Category Archives: God’s love

CHRISTMAS EVE: “All We Really Need”

On Christmas Night All Christians Sing[1]

In his book Hidden Christmas, Timothy Keller draws a comparison between receiving advice and receiving news. “Advice is counsel about what you must do. News is a report about what has already been done. Advice urges you to make something happen. News urges you to recognize something that has already happened and to respond to it.”[2] Keller then applies this distinction to the biblical narratives of Christmas. “There is no ‘moral of the story’ to the nativity. The shepherds, the parents of Jesus, the wise men are not being held up primarily as examples for us. These Gospel narratives are telling you not what you should do but what God has done.”[3]

One evening some two-thousand years ago, a celestial news broadcast gave a few select men on a Judean hillside a message about the greatest event in human history. It was an up-to-the-minute report about a birth that had just happened that night. The news was delivered by angelic messengers who had come directly from “the Source” to report about the event.

I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12 NRSV)

All that remained was for the shepherds to respond to the news, find the Child, and worship the newborn Savior. The traditional Sussex Carol calls on all Christians to likewise join in the response of adoration and praise.

On Christmas night, all Christians sing to hear the news the angels bring.
On Christmas night, all Christians sing to hear the news the angels bring:
News of great joy, news of great mirth, news of our merciful King’s birth.

When we respond to news we receive, the nature of our response usually matches the message we received. To a tragic occurrence the response is sadness or sorrow. But to “good news of great joy” – the news that our bondage to sin has been broken – there can be only one response – gladness and joy! There is a Puritan prayer which calls on God to hear the intercession that Jesus makes in heaven today for us and to “. . . whisper to my heart, ‘Thy sins are forgiven, be of good cheer; lie down in peace.”[4] The forgiveness of our sins is the true gladness that replaces our deep sadness. On this Christmas Eve, we respond with joy to the news of the arrival of the One who delivers us from our bondage – redeems us from our slavery – to sin.

Then why should men on earth be sad, since our Redeemer made us glad.
Then why should men on earth be sad, since our Redeemer made us glad:
When from our sin he set us free, all for to gain our liberty.

When sin departs before Your grace, then life and health come in its place.
When sin departs before Your grace, then life and health come in its place:
Angels and men with joy may sing, all for to see the newborn King.

The same Puritan prayer continues, “Unsought, Thou hast given me the greatest gift, the person of Thy Son, and in Him Thou wilt give me all I need.”[5] Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, understood that the coming Messiah would address every human need, and offered his praise to the One whom his son would “prepare the way” for.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79 NRSV)

Why is this night so special? We have been given spiritual life and health to heal the disease of sin in our lives – light to dispel darkness as a “tender mercy” from God – deliverance from a life characterized by death and into a life of peace. Why on Christmas night should all Christians sing? Because God has done this by giving us a great gift – the greatest gift – the gift of Himself – our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ – and He is all we really need. May praise fill our hearts and minds and flow out of our voices because of this “good news.”

All out of darkness we have light which made the angels sing this night.
All out of darkness we have light, which made the angels sing this night:
“Glory to God and peace to men, now and forevermore. Amen.”

Enjoy this rendition of Sussex Carol by the King’s College Cambridge choir.


[1] WORDS: Traditional English Carol. MUSIC: SUSSEX CAROL, traditional English carol arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1919). https://youtu.be/oqsnfgVQuyk

[2] Timothy Keller, HIDDEN CHRISTMAS, (New York: Viking/Penguin Random House, 2016), p. 21.

[3] Timothy Keller, HIDDEN CHRISTMAS, p. 22.

[4] The Valley of Vision, “The Prayer of Love,” p. 149.

[5] The Valley of Vision, “The Prayer of Love,” p. 149.

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Filed under Christmas, Daily Living, God's love, Hope, Hymn devotional, Incarnation of Christ

The Shepherd I Need

Psalm 23 is a “go to” psalm – a “destination” psalm – a psalm that speaks to many of the situations we face. It is the psalm often turned to when we need comfort in times of trouble or struggle. It is an oft-quoted psalm at funerals but is equally relevant for happier occasions like weddings or baptisms. Perhaps this is because Psalm 23 speaks to universal needs – needs we have in all the seasons of life – and how our Lord lovingly provides for those needs.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.[1]

We are like sheep, and we need our Shepherd. There are times when we need assurance that situations and circumstances will work out in our lives, and our Shepherd Lord provides that assurance by giving us “green pastures” and “still waters” that bring restoration and strength. Our Shepherd Lord promises that He will give us guidance and direction so that we might bring Him glory in and through our lives. Just like a middle eastern shepherd considered his flock to be his possession, so our Shepherd Lord sees us as His possession, a truth captured by the writer of the hymn Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us.

Savior, like a shepherd lead us; much we need Thy tender care.
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us; for our use Thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us; Thine we are.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us; Thine we are.

Another universal need is that of safety and protection. In Psalm 23, David affirms that our Shepherd Lord, like a middle eastern shepherd who was the model for the biblical image of God as our shepherd, will walk with us through the deepest, darkest moments of our lives. If we begin to get off the path, He will take the initiative to get us back on track. He knows the sound of our voice. He hears our cries in times of fear, and He responds.

We are Thine; do Thou befriend us; be the Guardian of our way.
Keep Thy flock; from sin defend us; seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Sheep have a reputation for needing constant attention. They have a knack for drifting away from the rest of the flock and getting into trouble. As do we. We are “poor and sinful” and daily need our Shepherd Lord’s mercy, grace, and power to fix the messes we make in our lives. And our Shepherd Lord is right there for us.

Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be.
Thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse, and power to free.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Early let us turn to Thee.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Early let us turn to Thee.

Isn’t it good to know that our Shepherd Lord’s love for us is unconditional and unfailing? As Psalm 23 promises, His goodness and mercy sustain us through all of life – they never cease. Our Shepherd Lord will never abandon us. We all need the care and provision of our loving and faithful Shepherd Lord. This day, let us reaffirm our commitment to every day drawing near to Him, receiving His love, and doing His will, enjoying what King David in Psalm 23 describes as dwelling “. . . in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”

Early let us seek Thy favor; early let us do Thy will.
Blessed Lord and only Savior, with Thy love our beings fill.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast loved us; love us still.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast loved us; love us still.

Enjoy a beautiful performance of this hymn by the Weimar Chamber Singers at this link:  https://youtu.be/hGFHhoykILg

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[1] Psalm 23 NRSV

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All His Good Promise

There has not failed one word of all His good promise . . . (1 Kings 8:56 NKJV)

I was blessed with two grandmothers who were women of prayer and the Word.  My maternal grandmother taught a Bible class in her church right up to her death in 1970, and her class is still identified with her name in that church over 50 years later. 

My paternal grandmother was always admonishing her family, “Don’t forget the read (the Bible) and pray!”  She particularly emphasized “claiming the promises” found in Scripture.  On my desk I keep a little book titled “Personal Promises from God’s Word” that belonged to her. The pages of this book are filled with Bible promises concerning many different emotions and life situations.  There are promises to claim when you feel afraid, discouraged, hopeless, lonely, or angry.  There are promises listed for when you need comfort, forgiveness, patience, or peace. The cover is tattered.  Within the book are handwritten notes and many Scripture verses are highlighted and underlined.  Before passing it on to me, my grandmother kept this little book of Bible promises with her at all times, referring to it frequently. Daily.

God is a promise-making, promise-keeping God.  In 1 Kings 8, King Solomon affirmed this attribute of God in his prayer dedicating the Temple he had built for the worship of God in Jerusalem.  The fact that Solomon had been able to build the Temple was evidence that God kept His promise to King David (8:24).  It was also evidence of God keeping His promise to Moses that the Ark of the Covenant – and the nation of Israel – now had a permanent home in the land.  In fact, Solomon declares, “There has not failed one word of all His good promise” (8:56).  God was faithful to the promises He made to the people of Israel, just as He is faithful to the promises He has made in His Word to us.

This is a truth that Kelso Carter wrote about in a Gospel hymn that he set to a robust, enthusiastic tune for singing.

Standing on the promises of Christ my King!
Through eternal ages let His praises ring.
“Glory in the highest!” I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

“Standing on the Promises” can be a motto for Christian living.  When the apostle Paul writes that “. . . the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God . . .” (Galatians 2:20 NKJV), he is saying that his daily living is grounded in his confidence in the faithfulness of God to His promises, the ultimate example of which is seen in death of Christ on the cross in fulfillment of many Old Testament promises and prophesies.

Therefore, when trouble comes, we can confidently stand on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail!
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God, I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

When the Enemy of your soul wages war against you with strong temptations, you can put your faith in the promises of God.

Standing on the promises, I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me.
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

When doubts or fears fill your thoughts, you can stand securely on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ, the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s Sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

As you live in the assurance that God is faithful to all His promises, you can patiently and confidently wait for the leading of the Spirit as you discern His will for you.

Standing on the promises, I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
Resting in my Savior as my All in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

The promises of God are one piece of the armor God gives us to wage spiritual warfare in this life – the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God.  So, we take up this armor to “. . . be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13 NKJV).  So, stand.  Stand on the promises of God – this moment, this day, and every day.

Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior
Standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.

Enjoy this beautiful performance of Standing on the Promises by the One Voice Choir from Ghana, West Africa.

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Filed under Daily Living, God's love, Hymn devotional, Praise

A LOVE THAT HOLDS ON TIGHT

“O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”[1]

Circumstances can affect our outlook on life.  Pastor Ray Ortlund experienced this, sharing in a blog post that

“. . . some years ago, I was compelled to dig back down to the very foundations and ask, ‘Have I been wrong, thinking God loves me?  Isn’t it possible that God hates my guts? After all, look at the facts.  Look at this bombed-out, smoking rubble called my ministry.  Has God rejected me?’”[2] 

It is in the dark and difficult experiences of life that we most need to be reminded of the great love that God has for us, of the direction he gives us in times of uncertainty, and of the joy he provides in our times of great pain.  George Matheson found God to be the one who both is and gives love and light and joy in the dark places of life, and he shared that discovery in his hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.”

O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.

In our dark times we think we are abandoned, but God is never far from us.  God spoke through Isaiah the prophet to say: “. . . I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands . . .” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NRSV).  Too often we think we must hold on to God, when the truth is that He holds on to us.  It was Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian believers would understand “. . . what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ . . .” (Ephesians 3:18-19 NRSV).  God, in his love “. . . wilt not let me go.”

O Light that followest all my way, I yield my flickering torch to thee.
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day may brighter, fairer be.

The children’s Sunday School song proclaims that “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  But in our dark times our minds become confused, and we often do not know the next step to take.  Our light of daily guidance seems to “flicker.”  We only see our problems and uncertainties.  We are like King Jehoshaphat of Judah who, when facing an invading army, cried out to God, “. . . we are powerless . . . we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12 NRSV).  Our task is to hold on in these times – to keep our faith focused on the Lord – and know that He will restore our brokenness, and the brightness and joy of life will be brighter and fairer as the Lord’s light guides us in our difficult experiences.

O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.

Feeling abandoned and losing our way in dark times is a painful experience, but I love how Matheson describes God’s work in us and for us during these times.  He is our “Joy” who seeks us amid our pain, and his pursuit is irresistible. God helps us to “trace the rainbow through the rain” – what a beautiful phrase!  The Lord works to help us see that “. . . all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NRSV).  “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5 NRSV).  Praise His name!

O cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee.

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red – life that shall endless be.

In our dark times we must remember the One who faced the deepest of darkness – the One who sweat drops of blood as He agonized in the garden prior to crucifixion – the One who cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NRSV).  Our Lord Jesus Christ endured the abandonment, darkness, and pain of the cross to provide “. . . life that shall endless be.”  It is in remembering what Jesus endured on the cross that can reassure us that He understands our circumstances. 

As well, it is in remembering what Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross and his resurrection that can reassure us that He will be for us – and give to us – the love and light and joy that we need.  And because we can rest in the love and light and joy that Christ gives to us – and is for us – then we can also share in the sufferings that comes in this life – the crosses we must bear.  Jesus has gone to the cross for us, and as his followers, we have the privilege of “. . . sharing his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NRSV).

Enjoy this rendition of the hymn by Kristyn Getty and Dana Masters, released in June 2021.


[1] George Matheson, TRINITY HYMNAL, #708

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/its-been-a-journey/

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Filed under God's love, Hope, Hymn devotional