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More Than Loving Scripture Focus:

1 John 4:7-12 \u201cEveryone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love\u201d (1 John 4:8). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

God's love is so powerful that nothing can separate us from Him. Neither death, life, trials, our future, our past, demons, persecution, famine, poverty, danger, nor war can sever the love bond that connects us with the God of heaven and earth. That bond is sealed by the blood of Christ. The depth and extent of God's love defies measurement. How do we even begin to grasp the essence and reality of His love? A big step is to digest the fact that He is more than loving. God is love. He gives us peace and stability beyond comprehension. No human emotion or commitment will ever come close, and certainly can never exceed the holy passion and perfect fidelity of our God. About 25 years ago, the Holy Spirit spoke clearly to me, \u201cYou will find wholeness in direct proportion to how much you allow God to reveal His love for you.\u201d

It isn\u2019t selfish to pray, \u201cGod, show me how much You love me.\u201d As we bar to His consuming love, all facets of our lives will be transformed. INSIGHT: Wait in God's presence as you ask Him to prepare your heart to receive His radical love.

Open Wide the Gates Scripture Focus:

Revelation 3:14-20 \u201cHere I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me\u201d (Revelation 3:20). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

I called my friend Ellie to ask her to pray for me as I wrote this month\u2019s Anchor readings. I knew I needed God\u2019s help. \u201cWhat\u2019s your theme?\u201d she asked. \u201cWhen Love Came Down,\u201d I answered.

\u201cOh, my!\u201d Ellie responded. \u201cWhen love came down to me, my part was to the King of Glory and open wide the gates of my heart. He has been speaking to me all my life, but I never knew I had to receive Him. When I did, it was glorious!\u201d

This conversation exemplifies my desire to show the intensity of God's desire toward us. Paul described God as pouring out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). The Greek for \u201cpour\u201d means to gush forth, to run out gree What a profound heavenly transaction! Please don\u2019t allow human pride to keep you from opening wide the gates of your heart. It doesn't matter how long you've been a church member. My friend Ellie attended church for decades before she responded to the Lord's love call. INSIGHT: Take a moment now. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your spiritual ears to the presence of the Savior. Do hear Him knocking? Welcome Him!

Kept in His Love Scripture Focus:

Isaiah 38:15-20 \u201cSurely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back\u201d (Isaiah 38:17). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

King Hezekiah was at the point of death when the prophet Isaiah went to him. His message was not encouraging. \u201cPut your house in order for you are going to die.\u201d Hezekiah wept before God. Then Isaiah had a second word. God had heard his prayer and would add 15 years to his life. A family incident comes to mind when I consider how the Lord spared Hezekiah's

life. My husband and I were returning from a trip when he was suddenly gripped by severe chest pains. His complexion turned ashen, and beads of sweat dotted his forehead. Paul pulled the car over and collapsed on the steering wheel. There wasn't another car or telephone in sight. We had nowhere to turn but to God, and we cried out to Him. Paul specifically mentioned Hezekiah\u2019s miracle as we prayed, asking the Lord for His healing touch. He distinctly sensed the presence of the Lord with us in those moments. Gradually the pains subsided. A subsequent checkup showed no permanent heart damage. God's love kept Paul that day. INSIGHT: Look back over your life. Thank God for the times He has rescued you from the very pit of destruction.

Filled to Overflowing Scripture Focus:

Matthew 9:35-38 \u201cWhen he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd\u201d (Matthew 9:36). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

If God's love gushes forth into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, how can we possibly contain it all? We can't. The overflow creates a longing to share Christ, to reach out to those who don't yet know the Good Shepherd.

God frequently called for His people to extend compassion to foreigners who lived among them. Ellie Laehn, of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, feels called to serve God in this unique way. She has conducted Friday night Bible studies at North Carolina State University for the international students. \u201cIt's amazing to see how eager they are to know about God,\u201d she says. \u201cMost are Asian students who ha heard very little about Jesus in their own countries.\u201d

The students consider North Americans to be highly independent, while their Asian cultures stress a \u201cgiving up\u201d for the sake of the group. North American Christia intrigue them by their sincere concern for others. What makes them so different? God has channeled Ellie\u2019s overflow to be a call to salvation for 1,200 foreign

students on the campus. INSIGHT: What might be the result if you were to ask the Lord to increase His love in you so that it flowed like a river to reach the lost and hurting?

Rising as the Sun Scripture Focus:

Judges 5:28-31 “On that day Deborah and Barak . . . sang this song. . . . `So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength’” (Judges 5:1,31). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Deborah and Barak sang a victory song after the Lord gave them a stunning defeat over Sisera, commander of the army of the king of Canaan. These Israelite leaders were thrilled with the strength they had received from their God to win the battle. Deborah and Barak expressed in song their longing for the Lord's enemies always to be as thoroughly crushed as Sisera and his forces had been that day. The prayer they sang called for believers to rise up in strength like the early morning sun which causes the darkness of the night to disappear as it lightens up the sky in the east. Where do we get courage to face the enemy? How do we command our souls to be strong when the horses' hoofs of our enemies thunder in our ears? Once again, it is the power of love. Our love for God carries us through and gives us faith to summon the angel of the Lord to pick up his sword of deliverance. INSIGHT: Are you facing a battle today? Stir up your love for the Lord, and He will surely come to your aid. You will see His mighty deeds in your life.

Listen for the Music

Scripture Focus: Zephaniah 3:14-17 “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

We could savor today's verse for weeks and taste only a morsel of the splendid promises it reveals. Each phrase should satisfy our souls with joy and wonder. When God says He will do something, He keeps His word. Do you agree? Then you must accept the fact that God absolutely delights in you! The Hebrew word for “delight” used here means to be filled with glee. God’s love for us in Christ allows us to enter into His rest. He becomes our peace, the refresher of our souls. Earthly turmoil and personal pain melt away as He quiets our hearts with assurances of His love. He expresses in happy music how much He cherishes us. The song God sings over us is not a soft melody, but a joyful shout of triumph! Low self-esteem and fear will flee when the Holy Spirit breathes this liberating truth. Let's revisit this verse until we believe it enough to personalize it and count on it in circumstances that could cause us to question God's precious commitment to us. INSIGHT: Draw close to the Lord. Ask Him to enlarge your heart to receive His incredible acceptance of you.

Prescription for Life Scripture Focus:

Matthew 22:34-40 “Jesus replied: `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Once again the Pharisees were plotting against Jesus. They chose an expert in the Law to ask Him a question which they hoped would trick Him into giving an inadequate answer, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?” The question did not trick Jesus. He replied with infinite wisdom in today's verse. Have you questioned why God commands us so often to love Him with such abandon? As a new Christian, I secretly thought that this was a bit vain of God. As my spiritual understanding grew, I realized that it was for my good that God asked for my unreserved love. For when my heart is turned toward Him, my own woundedness is healed. When I cry out, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” in the midst of my problems, hope is revived. As I consider the goodness of God, my mind is cleansed of harmful earth clutter. The Greek word used for commandment in today's verse implies an authoritative prescription. Joyfully loving our God is a great spiritual remedy indeed! INSIGHT: Let's acknowledge God's pure heart, eternally void of human vanities, and offer Him our deepest love.

The Master Builder Scripture Focus:

Jeremiah 31:3-6 “I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt. . . . Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful” (Jeremiah 31:4). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Though not a builder by profession, my father found great satisfaction making and repairing things with his hands. From garages, to furniture, from constructing wooden steps helping toddling grandchildren reach something too high, to crafting rustic picture frames, his skills grace our lives. The thrill of seeing useful things taking shape or someone else's junk becoming a thing of beauty motivated him. The smells of wood shavings, stains, and varnish always bring Dad to mind. Isaiah’s prophetic words in today’s Scripture reading were spoken to the Israelites

when they were exiled in Babylon. They were slaves, yoked and chained, crying out in terror and despair. Babylonian junk! But God saw them through the eyes of the Master Builder, and He set out to restore them. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness,” He declared (v. 3). He ached to see them pick up the tambourines again and dance with full joy in their hearts. INSIGHT: God's heart doesn't change. He calls to you today, “Don't despair! I will work with a skilled hand, and your life will be rebuilt.”

Our Divine Sentry Scripture Focus:

Jude 20-25 “Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. . . . To him who is able to keep you from falling” (Jude 21,24). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

My dear friend spoke with candor. “When I hang up, you go build yourself up in the Holy Spirit!” This was almost a quote from our passage in Jude, and it spoke powerfully to my heart. Our family business was in crisis. Stress had etched itself on my dear husband's face like a horrid mask, and I had taken my eyes off Jesus. I was losing my courage and hope. My friend’s words lifted my face upward. Kneeling in the darkness of my room, I praised God and asked Him to extend love and mercy to my family. I was greatly encouraged that night. The word for “keep” in our verses infers guarding from loss or injury by keeping the eye upon the relationship. How do we keep ourselves in God's love? How do we avoid causing injury to this precious relationship? Thankfully, we aren't the only ones monitoring this holy friendship. God also keeps us. Picture Him as a watchful sentry on guard. He stands ever alert, ever ready to stop our fall - sometimes with a phone call from a friend.

INSIGHT: What a wonderfully comforting truth - while we keep ourselves in God's love, He is keeping us so that we need not fall.

Sinning Child, Come Home! Scripture Focus:

Hosea 14:4-9 “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them” (Hosea 14:4). “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

The words were costly and painfully sincere. “I would like to publicly apologize to my family and this church. I have let you all down and I am so sorry. God has forgiven me, and now I'm asking your forgiveness.” Stunned silence hung over the congregation after the young man's confession. Suddenly his three young children ran forward, tears streaming down their cheeks as they hugged their now contrite father. Next, his wife, who had been gravely wounded by his infidelity, added her loving arms to the family embrace at the altar. Several others left their seats to join this restored family and to hold him in forgiveness. I have never witnessed a more powerful scene of God's healing love for the backslider. Rather than becoming another divorce statistic and destroying his home, this man's humble return to God opened the door of hope for his family. A number of years have passed since that poignant Sunday, and this family is still joyously intact. Their common love for Jesus binds them closely. INSIGHT: When we fail, we are tempted to stay away. Remember, though, the ever present “welcome” mat that sits at Jesus' feet.

Do I Have To? Scripture Focus:

Luke 6:27-36 “I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

I find it significant that our key verses open with Jesus’ words, “I tell you who hear Me.” Often we must quiet our shouts of anger, hurt, spite, and self-righteousness before we can hear His whisper. I’ve learned volumes about this command due to a former member of a church my husband pastored. She passed on harsh judgment against us to her new pastor, a man whose opinion of our pastoral care meant too much to me. I was convinced he would believe her criticism. We had sincerely extended ourselves to this woman and her family, and I was angry! The Spirit reminded me, “Bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you” (v. 28). “Give me a break!” I’d reply, pouting inwardly before bending my knee before God. One night I dreamed this woman and I were both chained to the walls of a cold, empty chamber. It was my heart! The message was obvious. Unless I unlocked our shackles with the key of pardon, we'd both remain prisoners of my foolish bitterness. INSIGHT: It is not within our power to offer forgiveness to someone who has badly hurt us. But Christ can give us the key of forgiveness and will help us use it.

The Grave of Evergreen Leaf Scripture Focus: Luke 6:27-36

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Peter Torjesen, a Norwegian, felt called to China after hearing a missionary speak. Though having little money to give that day, he added this note to his offering: “Og mit liv” (And my life). While Peter trained for the mission field, his future wife, Valborg, entered nurses training. Following their marriage in 1921, they set out for Hequ, a small city whose people were among the poorest in China. In time, Peter and Valborg established a church. The people named them Evergreen Leaf and Mrs. Leaf. God blessed them with four children in the years they extended Christ's love to the Chinese. This peaceful era ended with the invasion of China by Japan in 1937. The children were sent away to safety, but Peter and Valborg stayed on in Hequ. On December 14, 1939, Peter was killed in a Japanese bombing raid. An unmarked grave in a Chinese farmer’s field silently testifies of Peter's earthly sacrifice, but he will be joyously greeted in heaven by the many Hequ friends he had loved to the Savior. INSIGHT: You may accomplish great things in your lifetime, but none will be greater than offering yourself to love others for Christ's sake.

How Jesus Loves Me Scripture Focus:

John 13:31-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Most of us tend to be careless about Jesus' clear command to love others as He has loved us. Ironically, His disciples let it go right over their Heads. They simply changed the subject!

To discover how we are to love others, we need first to know how Jesus loves us. He totally accepts us exactly as we are, even when we're not a pretty sight. He's never too tired to give us His undivided attention. Jesus is firm when we’re taking a wrong path, but He is never harsh. When tragedy or scandal enter our lives, He stays by us. He is never fickle. Jesus is not afraid of intimacy. He even longs for it. He continually lifts us up before His Father in prayer. Though Jesus is high and exalted, He calls us His friends. He puts our well-being before His own - even unto death. Why did Jesus give this command? He wanted the world to stand amazed as they took note of the startling resemblance between Christians and their Lord and Teacher. INSIGHT: Think of how much Jesus loves you. Then ask yourself, Will people observe His love in my words and actions today?

Quiet Love Scripture Focus:

Isaiah 30:13-18 “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength . . . . The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 30:15; 32:17). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

We're grateful for all the splendid neighbors God has blessed us with, but closest to our hearts are Stanley and Maureen Atkins. This English couple, in their seventies, exhibited a quiet, steady love for God. Though their testimony was quiet, yet not for a moment could one doubt the depth of their convictions concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Maureen can’t point to a specific day or time when Christ became real to her. A lifelong worshiper, she shared, “All along the way my faith has deepened; and Christ, first an acquaintance, is now my dearest Friend, my Guide, my Savior, and my King.” To spend time over tea with Maureen is to be quieted and refreshed in

heart. Stanley’s faith was sparked as a young man when he learned, as he expressed it, “The love of God in Christ was for every man and woman and child - and even for me.” To meet Stanley's eyes is to glimpse a heart filled to the brim with kindness. The living testimony of this couple aroused in me a longing to reach out to others with quiet love. INSIGHT: Thank the Lord for those who have ministered to you through their quiet love. Ask Him to help you reach out to others in love.

Love Gone Wrong Scripture Focus:

1 John 2:15-20 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world . . . comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15-16). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Some believers have escaped into reclusive lifestyles because they feared the world. Yet God doesn't speak of fearing the world, but of not loving it. How do we reconcile worldly separation with godly compassion for people loved by Him? Satan’s plan is to use the world system to align hearts to himself. This world he heads is more a spiritual system than a place. How happy he would be if we chose to timidly cloister together awaiting rescue, rather than walking out in the bold assurance that Jesus has overcome the world! We need to recognize two points lest we dash foolishly unto uncharted waters. First, we need God's revelation of the spirit of this world so that we grasp the real danger we are being exposed to. Second, as we live in this world and interact with its inhabitants, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit's power rather than on our own skills, strength, and wisdom. His anointing rests on us no matter where we go so that we will illuminate the world with His pure light.

INSIGHT: Rely on the Lord to keep you close to His heart as you serve Him in the darkness of a perverse world system.

The Least of These Scripture Focus:

Hebrews 8:10-12 “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

God's laws are now written in our hearts and in our minds; therefore, if we but ask, Jesus will reveal Himself to each of us. Rich or poor, lovely or unlovely, God's love knows no such distinctions. I met a remarkable woman at a writers’ conference whose story impressed me. She had been abandoned by her husband and left to raise their young children alone. Rather than becoming bitter, she received God's healing love and opened her home to foster children. Over time, dozens of little ones flourished under her loving care. Years later, one of these young charges came back to visit her. Hesitantly he told her that he was dying of AIDS. Then he added it would be okay if she didn't open the door to him. She immediately embraced him, crying, “Welcome home, Son!” Unlovable? Unacceptable? The least among us? Not to this woman, who demonstrated God's grace as she nursed him for two years. This young man accepted Christ before he died. His sins were forgiven and forgotten. INSIGHT: Ask the Lord to help you really understand that no one stands outside the boundaries of His love. Let Him enlarge your heart!

Engraved on His Hand Scripture Focus:

Isaiah 49:13-16 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Every time God looks at His hand, He sees us there. Whenever we feel alone or rejected, whenever we are in pain, we can know that we are never forgotten. God describes His love for Israel as that of a mother's tender compassion toward her baby. Can she forget this infant she has borne? Of course not. God goes on to say that in addition to engraving us on His hands, our walls are ever before Him. This is His promise of divine protection. My brain often fails me when it comes to remembering names. This has caused me several embarrassing moments. But I never have to fret about God forgetting my name. It is written forever on the palm of His hand. Nor do I have to fear the future, for God's eyes are ever on me, guarding the walls of my life. In my most difficult moments my heart may tremble, but then I hear His loving whisper in my heart, “Fear not. . . . I have summoned you by name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). INSIGHT: God's love for you is wonderfully personal. Rejoice in His intimate care and protection.

The Color of God's Spirit Scripture Focus:

Colossians 3:12-17 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have. . . Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:13-14). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

A great miracle took place in South Africa in 1994, and it didn’t come about by diplomatic genius. It was a hard won battle fought by blacks and whites as they

came together in prayer for God's help in their violence-marred country. On April 17th, over 25,000 people attended a prayer rally in Durban, South Africa. Among those present were provincial leaders who had never before been able to come into unity. Behind the scenes in those crucial weeks, Ray McCauley, pastor of Rhema Bible Church in Johannesburg, also played a significant role in influencing Zulu leader King Zwelithini to participate in the open election. The world’s gaze was fixed on the expert international mediation teams, but I believe God's eyes were moved by the sight of love and forgiveness displayed by His people as they pleaded for the healing of their land. On that day love flowed and there was one color - the color of God's Spirit. INSIGHT: Bigotry lurks in the human heart. Only God's love can break down the barriers that divide us.

Holy Windbags Scripture Focus:

Jeremiah 9:23-26 “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

How the world loves to boast! We are even told that it’s a necessity to master the art of self-promotion if we want to be truly successful. But God's ways are not ours. The Lord exhorts us not to be boastful. Are you wise? Submit your intellect to God for His purposes. Are you strong? Use your muscle power to better the lives of others. Has God prospered you? Invest in things of eternal value and be mindful of the poor. There is one kind of boasting that pleases the Lord - namely, boasting of the joy of knowing Him and understanding His ways. The world desperately needs to know

that God delights in being loving, kind, and just. People everywhere need to hear that their Creator desires to fellowship with them. The world needs to know that our eyes see Jesus reaching out to them in compassion and mercy. The lonely need to know that in Christ we have found a trusted friend. The sorrowing need to know that God is the ultimate Comforter and Healer. Those who are afraid need to be led to the shelter of His wings. INSIGHT: Boast a little today - boast joyfully in the wonder of knowing the Lord and living in the awesome delight of His love!

If Anyone Loves Me Scripture Focus:

John 14:23-27 “Jesus replied, `If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him'“ (John 14:23). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Anyone can say, “I love you.” It's especially easy when love is understood as merely an emotion, a feeling born of desire and attraction. Scriptural love is not so whimsical or self-serving. It seeks the welfare of the one loved. Being truly “in love” demonstrates itself through conduct. A foot rub is sometimes sweeter than a kiss, and a patient, listening ear after a frustrating day can be more valued than goose bumps. Jesus was explaining this selfless love to His disciples one day: “If your love is genuine, demonstrate it” (see v. 23). If we don't love Jesus, we won't care about obedience. How grieved the Father must be when we make empty professions of love for His Son while our conduct mocks what Jesus had imparted so carefully while He lived among us on earth. Perhaps we feel that scriptural love is too costly. It's too Christ- and otherscentered, when we long to have love gratify us. But when scriptural love properly governs us, God promises to live within us and fill us with His peace! INSIGHT: We prove that we love Jesus by our words and deeds, and by the way we cherish His instruction.

The Prelude Scripture Focus:

Luke 1:5-20 “The angel said to him: `Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John'“ (Luke 1:13). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Zechariah joined other priests for their annual duties in the temple. They cast lots to see who would offer incense at the holy altar. Zechariah's heart must have leapt when this honor, which usually came only once in a lifetime, finally fell to him. Entering the holy place, he lit the flame on the altar, and the aroma of incense enveloped him. While adding his prayers to those of the worshipers outside, an angel appeared. Zechariah was terrified! “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said. “Your prayers have been heard. Your wife will bear a son, to be named John.” “But we’re too old!” Zechariah stammered. Surely the angel was sad as he responded, “I stand in the presence of God. I was sent with this wonderful news, but since you don't believe me, you will remain silent until your son is born.” The people stared as Zechariah returned to the court. What had taken so long? But the excited priest could not speak. Indeed, Elizabeth gave birth, and Zechariah's last written sign read, “His name is John.” INSIGHT: Ask the Lord to prepare your heart for divine interventions. Ask Him to help you always be receptive to His work in your life.

Fiat - Be It Done!

Scripture Focus: Luke 1:30-38 “The angel went to her and said, `Greetings, you who are highly favored!' . . . `I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. `May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her” (Luke 1:28,38). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

When the angel visited Nazareth and announced to Mary that she would give birth to a son, she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary knew that the conception of human life required passion, an act of love between a man and a woman. Though divine in origin, this conception of the Savior was far from passionless! Redemptive love had waited centuries to be joyously released from the chambers of the Father's heart. This tender young Israelite was being asked by God to not only receive His unfathomable love, but to be totally overwhelmed by Him in her spirit. Translating the Greek, this meant Mary had agreed to being supernaturally enveloped by God's brilliance! “Fiat,” she replied. What courage was displayed in Mary’s heart. By her consent to God she faced earthly disgrace and a possible divorce from Joseph. Yet she submitted to God's plan. Mary's faith and humility moved God to honor her with this highest of callings, to give birth to His Son. INSIGHT: When the Lord's voice is calling you, may you respond “Fiat. May my willing obedience bring joy to Your heart.”

He Obeyed Dreams Scripture Focus:

Matthew 1:18-24 “The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. . . .When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:20,24). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

God's law was clear. “If a man happens to meet a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall . . . stone them” (Deuteronomy 22:23). What a terrible dilemma for Joseph! His heart had been captivated by young Mary, yet she was now pregnant. He couldn't make a public accusation that might lead to her death. Instead, he planned to use Israel's lax divorce laws to protect her. As Joseph tossed in troubled sleep, an angel spoke to him in a dream. “Joseph, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife. This child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit and she will bear a son. You are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” Joseph awoke greatly encouraged. He quickly found Mary, and brought her to his home. After Jesus' birth, a sleeping Joseph received a second angelic visit warning of Herod's murderous plans and the need to escape to Egypt. In the darkness of that same night, Joseph swiftly moved his family to safety (2:13-15). INSIGHT: Let's celebrate the courage of this common man who dared to obey dreams. Let's be quick to respond believingly when God speaks to us.

No Room for Jesus Scripture Focus:

Luke 2:1-7 “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Today's verse haunts me. God knocks at the inns of our hearts, and the response too often is the same, “Sorry, there's no room for You here.” A young lady told me, “I’ll get serious about God when I'm older. I'm too young now. I want to party!” Then terminal cancer struck in her 21st year, and she tearfully opened the door for the Savior. Jesus knocked at the inn of a woman executive, but she was too busy providing an affluent lifestyle for her family. “Come back later when I have more time,” she told Him. “I'm too stressed out now!”

Jesus knocked at the inn of a young philosopher, but he found the Gospel too exclusive of other ideologies. He answered, “Sorry, I've invited too many others into my inn. There isn't any room for You.” Jesus knocked at the inn of a Christian worker, but he sadly closed the door, saying, “Sorry, but I'm so burned out I can't take in one more person.” Too young...too busy. . . too crowded . . .too burned out. How do you respond when Jesus knocks at your door? INSIGHT: Will you put a “Vacancy” sign on the door of your inn so that you can welcome Jesus?

God So Loved Scripture Focus:

John 3:16-21 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

When Immanuel came down from heaven, divinely conceived in the womb of a young virgin, no mere infant's cry came forth. His birthing wail shook the foundations of the universe like a mighty war cry that filled every hellish demon with terror. Love Incarnate had come to wrest the keys of death from Satan and open wide the doors of paradise for all who would believe. Love was made manifest in the form of this newborn Babe who had come from the Father filled with grace and truth. This Immanuel had turned away from the glories of heaven to be cradled in the straw of a wretched animal stall because God had judged human souls to be precious. As this humble beginning unfolded in Bethlehem, some shepherds nearby were given a glimpse of the cosmic significance of Immanuel's birth. An angel of the Lord appeared to them in radiant glory and countless heavenly hosts appeared, exalting God. The shepherds quickly found the Babe of Bethlehem and praised God for the things they had seen and heard.

INSIGHT: Love came down from heaven one holy night in the form of a Babe who has won our hearts.

God Has Spoken Scripture Focus:

Hebrews 1:1-6 “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets . . . but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

For many generations God had spoken to people through the patriarchs and prophets. Now He communicates through the holy babe of Bethlehem. Do you want to know the character and nature of God? Look to His Son! The Gospels reveal God to the seeker through the life and teachings of Jesus. He is the divine imprint of God. Victoria, a middle-aged Jewish woman from the West Indies, was our neighbor years ago. Her lilting islander voice spoke words of encouragement and love to our young family. Her laughter was like healing music. How we loved her! I shared my faith with Victoria before we moved to Wisconsin, but she clung to Judaism. One day I boldly wrote, “Victoria, please promise me you'll read the New Testament I'm sending you. Pray each time you read, `Lord God, show me in this book if Jesus is the Messiah.'“ I tearfully prayed over my package as I mailed it. God did speak, and Victoria, faithful daughter of the Old Covenant, was born again! INSIGHT: God has spoken through His Son, and He continues to speak today through His powerful, life-changing Word.

Waiting for God

Scripture Focus: Luke 2:25-38 “Simeon . . . was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. . . . Anna . . .never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:25, 36-37). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scholars feel Simeon may have been an Hasidim, a Jewish minority known for their worship of God and for keeping His Law with a pure heart. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Lord's Christ. This man walked closely with God. The Holy Spirit was upon him and spoke to him. After a lifetime of waiting, Simeon was led by the Spirit one day to the temple. When he saw the couple holding an infant, he knew his moment had come. Taking Jesus, King of Glory, into his aged arms, he praised with an overflowing heart, “My eyes have seen your salvation!” Anna the prophetess joined them to give thanks for Jesus. For many decades after her husband's death she had devoted herself to praying, fasting, and worshiping God day and night in the temple. Many believers live in anticipation of the second coming of the Messiah. When He comes, will He find an Anna and a Simeon among us laboring in prayer, consumed by the wonder of the wait? INSIGHT: Ask the Lord to lift your eyes from the everyday things that absorb your attention. Let Him stir up within you a passion for Jesus' return.

No Fear

Scripture Focus: 1 John 4:13-18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

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I can still hear my mother's voice, “Hurry, kids!” she'd call. “There's a storm coming!

Let's all watch!” We'd race into the living room, pull back the curtains, and excitedly find a spot by the window. You'd think a movie was about to begin. “Wow! Look at that lightning!” we’d shriek with delight. “Those clouds look like a pot of boiling foam. Just look at them swirl!” Mom would add. My grandmother had been so fearful of bad weather that she would gather her children and hide under the bed when dark clouds rolled in. Mother determined not to pass on that kind of fearfulness. Rather than hiding, we grew up celebrating storms. Mother's love for us had conquered the fear. Fear displeases God because it contradicts trust. He wants to cast it out. (The Greek word denotes an intense, deliberate hurl.) Scary things may happen to us, but they don't have to be invited in and entertained in our hearts. When terror strikes, don't hide under the bed. Run to God. INSIGHT: God speaks of a righteous man whose “heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear” (Psalm 112:7-8).

An Allegory Scripture Focus:

Revelation 3:19-22 “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Revelation 3:19). “Do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you” (Hebrews 12:5). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rebuke and discipline are God's bridle for us. When we become spiritually complacent or indifferent, the bridle snaps. This alerts us to press on. If we're galloping in areas that require caution and discernment, the bridle pulls us back. This allegory gives helpful insights. By nature we'd rather roam around at whim. Who wants the frustration of being saddle broken? We prefer to be free of the restraints of a rider. But God sees beyond our flesh and perceives the heart of a champion destined to win the race of faith.

Though not an equestrian, I’d guess that through expert training over time, horses would develop an inner sense of anticipating directions so that horse and rider travel as one. At time we may grow weary of God’s loving discipline. But when our faith has been tested and the rebuke removed, we are always one step closer to winning our race. Without exception, God's wise correction draws us closer and underscores our kinship through Jesus Christ. INSIGHT: As you look to a new year, determine again to submit to the Lord's disciplining love. Let Him train you to be a winner in the race of faith.

Reflection Scripture Focus:

Titus 3:3-8 “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Titus reminds us that God's love was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. If we were richly deserving, God's love and kindness would be amazing. But we were not deserving - and in ourselves there was nothing we could do to earn God's love and kindness. Jesus changed all that! From a heart overflowing with love for us, God has poured out “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (2:4). Jesus came to earth to demonstrate God’s holiness and love. He did not come out of a sense of duty but with love that could not be stopped, even though He was despised and rejected by those who should have recognized Him and welcomed Him. In humble response to Christ’s love and holiness, let's enter the new year in an attitude of worshipful adoration and loving service while we sensitively share His

love with others. INSIGHT: Ask the Lord to teach you every day more about living in His love and expressing your love to Him in return.

New Year's Eve Prayer Scripture Focus:

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one . . . . May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:3, 5). ------------------------------------------------------------------------

The apostle Paul tucked an exquisite jewel into his letter to the Thessalonian believers. They faced uncertainty and persecution, but Paul prayed, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love.” What a wonderful New Year's Eve prayer! Are you anxious about what the coming months of the new year will hold? Direct your heart into the love of God. Were you wounded from the events of this past year? Are you still suffering the pain? Direct your heart into the love of God. Have you lost a loved one? Does loneliness hang like a cloud over even the brightest days? Direct your heart into the love of God. Are you thankful for the goodness and mercy the Lord has shown you this year? Direct your heart into the love of God. Do you long to serve Him more faithfully in the new year? Do you desire to share His love with others more effectively in the coming months? Direct your heart into the love of God. INSIGHT: Praise God for the glorious night so long ago when love came down from heaven.

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