Month: December 2023

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

May we never lose our sense of awe at the fact that God chooses to be with us.

Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23

At Christmastime, we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a hymn that includes ancient chants known as the “O Antiphons.”* In 6th-century worship, each “O” was followed by a messianic title: Emmanuel, Root of Jesse, Dayspring, Key of David, Lord of Might, Desire of Nations. These names for the Savior remind us that in Jesus, God fulfilled the hopes of His people. And we can observe His faithfulness both historically and in the present, with hope for the future.

The hymn hinges on the name Emmanuel (or Immanuel), meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). As John says, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus is not merely a good teacher or prophet—He is God Incarnate, the wisdom of God in human form. That truth is the foundation of our hope.

As we try to embody Jesus’ teachings, our prayer should be to walk as His wise followers in the world (Ephesians 5:15). That means living faithfully in a kingdom that is both here now and still to come. We also pray that our Emmanuel will draw many people—“from every tribe, language, … and nation” (Revelation 5:9)—to Himself, until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God’s glory (Habakkuk 2:14; Psalm 72:19).

Free to Enjoy God

How blessed we are to have God as our Father and friend!

Psalm 37:3-5

Several of the gospels mention children coming to Jesus (Matthew 19:13-14; Luke 18:15-17; Mark 10:13-16). Some of them probably climbed onto His lap, while others perhaps sat at His feet. We might picture them asking Him lots of questions, begging to hear more parables, and whispering secrets in His ear. It isn’t surprising that they would gather around Jesus, who loves us perfectly.

Contrast this snapshot of Jesus’ warm nature with the picture some Christians have of God—they see Him as a judgmental taskmaster who motivates by intimidation. While it’s true we are to obey God’s commands, we’re also to delight in Him just as we would in the company of a close friend.

When we envision a harsh God, we end up devoting much time and energy trying to “earn” our salvation. But God’s sovereign authority is perfectly balanced with everlasting, unconditional love. He wants His children to relax and enjoy spending time with Him.

Our Father looks past our flaws and instead sees the precious child He created. In fact, because of His great love, He sent Jesus Christ to save our life so we could be with Him eternally in heaven. We have no greater friend.

Responding to Hardship

Trials are an opportunity to see God work on our behalf in ways we can’t imagine.

1 Peter 4:12-19

When you are going through a trial, what’s your first response? Do you want to run away as quickly as possible to escape it? Though that’s a normal feeling, God has a different way. It is not the trials in our life that develop or destroy us, but rather our response to those hardships. How, then, should we react when difficulties feel overwhelming?

First, trust God. God wants His children to believe His Word and reflect on ways He’s been faithful in the past. He assures us that He limits our trials and enables us to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Second, persevere. Even when we don’t understand and the pain seems too much to bear, we shouldn’t quit. We’re to continue seeking the Lord through His Word and prayer. So, let’s cling to hope in Christ and praise Him in the midst of the pain.

Third, remember the Lord is in control. He allows adversity for a reason and demonstrates His sustaining power through it. Even though the pain might feel intolerable, God will never leave our side. Scripture compares our growth to gold, which is refined through fire (1 Peter 1:7).

We will encounter difficulties—sometimes intense and painful trials that seem too much for us. Yet we can rely on our heavenly Father to deliver and guide us in ways we could never imagine. He doesn’t expect that we endure on our own, but He does want us to respond with faith.

Our Trials

Trouble is part of life, but God always provides what we need in order to endure.

1 Peter 1:3-9

Some people have the wrong idea about the Christian life. Once they become believers, they expect smooth sailing. However, Jesus made it clear that we’ll all face troubles. His own life was no exception—He endured false accusation, rejection, betrayal, and separation from His Father.

As His followers, we too can expect difficulty. Some problems arise from the fallen nature of the world, while others result from spiritual warfare. And we can cause our own heartache from ignorance or sin. There’s also another possibility—sometimes God Himself brings trials. While it’s difficult to accept this, the Lord never allows hardship unless He has a beautiful purpose. And He always gives us strength to endure.

Remember, God permits struggles for our benefit. Perhaps they are to purify and grow us for greater service. Maybe He’s testing our endurance and devotion, or He might be revealing His sustaining power. This side of heaven, we may never know the cause or purpose of each challenge. But we can trust God’s ability to deliver and mature us.

What trials are you facing? Jesus understands your pain and longs to be the One you cling to through good times and bad. You can choose to look elsewhere for comfort, or you can use your hardship as an opportunity to connect with God.

Ending Well

Life is a gift—ask God to help you spend your time on what matters.

Luke 12:15-21

Today’s passage is about a rich man who made poor use of his days. Assuming a lot of time remained, he left the Lord out of his plans and let materialism guide him.

Paul, on the other hand, knew life was short and made the most of it. He gave to others until his final days. His letters from prison illustrate this—despite knowing he would soon face death, Paul devoted his time and energy to instructing fellow believers and praying for them. He recognized the value of time spent encouraging Christians to do everything as if for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). This is important even when our task seems unrelated to the church. Kingdom work isn’t just for missionaries and pastors; God calls us all to different fields and assignments.

The apostle also knew that the Christian life encompasses struggles. And he was realistic about his own imperfections (Romans 7:5-25). This meant that to make the best use of his time, he needed to persevere, keep faith in God’s promises, and rely on divine power for victory. And indeed, at the end of his life, Paul was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Life is a gift. Every one of us has a limited number of days on this earth. How will you utilize your time so you can look back and, with Paul, confidently say that you ended well?

A Realistic View of Life

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to fear anything now or in the future.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Our culture desperately tries to postpone death. Vitamins, exercise, and eating well—we try them all to live as long as possible. None of these things are bad. Our motive, however, is the key.

For instance, knowing our body is God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), we should take care of His dwelling. On the other hand, if we are trying to live longer because we’re afraid of dying, then that is not of God—His Word teaches us fear isn’t from Him (2 Timothy 1:7). But more than that, since Jesus died in our place, all who trust in Him as their Savior need not dread death. In fact, the apostle Paul assures us that, far from being a terrifying change, physical death actually leads believers home to be with the Lord forever (2 Corinthians 5:8).

In light of these truths, it’s wise to be prepared. The first step is to make sure you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Next, live a surrendered life and strive to walk according to His will. Since it’s an inescapable fact that life on earth is temporary, ask, How can I best live in order to be ready when God decides it is time?

Preaching Like Peter

Sharing the gospel doesn’t have to be complicated.

Acts 2:14-36

Have you ever noticed the length of the sermon from today’s passage? It takes less than three minutes to recite. Sharing the gospel doesn’t need to be complicated or lengthy, and Peter’s sermon is an example we can follow for our own testimonies. It contains:

The Savior’s Credentials and Purpose. Peter cited the “miracles and wonders and signs” that validated Jesus as the promised Messiah (Acts 2:22). Then the apostle communicated that the Lord’s mission was to die for mankind’s sin.

A Personal Invitation. Peter made sure listeners knew their responsibility in the Messiah’s death but quickly gave the exciting news that Christ was alive (Acts 2:23-24). Those who believed were invited to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name. No gospel message is complete without telling people how they, too, can be saved.

Reliance on the Holy Spirit. Peter referenced many scriptures but knew that it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately makes the case for Christ. No matter how persuasive a man’s message is, only the Spirit can change unbelieving hearts and minds.

Witnessing to others doesn’t have to be complicated. Our part is prayer, preparation, and compassion, but we leave the outcome to God.

A Revolutionary Announcement

Do you believe all things are possible with God?

Acts 2:38-47

Early accounts of the Lord’s resurrection were treated like idle tales told by desperate individuals. In a way, that’s understandable since most people struggle to believe the impossible. But Pentecost was a new day.

History was made as each person in the crowd heard the gospel in his or her own language (Acts 2:6-11). The assembled throng knew of the Lord and His miracles. Some of those present may have been skeptics who’d joined in shouting, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:22). Yet Peter boldly stated, “God raised [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 2:24). Here was one of Jesus’ own followers claiming that the Christ couldn’t be held down by death’s power.

The revival sparked by the Holy Spirit that day resulted in 3,000 new believers who underwent baptism—a public declaration that Jesus died for their sins, rose again, and ascended into heaven. They changed communities as they lived out the gospel message of compassion and love. The revolution they started spread across the world and is still going on.

The day of Pentecost is a reminder of God’s sovereignty and grace—He ensures that all people open to the gospel will receive it in a language they can understand. Do you want to be transformed by Jesus’ saving grace? Take a moment to share your thoughts and feelings with Him now.

Whole and at Peace

No matter what’s happening in your life, you can refuse to worry—and trust God instead.

Romans 5:1-5

In today’s passage, the apostle Paul lists many of the good things believers gain when faced with tribulation—things like perseverance, character, and hope. The way these blessings stack atop one another in verses 3 and 4 make the passage very quotable and a delight to memorize. But we shouldn’t overlook what’s at the root of all these positive gains.

It can be found in verse one: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). The Greek word translated as “peace” is eiréné, a derivative of verb eirō, which means “to join, tie together into a whole.” When we said “yes” to the Lord’s generous offer of salvation, all the broken pieces of ourselves were put back together. All the gaps were filled. There is now nothing missing, nothing broken.

That absolute rightness, or peace, “surpasses all comprehension” (Philippians 4:7). When Jesus slept in the storm-tossed boat, He demonstrated what that looks like: safe and at rest, no matter what was going on around Him (Matthew 8:24-26). This is the peace we’re called to dwell in—and to extend to others who need it so desperately.

In Due Time

When God asks us to wait, we can be certain that He intends for a blessing to follow.

James 5:7-11

No one likes waiting, but doing so is often the wisest course of action for everyday choices as well as for larger, more consequential ones. Developing a patient spirit is also essential when it comes to living the Christian life (Galatians 5:22).

Thankfully, we have countless examples both in Scripture and throughout church history that can help us cultivate a spirit of endurance in our own life. In today’s passage, the apostle James encourages believers with an agricultural metaphor many of them would have understood well—the early and late rains. In the Middle East, water is scarce, so farmers must plan their work accordingly. Some plant in October and November, after the early rains have softened the ground. Then they harvest in April and May, after the later rains have brought crops to peak quality. In between, the only thing farmers can do is wait, trusting the crops will flourish. Sometimes the same thing is true of our life.

Urging that we stay strong, James reminds us about the prophets and Job—they all endured hardships and experienced God’s deliverance in the end. Their example is worth following because, as Scripture promises, “In due time we will reap, if we do not become weary” (Galatians 6:9).