Devotional Blog

It’s been on your ‘bucket list’ for a while. It’s time. Let’s see Israel together in 2023.

October 8 to 20, 2023.

You are invited to join Linda and me for a Bible Study Tour in The Land. This is an adventure where we will uniquely experience this special place. We will hike. We will feel the breezes coming off the seas and laugh as we are splashed by cool water in the desert. We will walk along rolling meadows and rocky crags. We will taste amazing foods. We will hear rushing waterfalls and the quiet prayers of men and women at the Western Wall.

Each day we’ll open the Word of God in about six different locations. We’ll read the Text. We’ll look around. God will speak to all of us in a very special way. Our hearts will be changed forever.

And yes, we will walk where Jesus walked.

The Sea of Galilee. The Mediterranean. Jordan River. Capernaum.

Jerusalem. Mount of Olives. Mt. Arbel. Jericho. Bethlehem.

Dead Sea. Qumran. Ein Gedi. Massada.

We’ll see The Land “from Dan to Beersheba, and from the Great Sea to the Jordan River.”



ITINERARY

Day 1, October 8.
Travel to Israel on Turkish Airlines through Istanbul, Turkey.


Day 2, October 9.
The Central Plains, the Shephelah. Jewish culture overview. Samson. David and Goliath.


Days 3-5, October 10-11-12.

Southern Desert. Ein Gedi. The Dead Sea. Qumran. Massada. Camel ride. Our three-night stay is in a four-star hotel overlooking the Dead Sea.


Days 4-6, October 13-14-15.

Travel north up the Jordan River, through Jericho to the Sea of Galilee Region. Mount of Beatitudes. Capernaum. Bethesda. Chorazin. Mt. Arbel. The Syrian border. Boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. We stay three nights at a working kibbutz where you can enjoy your morning coffee along the water’s edge.


Day 7, October 16.

Bet Shean. Mt. Carmel. Caesaria. Armageddon. Bethlehem.


Days 8-10, October 17-18-19.

Jerusalem. Mount of Olives. Garden of Gethsemane. Via de la Rosa. Church of Holy Selplecher. Temple Mount. Rampart walls walk. Yad Vashem. We’ll explore the ancient underground tunnels and walk on top of the walls of the Old City. We will stay three nights in a four-star hotel in Jerusalem.


Day 11, October 20.

Fly home from Tel Aviv, through Istanbul, Turkey. Thankful for all God has revealed to your heart while in The Land.


Total costs are to be finalized by November 2022, but at this time are estimated to be around $5,000 per person, all-inclusive (airfare from a major U.S. hub, 4-star hotel accommodations, fabulous food and dining, ground transportation, special excursions, tips — everything!).

We will host a Zoom info meeting in early October 2022 which will cover all your questions. Additionally, you can go to the GTI website, here, for more details, photos, packing lists, and stories. And click here for our trip blog from 2019. Or here for the trip blog from 2013.

We’d really love to begin to gather names of folks who might be interested in journeying with us to Israel. So, please send an email to rich@richlyspeaking.com to make sure you’re kept in the loop and invited to the Zoom call. Being on the call doesn’t commit you to anything!

This will be my sixth time exploring Israel. Like opening the Word, I learn something new each time.

We look forward to seeing you in The Land!

Shalom!

Passover Seder for Believers in Jesus (“Yeshua”)… a Haggadah.

Unleavened bread, or matzah, and four glasses of wine are key symbols used to celebrate Passover.

PASSOVER begins this Friday evening, April 15, 2022, on the Jewish calendar. Many Christians celebrate the holiday on the Thursday evening between Palm Sunday and Easter. A Passover Seder (pronounced SAY-der) is a meal and celebration that tells the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from the bondage of Egypt and Pharoah. The Bible’s book of Exodus tells this story.

What follows is a Haggadah — or Story– that affirms Jesus as the Passover Lamb. Some may suggest it is misguided for Christ-followers to celebrate a Jewish holiday such as Passover. But I would say, Jesus is our Messiah. He was a Jew. This meal is likely the “Last Supper” He celebrated with the disciples in the Upper Room on the night He was betrayed, on the evening before Good Friday. It is very appropriate for believers in Jesus to celebrate the story of the Exodus, as it represents our own story of being in bondage to sin and death and our journey to freedom and life. In the days of Moses, life was given to people of faith by the blood of the lamb painted over the doorposts of houses. Today, we receive life by way of the blood of Jesus “painted” over the doorposts of our hearts.

This Haggadah was originally written for our family over twenty years ago, with input from various people including family friends who are Jewish. Note, most of the symbolic items have been a part of the Jewish tradition of Passover for centuries. Many were not a part of the tradition at the time of the “Upper Room” Passover. Our family added the red scarf/red ribbon as a way to visualize the doors of our hearts being painted with the blood of Jesus. Portions have been directly excerpted from the booklet “Passover Seder and Menu for an Observance by Christians” by Barbara Balzac Thompson, published by Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, © 1984.

Passover lasts for eight nights. Feel free to celebrate a Passover Seder any night, not just the first night. Make it work for your family. This is a great opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to join you. Because of social distancing, maybe you celebrate via Zoom or Skype.

Before you gather, you’ll need a few key ingredients for your table:

Two candlesticks in candle holders.

Wine or grape juice. You’ll be pouring four glasses for each participant, so be sure to have enough on hand for everyone.

Matzah bread. You’ll need at least three full-sized squares on a separate plate wrapped in a cloth or linen napkin. Plus, you’ll want enough for everyone to enjoy as much as they’d like.

The Seder Plate includes items that we’ll feature throughout the evening, including: a lamb shank (you can get this from the butcher at your local grocery store), a dollop of horseradish, a sprig of parsley, charoset (which is a mixture that includes chopped apples, honey, and cinnamon). You will also need in separate bowls/small plates enough horseradish, parsley, and charoset for everyone to enjoy at least a small taste.

For your table, you’ll need a bowl of fresh water (like a cereal bowl) and a smaller bowl (like a ramekin) of salt water (just enough salt to taste salty, maybe 1/2 teaspoon).

A red ribbon, scarf or piece of yarn, about three-to-four feet in length, for each participant.

You’ll also want to have prepared your main course of the evening meal, and keep it warm in the kitchen. You’ll take the first 30-45 minutes of the evening telling the story.

In most families, the father will read through the narrative. There are times when there is a responsive or group reading as well, so it is helpful for everyone to have their own copy, or a shared copy, of the “script” for the evening. Also, this is a very family-friendly event! Children are encouraged to participate. There is a specific place where they are to ask questions, but if you’d like, feel free to allow them to interrupt with queries and laughter. Our Seder is a time bathed in much grace. Sometimes we recline on the floor (more on that later). One year, we actually roasted a lamb on an open pit in the backyard. We often have coloring pages and snacks available for younger children. Feel free to be as creative as you like as you demonstrate your love for God’s plan of redemption in the life of your family.

WELCOME

Welcome in the name of Yeshua, Jesus our Messiah! Tonight we will celebrate Pesach (PAH-sach)… Passover. This is the celebration of the most incredible feast on the Jewish and Christian calendars. It intricately weaves a story of God’s power, faithfulness and love for mankind in both the Old and New Testaments. It was celebrated in the Ancient World, in Jesus’ time, and is still celebrated in traditional Jewish homes today.

The first Passover was not a celebration (see Exodus 12). It was a night of apprehension, fear, and expectation for the beginning of a new journey for the children of Israel. The Bible tells us that the Hebrews were to take the blood of a perfect lamb and paint it on their doorposts. By following this command, the Angel of Death who moved through Egypt that night would “pass over” their homes. But since the Angel of Death did not pass over Pharaoh’s house, and his firstborn son was taken from him, his hardened heart was finally softened and the next morning Pharaoh let the Hebrew slaves go free. This meal that we celebrate tonight, the Seder, is symbolic of the rush to leave Egypt and the bondage it represents.

We also celebrate the significance of Yeshua’s last meal, sometimes called the “Last Supper,” a traditional Passover meal, with His disciples in the Upper Room. There is a lot of symbolism between the Old Covenant meal and the New Covenant meal. We hope you’ll enjoy learning how Yeshua tied the two meals together… and how it is applicable to us all.

Tonight, we tell a story, the Haggadah (hah-gaw-DAH), of how the blood of a lamb saved the people of God in the Ancient times… and still saves today.

John 1:29: The next day, John the Baptizer saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Reading: Luke 22:7-20. (This can be read by one of the children).

Let us celebrate the Passover together!

Continue reading Passover Seder for Believers in Jesus (“Yeshua”)… a Haggadah.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 25

THE GIFT OF PRAYER

Paul’s final gift for us this Advent is the gift of prayer. Ephesians 6:18 says, “pray at all times in the Spirit,” and Verse 19 asks the reader to “pray for me.”

Pray at all times. Sounds remarkably like 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing,” doesn’t it?

Pray in the Spirit. That sounds a lot like Romans 8:26, which says that when we don’t know how to pray or what to pray,

“… the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain.” (Romans 8:26, NCV).

Is there any greater gift to open on this Christmas Day than the ability to connect in prayer with God the Father? He shows His love for us and His desire to communicate with us by sending Jesus to us.

What a sweet gift it is to be able to offer prayers on behalf of others.

There are countless stories of answered prayer. One of my favorites is from George Muller, who served the Lord over 150 years ago. He was a man who took seriously the charge of God to take care of widows and orphans. Throughout his life, he reportedly cared for over 10,000 orphans. He was characterized as a man of prayer. It is said he prayed about everything and expected each prayer to be answered. He never asked anyone, other than God, for funds to operate over 100 different homes for children in England and throughout Europe.

From his journal:

“During the summer and autumn of 1866 we had also the measles at all the three Orphan-Houses. After they had made their appearance, our special prayer was:

1. That there might not be too many children ill at one time in this disease, so that our accommodation in the Infirmary rooms or otherwise might be sufficient. This prayer was answered to the full… yet God so graciously was pleased to listen to our supplications, as that when our spare rooms were filled with the invalids, He so long stayed the spreading of the measles till a sufficient number were restored, so as to make room for others, who were taken ill.

2. Further we prayed, that the children, who were taken ill in the measles, might be safely brought through and not die. Thus it was. We had the full answer to our prayers; for though 262 children altogether had the measles, not one of them died.

3. Lastly we prayed, that no evil physical consequences might follow this disease, as is so often the case; this was also granted. All 262 children not only recovered but did well afterward. I gratefully record this signal mercy and blessing of God, and this full and precious answer to prayer, to the honor of His name.”

Two-hundred sixty-two children with measles in an orphanage. In the 1860s. None of them died. That’s unheard of! A true answer to prayer.

It is a gift to be able to pray, and it is a joy to see how God answers our prayers! May I encourage you to keep praying and to keep looking for Him when you feel like you have prayed and prayed and prayed and you have not seen God’s answer? He will answer you. In His time and by His will. He will answer with what is best for you and the situation. You may not be able to see that His answer is best but trust it. In time, you will see our Father God’s mighty and loving hand. What a gift! God so loves it when we pray. I heard a man once paint a beautiful word picture that went something like this: Maybe one day, when we get to heaven, God will welcome us with a gleam in his eyes and a smile and say, “You kept me busy with your prayers!”

So, gear up when you feel like a cloud is over you and when you feel attacked by the enemy. Pray up. God is here for you. He gave us His son, through whom we connect with Him. When you are thankful for answered prayer, be sure to let God know you are overwhelmed with His love and grace!

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for the gift of prayer … to be able to talk with you and seek your face. Thank you. Help me trust that you are answering my prayers in your timing and by your will. May I be able to see that you only want what is best for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

WAS THIS PLAN HELPFUL? It was adapted from the book “The Greatest Gifts – a 25-day Christmas devotional.” You can find more info and other resources at RichRonald.com.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 24

THE GIFT OF WEAPONRY, THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT

There is an interesting story of the great evangelist and reformer Martin Luther, who founded the Lutheran and Protestant faiths. Reportedly, a stain was on the floor in his study at Wartburg Castle. When giving tours, the docent would remark that the stain occurred when Luther threw his ink bottle at the devil. In his later years, the enemy hounded Luther, and he had seasons of depression and mood swings, which he called ‘evil spirits.’

In The Seal and Pledge of the Holy Spirit, Brian Allison writes:

The devil sought to discourage Luther, by making him feel guilty, through rehearsing a list of his sins. When the devil had finished, Luther purportedly said, “Think harder: you must have forgotten some.” And the devil did think, and he listed more sins. When he was done enumerating the sins, Luther said, “Now, with a red pen write over that list, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.’ The devil had nothing to say.

Luther threw ink at the enemy. It was his way of tangibly saying the Word of God is stronger!

Perhaps it is easy to suggest that in Luther’s defense against the enemy, he was strongly influenced by Jesus. In Matthew 4 and Luke 4, when the enemy tempted Jesus, our Savior was victorious because He threw words of scripture, the words of truth, back at the devil.

Today’s gift is the only offensive weapon in the full armor. Please see the significance of that.

“… and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17, NIV).

Look at how Jesus used this weapon. He is tired. He is hungry. He has been fasting for 40 days.

“The devil came to Jesus to tempt him, saying, “If you are the Son of God, tell these rocks to become bread.” Jesus answered: “It is written in the Scriptures, ‘A person lives not on bread alone, but by everything God says.’” (Matthew 4:3-4, NCV).

Jesus is actually quoting Moses here:

“Remember how the Lord your God has led you in the desert for these forty years, taking away your pride and testing you, because he wanted to know what was in your heart. He wanted to know if you would obey his commands. He took away your pride when he let you get hungry, and then he fed you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had ever seen. This was to teach you that a person does not live on bread alone, but by everything the Lord says.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, NCV).

Two additional times when the enemy tempts Jesus, the Master uses the Word of God as an offensive weapon to defeat the devil. So, if the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, worked for Jesus, it would certainly work for you and me! Did Jesus have his Torah handy or the YouVersion Bible app in his pocket? No, it was written on His heart. He had memorized scripture. This should give us all great motivation to learn scripture so that we can be judiciously on the offense when attacked by the enemy.

Do you know that even today, most Jewish boys and girls have memorized the Torah — the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy — by the time they are 12 years old?! Twelve! Maybe scripture memory would be a great new goal for next year. You don’t have to memorize the Torah, but some key scriptures would be ideal. What if you tried to memorize one each month or one each week? There are many great online tools and traditional type cards that can help.

So pick up your sword, your Bible. Don’t just memorize it, but meditate on the Word. Make it a part of who you are. Write it on your heart. Be ready to use this gift and be on the offensive. In that way, you’ll defeat the father of lies and encourage others with the love of God at its core.

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for this gift, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. May I write your Word on my heart. Help me use this gift to defeat the enemy and to build up and encourage my friends and family. May I find the Bible a delightful source of personal strength, love, wisdom, grace, and joy! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 23

THE GIFT OF WEAPONRY, THE HELMET OF SALVATION

The next piece of armor covers your head. We’ve surrounded our waist with truth, covered our feet with peace, and protected our hearts with the grace of Jesus. We have lifted the shield of faith and been reminded that God is always closer to us than the enemy.

Next: Ephesians 6:17 — the helmet of salvation. You are saved from your head to your toes. Be wise; wear a helmet! Protect your mind.

In the past 25 years or so, helmets have become a standard part of our daily routine. When I learned to ride a bicycle, I never wore a helmet. I had an accident or two and banged my head from time to time, but these days, you wouldn’t think of teaching your child to ride a bike without first strapping on a helmet. Small babies wear helmets. Even cowboys and bull riders are wearing helmets instead of cowboy hats. Why? Because they work! They protect your head. They keep you safe. Have you read recently about all the research and technology put into the new NFL football helmets? There are molded shells and something called TPU padding. There is a lot of science going into protecting players’ heads. They’ve come a long way from the leather-heads of the early days of football. Construction workers, athletes of all types, soldiers, firefighters … all wear helmets. Whether they look cool or not, they protect your head.

Paul says to make sure you know every day that your salvation saves you, protects you, keeps you in the game, and keeps you mentally alert. How do you get your salvation? That’s the same question the Roman jailer asked Paul and Silas. Their answer?

“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31, NCV).

And think about Paul’s words in Romans as it relates to transforming our mind, which is the key central point in all of our decision-making. How do you know what God’s will is?

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2, NIV).

How do you renew your mind? By transforming your thinking. How do you transform your thinking? By meditating on God and His word and His promises for you. Transform your mind. Grab every thought that rings with fear or sin. Defeat the enemy. Keep your head protected. Be safe. Wear a helmet! Enjoy this gift, His helmet of salvation.

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for the Gift of protection for my mind. Thank you for your Word, which renews my thinking. May I dwell on you and your thoughts today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 22

THE GIFT OF WEAPONRY, THE SHIELD OF FAITH

“And also use the shield of faith with which you can stop all the burning arrows of the Evil One.” (Ephesians 6:16, NCV).

What an interesting picture! When I think of Roman soldiers and their shields, I think of shields used for protection against swords and maces in hand-to-hand combat, not flaming arrows. Think about flaming arrows. They must be shot at you from quite a distance, right? I visualize Centurions looking skyward and seeing them from a long way off. I think that is good news, even great news! If you are a child of Christ and have faith in Him, you can first acknowledge that there is a battle going on. Dear child of God, please know that you are always closer to Jesus than Satan. Let me say that again: you are always closer to Jesus than you are to the enemy. The nearness of God will supernaturally protect you. If we look with the eyes of Christ, we can see the adversary trying to attack us some distance away. That usually gives us room to maneuver out of the way.

Shields are buffers between you and something designed to take you down. They protect you. What is faith?

“Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1, CEV).

Another way of saying that is this: God is who He says He is, and He will do what He says He will do. So, hold up that faith shield! Believe in what you can’t see, and in doing so, you will see God in a real way.

If you are a new creation in Christ, then you are born of God. You are His child, His heir. Look at the reference to “faith” in 1 John:

“Everyone who is a child of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world — our faith. So the one who conquers the world is the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:4-5, NCV).

So, our faith, your faith, crushes the world and all its struggles and strife! What a great gift! Faith is the “power that brings the world to its knees,” as one translation suggests.

Jesus is known in every follower by way of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is greater than anything this world throws at you. Greater than abuse. Greater than addictions. Greater than abandonment. Greater than grief or loss. No matter what we feel we are buried under or drowning in, God is greater! We are victorious!

Receive and use this gift, the shield of faith, to help defeat the enemy and the lies he throws at you. Deflect them today. Be strong in the Lord and His mighty power!

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for the gift of faith. Would you please increase my faith in you? Would you help me use this gift to defeat the enemy? Thank you that you are always closer to me than Satan. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 21

THE GIFT OF WEAPONRY, THE BOOTS OF READINESS TO SHARE THE GOSPEL

“I have good news and bad news; which do you want to hear first?” When faced with that question, which do you choose?

Today’s gift is the gift of good news, and that gift is strong and powerful and will defeat the enemy in your life. It’s a key piece of the full armor of God.

“On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong.” (Ephesians 6:15, NCV).

Like the previous two pieces of armor, Paul is actually quoting from the Old Testament text in describing these weapons of warfare. This is a reference from a famous passage in Isaiah:

“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7, NASB).

Did you know that in ancient days, messengers delivered the news after battles of war? Some were messengers of good news. Some were messengers of bad news. From a distance, the commanders at the back of battle knew who was coming and by what they were wearing, whether the news was good or bad.

Paul essentially says to be a messenger of good news. Bring peace. Bring happiness. Bring salvation. When you enter a room, do you bring peace and blessing? Or do you add anxiety and stress to your conversations? I’m reminded of Peter’s words,

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. Do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).

Or from Paul in his letter to the Romans:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18, NASB).

Deal quickly with conflict. Be at peace. Don’t major in the minor stuff. Forgive promptly. Be a messenger of peace. Will those “good news” boots get muddy sometimes? Yes, most certainly. It’s not always easy to be the calm one in the midst of a storm. Jesus understands. He was born in a dirty cave. He came into a messy, smelly world. He knows our lives can be chaotic and full of angst and strife. Yet, we can still bring peace, even with mud on our boots. Especially with mud on our boots. When we’ve been through the muck and the mire and the struggles and are now on the other side, that’s when we can have the greatest impact.

Good news and peacefulness. Joyous gifts to give and receive this Christmas!

PRAYER

Father God, help me bring peace into a room, not anxiety or bad news about others. Make me a messenger of Your perfect peace and Your good news. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 20

THE GIFT OF WEAPONRY, THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

There is a song by Francesca Battistelli called Be Born in Me. It has been the cry of the heart of our family the past few years at Christmas time. A line in the chorus says, “I’ll hold you in the beginning. You will hold me in the end. Every moment in the middle, make my heart your Bethlehem.”

What does it mean to “make my heart your Bethlehem?” If we say that Bethlehem is the place where Jesus was born, we are saying to God, “Make my heart a place where Jesus lives.”

If we dig into the story of Bethlehem, we learn that the City of David is where the young shepherd boy tended his flock and near the fields where he later downed a giant named Goliath with a single stone. It is where Samuel anointed David. It was also where Ruth gleaned wheat from nearby fields, and, of course, it was where Jesus was born.

Bethlehem means “house of bread.” It makes sense, then, that Jesus, from Nazareth, was born here. He said that He is “the true bread from heaven” and “the bread of life” (John, Chapter 6). He also fed thousands with a few loaves of bread. Twice.

Jesus came from the house of bread to give us life, true bread, true sustenance, and manna from heaven. Jesus is all we need. He satisfies our greatest hunger and strengthens us spiritually, just as bread does physically. What happens when you don’t eat for a few days? You become weak. What happens when you don’t feast on the bread of life daily? You become spiritually weak, giving the enemy an opportunity to break into your spirit and heart.

So how do you protect your heart?

“Stand firm then… with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” (Ephesians 6:14, NIV).

Where do we get our righteousness, and what does this have to do with Jesus and Bethlehem? Only by affirming the grace-saving love of Jesus can we find suitable protection for our hearts. By dying for us, Jesus’ sacrifice is our covering of righteousness, just like when the Old Testament priests offered sacrifices for sin. In this text, Paul says that accepting Jesus into our hearts is one of the weapons of spiritual warfare that will keep us spiritually strong. It’s also the reason why Satan hates you.

So, cover your heart with the righteousness of Christ, the bread of life. Protect your heart. Don’t give the enemy your heart. Satan will use worldly “love” to get to you. He will use fleshly “love,” or more appropriately lust, to get to you. It’s one of his most successful schemes.

Your heart belongs to Christ. He bought it with His sacrifice. Defend it.

Receive this great gift of God’s righteousness, and may it protect your heart.

PRAYER

Father God, I pray that Jesus will be born in my heart, and may His sacrifice be my righteousness. May it cover and protect me from the enemy. Please guard my heart today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 19

THE GIFT OF WEAPONRY, THE BELT OF TRUTH

Parents can pass many great kernels of wisdom to their children. One of my favorites and one that has become a favorite of my now adult children: “A half-truth is a whole lie.” Children must learn to tell the truth, right? Truth is at the core of the judicial system. Think about the vow someone takes when testifying in a court of law. They agree to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

So, how significant is it then that the very first piece of weaponry, of armor, Paul writes about in Ephesians, Chapter 6 is the encouragement to put on the belt of truth? The truth is the leading weapon used to defeat the enemy!

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” (Ephesians 6:14, NIV).

Circle yourself with the truth. Don’t mess with the half-truths of the world. Don’t buy the lies of Hollywood, Madison Avenue, or the latest trend on social media. A good start to defeating the enemy is not fooling around with the father of lies!

I’m reminded of another piece of advice from Paul.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV).

What’s special about a belt besides holding your pants up? It wraps fully around you, near your body’s center of gravity. It is the physical mid-point of who you are. If you could balance your body on a pin, it would be right where your belly button is. So, Paul essentially says, let your life be balanced with the truth. Let it be your spiritual center, too. Surround yourself with voices of truth and people who will speak truth into your life. Let every part of you be enveloped with the truth.

The truth is “weapon number one” to defeat the enemy’s attacks. When you may be confused or unsure, get the facts. Get to the truth. Who is the truth? Jesus is the truth.

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6, NIV).

So when anyone digging deeper into faith says they seek the truth, they seek Jesus! It is in Jesus that we find true freedom.

The Bible is full of many truths about who you are. Open your Bible, open your eyes, open your hands and receive the gift of truth this Advent.

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for the gift of truth. May I circle every area of my life with it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 18

THE GIFT OF VICTORY OVER THE ENEMY

Desert Storm. The Iraqi Desert, just north of Kuwait. 1991. American troops were on the defense in the oilfield-rich Middle East. Saddam Hussein had pushed into neighboring Kuwait, and the United States and its ally nations would not let Iraq set a precedent of bullying smaller nations. As the U.S. Forces surged north across the desert sands, one strategy used by the evil dictator was to set fire to all of the oil pumping units. A large, oil-rich, toxic smoke began to form. The troops were puzzled and worried. Soldiers were issued gas masks, and most armed men or women wondered if the protective devices would work. The weather forecasters studied the skies as the black cloud moved toward the ground troops.

Heavy casualties were predicted. However, 15 minutes before the beginning of the largest ground assault of the attack, just before 4 a.m. on February 24, 1991, the winds changed and began to push that toxic, black, oil-rich smoke north instead of south. Many troops say that God had performed a miracle on their behalf. One of the countless miracles He performed during that war, and as anyone on the front lines of any battle can tell you, God regularly shows up in foxholes.

He shows up in our daily battles, too. When we ask for His divine intervention and take the initiative to gear up and fight, His presence is assured!

Today’s Christmas gift from God is the gift of victory over the enemy.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Ephesians 6:10, NASB).

Paul is starting the conclusion of his letter to the church at Ephesus. He has encouraged, instructed, taught, and prayed for them. Now his last words are to charge them. “Be strong!” Reach into that inner core. Rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen you because, really, this is not pretty.

He describes a battle. It is a vicious, ugly battle of blood, sweat, and tears.

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.” (Ephesians 6:12-13, MSG).

Paul says that our life is not merely a short-term event. It is not a 15-round boxing bout or a 60-minute football game. Our lifelong struggle is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness.” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB). This is real. This is for keeps. Satan hates you and everything you do for God’s glory and wants to take you down. He wants to take your marriage down. He wants to take your family down, and he’ll use whatever is going on in your current situation to beat you up.

Perhaps, you’ve had a misunderstanding with your spouse, so you start daydreaming about what it’d be like to be with someone else. You bounced a check, so you begin fearing every decision involving money. Your mom yelled at you, and you started thinking how great it’d be if you never talked with her again. You have two choices: take the lazy way out, acquiesce, give in, say, “so what,” and ride the tide. Or, you can fight. I want to encourage you to fight. Fight for what is right. It’s worth it. You are worth it. The people in your life are worth it. How do you defeat the enemy? By remembering the truth and promises God has for you in His word.

So, receive the gift of victory! It’s a true joy.

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for the gift of being able to defeat the enemy. Give me what I need to stand fast, firm, and strong. Holy Spirit, help me make the right decisions that honor God so that the enemy will not be able to defeat me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 17

THE GIFT OF FAMILY

Did you know that researchers have found that married people have a better life? Yes, it’s true! Many may find holes in the data to support their own experience. However, if you are married, there is a strong likelihood that you will live a longer life, have a better financial picture, and enjoy better mental health and safety than those who are not married.

From my perspective, this data supports God’s perfect plan all along. Today’s gift from Ephesians is the gift of family.

Here’s how the Bible describes the key relationship between wives and husbands, beginning in Ephesians 5:21:

“Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So, just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church — a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor — since they’re already “one” in marriage.” (Ephesians 5:21-28, MSG).

Paul’s definition of marriage is how God would like it to be for us. That’s the way it can be. It’s not just a pipe dream or an awesome goal. It can be that way with the Holy Spirit in us and encouraging us daily.

A good marriage takes a lot of hard work — a good family life, even more work. Understandably, you may feel like you’ve put out all the hard work you can muster at your job and that there isn’t enough time or energy left to make your marriage work as God intended.

Someone once said marriage is not a 50-50 proposition in that each spouse does 50% of the work. No, marriage is a 100-100 proposition — both the husband and the wife are to pour 100% of their energies into making it work.

One could ramble on about what makes a good marriage and what makes a bad marriage, citing wedding vows, divorce statistics, and therapist recommendations. It’s not that simple. Life is complex. It is complicated as a single adult. It’s more challenging as a couple, and it gets really interesting when that couple adds some children into that life. What a gift your family can be! What a joy our children are! Especially when we take the time to see them as God does.

Billy Graham’s parenting advice:

“Children will invariably talk, eat, walk, think, respond, and act like their parents. Give them a target to shoot at. Give them a goal to work toward. Give them a pattern that they can see clearly, and you give them something that gold and silver cannot buy.”

Marriage and family are great gifts! Make a little time this season to read Ephesians 5:22 through 6:4 and ponder how you can be a better parent, or a better son or daughter, in your family. Ask God to give you His grace and eyes to see your family members as He does. He sees potential. He sees love. He sees belonging. He sees hope. Speak a blessing over your children and your spouse. Celebrate your family! That is a wonderful gift!

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for the gift of my family. Help me see the members of my family the way you do. Use me to bring your peace, grace, and love to my family this season. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.

THE GREATEST GIFTS – Day 16

THE GIFT OF ENCOURAGEMENT

When you feel a need for encouragement, what do you do? Do you call someone special? Do you exercise, paint, or play games with your son or daughter? How about singing or dancing or just watching a play or a movie? Or maybe it’s just connecting with a good friend over coffee or tossing a ball to your dog. We all need encouragement from time to time, don’t we?

Today’s gift is what I see to be the gift of encouragement. It’s probably just the way I’m wired, but I see encouragement all through the paragraph that begins with Verse 18 of Chapter 5:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20, NIV).

A while back, I took a spiritual connection assessment. It asked a series of questions about how one connects with God. Some people connect with God best by being outside in nature, some in quiet solitude. For me, my strongest connection with God is in worship. I love to worship and sing my heart out, and I love those musicians who lead worship and so skillfully take us to a place of complete adoration of God. Truly, when one is fully immersed in worship, I can understand how Paul connects it with being drunk. And I see this as a gift of encouragement in that he says “to speak to one another with psalms …”

The Psalms are a fabulous source of Spirit-filled encouragement. Many are David’s journal entries. I can so relate to David. Often he begins a Psalm with a cry:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have threatened my life! I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold … I am weary with my crying … I wait for my God …” (Psalm 69:1, 3 NASB).

And then, as he journals and writes and ponders the greatness of God’s blessings through several verses, more than likely in song, the Holy Spirit takes him to a place of adoration at the conclusion.

“Let heaven and earth praise Him!” (Psalm 69:34, NASB).

May I encourage you to encourage one another through the words of the Psalms or other places of Scripture? Write them out as prayers, give them to one another, and encourage one another. That is the true Gift of Encouragement! God gave us His word, filled with songs of blessings. Yes, you can read them yourself. However, isn’t it great when God gives you a word of Scripture that He wants you to share with someone else? Or He directs someone to a specific passage, and they write it down and give it to you? This is how we build up the body of Christ.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, answered the call of her destiny with a song and a word of encouragement. Following her encounter with the angel Gabriel, and as she met with her cousin Elizabeth — who was also supernaturally pregnant, carrying her son, John the Baptizer — Mary quotes the Old Testament song of Hannah from 1 Samuel 2.

“I’m bursting with God-news! I’m walking on air. I’m laughing at my rivals. I’m dancing my salvation. Nothing and no one is holy like God …” (1 Samuel 2: 1-2 and Luke 1:46, MSG).

The words of both Mary and Hannah! That is sheer joy and encouragement all in one!

May you receive this Gift of Spirit-filled encouragement and be available to give this gift to others during this Advent season.

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for those who encourage me when I need to be encouraged. Thank you for blessing me with every spiritual blessing. May I be both a giver and a receiver this Advent season. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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This advent devotional can be found on the YouVersion Bible App here.