Monthly Archives: December 2013

Today’s Scripture – December 30, 2013

John 1:4-5 (NIV):  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Light, by its very nature, counteracts darkness.  It never struggles against the darkness; it counteracts it, destroys it, neutralizes it, completely does away with it by its very presence, its very nature.  When Jesus came into the world, He came as light into a place that had grown very dark.  He did not bring light into the darkness the way that someone brings a flashlight into a dark room.  Jesus WAS light, so when He entered the dark world in which we live, He shone by His own nature, and the darkness had to flee.

John wrote that the light SHINES in the darkness.  It did not shine for a while and then go out or go away.  It is still shining as a living reality in our world, even today.  Jesus not only said, “I am the light of the world,” (John 9:5) He also told His followers, “YOU are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), and told them that they must let their lights shine before men.  (Matthew 5:16)  Before the day of Pentecost, the disciples were more reflectors of the light that Jesus brought into the world.  They had no brilliance within themselves that could produce enough light to counter the darkness.  But after Pentecost, after they were filled with the Holy Spirit and the living presence of Jesus, they became like the lens on a lighthouse – their lives focusing the light of God that now dwelt in each of them, and shining it through their own lives, driving out the darkness everywhere they went.

That same light shines through the lives of Spirit-filled believers today.  And, just as in Jesus’ day, those in the dark cannot understand the light.  It is so far removed from their experience, it is so terrifying to them in its ability to dispel the darkness all around them, that their initial response it to try to turn it off; to shut down its expression in the lives of believers – to shut them up, to try to make them keep the express of their “religion” out of the public square, locked safely behind the doors of their homes and churches.  But we must realize that it is not superior knowledge, or “enlightenment,” or concern for equity that drives this: it is simply fear of something that they cannot understand (until they are willing to surrender to Jesus), driving an attempt to keep it under control.  But, as John wrote, the darkness has still not overcome the light (v5 margin).  It can’t, because darkness has no real substance.  It is merely the absence of light.  When we, the people who carry God’s light, are willing to take away the shades and the shutters so that His light shines unhindered through our lives, the whole world will grow brighter, and those who prefer the darkness will find that they have no place to hide.

Father, thank You for Your light in our hearts.  Shine brilliantly through our lives.  Help us to step out boldly in Your power, Your strength, Your light, so that our very lives radiate the brilliance of Your presence everywhere we go.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 26, 2013

Hebrews 10:5-7 (NIV):  Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.  Then I said, ‘Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll– I have come to do your will, O God.'”

It is very easy to reduce the Christian faith to a series of observances.  To count our faithfulness in terms of the number of worship services attended, the amount of money given, or the number of ministries participated in.  But by using that standard, we reduce the Christian faith to a mere religion.

Christianity was never designed to be a religion, even though that is frequently the way that it is seen and practiced by many.  The very core of Christianity is mankind being restored to relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is the restoration of God’s image in mankind as the first step in making ALL things new.  It is the removal of all that mars God’s original creation through the agency of men, women, and even children who live day by day in His presence.  There is no religion in the world that can accomplish all of that!

As always, Jesus is the model.  When He came, it was not to show people how to offer better sacrifices in the temple.  It was not to demonstrate how to better sing songs of praise.  Jesus did observe all of the legitimate demands of the law, but the key thing that He really showed people was how to live life in complete communion with God, by wholeheartedly living in obedience, not just to His commandments, but to His will, as He guided moment by moment.  “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19 NIV)  At its core, He did not demonstrate religion to God’s people, but relationship.

It has been said that if people live in constant relationship with God, their actions will be the same as a religious person; only the motive will be different.  But the truth is that, even though some of the actions might be the same, the person who lives in relationship with God, the one who is focused on doing His will every moment, will demonstrate a power and effectiveness in bringing the kingdom of God into contact with the people of this world that the religious person cannot even understand.  That was why Jesus and His followers were so hated by the religiously observant people of their day.  Jesus and His disciples demonstrated God’s power, even to the point of performing mighty miracles, while the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees were observant, but completely powerless.

In short, it is not the religiously observant person through whom God will bring His kingdom into reality, reshaping the world and redeeming mankind.  It is through those with whom He has a powerful, day-by-day, moment-by-moment relationship; those whose whole focus in life is to consistently do His will.

Father, save us from a dead religion that is observant but powerless.  Instead, help us to live in such powerful relationship with You, today and every day, that we move at the slightest impulse of Your Spirit to do Your will.  May Your kingdom be manifested in us each day as a living reality.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 21, 2013

Ephesians 1:3-4 (NIV):  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Many people, when they think about salvation, their thoughts frequently end right there – believing that God’s goal for each of us is to have us make a profession of faith, or say a prayer, and then He is done; mission accomplished.  But that is not the end of God’s plan for us.  It is only the beginning.

For each of us who humbles himself and comes to Jesus for salvation, the destiny God has for us is to be holy and blameless in His sight; to be fully conformed to the image of Jesus, God’s Son (Romans 8:29).  And this is not a mere “legal status” that God confers on us, calling us righteous while we are still sinners.  It is the one who actually does what is right that is righteous, not the one who merely believes in the right things (1 John 3:7-10).  The great news about Jesus is that, with His coming and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, God has made it possible for us to be genuinely holy and righteous, not just after we die and go to heaven, but to be able to serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all of our days (Luke 1:74-75).

This is God’s chosen destiny for ALL who choose Him.  This is His plan for our lives, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God will purify our hearts, and move us from within to obey all of His commands, in ways that we could never have dreamt possible!

Father, thank You for these promises, this destiny, and all of Your power to make it come true for each of us.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 18, 2013

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NIV):  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

It is always God’s goal to completely transform those who come to Him for salvation.  If a person comes to Him in their filthy rags of sin and depravity and then, after being forgiven, they turn away in the same sad state, what has been accomplished?  Absolutely nothing!

When someone believes in Jesus for salvation, when they repent, turning away from their sinful actions and attitudes and back toward God with all of their hearts, He does more than just issue a pardon for sins committed.  He actually changes that person into a completely new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a completely different heart, and a completely different center of gravity in their lives.  This transformation makes them see all things differently, to actually want different things.  It completely transforms actions and attitudes.

But as amazing and profound as that initial change is, it is still only the beginning.  From that moment forward, God’s will for that person, His chosen destiny for them, is that they will be transformed into the very image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).  This transformation happens through that person abiding consistently in God, allowing His Holy Spirit to shine in and through them, so that they begin to reflect the very image of God, the image of Jesus, back to the world in which they live.

This transformation is not just for an elite group of Christians, but for every single follower of Jesus.  And it is not designed to be a process that takes a lifetime before any appreciable progress is seen.  The initial transformation is profound and instantaneous, with immediate results that are able to be seen clearly by those who know that person, and by the person themselves.  The additional polishing of the image, though it does last a lifetime, should be continual and noticeable as well.

God’s people all need to keep in mind the destiny to which He has called us:  to reflect His glory, and to be transformed into the very likeness of Jesus with ever-increasing glory.  (And they must never doubt His power and ability to do that in their own lives.  Believing that they are a “special case” that can’t actually be remade into the image of Jesus is doubting God’s power, as well as His word.)  Keeping that ultimate goal in mind will keep us from being distracted by the cares of this world, and will keep us focused on God and on His agenda.

Father, I know that the initial transformation in my own life was nothing short of moving from death to life, from darkness into the full light of Your presence.  (And I have seen the same instant transformation in the lives of many others as well.)  And You have been working continually in my life every since then, polishing and adjusting every area of my life to be more and more like Jesus.  Thank You for this destiny You have called all of us to, and for the power You have to accomplish it.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 17, 2013

Revelation 3:19 (NIV):  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

Nobody likes to be rebuked, to have their wrongdoing exposed and pointed out to them.  Yet every parent understands the need to confront their children with their wrongs and sins as soon as they are discovered.  If they don’t, the children will continue to run in the tracks of evil, and will only get worse and worse.

God has always lovingly disciplined His people when they have sinned.  His intention initially is to show us where we have gone wrong; to speak to our hearts with conviction, giving us an opportunity to repent – to turn away from the sin and to turn fully toward Him again – before the sin takes root in our hearts.  If we do not respond, more drastic measures become necessary.  He will bring the sin into the open, so that it will be clearly seen.  The opportunity to repent is still there, though at this stage there will likely be other consequences for the sin.  If we still will not repent, the consequences will continue to accrue.  Ultimately, the hardness of our hearts will cut off our communion with God.  He will leave us to our own devices, giving us over to our sin and depravity, until we hit bottom, when some will finally turn back to God.

Some of us who are on the receiving end of God’s conviction and discipline seem to think that the unpleasant things that He brings or allows into our lives when we sin is a sign that He doesn’t love us.  Actually, the opposite is true!  They are a sign of God’s abiding love for us, even in the face of our rebellion, our spiritual adultery against Him.  Because God wants His people to be holy and pure, solely devoted to Him in every area of our lives so that we can spend all eternity in His presence, He rebukes us when we sin; He disciplines us when we rebel; He puts us through the fire to purify and refine us.  If God merely left us alone in our sins, THAT would be the sign of an uncaring heart – it would mean that it didn’t matter to Him if we ended up in hell.  But it does matter.  It makes a massive difference to God that those He loves, those He died for, should end up suffering eternally, separated from Him by our sins.  So, as a caring parent, God rebukes, He disciplines, He reproves, all in an effort to get us to change our direction before we are lost.  Our job is to be earnest in our own spiritual development, and to repent at His first rebuke.

Father, it is easy for us to see as parents that rebuke and discipline are actually signs of love.  Give us soft hearts, Lord, hearts that immediately respond to the gentlest rebuke with sincere repentance, so that nothing more drastic will be required.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 16, 2013

Matthew 8:18-22 (NIV):  When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.  Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

People do the gospel a great disservice when they present salvation as a “free gift.”  There is a sense in which that description is true:  salvation cannot be earned by living a good life – no earthly life will ever be good enough to merit eternal life.  And it is not deserved – no one is ever good enough for God to grant them eternal life as a reward.  And it can never be paid for by performing acts of devotion.  Salvation must be received by God’s grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus.

But the gift is still not free.  If someone gave me a pair of tickets to a big concert by a group that I wanted to go see, tickets that cost them $1000 apiece, it would be an insult to them to declare, “Wow, I have free tickets!”  The tickets may not have cost ME $1000 apiece, but they cost my friend dearly!  They are a gift that I didn’t have to earn, but they were never “free.”  In the same way, when a person receives salvation, it is not paid for by them, but is given freely, and received by grace through faith.  But the gift is far from free.  It cost God dearly in that it was a purchase through the very life blood of His One and only begotten Son.  And it cost Jesus dearly, too.  Most people, even most Christians, have no idea of the huge price Jesus willingly paid to buy salvation for all mankind.  To begin with, He willingly left the splendor and glory of heaven behind to enter the cold, dark, sin-infested world as a human baby.  He took on human flesh so He could identify completely with us, the ones He came to save, and so that He could experience the same hunger, and thirst, and weakness, and pain, and sorrowing, and suffering, and death that are the lot of all people.  Then he surrendered Himself to His enemies, putting Himself completely at their mercy, and refusing to use His divine power to save Himself.  He endured hours of torture and pain, finally being nailed to the cross, naked and bleeding in the cold springtime air.  But all of that was nothing compared to the ultimate price He paid.  As He willingly took on Himself the suffering earned by the sins of all mankind, for a space of time he was cut off from His Father’s presence.  The one who had enjoyed constant communion with the Father for all eternity, even during His incarnation, was suddenly without a sense of God’s presence.  And even though He knew that moment was coming, and dreaded it so much that He cried out in agony in the garden to be spared that separation, when it came it was more overwhelming, more agonizing than He ever imagined.  Compared to that time of separation, the hours of torture were nothing.  But He willingly bore all of that suffering and agony of body and soul to purchase salvation for all humanity.

In view of all that, how dare anyone foolishly refer to salvation as a “free gift,” as if it were won from a radio contest!

And there is one thing more.  If someone bought me those $1000 concert tickets, what would they think if I were to put them in a drawer and forget about them?  If I never actually went to the concert?  By accepting the tickets, I also accept the responsibility of going to the concert, of using the tickets that were given to me at such a great cost.  To take the tickets and shun that responsibility shows the highest level of disregard not only for the price that was paid for them, but for the person who gave them to me.  In that sense, also, the “gift” is not “free.”

In the same way, when I accept salvation, I am also accepting the responsibility for living out that salvation in my day-to-day life.  And that is costly.  In this Scripture, Jesus lays out some of the costs of following Him, of taking up the life of the kingdom.  In Luke’s gospel (14:25-33), Jesus clearly calls those who want to follow Him to count the hugely high cost of becoming His disciple BEFORE they make the choice to follow Him.  And even today, if someone wants to accept the “free gift” of eternal life, it is essential that they understand the responsibility that they are taking on – responsibility to live out their salvation on a day-by-day basis.  To put aside their worldly desires and agendas, and live the life of the kingdom of God.  To love God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, so that their entire being is taken up with Him.  To love others so completely that they give all that they have in the pursuit of those souls for the kingdom.  To, often literally, lay down their lives for others and for the sake of the gospel.

Life in God’s kingdom is a life so blessed that for 2000 years people have lacked the words to describe it fully.  But for that salvation to be a reality cost God massively.  It cost Jesus unimaginably.  And it costs the person living it out all that the world holds dear.  Thus salvation is no “free gift.”  It is instead the pearl of great price, which is worth everything a person owns to possess (Matthew 13:45-46).

Father, You have taken my breath away!  Thank You for this amazing insight into the huge cost of our salvation.  Forgive us for taking so vast and costly a thing so for granted, for holding it so cheaply!  Help us, Lord, to so live our lives in Your kingdom, today and every day, that we show forth the unimaginable value of what You have lovingly given to us – our salvation, our hope, our forever future with You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 15, 2013

John 5:46-47 (NIV):  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

There are many today, even among the churched, who do not believe Moses, and therefore will not, cannot, believe Jesus.  Many of them are not primarily to blame for their disbelief, because they have been taught from a very young age that the historical events depicted in Genesis through Deuteronomy (and even beyond) are not actual historical events.  The first 11 chapters of Genesis are especially pointed out as being non-historical – merely poetry written to convey some theological truths.

But the fact is, today as in Jesus’ day, if you do not believe what Moses write, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to believe what Jesus said, because Jesus taught the same things, and repeatedly taught that the events in Genesis were actual historical events, accurately recorded.  For example, in dealing with the divorce issue, Jesus pointed out that at the beginning (NOT billions of years later) God made people.  He made them male and female, and they became one flesh – the model for marriage from the One who designed it.  (cf., Matthew 19:1-6)  When talking about the suddenness and unexpectedness of His return and the end of the world, Jesus refers back to the same kind of suddenness and unexpectedness when the flood was released in the days of Noah.  (Matthew 24:36-41)  He gave not the slightest signal that the flood was anything other than the literal, world-wide event that Moses proclaims it to be.  By the way, Jesus also repeatedly supports the idea of Moses being the author of the Pentateuch.

To those who say that Jesus was merely a product of His time and only believed those things because He didn’t have access to the information that we do, they have merely proven Jesus’ statement to be true:  since they don’t believe what Moses wrote, they have a significant block in their hearts against what Jesus taught.  This includes the fact that Jesus was no mere man, no “product of His time;” He was and is the eternal God in the flesh – One who was not only present as an eyewitness to all of the events recorded in those early chapters of the Bible, but the cause that lay behind them and directed them.  He was not a mere man educated in the Scriptures, but the very author of them, who breathed His words through the human authors, including Moses.

God is always trustworthy.  He never lies, or ever shades the truth.  He never tells us something false or non-historical as history.  If He tells a story that didn’t really happen in order to illustrate a point, He clearly flags it as a parable.  Therefore, we can know with all good assurance from God Himself, that we can believe that what Moses wrote is true and historically accurate.  And that, of course, will open the door of our hearts to fully believe all that Jesus said, and to fully receive Him as our Savior.

Father, thank You for always telling us the truth, no matter what.  Thank You for giving us clear information, not out of the often mistaken minds of men, but from Your own holy heart.  Thank You that, as surely as the world of the past was lost to a worldwide flood, so our home with You in heaven will last forever.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 14, 2013

Psalm 34:4-7 (NIV):  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Whenever David was in trouble, and he had many times when he was overwhelmed by his troubles, he turned his heart wholly to God, and cried out to Him until he saw His deliverance.  When he ended up before Achish, the Abimelech of Gath, his life was very much in danger.  He was fearful, and cried out to God in his heart.  God gave him the idea of pretending to be insane, and the Philistines, instead of capturing him and killing him, merely pitied him and drove him away.

David clearly understood that all of his deliverance and all of his safety came from God, the One who had anointed him king over Israel, and who had sworn to uphold him.  He relied on God every moment, and saw His powerful right arm come to his defense time after time.

Today God is still with His people, true to His promise to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and to be with us always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  And He is not just with us in times of trouble when we call on Him.  He is with us, actually living inside us, every moment of every day.  If we tune our ears to His voice, and if we obey His commands, God will guide and direct our every step, so that we stay right in the center of His will.  God will make our faces radiant, never let us be put to shame, and rescue us from our troubles.  God’s presence will inhabit us, and He will camp around us, giving us victory over and complete deliverance from every enemy of our souls.

Father, I have experienced Your guidance, Your presence, and your protection frequently in my own life.  Thank You for always being present, for always caring, and for never letting me walk alone.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 11, 2013

Genesis 1:31 (NIV):  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.

Many people look at the world today, at all of the brokenness, and hurt, and suffering, and pain, at natural disasters, and disease, and death, and they wonder how God could possibly look at all of that and call His creation “very good.”  But that is like someone looking at the Venus de Milo, and wondering why anyone would make a sculpture of a beautiful woman with no arms and a chipped up face!  Obviously when the sculpture was newly created it was completely intact.  Over time decay, and possibly vandalism, caused the damage that is seen today.  The original artist created a masterpiece that was damaged after the fact.

It is exactly the same with God’s creation.  When He finished creating everything, it was all perfect.  It was a world where life flourished, and where there was no death, no disease, and no natural disasters.  (It is hard for people today to picture a world like that, but that is only because they only know the broken product, not the original article.)  The man and his wife that God created were perfect, too.  Far from savage brutes, they were the pinnacle of God’s creative powers, made in His own image and likeness, intelligent, creative, strong, and stately.  And they also had two things that no other creature possessed:  an immortal soul, and unfettered free will.  That gave them the ability to choose to obey or disobey God’s commands, as well as moral responsibility for their choices.

God made the man and the woman lords over the earth and all of its creatures (Genesis 1:26), placed them in an ideal environment in the garden, and gave them access to a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains for food, and even access to the Tree of Life itself.  There was only one restriction:  they were not allowed to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They were instead to submit to God, to seek Him for any knowledge they might want or need.

God allowed them to be tested by the serpent, and they failed the test, doing profound damage to their souls in the process – the very thing that God had warned them would happen beforehand.  And, because they were lords of the earth, their sin had far-reaching consequences for the entire world.  Death and decay began to mar God’s once perfect creation.  And ever since that first step away from obedience, the world has suffered the aftershocks of mankind’s sinful, broken spirit.

So when people look at the world, and when they see its brokenness, and the pain and suffering that mar the spectacular beauty that is still evident everywhere, they must realize that what they are seeing are the traces of the original very good creation, broken and marred by the sin of mankind.

Father, there really is a lot of beauty still in our world; beauty that shines brightly even through all of the brokenness.  It takes our breath away to see the waterfalls, the mountains, the canyons, the huge variety of wildlife, even the sunrises and sunsets.  How much more spectacular it must have all been at creation’s first blush, when Adam and Eve woke on their first morning!  Lord, I know that a big part of Your plan in sending Jesus is to reshape the whole world, freeing it from its bondage to decay as You remake people through the power of salvation and sanctification (cf. Romans 8:19-25).  Help all of Your people to so submit to Your remaking, reshaping power that the world is continually remade through us wherever we are.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 10, 2013

Psalm 63:1-2 (NIV):  O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.

When David was in the wilderness hiding out in no-man’s-land from the forces of Saul, what really kept him going was his recollection of those times when he had been tangibly in God’s presence.  When all support felt far away, when hope seemed gone, he could still go back in his mind to those watershed moments when he had been in God’s sanctuary and beheld His power and glory firsthand.  And those recollections gave him the steadiness and stability that he needed to keep his faith strong, even in the hardest of circumstances.

But many of God’s people today lack the memory of that kind of watershed moment.  When they accepted Jesus, they said a prayer, or acknowledged a doctrinal position, or they submitted to baptism.  But few of them can point back to a moment when their experience of God’s actual presence became so real that it provides a constant and secure bulwark against every storm that life throws at them.

After people become Christians, it seems that most of them are immediately sucked right back into the busy routines of their normal day-to-day lives.  Normally they are not instructed about the necessity of setting aside the best part of their day to spend consciously in God’s presence, praying, listening, reading the Bible, listening, and receiving directly from God wisdom, and strength, and power.  Even in these “devotional times” God can make His presence so strongly felt that he becomes more real in our experience.  Those times when God’s people come before Him, when we consciously focus and quiet our hearts and minds, when we actually hear His voice speaking to our deepest hearts, these times also become watershed moments; times when we receive so definite a sense of God’s presence that when the enemy comes and whispers to us that He is unreal, or uncaring, or that our salvation is a hoax or a mistake, then we can answer firmly, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”  (2 Timothy 1:12 NIV)

Father, thank You for the number of these watershed moments that You have built into my life.  They truly are solid foundations that keep me from doubt, from even the mere idea of every turning away from You.  Amen.

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