November 28, 2022

Advent 2022 - Hope

Devotion for the Week...

Can you believe it's the first week of Advent? I can't! On our walk last Wednesday, the childcare littles spotted the first Santa decoration outside someone's house and they got so excited! We don't have any decorating done yet, but I have been listening to Christmas music. 

Over the years, I've done a few different things for Advent devotions. This year I'll be following the traditional themes of hope, peace, joy and love, which means that today's devotion focuses on hope. The first verse that comes to mind when I think of hope is found in 1 Peter 3:15: "If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it."

This is the only time of year when the hope we have as Christians is on full display everywhere you look. It's the only time of year when songs about Jesus are played enthusiastically even by non-believers. Sure, Santa and the Grinch may get more secular attention, but you'll still find manger displays all over the neighborhood and regularly hear "Silent Night" or "O Come All Ye Faithful" at the mall.

So what exactly is this hope we have, and how can we be prepared to explain it? The answer is written right in the lyrics for I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Casting Crowns' version has become one of my favourites). Written during the American Civil War, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poem that would become the familiar carol starts out, "I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/ Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" Longfellow then reflects on how those same bells would be ringing out through "all Christendom," followed by his anguish that, because of the war, the sound of cannon fire would drown out the bells' song of peace on earth.

He continued, "And in despair I bowed my head;/ 'There is no peace on earth,' I said;/ 'For hate is strong,/ And mocks the song/ Of peace on earth, good-will to men!'" That's the low point so many people experience. The feeling of no hope, that there is no good to be found and hate reigns supreme. The feeling that hate will always win. 

And yet the bells still ring.

Longfellow concluded his poem with words of everlasting hope: "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:/ God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail,/ The Right prevail,/ With peace on earth, good-will to men"
God loves us  so much He  sent Jesus to live among us |
The second line of that last verse spells out our hope perfectly. God is not dead and He isn't asleep. Over 2,000 years ago, He loved the world so much He sent Jesus to live among us and die as our Savior. He still loved the world that much when Longfellow wrote his poem in 1864 and He still loves the world that much today. "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

God loves us and Jesus came to save us from sin and give us eternal life. That is the hope of Christmas.

November 21, 2022

Recognizing the Miracle

Devotion for the Week...

This past week I read again the story of Peter's miraculous escape from prison. The story is told in Acts 12. Herod had arrested Peter and placed him "under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each" (v. 4), with the intention of putting him on trial publicly after the end of Passover. The situation looked very bad as not only had Herod arrested Peter, but he had also had James executed just prior to Peter's arrest. 

Here's how his escape from prison played out:

"The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, 'Quick! Get up!' And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, 'Get dressed and put on your sandals.' And he did. 'Now put on your coat and follow me,' the angel ordered.

So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.

Peter finally came to his senses. 'It’s really true!' he said. 'The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!'" (vv. 6-11).

What I found interesting when I reread the story was that Peter thought he was just dreaming. He didn't realize it was really happening until the angel disappeared and he found himself standing on the street alone. He was in the midst of a miracle and he didn't recognize it at all.

Has the same ever happened to us? I don't mean the miraculous escape from prison with an angel by our side (though if that has happened to you, I'd love to hear the story!), I'm thinking more of the times God has changed our circumstances and we didn't even realize that it was His hand at work.
we can be sure God is working in our lives |
Often it's only when we look back that we can see how God was working. We make it through to the other side of the medical battle or the injury or the broken relationship and then we can see clearly enough to recognize how God brought us through. Likely it won't be as obvious as an angel releasing us from chains, but there will be things we notice in hindsight that can only have happened because of His intervention.

Whether we see it in the moment, or only afterwards, we can be sure God is working in our lives.

November 14, 2022

When Life is Good

 Devotion for the Week...

It has been a busy week around here, so this week I'm re-sharing a devotion first published back in 2016 😊

I have to say that life is pretty good in the Parsons' household. Paul and I both have work, the boys are all healthy and doing well, we have an abundance of food, there is wood stacked out back to heat the house. Oh, and I've been doing lots of fun quilting! I hope you can list a similar abundance of good things in your life. But have you ever stopped to think about how the good things in life sometimes make us forget about God?

Moses knew about this prosperity-induced forgetfulness, and he warned the Israelites about it in Deuteronomy 8. He told them, "The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). In other words, God would bring them into a land where they would have everything they needed. They would not only lack nothing, but they wouldn't even have to start from scratch because the land had already been settled. The Israelites would simply move in and enjoy vineyards and land ready to be cultivated. No taming the wilderness needed.

But listen to what Moses said next. "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (vv. 10-14). He knew what would happen. He knew their hearts and how quickly they would turn away from God, forgetting that everything comes from Him. 

Of course, that's exactly what happened. Over time, the Israelites turned away from God over and over, choosing instead to worship the gods of the people around them. To regain their attention, God allowed other nations to rule over His people, including the nation of the Midianites, and "Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help" (Judges 6:6). They were living in a land where they should have had everything they needed and wanted, but because they forgot God they lost everything. Then, when they had nothing, they remembered their God again.

More than anything, God wants our attention to be focused on Him. When life is easy, sometimes it's also easy for us to be distracted by all the good things we have. We 'eat and are satisfied' and we forget about God. But then, when life gets hard, we remember Him. We cry out to Him for healing or for financial help or in anguish for a child in trouble. Many people will say that the hard times in their lives brought them closer to God. King David even said, "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees" (Psalm 119:71).

My question is, why wait? Why wait for the hard times before turning to God? Why not focus on Him when life is good? Moses told the Israelites, "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you" (Deuteronomy 8:10). Let's live our lives full of thanks and praise to God for the good things He has given us.
Let's live our lives full of thanks and praise to God |
Keeping our focus on God when life is good doesn't mean we'll never encounter sickness or trouble, but it does mean God will never have to send the Midianites to impoverish us to get out attention.

Want to start now? Leave me a comment sharing some of the good things God has given you.