about my own foolishness. I praise God who is so longsuffering in dealing with me. Today, I will seek to cast my anxieties upon God instead of trying to wrestle with Him!

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

1/9/16 “Perfecting My Imperfect Faith” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 27-29)

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’” (Gen. 28:20-22)

How do you feel about your faith in God? When you read about some of the great men and women of faith in the Bible such as Abraham and Sarah, do you come away thinking, “I wish I had that much faith in God”? Do you sometimes wonder whether or not your faith in God will grow?

In the Old Testament, Jacob, like Peter in the New Testament, is one of my favorite Bible characters. He grew up in a dysfunctional family where his parents Isaac and Rebekah each had their favorite child (cf. Genesis 25:28). He grew up letting sin dominate his life. For example, he coerced his brother Isaac into selling him his birthright (Genesis 25:33-34). Furthermore, later, he worked together with his mother Rebekah to deceive his father Isaac into blessing him with the blessing his father intended to give to his brother Esau (Genesis 27:1-29). Jacob’s sin caught up with him and he was forced to leave home to escape the wrath of his brother Esau (Genesis 27:41-28:5).

Can you imagine how you would have felt if you were in Jacob’s shoes at this point in his life. He is leaving home all alone on a journey having no idea what will become of him. There were no loved ones to offer him support. He must have felt very alone and scared. However, he is in a perfect position for God to start working on him. As Jacob sleeps on his way to his uncle’s house in Haran, in a dream God shows him a vision of a ladder stretching up to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. God tells Jacob He will bless him (Genesis 28:10-15). As the opening verses above show, Jacob makes a vow and begins to place his faith and trust in God (Genesis 28:20-22).

His faith in God at this point is far from perfect. His statement above almost seems like he is trying to bargain with God. Moreover, later, when he returns back home, he is scared to see his brother Esau and tries to pacify Esau with lots of gifts (cf. Genesis 32:13-20). However, this decision of Jacob, to turn to God in faith during a time on His journey to Haran to see his uncle, when he felt so desperate he did not know where else to turn, was a starting place. God would take him from this starting place and help Jacob to develop a much deeper faith in God. Later in his life Jacob as he tells his son Joseph that his offspring would face their own challenges in the land of Egypt, Jacob would say, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers” (Genesis 48:21). His confidence and faith in God’s power had grown over the course of his life.

Like Jacob there have been multiple times in my life where I have made a terrible mess of things by my own sin and poor choices. I have felt feelings of desperation being uncertain of where to turn. I thank God for His great faithfulness because I can always turn to Him. He is my Rock! Like Jacob, although my faith is not always perfect, I rejoice that God is willing to work on me to have me grow and develop a greater faith in Him. It is a great blessing to live a life of faith in God. Like Jacob let God work on you to help you develop a greater faith in Him. Continue to turn to God in faith!

“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:4-7).

1/8/16 “Involving God in Our Decisions” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 24-26)

“So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, ‘Please, put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac’ ” (Genesis 24:2-4).

How do you go about making the decisions in your life? Do you gather the information, weigh the pros and cons of possible choices, and then make your decision? In decision making, what role should God play and how do we go about showing our trust in Him to be a part of those decisions?

Following the death of his beloved wife Sarah, Abraham is concerned about finding a wife for his son Isaac. In those days parents took a very active role in selecting a mate for their children. As the opening verses above indicate, having been blessed with a wonderful godly mate himself, Abraham wanted to make sure that such a wife was found for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:2-4).

Abraham knew such a woman was not going to be found in the land where he was. Looking for love in the land of Canaan would be looking for love in all the wrong places. It was a land full of wicked people God would eventually destroy as He passed judgment upon them (cf. Genesis 15:15-16). Abraham trusts that God will provide a wife for his son from among his people as he tells his servant, “He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there” (Genesis 24:7). Abraham did not know HOW God would accomplish providing a wife for his son Isaac, but he did TRUST that God would. In FAITH he sends his servant back to his homeland to find Isaac a wife.

Abraham’s servant heads to Abraham’s homeland unsure of how he is going to be able to find Isaac a wife (cf. Genesis 24:5). He comes to the city of Nahor, the place from which Abraham’s family was (Genesis 24:10). As he is situated by a well outside the city, he offers up a prayer in faith to God: “"O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, 'Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,' and she says, 'Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink'--let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master” (Genesis 24:12-14). The servant looked to God for guidance in this decision.

Before he finishes speaking, God answers his prayer. Rebekah comes out gives him a drink of water and waters the camels as well (Genesis 24:15-19). Abraham’s servant rejoices and worships the Lord as he sees she is the wife which God has provided for Isaac (Genesis 24:21-27). The servant explains all to Rebekah’s family (Genesis 24:28-48), asks and gains permission to take Rebekah back to Isaac to be married to him (Genesis 24:29-61), and brings her to Isaac (Genesis 24:62-67).

Having a blessed life involves making good choices. However, making those choices involves much more than simply gathering information and weighing out the pros and cons of the different options available. We must involve God in our decisions and let Him play a major role in them. Even though we don’t know how He will act, we must go to Him in prayer trusting in His ability and His timetable to guide us through the choices before us. I rejoice that God is willing to play an active role in the decisions before me. Today, I will seek God’s guidance in the choices which are before me!

“There are many plans in a man's heart, Nevertheless the Lord's counsel--that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).

1/7/16 “God Has Made Me Laugh” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 21-23)

“Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me’ ” (Genesis 21:5-6).

A comedian once said, “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it”. The author Victor Hugo stated, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face”. Laughter has an important role to play in our lives.

However, how many of us make it a point to take time to laugh? Do we take time to think upon God working in our lives, blessing us, and causing us to laugh because of the joy He has brought us? Jesus wants us to have joy. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Our Lord wants us to “be of good cheer”!

Abraham and Sarah had a very strong desire to have a child together (cf. Genesis 15:2-4; 16:1-2). As the years of their marriage went by, the pain of being childless weighed on their hearts. Their hearts ached with grief as they saw other couples having children, but they had none. Frustrated, they had come up with schemes of their own, such as trying Abraham having a child through Sarah’s handmaid Hagar (Genesis 16:1-6) that had created even more problems for them. Later in their lives, as they continue to struggle with their faith in God, both Sarah and Abraham laugh when God reminded them that He would give them a child (Genesis 17:17-18; 18:10-15).Yet, they continued to place their faith in God that one day God would bless them with a child (Hebrews 11:11).

However, as the opening verses above describe, after Isaac was born, Sarah laughs again (Genesis 21:5-6). This is not a laugh filled with doubt. Rather, it is a laugh filled with faith and rejoicing that God had brought a precious child into their lives. All the pain that had been bottled deep down in Sarah’s heart over not having a baby for which to love and care, was released in an expression of great joy and she says, “God has made me laugh” (Genesis 21:6).

It is important for us to think on ways in which God makes us laugh because of the joy He has brought into our lives through His blessings. There are many trials and problems in the world. There always will be. Jesus told us there will always be tribulations (John 16:33). But He also said, He wants us to be of “good cheer” as we face these (John 16:33). So much of life is on what we choose to set our minds. Paul reminds us to think on the right things: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

There are many things about which we can choose to laugh regarding the joy God has brought to us. We can laugh at the beauty of a sunrise, the blessing of our loved ones that God has brought into lives, and, certainly, the grace God has shown us in saving us from our sins through His beloved Son (John 3:16). Today, I will not allow tribulations of this world to weigh down my heart with pain, but I choose to meditate on the joy God has brought into my life and how He makes me to laugh!

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:6)!

1/6/16 “The Power of Ungodly Influence” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 18-20)

“But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26).

If I am a strong Christian, shouldn’t I be able to handle any situation in which I find myself and not be influenced by the surroundings in which I am? Do I really need to be concerned about where I go, what I listen to, what I watch on TV, and with whom I associate; or, is this just being legalistic?

The story of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, shows us the power that ungodly influences can have upon our lives and the lives of our family. Abraham and Lot had left their homeland of Haran and came to the land of Canaan, a land which God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit (Genesis 11:31-12:5). God had blessed both Abraham and Lot to such a large degree that they needed to separate from one another so each could find land to support their flocks (Genesis 13:1-6).

Abraham deferred to Lot as to which part of the land he wanted to dwell (Genesis 13:8-9). How did Lot make his choice? In making this important decision, Lot thought about the natural resources the land provided for his livestock (Genesis 13:10-11), but did not consider the influence this area would have upon himself and his family. As Lot pitched his tent near Sodom (Genesis 13:12), we read: “But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13).

As the years passed by, Lot is described as having been a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7). He appears to have become a judge in Sodom (Genesis 19:9). He practiced hospitality to others (cf. Genesis 19:1-3). However, the city of Sodom had become more and more wicked. In fact, its sin had become so great that the outcry over its iniquity had reached God’s ears (Genesis 18:20-21). Furthermore, Lot himself had become “oppressed” by the filthy conduct of the wicked living there (2 Peter 2:7-8). God determined to destroy the city because He could not even find a total of 10 righteous souls living there (Genesis 18:17-18:33; 19:13). Lot is told to get out of the city (Genesis 19:12).

The power the ungodly influence Sodom had upon Lot and his family is first seen in their reactions to the news to leave Sodom. His sons-in-law refused to take the warning seriously and thought it was a joke (Genesis 19:14). Lot himself lingered at the thought of leaving and the 2 angels who came had to, literally, take his, his wife’s, and his daughter’s hands and bring them outside the city (Genesis 19:15-16). Furthermore, Lot hesitated in going to the mountains to which the angels encouraged him to flee; and, instead, wanted and did turn aside to another city, the city of Zoar (Genesis 19:17-23).

Secondly, the power the ungodly influence Sodom had upon Lot’s family is seen in their actions after leaving the city. After initially leaving the city, as the opening verses above indicate, Lot’s wife turned back to look at the city once again and turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). In addition, Lot’s daughters, now widows following the deaths of their husbands who perished in Sodom, go into the mountains with their father, get him drunk, and commit incest with him (Genesis 19:30-38). Where did they get the idea to do such a horrible thing? There can be little doubt that Sodom’s ungodly influence had persuaded them to do such a thing which would forever shame them and their father.

Jesus taught us to pray for God not to lead us into temptation (Matthew 6:13). Both Paul and Peter said God will deliver us from temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Peter 2:9). However, I need to make sure I am not leading myself into temptation by placing myself in situations where I am unduly influenced by ungodliness. Today, I will guard myself against the power of ungodly influences!

“Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

1/5/16 “Waiting for God” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 15-17)

“Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai” (Genesis 16:1-2).

Do you struggle with waiting for God to answer your prayers? Even heroes of faith endured this same challenge. Abram and Sarai were such servants who struggled with patiently waiting on God.

At age 75, Abram, later known as Abraham (Genesis 17:5), had left everything he had known (i.e. his country and his father’s house, Genesis 12:1) and by faith followed God to a land God promised him (Genesis 12:2-3). God told him He would make of him a great nation; yet, at this point in his life, Abram did not have even a single child. For years Abram follows God, but still has no children. One can hear the pain in Abram’s voice over being childless when he replies to God, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2). Speaking to God, again he adds, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” (Genesis 15:3). It pained Abram and his wife deeply that they had no children.

As He hears Abram expressing his pain to Him, God reassures Abram of the promise which He will fulfill: “And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’ ” (Genesis 15:4-5). To his great credit, Abram once again responds in faith: “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

However, as time goes by, Abram and Sarai continue to struggle with waiting for God to fulfill His promise to them for a child. Roughly 10 years after leaving his homeland, as she loses patience in waiting for the Lord, Sarai decides that, perhaps, God needs some help. As the opening verses above indicate, she encourages Abram to go into her handmaiden Hagar and bear her children through Hagar. Instead of waiting patiently on God, Abram heeds the voice Sarai (Genesis 16:1-2).

Immediately, their impatient plan to try to assist God creates all kinds of problems. Sarai and Hagar begin having problems with one another and Sarai banishes her from the house (Genesis 15:4-6). After Hagar initially leaves this home, the Angel of the Lord intervenes and Hagar returns (Genesis 15:7-13). At age 86, Abram becomes a father to a child, Ishmael, born to him apart from God’s plan for him and his wife Sarai (Genesis 15:15-16). Later, conflict would cause Ishmael and Hagar to ultimately have to leave Abram’s home (Genesis 21:9-14). A lot of innocent people, such as Hagar and Ishmael, got hurt because of the impatience of Abram and Sarai to wait on God.

Waiting on God to answer our prayers can be a great struggle, especially in a day and age where so many expect instant gratification. However, for true spiritual growth and maturity to occur we must develop patience. James writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). We have to let patience have its perfect work by learning to wait on God. Today, as my faith is tested, I will wait patiently on God!

“But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

1/4/16 “Stepping Out on Faith” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 11-14).

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2).

Do you always like doing the same things or do you like to go like experiencing some new ventures? When we look through life through the eye of faith, every day can be a new adventure as we are seeking to grow in our relationship with God and experience how He is at work in our lives.

Following the Great Flood, the death of Noah, and the scattering of the people of the earth after the destruction of the towel at Babel, the next great important Biblical character we come to is Abram, who later will become known to us as Abraham (Genesis 17:5). As the opening verses above indicate, God called Abram on a great adventure (Genesis 12:1-2).

The great adventure God called Abram out on was not an easy one. God called Abram to leave his country, his family, and his father’s house (Genesis 12:1). At the time, Abram was 75 years old (Genesis 12:3).  Abram was in what we might call his “middle age” part of life (i.e. he would live to be 175 years old, Genesis 25:7). By this stage in his life, he was married, financially stable, and probably firmly set in a lot of his habits. In other words, he was comfortable.

God calls him to leave everything and He does not even tell Abram where exactly He is sending him. The Lord only says He is going to take him “to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). What would you do if you were in Abram’s shoes? Would you not want to ask God, “God, where exactly are we going and what can I expect to get when I get there?” Would you not also wander, “God, how am I going to provide for my and myself once I get there?” God doesn’t tell him any of those details.

However, God does make some great promises to Abram. The Lord tells Abram that He will: (1) make of him a great nation, (2) make his name great, and (3) make him to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:2-3). This last promise that in Abram all the families of the earth would be blessed was fulfilled by Christ who came from the lineage of Abram (Galatians 3:16-29).

For these precious promises that God made to Abram to be fulfilled there was something Abram must do. As those of us from the south like to say, he had to “git”. He had to get going on the adventure God had for him. He had to move forward in faith trusting in God’s promises more than allowing the fears of the unknown to overwhelm him. Abram moved out in faith: “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:4-5).

Abram’s adventurous journey with God had its ups and downs. At times he showed great faith in God, at times he did not. However, overall he is commended to us as one of the heroes of faith we should all admire (cf. Hebrews 11:8-10, 17-19). I admire Abram as one of the heroes to whom I look up. Today, like Abram, I will step out on the adventuresome journey God has for me trusting in God’s promises and not allowing the fears of the unknown to overcome me!

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

1/3/16 “The Rainbow Reminder that God keeps His Promises” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 7-10).

It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:14-15).

Peter writes about the importance of the promises God makes: “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4). How can we be sure that God keeps these “great and precious promises”?

The opening verses above were spoken by God to Noah following the great flood that destroyed every living thing upon the earth except Noah and those who were with him in the ark (Genesis 9:13-15). Can you imagine what it must have been like for Noah and his family at that time?

Because the wickedness of man had become exceedingly great (Genesis 6:11-12), God had told Noah to build an ark because He was going to bring a flood upon the earth that would destroy all flesh (Genesis 13-14). It had not even rained on the earth at this time (cf. Genesis 2:4-6). Noah had to trust in God’s promise that the rain would come and to come in such an overwhelming extent that it would flood the entire earth. Furthermore, he had to trust that the ark, whose design God had instructed Noah on how to build (Genesis 6:14-16), would float and be able to withstand this flood.

Noah clung to these promises of God as he, his family, and the animals entered the ark. Moreover, can you imagine what it must have been like for Noah and his family while they were in the ark? The massive downpour of rain and the rising of the flood waters must have been scary to behold. In addition, as the ark rose and was tossed about by the great flood, thoughts of wondering how this would all end must have entered in the hearts and minds of Noah’s family. Yet, they all endured this great trial because they trusted in God’s promises that He would save them (cf. Genesis 6:17-18).

After spending more than a year in the ark (cf. Genesis 7:11; 8:13-14), Noah, his family, and the animals that were with them exit the ark. As he does so, what does Noah do? He acknowledges God by building an altar and worshipping God: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20). Noah rejoiced that God had been faithful to keep all the promises He had made to him.

As God smells the aroma of the sacrifices which Noah had made upon the altar, He makes a promise that He will never again bring a flood to destroy all the earth (Genesis 8:21-22). Moreover, as the opening verses above indicate, He set His rainbow in the clouds so that all men may be forever reminded that God is faithful to keep His promises (Genesis 9:11-17).

Like Noah, we face trials in our lives. As we face these challenges, we must cling to God’s promises. Today, I rejoice because, by the rainbow in the sky, I am reminded that no matter how great the obstacles I have to overcome, I can trust in God because God is faithful to keep His promises.

“Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18).

1/2/16 “Why Has Your Countenance Fallen?” (Daily Bible Reading: Genesis 4-6)

“So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it’ ” (Genesis 4:6-7).

Since the Garden of Eden, man has struggled with the problem of sin (Genesis 3:1-8). Sin is simply the violation of God’s commands to us (1 John 3:4). All have sinned and fell short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). However, how do we react when we are confronted about our sin?

After being driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin of eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:22-24), Adam and Eve have 2 children named Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-2). Cain and Abel in worship offer sacrifices to God. Cain brings a sacrifice of the fruit of the ground, and Abel offers a sacrifice from the firstborn of his flock he was shepherding (Genesis 4:3-4).

God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice, but not with Cain’s (Genesis 4:4-5). Why? Abel offered his sacrifice by faith (i.e. in accordance with God’s commands, Romans 10:17), Cain had not. Later we read, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4). Cain had failed to follow what God had told him to offer in sacrifice to Him.

When Cain learns that God was not pleased with his sacrifice, how does he react? He becomes angry and his countenance falls (Genesis 5:5). In love God tries to encourage Cain. “So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it’ ” (Genesis 4:6-7). God was eager to forgive Cain of the sin he had done, but Cain needed to acknowledge his wrong and repent of it by conforming to God’s Will.

However, how does Cain respond? Instead of humbling himself before God and repenting of his own sin, Cain responds by continuing further in sin by taking his anger out on his younger brother. He murders his own brother: “Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Genesis 4:8).

God knew what Cain had done, even though Cain tried to deceive God saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). God heard Abel’s innocent blood crying to Him (Genesis 4:10). Cain would spend the rest of his life on earth as a fugitive and vagabond (Genesis 4:12). His descendants would become very ungodly and depart even further from God (cf. Lamech, Genesis 4:23-24). Ultimately, his descendants would make up those who perished in the great flood (Genesis 6:12-13).

Sadly, many today, when confronted about the sin they have committed, stubbornly resist God and refuse to repent of their sin. I acknowledge that my own pride can lead me to try to cover up my sin and pretend it is not so bad. In love God reaches out to me through His Son Jesus Christ giving me an opportunity to be forgiven of my sin (John 3:16). However, instead of resisting God and clinging to my sin as Cain did, I must repent of the sins I have committed (cf. Luke 13:3). Today, I will strive to have humility when I am confronted by God or others about the sin which I have done!

“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

1/1/16 “Made in the Image of God” (Daily Bible Reading Genesis 1-3)

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).

How do you feel about yourself? How good do you feel about who you are? Low self-esteem is a thinking disorder in which an individual views him/herself as inadequate, unworthy, unlovable, and/or incompetent. Once formed, this negative view of self permeates every thought, producing faulty assumptions and ongoing self-defeating behavior. According to “The Self Esteem Book”, by Dr. Joe Rubino, 85% of the world's population is affected by low self-esteem.

As the opening passage above indicates, something which should boost our self-image is the knowledge that God has made us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). The first chapter of Genesis reveals to us the awe-inspiring knowledge of how God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). God speaks and things come into existence. God looks at what He has made and sees “that it was good” (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25).

Before finishing up everything which He has created, God makes man. However, man is made unique from all the other creatures in the creation. God makes man “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). Man is given a place of high honor as he is given dominion over all the other creatures of the creation. Regarding the man and woman whom He had just created we read, “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food’ ” (Genesis 1:28-29). We can feel good about ourselves because we have been made in God’s image!

It is interesting that today women face greater battles than men with regard to how they view themselves. In fact, 90% of all women want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance. Only 2 % of women think they are beautiful. 81% of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat (http://www.confidencecoalition.org/statistics-women).

However, what does God think about women? It is interesting that the only thing God said was not good in His creation was a lonely man (Genesis 2:18). Man needed a mate and God made the perfect mate for him, a woman (Genesis 2:21-22). Adam rejoiced over the beautiful woman God had brought to him: “And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man’ " (Genesis 2:23).

One of the main reasons I believe so many struggle with having a healthy self-worth is they don’t know or have forgotten they are made in the image of God. I realize, that like Adam and Eve, I struggle with sin and fail at times (cf. Genesis 3:1-7; Romans 3:23); however, I must not forget that God considers me special as He made me in His image and sent His Son to die for my sins so I can have the opportunity to live with Him forever. Today, I rejoice that I am made in the image of God!

“For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5-6).

12/26/15 “Home at Last” (Daily Bible Reading: Revelation 20-22)

“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God’ ” (Revelation 21:2-3).

During this time of year, many of us enjoy being “Home for the Holidays”. For most of us home brings warm thoughts to our hearts as we think about relaxing and being surrounded by our loved ones. However, how often do we spend our thoughts thinking about our Heavenly Home?

As John concludes the Revelation revealed to him by Jesus, he writes about the vision he sees of our Heavenly Home. God uses symbolic language (Revelation 1:1) by which He “signified” the things which would shortly take place and how these things would affect His people. Thoughts of Heaven can motivate us to press on through the trials of life as we long for making it “Home at Last”.

What is so great about Heaven? First, it is incredibly beautiful. John describes how it is filled with the glory of God having streets of pure gold, surrounded by walls whose foundations are bedecked with all kinds of precious stones, and the gates of the city are described as pearls (Revelation 21:11-21). There is no need of the sun or the moon to light it because the glory of God illuminates it (Revelation 21:23; 22:5). A pure river of water of life flows through it and by the tree of life (Revelation 22:1-2). Heaven is described for us in terms that cause us to marvel at its beauty and majesty.

Second, Heaven is great because of who will be there. As the opening verses above indicate, God Himself will be there and dwells there (Revelation 21:2-3). Jesus, Our Savior, Who saved us by the shedding of His blood, will be there to greet us into our Heavenly Home (Revelation 21:22; 22:1, 3). Furthermore, all the saved throughout all the ages and from every nation will be welcomed into the gates of Heaven (Revelation 21:24-26). As John sees God upon His throne, he writes, “Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son’ ” (Revelation 21:5-7).

Finally, Heaven is great because of who and what will not be there. John writes about how there will be no more trials, sorrow and pain: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). In addition, the wicked that rejected God and often hindered us on our journey to Heaven will not be there. John adds, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (Revelation 22:14-15; cf. 21:8). Heaven will not be corrupted by all the pain, sorrows, and ungodly influences that we have had to experience and endure in this earthly life.

This earthly life can be filled with joy at times, but it can also bring its share of sadness and heartache (Job 14:1). I long for Heavenly Home and will strive to allow God to direct my steps through His Word on my earthly journey so that I may make it home at last (Psalm 119:105)!

“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).

12/25/15 “The Great Victory” (Daily Bible Reading: Revelation 16-19)

“These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful" (Revelation 17:14).

Do you ever struggle with getting discouraged because as you look at the world and the direction it is going, it seems like Satan is winning and God is losing? During such times, victory for those who follow Christ can seem so far away. Sometimes our Christian walk feels like we’re in a football game down 99-0 with only 2 minutes left. At times, victory can feel so impossible to achieve.

It must be remembered that the book of Revelation is highly symbolic in nature (Revelation 1:1). It is filled with symbolic language by which God “signified” the things which would shortly take place and how these things would affect His people. There are many symbols describing the spiritual warfare that is taking place on the one side between God and His people, and on the other side Satan and those who are under his influence (cf. Revelation 13:3-4, 12-17).

Often, Satan’s side appears to be winning. The beast, representing kingdoms under the influence of Satan, is even described temporarily overcoming the saints (Revelation 13:7-8). The great harlot, representing the great city (i.e. Rome) that ruled over the kings of the earth at that time, is described as being “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:7, 18). Without a doubt there are times where it appears that Satan is winning and God is losing!

Throughout the book of Revelation there is the cry of God’s people wanting victory and wanting to be avenged. The saints which had been slain for the word of God and the testimony to which they held cried out saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). Even the 24 elders and the angels in heaven cry out longing for victory when God comes to execute justice upon the wicked and to avenge His faithful followers (Revelation 11:16-18; 16:5-6). It is certainly appropriate for Christians to desire victory!

The book of Revelation describes God avenging His followers by first of all bringing judgment upon the wicked. This is described in part by the breaking of the seven seals of the scroll (Revelation 6:1-8:1), the sounding of the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:2-11:19), and the pouring of out of the seven bowls of God’s wrath (Revelation 16:1-21). Then, as the opening passage above describes, Jesus leads His followers to victory as He makes war against the harlot and the beast which are under the influence of Satan (Revelation 17:1-18; 13:1-2). The beast and the false prophet are captured and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20) where Satan will be cast as well (Revelation 20:2, 10). Following this we have the scene of the Judgment Day as the dead stand before God and are judged by the Word of God (Revelation 20:11-15). Victory is coming for God’s people!

We are engaged in a great spiritual battle (cf. 2 Timothy 2:3-4). It is important for us to be properly equipped (Ephesians 6:10-20). I acknowledge that it can be discouraging to keep my morale up as it often appears that Satan and his allies are winning in this great warfare. To keep my morale up, I need to remember that God has assured me victory will happen. Paul wrote, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58). Today, I rejoice that in Christ I have victory!

“Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15).

12/24/15 “The Patience of the Saints” (Daily Bible Reading: Revelation 13-15)

“Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’ ” (Revelation 14:12-13).

Have you ever thought: “I need patience and I need it right now”! Patience is a much needed virtue that is needed for our journey of faith (cf. 2 Peter 1:6). Patience is needed because this life is full of trials and persecutions that we have to endure as Christians. The virtue of patience helps us to cope with these trials by maintaining our faith in God and trusting in His ability to see us through.

The opening passage above speaks about “the patience of the saints” (Revelation 14:12). It must be remembered that the book of Revelation is highly symbolic in nature (Revelation 1:1). It is filled with symbolic language by which God “signified” the things which would shortly take place and how these things would affect His people. God’s people would need patience as they endured these things.

Earlier in the book Jesus speaks to the church at Smyrna about their need to patiently endure the trials they were about to face: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). It is interesting that even those saints that had passed on from this life struggled with patiently waiting for the Lord to avenge their blood that had been shed (Revelation 6:10-11).

However, patience is not easily acquired. It does not come to us all at once because we cry out for it, but is acquired through the testing of our faith (James 1:2-3). Patience becomes a part of who we are as we endure the trials we face while keeping our eyes fixed on God and His promises.

For example, earlier John writes about how Satan, who is symbolized as a great dragon, will use others to persecute God’s people and even to “overcome them” (Revelations 13:1-8). Some of God’s people would go into captivity and others would fall by the sword, but then he adds, “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10). In other words, Christians would need to have patience and keep their faith in God’s promises even as they were being enslaved and killed!

The patience of the saints will be rewarded. John records, “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’ ” (Revelation 14:13). John sees a vision of a Lamb (i.e. Jesus) on Mount Zion and with Him were 144,000 (Revelation 14:1-3). Who do these symbolize? “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Revelation 14:4-5). Their patience had been rewarded and they rejoice in God’s faithfulness to keep His promises as they sing, “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints” (Revelation 15:3).

I realize I need to grow in patience. I pray that God may help me keep my eyes fixed on Him and His promises as I endure the trials life brings and look forward to the day my patience is rewarded!

“By your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19).

12/23/15 “The Great Dragon” (Daily Bible Reading: Revelation 10-12)

“So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:9).

How serious do you take the threat imposed to us by Satan? Are you watchful for how he may be trying to lead you astray or do you not give it much thought? God wants us to take Satan seriously.

It is important to recall that the book of Revelation is highly symbolic in nature (Revelation 1:1). It is filled with symbolic language by which God “signified” the things which would shortly take place and how these things would affect His people. Our adversary, Satan, is symbolized as a great dragon.

Satan is pictured as having been cast out heaven and down to the earth (Revelation 12:9). While in heaven, he had been making accusations of those who had been serving God (Revelation 12:10; cf. Job 1:6-11; 2:1-5). After being cast down to the earth, Satan is filled with great wrath and understands that his time to work his evil upon those on the earth is short. Woe is pronounced to those on the earth because of the adversity they will face from Satan (Revelation 12:12).

Before his being cast out of heaven, the text mentions a woman who would give birth to a Child that would rule the nations. This child was eventually called up to God and His throne (Revelation 12:5). This child is none other than God’s Son, Jesus, born of Mary (Matthew 1:20-23). The great dragon is pictured as having tried to devour this child as soon as He was born (Revelation 12:4). Satan had worked through King Herod to try to accomplish this when Herod murdered all the male children under 2 years old in the region where Jesus was born (Matthew 2:16). But, Joseph and Mary had fled to Egypt to save the Child’s life (Matthew 2:13-15). Later, Satan would, again, try to thwart God’s plan for Jesus by subjecting Jesus to a number of temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).

Having been unsuccessful at destroying God’s Son, Satan turns his efforts towards Christians, the offspring of the woman and Christ: “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:18). What is so eye opening in these chapters of Revelation is the way Satan influences the kingdoms of the world to accomplish this. A beast is pictured as rising out of the sea and who was given power by the dragon (Revelation 13:1-2). The world is pictured as following this beast as it exercises great influence upon the world (Revelation 13:3-4, 12-17). The beast and the horns on it are representative of kings (Revelation 17:7-13). The beast is even given the ability, at least temporarily, to overcome the saints (Revelation 13:7-8).

Satan is a powerful adversary, but he is not all-powerful. His power is less than God’s. Remember, he lost the initial battle with God as he was cast out of heaven (Revelation 12:7-10). He knows his ultimate destination is a bottomless pit and a lake of fire (Revelation 20:2-3, 10). We can overcome Satan through the blood of the Lamb, heeding God’s Word, and not loving our lives to the death (Revelation 12:11). We need patience and faith (Revelation 13:10).

I acknowledge that my adversary Satan is powerful like a dragon. I respect my opponent, but I trust in God. I rejoice that through God I can overcome the devil as he seeks to devour me!

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

12/22/15 “Sealing the Servants of God” (Daily Bible Reading: Revelation 7-9)

“Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads’ ” (Revelation 7:2-3).

If you went to the grocery store and purchased a food item and found out that the seal was broken, would you still eat the contents of it? Most of us would think twice about this. It is important to us that the seal be maintained because it assures us that the food is safe to eat.

There are a number of passages in the Bible which speak about Christians as having been sealed by God. Paul wrote, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). Furthermore, he writes, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). Finally, Paul warns, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). While I may not understand everything there is to know about this “sealing” of me by God, the Scriptures do teach that: (1) this is for the purposes of a “guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22), (2) lasts until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30), and (3) involves the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30).

As the opening passage above describes, we read about angels being told to withhold the harm by which they would again strike those on the earth until the servants of God were sealed (Revelation 7:2-3). These events occur as the seven seals of a scroll were being opened by the Lamb of God (i.e. Jesus, Revelation 5:5-14). Following the opening of the first 6 seals of this scroll, various judgments befall those on the earth (Revelation 6:1-17). However, before the 7th and final seal is opened an angel ascends from the east having the “seal of God” and saying that no more harm should occur until “we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:4).

The book of Revelation is highly symbolic in nature. It was designed to be this way as the opening verses of the book reads: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants--things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John” (Revelation 1:1). It is filled with symbolic language by which God “signified” the things which would shortly take place and how these things would affect His people.

What does this sealing of the servants of God described in the book of Revelation mean for us today? God was making sure His people were properly protected before this punishment would be inflicted at the opening of the 7th seal (Revelation 8:1). God still exerts this care for His people (1 Peter 5:7). Although we will face our shares of trials in this life (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-4), God will not give us more than our faith can bear (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13). Reading about the sealing of God’s servants reminds me to rejoice that God has sealed me with the Holy Spirit as the “guarantee” until the “day of redemption”. It is in comfort to me to know that having saved me from my sins, God wants to keep me saved until the day Christ comes to take me home!

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

12/21/15 “Worthy Is the Lamb” (Daily Bible Reading: Revelation 4-6)

“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth’ ” (Revelation 5:9-10).

As Christians we are very grateful that Jesus came and died on the cross for our sins (John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:18-19). However, how do we feel about his role in pronouncing judgment upon the world?

As the apostle John writes down the things which Jesus has told him to the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 1:11), he beholds an awesome sight as he writes, “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this’ ” (Revelation 4:1). He sees what appears to be God sitting on His throne in heaven, 24 elders sitting around the throne and 4 amazing “living creatures” there as well (Revelation 4:1-7). He sees the 24 elders and four living creatures praising God (Revelation 4:8-11).

Beholding this incredible sight, John writes, “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’ ” (Revelation 5:1-2). What was this scroll and what is the meaning of its seals? Later, as John sees loosing of the seals, he sees the unfolding of God’s plans and judgments upon the world (Revelation 6:1-17; 8:1).

Initially, no one is found who can open the scroll containing the seven seals and John begins to weep (Revelation 5:3-4). However John is soon stopped: “But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals’ ” (Revelation 5:5). John sees Jesus as a Lamb that had been slain remove the scroll from the hand of God (Revelation 5:6-7). As He does so the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:8-10). Then as the opening verses above indicate the angels in heaven join in singing (Revelation 5:11-12) as do every creature in heaven and on earth (Revelation 5:13-14).

Jesus is the Lamb Who is a Lion (Revelation 5:5-6). Jesus came to the earth the first time as a Lamb to be slain our sins (Isaiah 53:7). However, when He comes again, He will come as a Lion to Judge the world. When Jesus comes again with His angels, He will come “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). I am grateful for what Jesus has done to save me from my sins; however, I will not be ashamed that Jesus is coming again to judge the world. Rather I will rejoice that Jesus, because of His sacrifice, is worthy to do this because for God to be just, His judgment must be carried out!

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).