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Date Show Title
Jun
29
2022
The magazine I was writing for felt “important,” so I struggled to present the best possible article I could for the high-ranking editor. Feeling pressure to meet her standards, I kept rewriting my thoughts and ideas. But what was my problem? Was it my controversial topic? Or was my real worry personal: Would the editor approve of me and not just my words? For answers to our job worries, Paul gives trustworthy instruction. In a letter to the Colossian church, Paul urged believers to work not for approval of people, but for God. As the apostle said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23–24). Reflecting on Paul’s wisdom, we can stop struggling to look good in the eyes of our earthly bosses. For certain, we honor them as people and seek to give them our best. But if we work “as for the Lord”—asking Him to lead and anoint our work for Him—He’ll shine a light on our efforts. Our reward? Our job pressures ease and our assignments are completed. Even more, we’ll one day hear Him say, “Well done!”
Jun
28
2022
Twice this summer I suffered the scourge of poison ivy. Both times it happened, I was working on clearing away unwanted plant growth from our yard. And both times, I saw the nasty, three-leafed enemy lurking nearby. I figured I could get close to it without it affecting me. Soon enough, I realized I’d been wrong. Instead of getting nearer to my little green nemesis, I should have run the other way! In the Old Testament story of Joseph, we see modeled the principle of running from something worse than poison ivy: sin. When he was living in the home of Egyptian official Potiphar, whose wife tried to seduce him, Joseph didn’t try to get close—he ran. Although she falsely accused him and had him thrown in prison, Joseph remained pure throughout the episode. And as we see in Genesis 39:21, “The Lord was with him.” God can help us flee activities and situations that could lead us away from Him—guiding us to run the other way when sin is nearby. In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul writes, “Flee the evil desires.” And in 1 Corinthians 6:18, he says to “flee from sexual immorality.” In God’s strength, may we choose to run from those things that could harm us.
Jun
27
2022
Something so cordial can happen in first introductions when two persons discover that they have a friend in common. In what may be its most memorable form, a big-hearted host welcomes a guest with something like, “So nice to meet you. Any friend of Sam’s, or Samantha’s, is a friend of mine.”    Jesus said something similar. He’d been attracting crowds by healing many. But He’d also been making enemies of local religious leaders by disagreeing with the way they were commercializing the temple and misusing their influence. In the middle of a growing conflict, He made a move to multiply the joy, cost, and wonder of His presence. He gave His disciples the ability to heal others and sent them out to announce that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He assured the disciples, “who welcomes you welcomes me” and in turn His Father who sent Him as well (10:40). It’s hard to imagine a more life-changing offer of friendship. For anyone who would open their house, or even give a cup of cold water to one of His disciples, Jesus assured a place in the heart of God. While that moment happened a long time ago, His words remind us that in big and little acts of kindness and hospitality there are still ways of welcoming, and being welcomed, as a friend of the friends of God.
Jun
26
2022
Three-year-old Buddy and his mom went to church each week to help unload groceries from the food ministry truck. When Buddy overheard his mom telling his grandmother that the delivery truck broke down, he said, “Oh, no. How will they do food ministry?” His mom explained that the church would have to raise money to buy a new truck. Buddy smiled. “I have money,” he said, leaving the room. He returned with a plastic jar decorated with colorful stickers and filled with coins, which amounted to a little over $38. Though Buddy didn’t have much, God combined his sacrificial offering with gifts from others to provide a new refrigerated truck so the church could continue serving their community. A small amount offered generously is always more than enough when placed in God’s hands. In 2 Kings 4, a poor widow asked the prophet Elisha for financial assistance. He told her to take inventory of her own resources, reach out to her neighbors for help, then follow his instructions (vv. 1–4). In a miraculous display of provision, God used the widow’s small amount of oil to fill all the jars she collected from her neighbors (vv. 5–6). Elisha told her, “Sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left” (v. 7). When we focus on what we don’t have, we risk missing out on watching God do great things with what He’s given us.
Jun
25
2022
Billy, a loving and loyal dog, became an internet star in 2020. His owner, Russell, had broken his ankle and was using crutches to walk. Soon the dog also began to hobble when walking with his owner. Concerned, Russell took Billy to the vet, who said there was nothing wrong with him! He ran freely when he was by himself. It turned out that the dog faked a limp when he walked with his owner. That’s what you call trying to truly identify with someone’s pain! Coming alongside others is forefront in the apostle Paul’s instructions to the church in Rome. He summed up the last five of the Ten Commandments in this way: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9). We can see the importance of walking with others in verse 8 as well: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” Author Jenny Albers advises: “When someone is broken, don’t try to fix them. (You can’t.) When someone is hurting, don’t attempt to take away their pain. (You can’t.) Instead, love them by walking beside them in the hurt. (You can.) Because sometimes what people need is simply to know they aren’t alone.” Because Jesus, our Savior, walks alongside us through all our hurt and pain, we know what it means to walk with others.
Jun
24
2022
“I had a dark moment.” Those five words capture the internal agony of a popular female celebrity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adjusting to a new normal was part of her challenge, and in her turmoil, she acknowledged that she wrestled with thoughts of suicide. Pulling out of the downward spiral included sharing her struggle with a friend who cared. We’re all susceptible to tumultuous hours, days, and seasons. Valleys and hard places aren’t foreign but getting out of such places can be challenging. And seeking the assistance of mental health professionals is sometimes needed. In Psalm 143, we hear and are instructed by David’s prayer during one of the dark times of his life. The exact situation is unknown, but his prayers to God are honest and hope-filled. “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed” (vv. 3–4). For believers in Jesus, it’s not enough to acknowledge what’s going on within us to ourselves, to our friends, or to medical specialists. We must earnestly come to God (thoughts and all) with prayers that include the earnest petitions found in Psalm 143:7–10. Our dark moments can also be times for deep prayers—seeking the light and life only God can bring.
Jun
23
2022
Zhang was raised with, in his words, “no God, no religion, nothing.” In 1989, seeking democracy and freedom for his people, he helped lead students in peaceful protests. But the protests tragically led to the government’s intervention and hundreds of lives lost. For his part in the event, Zhang was placed on his country’s most-wanted list. After a short imprisonment, he fled to an outlying village where he met an elderly farmer who introduced him to Christianity. She had only a handwritten copy of the gospel of John but couldn’t read, so she asked Zhang to read it to her. As he did, she explained it to him—and a year later he became a believer in Jesus. Through all he endured, Zhang sees that God was powerfully leading him to the cross, where he experienced firsthand what the apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians, “The message of the cross is . . . the power of God” (1:18). What many considered foolishness, a weakness, became Zhang’s strength. For some of us, this too was our thinking before we came to Christ. But through the Spirit, we felt the power and wisdom of God breaking into our lives and leading us to Christ. Today Zhang serves as a pastor spreading the truth of the cross to all who will hear. Jesus has the power to change even the hardest of hearts. Who needs His powerful touch today?
Jun
22
2022
The ornate ceremonial bow and quiver had hung on the wall of our home in Michigan for years. I’d inherited them from my father, who acquired the souvenirs while we were serving as missionaries in Ghana. Then one day a Ghanaian friend visited us. When he saw the bow, he got a strange look on his face. Pointing to a small object tied to it he said, “That is a fetish—a magic charm. I know it has no power, but I would not keep it in my house.” Quickly we cut the charm from the bow and discarded it. We didn’t want anything in our home intended for the worship of something other than God. Josiah, king in Jerusalem, grew up with little knowledge of God’s expectations for His people. When the high priest rediscovered the Book of the Law in the long-neglected temple (2 Kings 22:8), Josiah wanted to hear it. As soon as he learned what God had said about idolatry, he ordered sweeping changes to bring Judah into compliance with God’s law—changes far more drastic than merely cutting a charm from a bow (see 2 Kings 23:3–7). Believers today have more than King Josiah did—much, much more. We have the entire Bible to instruct us. We have each other. And we have the vital filling of the Holy Spirit, who brings things to light, large and small, that we might otherwise overlook.
Jun
21
2022
School cafeterias, like large catering businesses, often prepare more food than is consumed simply because they can’t perfectly predict the need, and leftover food goes to waste. Yet there are many students who don’t have enough food to eat at home and who go hungry on weekends. One US school district partnered with a local non-profit to find a solution. They packaged leftovers to send home with students, and simultaneously addressed the problems of both food waste and hunger. While most people wouldn’t look at an abundance of money as a problem the way we do with wasted food, the principle behind the school project is the same as what Paul suggests in his letter to the Corinthians. He knew the churches in Macedonia were experiencing hardship so he asked the church in Corinth to use their “plenty” to “supply what they need[ed]” (2 Corinthians 8:14). His objective was to bring equality among the churches so none had too much while others were suffering. Paul didn’t want the Corinthian believers to be impoverished by their giving, but to empathize with and be generous to the Macedonians, recognizing that at some point in the future they too were likely to need similar help. When we see others in need, let’s evaluate whether we might have something to share. Our giving—however large or small—will never be a waste!
Jun
20
2022
A Colorado mother proved she would stop at nothing to protect her child. Her five-year-old son was playing outside when she heard him screaming. She rushed outside and, to her horror, saw that her son had an unexpected “playmate”—a mountain lion. The large cat was on top of her son, with his head in its mouth. The mother summoned her inner mamma grizzly to fight off the lion and pry open its jaws to rescue her son. This mother’s heroic actions remind us of how motherhood is used in Scripture to illustrate God’s tenacious love and protection for His children.    God tenderly cared for and comforted His people as a mother eagle cares for her young (Deuteronomy 32:10–11; Isaiah 66:13). Also, like a mother who could never forget a nursing child with whom she had built an inseparable bond, God would never forget His people nor forever withhold compassion from them (Isaiah 54:7–8). Finally, like a mother bird offering protective cover under her wings for baby birds, God would “cover [His people] with his feathers” and “his faithfulness [would] be [their] shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4). Sometimes we feel alone, forgotten, and trapped in the grip of all kinds of spiritual predators. May God help us remember that He compassionately cares, comforts, remembers, and will fight for us.
Jun
19
2022
Why can’t I stop thinking about it? My emotions were a tangled mess of sadness, guilt, anger, and confusion. Years ago, I’d made the painful decision to cut ties with someone close to me, after attempts to address deeply hurtful behavior were merely met with dismissal and denial. Today, after hearing she was in town visiting, my thoughts had spiraled into hashing and rehashing the past. As I struggled to calm my thoughts, I heard a song playing on the radio. The song expressed not just the anguish of betrayal, but also a profound longing for change and healing in the person who’d caused harm. Tears filled my eyes as I soaked in the haunting ballad giving voice to my own deepest longings. “Love must be sincere,” the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:9, a reminder that not all that passes for love is genuine. Yet our heart’s deepest longing is to know real love—love that isn’t self-serving or manipulative, but compassionate and self-giving (vv. 11–13). Love that’s not a fear-driven need for control but a joyful commitment to each other’s well-being (vv. 11–13). And that’s the good news, the gospel. Because of Jesus, we can finally know and share a love we can trust—a love that will never cause us harm (13:10). To live in His love is to be free.
Jun
18
2022
Guy Bryant, single and with no children of his own, worked in New York City’s child welfare department. Daily, he encountered the intense need for foster parents and decided to do something about it. For more than a decade, Bryant fostered more than fifty children, once caring for nine at the same time. "Every time I turned around there was a kid who needed a place to stay," Bryant explained. “If you have the space in your home and heart, you just do it. You don't really think about it." The foster children who have grown and established their own lives still have keys to Bryant’s apartment and often return on Sundays for lunch with “Pops.” Bryant has shown the love of a father to many. The Scriptures tell us that God pursues all who are forgotten or cast aside. Although some believers will find themselves destitute and vulnerable in this life, He promises to be with them. God is “a father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5). If, through neglect or tragedy, we’re alone, God is still there—reaching out to us, drawing us near, and giving us hope. Indeed, “God sets the lonely in families” (he provides family for the lonely, v 6). In Jesus, other believers comprise our spiritual family. Whatever our challenging family stories, our isolation, our abandonment or our relational dysfunction, we are loved. With God, we’re fatherless no more.
Jun
17
2022
Charla was dying, and she knew it. While she was lying on her hospital room bed, her surgeon and a group of young interns poured into the room. For the next several minutes, the doctor ignored Charla as he described her terminal condition to the interns. Finally, he turned to her and asked, “And how are you?” Charla weakly smiled and warmly told the group about her hope and peace in Jesus. Some two thousand years ago, Jesus’ battered, naked body hung in humiliation on a cross before a crowd of onlookers. Would He lash out at His tormentors? No. “Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ ” (Luke 23:34). Though falsely convicted and crucified, He prayed for His enemies. Later, He told another humiliated man, a criminal, that—because of the man’s faith—he would soon be with Him “in paradise” (v. 43). In His pain and shame, Jesus chose to share words of hope and life out of love for others. As Charla concluded sharing Christ to her listeners, she posed the question back to the doctor. She tenderly looked into the tear-filed eyes of the surgeon and asked, “And how are you?” By Christ’s grace and power, she’d shared words of life—showing love and concern for him and others in the room. In whatever trying situation we face today or in the days ahead, let’s trust God to provide courage to lovingly speak words of life.
Jun
16
2022
“The wind is tossing the lilacs.” With that opening line of her springtime poem “May,” poet Sara Teasdale captured a vision of lilac bushes waving in gusty breezes. But Teasdale was lamenting a lost love, and her poem soon turned sorrowful. Our backyard lilacs also encountered a challenge. After having their most lush and beautiful season, they faced the axe of a hard-working lawn man who “trimmed” every bush, chopping them to stubs. I cried. Then, three years later—after barren branches, a bout of powdery mildew, and my faithless plan to dig them up—our long-suffering lilacs rebounded. They just needed time, and I simply needed to wait for what I couldn’t see. The Bible tells of us many people who waited by faith despite adversity. Noah waited for delayed rain. Caleb waited forty years to live in the Promised Land. Rebekah waited twenty years to conceive a child. Jacob waited seven years to marry Rachel. Simeon waited and waited to see the baby Jesus. Their patience was rewarded. In contrast, those who look to humans “will be like a bush in the wastelands” (Jeremiah 17:6). Poet Teasdale ended her verse in such gloom. “I go a wintry way,” she concluded. But for believers, “blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,” rejoiced Jeremiah.  “They will be like a tree planted by the water” (vv. 7–8). The trusting stay planted in God—the One who will walk with us through the joys and adversities of life.
Jun
15
2022
Chris had his blood retested four years after his lifesaving bone marrow transplant. The donor’s marrow had provided what was needed to cure him but had left a surprise: the DNA in Chris’ blood was that of his donor, not his own. It makes sense, really: the goal of the procedure was to replace the weakened blood with a donor’s healthy blood. Yet even swabs of Chris’ cheeks, lips, and tongue showed the donor’s DNA. In some ways, he’d become someone else—though he retained his own memories, outward appearance, and some of his original DNA. Chris’ experience bears a striking resemblance to what happens in the life of a person who receives salvation in Jesus. At the point of our spiritual transformation—when we trust in Jesus—we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus encouraged them to reveal that inward transformation, to “put off [their] old self” with its way of living and to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). To be set apart for Christ. We don’t need DNA swabs or blood tests to show that the transforming power of Jesus is alive within us. Rather that inward reality should be evident in the way we engage with the world around us, revealing how we’re “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave [us]” (v. 32).
Jun
14
2022
When a corporation offered one thousand frequent flier miles for every ten purchases of one of their foods, one man realized their cheapest product was individual cups of chocolate pudding. He bought more than twelve thousand. For $3,000 (US), he received gold status and a lifetime supply of air miles for himself and his family. He also donated the pudding to charity, which netted him an $800 tax write-off. Genius! Jesus told a controversial parable about a cunning manager who, as he was being fired, reduced what debtors owed his master. The man knew he could rely on their help later for the favor he was doing them now. Jesus wasn’t praising the manager’s unethical business practice, but He knew we could learn from his ingenuity. Jesus said we should shrewdly “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). As “the pudding guy” turned twenty-five cent desserts into flights, so we may use our “worldly wealth” to gain “true riches” (v. 11). What are these riches? Jesus said, “give to the poor” and you will “provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Our investment doesn’t earn, but it does affirm our salvation, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (12:32–34).
Jun
13
2022
Loving God, thank You for Your gentle, nudging correction. With my shoulders slumped over my desk, I murmured those difficult words. I’ve been so arrogant, thinking I could do it all on my own. For months, I’d been enjoying successful work projects, and the accolades lulled me into trusting my capabilities and rejecting God’s leading. It took a challenging project for me to realize I wasn’t as smart as I thought. My proud heart had deceived me into believing that I didn’t need God’s help. The powerful kingdom of Edom received discipline from God for its pride. Edom was located amid mountainous terrain, making her seemingly invulnerable to enemies (Obadiah 1:3). Edom was also a wealthy nation, situated at the center of strategic trade routes, and rich in copper, a highly valued commodity in the ancient world. Edom was full of good things yet also full of pride. Its citizens believed that the kingdom was invincible, even as they oppressed God’s people (vv. 10–14). But God used the prophet Obadiah to tell them of His judgment. Nations would rise up against Edom, and the once-powerful kingdom would be defenseless and humiliated (vv. 1–2). Pride deceives us into thinking, I can live life on my terms. I don’t need God. It makes us feel invulnerable to authority, correction, and weakness. But God calls us to humble ourselves before Him (1 Peter 5:6). As we turn from our pride and choose repentance, God will guide us toward total trust in Him.
Jun
12
2022
I once heard a businessman describe his years in college as a time when he often felt “helpless and hopeless” from bouts of depression. Sadly, he never talked to a doctor about these feelings, but instead started making more drastic plans—ordering a book on suicide from his local library, and setting a date to take his life. God cares for the helpless and hopeless. We see this in His treatment of biblical characters during their own dark times. When Jonah wanted to die, God engaged him in tender conversation (Jonah 4:3–10). When Elijah asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4), God provided bread and water to refresh him (vv. 5–9), spoke gently to him (vv. 11–13), and helped him see he wasn’t as alone as he thought (v. 18). God approaches the downhearted with tender, practical help. The library notified the student when his book on suicide was ready to collect. But in a mix up, the note went to his parents’ address instead. When his mother called him, distraught, he realized the devastation his suicide would bring. Without that address mix up, he says, he wouldn’t be here today. I don’t believe that student was saved by luck or chance. Whether it’s bread and water when we need it, or a timely wrong address, when mysterious intervention saves our lives, it’s divine tenderness we’ve encountered.
Jun
11
2022
I love a good game of Scrabble. After one particular game, my friends named a move after me—calling it a “Katara.” I’d been trailing the entire game, but at the end of it—with no tiles left in the bag—I made a seven-letter word. This meant the game was over, and I received fifty bonus points as well as all the points from all of my opponents’ leftover tiles, moving me from last place to first. Now whenever we play and someone is trailing, they remember what happened and hold out hope for a “Katara.” Remembering what has happened in the past has the power to lift our spirits and give us hope. And that’s exactly what the Israelites did when they celebrated Passover. The Passover commemorates what God did for the Israelites when they were in Egypt, oppressed by Pharaoh and his crew (Exodus 1:6–14). After they cried out to God, He delivered the people in a mighty way. He told them to put blood on their doorposts so the death angel would “pass over” their firstborn people and animals (12:12–13). Then they would be kept safe from death.  Centuries later, believers in Jesus regularly take communion as we remember His sacrifice on the cross—providing what we needed to be delivered from sin and death (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Remembering God’s loving acts in the past gives us hope for today.
Jun
10
2022
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Those unforgettable lines spoken by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz reveal a story-telling device found in an overwhelming number of our most enduring stories from the likes of Star Wars to The Lion King. It’s known as “the hero’s journey.” In brief: an ordinary person is living an ordinary life when an extraordinary adventure is presented. The character leaves home and travels to a different world where tests and trails await, as well as mentors and villains. If she or he passes the tests and proves heroic, then the final stage is returning home with stories-to-tell and wisdom-gained. The last piece is crucial. The story of the demon-possessed man closely parallels the hero’s journey. It is interesting in that last scene, if you will, the man begged Jesus “to go with him” (Mark 5:18). Yet Jesus told him: “Go home to your own people” (v. 19). It was important in this man’s journey to return home, to the people who knew him best and to tell them his amazing story. God calls each of us in different ways and to different scenarios. But for some of us, it can be crucial for our faith journey to go home and tell our story to those who know us best. For some of us, the call is “there’s no place like home.”     
Jun
9
2022
When I saw the massive volume of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace on my friend’s bookshelf, I confessed, “I’ve never actually made it all the way through that.” “Well,” Marty chuckled, “When I retired from teaching, I got it as a gift from a friend who told me, ‘Now you’ll finally have time to read it.’ ” The first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3 state a familiar, natural rhythm of the activities of life with some arbitrary choices. No matter what stage of life we find ourselves in, it’s often difficult to find time to do everything we want to do. And to make wise decisions about managing our time, it’s helpful to have a plan (Psalm 90:12). Time spent with God each day is a priority for our spiritual health. Doing productive work is satisfying to our spirit (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Serving God and helping other people is essential to fulfilling God’s purpose for us (Ephesians 2:10). And times of rest or leisure are not wasted, but refreshing for body and spirit. Of course, it’s easy to become too focused on the here and now—finding time for the things that matter most to us. But Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has “set eternity” in our hearts—reminding us to make a priority of things that are eternal. That can bring us face to face with something of the greatest importance—God’s eternal perspective “from beginning to end.”
Jun
8
2022
An Atlanta police officer asked a driver if she knew why he had stopped her. “No idea!” she said in bewilderment. “Ma’am, you were texting while driving,” the officer gently told her. “No, no!” she protested, holding up her cell phone as evidence. “It’s an email.” Using a cell phone to send an email doesn’t grant us a loophole from a law that prohibits texting while driving! The point of the law isn’t to prevent texting; it’s to prevent distracted driving. Jesus accused the religious leaders of His day of creating far worse loopholes. “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God,” He said, quoting the command to “Honor your father and mother” as evidence (Mark 7:9–10). Under the hypocritical cloak of religious devotion, these wealthy leaders were neglecting their families. They simply declared their money as “devoted to God,” and voila, no need to help Mom and Dad in their old age. Jesus quickly got to the heart of the problem. “You nullify the word of God by your tradition,” He said (v. 13). They weren’t honoring God; they were dishonoring their parents. Rationalization can be so subtle. With it we avoid responsibilities, explain away selfish behavior, and reject God’s direct commands. If that describes our behavior, we’re merely deceiving ourselves. Jesus offers us the opportunity to exchange our selfish tendencies for the guidance of the Spirit behind His Father’s good instructions.
Jun
7
2022
Researchers tell us there’s a link between generosity and joy: those who give their money and time to others are happier than those who don’t. This has led one psychologist to conclude, “Let’s stop thinking about giving as a moral obligation, and start thinking of it as a source of pleasure.” While giving can make us happy, I question whether happiness should be the goal of our giving. If we’re only generous to people or causes that make us feel good, what about the more difficult or mundane needs requiring our support? Scripture links generosity with joy too, but on a different basis. After giving his own wealth toward building the temple, King David invited the Israelites to also donate (1 Chronicles 29:1–5). The people responded generously, giving gold, silver and precious stones joyously (vv. 6–8). But notice what their joy was over: “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord” (v. 9, italics added). Scripture never tells us to give because it will make us happy, but to give willingly and wholeheartedly to meet a need. Joy often follows. As missionaries know, it can be easier to raise funds for evangelism than for administration because Christians like the feeling of funding frontline work. Let’s be generous toward other needs as well. After all, Jesus freely gave Himself to meet our needs (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Jun
6
2022
My elderly great aunt lay on her sickbed with a smile on her face. Her gray hair was pushed back from her face and wrinkles covered her cheeks. She didn’t speak much but I still recall the few words she said when my father, mother, and I visited her. She whispered, “I don’t get lonely. Jesus is here with me.” As a single woman at the time, I marveled at my aunt’s proclamation. Her husband had died several years earlier and her children lived far away. Nearing her ninetieth year of life, she was alone, in her bed, barely able to move. Yet she was able to say she wasn’t lonely. My aunt took Jesus’ words to the disciples literally, as we all should: “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). She knew that Jesus’ Spirit was with her, as He promised when He instructed the disciples to go out into the world and share His message with others (v. 19). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would “be with” the disciples and us (John 14:16–17). I’m certain my aunt experienced the reality of that promise. Jesus’ spirit was within her as she lay on her bed. And the Spirit used her to share His truth with me—a young niece who needed to hear those words and take them to heart too.
Jun
5
2022
“My dear friend, sometimes you sound holier than you really are.” Those words were leveled with a direct gaze and gentle smile. Had they come from someone other than a close friend and mentor whose discernment I highly valued, my feelings might have been hurt. Instead, I winced and laughed at the same time, knowing that while his words “hit a nerve,” he was also right. Sometimes when I talked about my faith, I used jargon that didn’t sound natural, which gave the impression that I wasn’t being sincere. My friend loved me and was trying to help me be more effective in sharing with others what I genuinely believed. Looking back, I see it as some of the best advice I ever received. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” Solomon wisely wrote, “but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). My friend’s insights demonstrated the truth of that counsel. I was grateful he cared enough to tell me something I needed to hear, even though he knew it might not be easy to accept. Sometimes when someone tells you only what they think you want to hear, it isn’t helpful, because it can keep you from growing and developing in vital ways.    Candor can be kindness, when measured out with genuine, humble love. May God give us the wisdom to receive it and impart it well, and so reflect His caring heart.
Jun
4
2022
A 2018 study of adults in the United Kingdom found that, on average, “they checked their smartphones every twelve minutes of the waking day.” But let’s be honest, this statistic seems extremely generous when I consider how frequently I search Google to find the answer to a question or respond to endless alerts from the texts, calls, and emails that come to my phone throughout the day. We consistently look to our devices, confident they’ll provide what we need to keep us organized, informed, and connected. As believers in Christ, we have a resource infinitely better than a smartphone. God loves and cares for us intimately and desires for us to come to Him with our needs. The Bible says that when we pray, we can be confident “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). By reading the Bible and storing God’s words in our hearts, we can pray assuredly for things that we know He already desires for us, including peace, wisdom, and faith that He’ll provide what we need (v. 15). Sometimes it may seem like He doesn’t hear us when our situation doesn’t change. But we build our confidence in Him by consistently turning to Him for help in every circumstance (Psalms 116:2). This allows us to grow in faith, trusting that although we may not get everything we desire, He’s promised to provide what we need in His perfect timing.
Jun
3
2022
When I was shopping for engagement rings I spent many hours looking for exactly the right diamond. I was plagued by the question, What if I miss the best one? According to economic psychologist Barry Schwartz, my chronic indecision indicates that I am what Schwartz calls a "maximizer," in contrast to a "satisficer." A satisficer makes choices based on whether something is adequate for their needs. Maximizers? We (guilty!) have a need to always make the best choice. The potential outcome of our indecision in the face of many choices? Anxiety, depression, and discontent. In fact, sociologists have coined another phrase for this phenomenon: fear of missing out. We won’t find the words maximizer or satisficer in Scripture, of course. But we do find a similar idea. In 1 Timothy, Paul challenged Timothy to find value in God rather than the things of this world. The world’s promises of fulfillment can never fully deliver. Paul wanted Timothy to instead root his identity in God: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6), Paul writes. He sounds like a satisficer when he adds, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (v. 8). When I fixate on the myriad ways the world promises fulfillment, I usually end up restless and unsatisfied. But when I focus on God and relinquish my compulsive urge to maximize, my soul moves toward genuine contentment and rest.     
Jun
2
2022
During an October vacation, another battle with chronic pain forced me to spend the first few days recovering in our room. My mood became as overcast as the sky. When I finally ventured out to enjoy sightseeing at a nearby lighthouse with my husband, gray clouds blocked much of our view. Still, I snapped a few photos of the shadowy mountains and dull horizon. Later, disappointed because a downpour tucked us in for the night, I skimmed through our digital pictures. Gasping, I handed my husband the camera. “A rainbow!” Focused on the gloominess earlier, I’d missed out on God refreshing my weary spirit with the unexpected glimpse of hope (Genesis 9:13–15). Physical or emotional suffering can often drag us down into the depths of despair. Desperate for refreshment, we thirst for reminders of God’s constant presence and infinite power (Psalm 42:1–3). As we recall the countless times our Lord has come through for us and for others in the past, we can trust our hope is secured in Him no matter how downcast we feel in the moment (vv. 4–5). When bad attitudes or difficult circumstances dim our vision, God invites us to call on Him, read His Word, and trust His faithfulness (vv. 7–11). As we seek the Lord, we can rely on Him to help us spot rainbows of hope arched over the darkest days. Hallelujah!
Jun
1
2022
In November 1742, a riot broke out in Staffordshire, England, to protest against the gospel message Charles Wesley was preaching. It seems Charles and his brother John were changing some longstanding church traditions, and that was too much for many of the townsfolk. When John Wesley heard about the riot, he hurried to Staffordshire to help his brother. Soon an unruly crowd surrounded the place where John was staying. Courageously, he met face to face with their leaders, speaking with them so serenely that one by one their anger was assuaged. John Wesley’s gentle and quiet spirit calmed a potentially savage mob. But it was not a gentleness that occurred naturally in his own heart. Rather, it was the heart of the Savior whom Wesley followed so closely. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). This yoke of gentleness becomes the true power behind the apostle Paul’s challenge to us, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). In our humanness, such patience is impossible for us. But by the fruit of the Spirit in us, the gentleness of the heart of Christ can set us apart and equip us to face a hostile world. When we do, we fulfill Paul’s words, “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5).
May
31
2022
Every day, Glen purchases his morning coffee at a nearby drive-through. And every day he also pays for the order of the person in the car behind him, asking the cashier to wish that person a good day. Glen has no connection to them. He’s not privy to their reaction, nor, it seems, is this his motivation: he simply believes this small gesture is “the least he can do.” On one occasion, however, he learned of the impact of his actions when he read an anonymous letter to the editor of his local newspaper. He discovered that the kindness of his gift on July 18, 2017, caused the person in the car behind him to reconsider their plans to take their own life later that day. Glen gives daily to the people in the car behind him without receiving credit for it. Only on this single occasion did he get a glimpse of the impact of his small gift. When Jesus says we should “not let [our] left hand know what [our] right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3), He’s urging us to give—as Glen does—without need for recognition. When we give out of our love for God, without concern for receiving the praise of others, we can trust that our gifts—large or small—will be used by Him to help meet the needs of those receiving them.
May
30
2022
In the spring of 2021, several storm-chasers recorded videos and took photos of a rainbow next to a tornado in Texas. In one video, long stalks of wheat in a field bent under the power of the whirling winds. A brilliant rainbow cut across the gray skyline and arched toward the twister. Bystanders in another video stood on the side of the road and watched the symbol of hope standing firm beside the twisting funnel-shaped cloud. In Psalm 107, the psalmist offers hope and encourages us to turn to God during difficult times. He describes some who were in the middle of a storm, “at their wits’ end” (v. 27). “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress” (v. 28). God understands His children will sometimes struggle to feel hopeful when life feels like a storm. We need reminders of His faithfulness, especially when the horizon looks dark and tumultuous. Whether our storms come as substantial obstacles in our lives, as emotional turmoil, or as mental stress, God can still our storms “to a whisper” and guide us to a place of refuge (vv. 29–30). Though we may not experience relief in our preferred way or time, we can trust God to keep the promises He’s given in Scripture. His enduring hope will cut through any storm.
May
29
2022
Tucked into a remote gorge in western Slovenia, a secret medical facility (Franja Partisan Hospital) housed an extensive staff that tended to thousands of wounded soldiers during World War II—all the while staying hidden from the Nazis. Though avoiding detection from numerous Nazi attempts to locate the facility is in itself a remarkable feat, even more remarkable is that the hospital (founded and run by the Slovenia resistance movement) cared for soldiers from both the Allied and Axis armies. The hospital welcomed everyone. Scripture calls us to help the whole world to be spiritually healed. This means we need to have compassion for all—regardless of their views. Everyone, no matter their ideology, deserves Christ’s love and kindness. Paul insists that Jesus’ all-embracing love “compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). All of us suffer the sickness of sin. All of us are in desperate need of the healing of Jesus’ forgiveness. And He’s moved toward all of us in order to heal us. Then, in a surprising move, God entrusted us with “the message of reconciliation” (v. 19). God invites us to tend to wounded and broken people (like us). We participate in healing work where the sick are made healthy through union with Him. And this reconciliation, this healing, is for all who will receive it.
May
28
2022
The fire hydrant gushed into the street, and I saw my opportunity. Several cars had splashed through before me, and I thought, What a great way to get a free wash! My car hadn’t been cleaned for a month and the dust was thick. So I fired it up and headed into the deluge. Crack! It happened so fast. The sun had already beaten down on my black car that morning, heating its glass and interior. But the water from the hydrant was frigid. As soon as the cold gush hit the hot windshield, a crack struck like lightning from top to bottom. My “free” car wash ended up costing me plenty. If only I had “pressed pause” beforehand to think or even to pray. Ever have a moment like that? The people of Israel did, under far weightier circumstances. God had promised to help them drive out other nations as they entered the land He’d given them (Joshua 3:10) so they wouldn’t be tempted by false gods (Deuteronomy 20:16–18). But one of the nations saw Israel’s victories and used stale bread to trick them into believing they lived far away. “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace” (Joshua 9:14–15, italics added), unknowingly circumventing God’s instructions. When we make prayer a “first resort” instead of a “last,” we invite God’s direction, wisdom, and blessing. May He help us remember to “press pause” today.
May
27
2022
Croissants, dumplings, pork curry, and all sorts of scrumptious food await those who find and enter the Narrow Door Cafe. Located in the Taiwanese city of Tainan, this cafe is literally a hole in the wall. Its entrance is barely 40 centimeters wide (less than16 inches)—just enough for the average person to squeeze his way through! Yet, despite the challenge, this unique cafe has attracted large crowds. Will this be true of the narrow door described in Luke 13:22–30? Someone asked Jesus, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” (v. 23). In reply, Jesus challenged the person to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” to God’s kingdom (v. 24). He was essentially asking, “Will the saved include you?” Jesus used this analogy to urge the Jews not to be presumptuous. Many of them believed they would be included in God’s kingdom because they were Abraham’s descendants or because they kept the law. But Jesus challenged them to respond to Him before “the owner of the house . . . closes the door” (v. 25).  Neither our family background nor our deeds can make us right with God. Only faith in Jesus can save us from sin and death (Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–7). The door is narrow, but it’ wide open to all who will put their faith in Jesus. He’s inviting us today to seize the opportunity to enter through the narrow door to His kingdom.
May
26
2022
In 1854, a young Russian artillery officer viewed the battlefield carnage occurring far below his cannon’s hilltop placement. “It’s a funny sort of pleasure,” Leo Tolstoy wrote, “to see people killing each other. And yet, every morning and every evening, I would . . . spend hours at a time watching.” Tolstoy’s outlook soon changed. After seeing firsthand the devastation and suffering in the city of Sevastopol, he wrote, “You understand all at once, and quite differently from what you have before, the significance of those sounds of shots which you heard in the city.” The prophet Jonah once climbed a hill to view the devastation of Nineveh (Jonah 4:5). He’d just warned that brutal city of God’s looming judgment. But Nineveh repented, and Jonah was disappointed. The city, however, relapsed into evil, and a century later the prophet Nahum described its destruction. “Shields flash red in the sunlight!” he wrote. “Watch as their glittering chariots move into position, with a forest of spears waving above them” (Nahum 2:3 nlt). Because of Nineveh’s persistent sin, God sent punishment. But He’d told Jonah, “Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness. . . . Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:11 nlt). God justice and love go together. Nahum shows the consequences of evil. Jonah reveals God’s keen compassion for even the worst of us. His heart’s desire is that we repent and extend that compassion to others.
May
25
2022
Temperatures where we live in Colorado can change quickly—sometimes within a few minutes. So my husband, Dan, was curious about the temperature differences in and around our home. As a fan of gadgets, he was excited to unpack his latest “toy”—a thermometer showing temperature readings from four “zones” around our house. Joking that it was a “silly” gadget, I was surprised to find myself frequently checking the temperatures, too. The differences inside and out fascinated me. Jesus used temperature to describe the “lukewarm” church in Laodicea, one of the richest of the seven cities cited in the book of Revelation. A bustling banking, clothing, and medical hub, the city was hampered by a poor water supply, so it needed an aqueduct to carry water from a hot springs. By the time the water arrived in Laodicea, however, it was neither hot nor cold. The church was tepid too. Jesus said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16). As Christ explained, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (v. 19). Our Savior’s plea remains urgent for us too. Are you spiritually neither hot nor cold? Accept His correction and ask Him to help you live an earnest, fired-up faith.
May
24
2022
The introductory lesson on aikido, a traditional Japanese form of martial arts, was an eye-opener. The sensei, or teacher, told us that when faced with an attacker, our first response should be to “run away.” “Only if you can’t run away, then you fight,” he said seriously. Run away? I was taken aback. Why was this highly-skilled self-defense instructor telling us to run away from a fight? It seemed counterintuitive—until he explained that the best form of self-defense is to avoid fighting in the first place. Of course! When several men came to arrest Jesus, Peter responded as some of us might have by drawing his sword to attack one of them (John 18:10). But Jesus told him to put it away, saying, “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:54). While a sense of justice is important, so is understanding God’s purpose and kingdom—an “upside-down” kingdom that calls us to love our enemies and return evil with kindness (Matthew 5:44). It’s a stark contrast to how the world might react, yet it’s a response that God seeks to nurture in us. Luke 22:51 even describes Jesus healing the ear of the man Peter had struck. May we learn to respond to difficult situations as He did, always seeking peace and restoration as God provides what we need.
May
23
2022
General Charles Gordon (1833–85) served Queen Victoria in China and elsewhere, but when living in England he’d give away 90 percent of his income. When he heard about a famine in Lancashire, he scratched off the inscription from a pure gold medal he’d received from a world leader and sent it up north, saying they should melt it down and use the money to buy bread for the poor. That day he wrote in his diary: “The last earthly thing I had in this world that I valued I have given to the Lord Jesus.” General Gordon’s level of generosity might seem above and beyond what we’re able to extend, but God has always called His people to look out for those in need. In some of the laws He delivered through Moses, God instructed the people not to reap to the edges of their field nor to gather all of the crop. Instead, when harvesting a vineyard, He said to leave the grapes that had fallen “for the poor and the foreigner” (Leviticus 19:10). God wanted His people to be aware of and provide for the vulnerable in their midst. However generous we may feel, we can ask God to increase our desire to give to others and to seek His wisdom for creative ways to do so. He loves to help us show His love to others.
May
22
2022
I’m often given the privilege of leading spiritual retreats. Getting away for a few days to pray and reflect can be deeply enriching, and during the program I sometimes ask participants to do an exercise: “Imagine your life is over and your obituary is published in the paper. What would you like it to say?” Some attendees change their life’s priorities as a result, aiming to finish their lives well. Second Timothy 4 contains the last known written words of the apostle Paul. Though probably only in his sixties, and though having faced death before, he senses his life is nearly over (2 Timothy 4:6). There will be no more mission trips now or writing letters to his churches. He looks back over his life and says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v. 7). While he hasn’t been perfect (1 Timothy 1:15–16), Paul assesses his life on how true he’s stayed to God and the gospel. Tradition suggests he was martyred soon after. Contemplating our final days has a way of clarifying what matters now. So what would you like your obituary to say? Paul’s words can be a good model to follow. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. Because, in the end, what will matter is that we’ve stayed true to God and His ways as He provides what we need to live, fight life’s spiritual battles, and finish well.
May
21
2022
Amina, an Iraqi immigrant, and Joseph, an American from birth, attended a political protest on opposite sides. We’ve been taught to believe that those who are separated by ethnicity and politics carry unbridled animosity toward each other. However, when a small mob accosted Joseph, trying to set his shirt on fire, Amina rushed to his defense. “I don’t think we could be any further apart as people,” Joseph told a reporter, “and yet, it was just kinda like this common ‘that’s not OK’ moment.” Something deeper than politics knit Amina and Joseph together. Though we often have genuine disagreements with one another—substantial differences we often can’t ignore—there are far deeper realities that bind us together. We’re all created by God and bound together in one beloved human family. God has created each of us—regardless of gender, social class, ethnic identity or political persuasion—“in his own image” (Genesis 1:26). Whatever else might be true, God is reflected in both you and me. Further, He’s given us a shared purpose to “fill” and “rule” God’s world with wisdom and care (v. 28). Whenever we forget how we’re bound together in God, we do damage to ourselves and others. But whenever we come together in His grace and truth, we participate in His desire to make a good and flourishing world.
May
20
2022
A nursery owner set out to sell peach trees. She considered various approaches. Should she line up leafy saplings in burlap sacks in a beautiful display? Should she create a colorful catalog picturing peach trees in various seasons of growth? At last she realized what really sells a peach tree. It’s the peach it produces: sweet-smelling, deep orange, and fuzzy-skinned. The best way to sell a peach tree is to pluck a ripe peach, cut it open until the juice dribbles down your arm, and hand a slice to a customer. When they taste the fruit, they want the tree. God reveals Himself in a wrapper of spiritual fruit in His followers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). When we believers in Jesus exhibit such fruit, others around us want that fruit as well, and therefore the Source of the fruit that is so attractive. Fruit is the external result of an internal relationship, the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Fruit is the dressing that beckons others to know the God we represent. Like the bright peaches standing out against the green leaves of a tree, the fruit of the Spirit announces to a starving world, “Here is food! Here is life! Come and find a way out of exhaustion and discouragement. Come and meet God!”
May
19
2022
My trip to Simon’s house was unforgettable. Under the cover of a star-lit sky in Nyahururu, Kenya, we made our way to his modest home for dinner. The dirt floor and the lantern light reflected Simon’s limited means. What was on the menu, I don’t recall. What I can’t forget was Simon’s joy that we were his guests. His gracious hospitality was Jesus-like—selfless, life-touching, and refreshing. In 1 Corinthians 16:15–18, Paul mentioned a family—the household of Stephanas (v. 15)—that had a reputation for their caregiving. They’d “devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (v. 15). While their service likely included tangible things (v. 17), the impact was such that Paul wrote that “they refreshed my spirit and yours also” (v. 18). When we have opportunities to share with others, we rightly give attention to matters of food, setting, and other things that are fitting for such occasions. But we sometimes forget that although “the what” and “the where” matter, they’re not the most important things. Memorable meals are great and pleasant settings have their place, but food is limited in its capacity to fully nourish and encourage. True refreshment flows from God and is a matter of the heart; it reaches the hearts of others, and it continues to nourish long after the meal is over.
May
18
2022
In August 2020, residents of Olten, Switzerland, were startled to find that it was snowing chocolate! A malfunction in the ventilation system of the local chocolate factory had caused chocolate particles to be diffused into the air. As a result, a dusting of edible chocolate flakes covered cars and streets and made the whole town smell like a candy store. When I think of delicious food “magically” falling from the heavens, I can’t help but think of God’s provision for the people of Israel in Exodus. Following their dramatic escape from Egypt, the people faced significant challenges in the desert, especially a scarcity of food and water. And God, moved by the plight of the people, promised to “rain down bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4). The next morning, a layer of thin flakes appeared on the desert ground. This daily provision, known as manna, continued for the next forty years. When Jesus came to earth, people began to believe He was sent from God when He miraculously provided bread for a large crowd (John 6:5–14). But Jesus taught that He himself was the “bread of life” (John 6:35), sent to bring not just temporary nourishment but eternal life (v. 51). For those of us hungry for spiritual nourishment, Jesus extends the offer of unending life with God. May we believe and trust that He came to satisfy those deepest longings.
May
17
2022
Why is it that when we say: “This is the last potato chip I’m going to eat,” five minutes later we we’re looking for more? Michael Moss answers that question in his book, “Salt Sugar Fat.” He describes how America’s largest snack producers knows how to “help” people crave junk food. In fact, one popular company spent $30 million a year and hired “crave consultants” to determine the bliss point for consumers so it could exploit our food cravings. Unlike that company, Jesus helps us to long for real food—spiritual food—that brings satisfaction to our souls. He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). By making this claim, He communicated two important things: First, the bread of which He spoke is a Person, not a commodity (v. 32). Second, when people put their trust in Jesus for forgiveness of sin, they enter into a right relationship with Him and find fulfillment for every craving of their soul. This Bread is everlasting, spiritual food that leads to satisfaction and life. When we place our trust in Jesus, the true bread from heaven, we’ll crave Him, and He will strengthen and transform our lives.
May
16
2022
In 1478, Lorenzo de Medici, the ruler of Florence, Italy, escaped an attack on his life. His countrymen sparked a war when they tried to retaliate for the attack on their leader. As the situation worsened, the cruel King Ferrante I of Naples became Lorenzo’s enemy, but a courageous act by Lorenzo changed everything. He visited the king unarmed and alone. This bravery, paired with his charm and brilliance, won Ferrante’s admiration and ended the war.  Daniel also helped a king experience a change of heart. No one in Babylon could describe or interpret a troubling dream King Nebuchadnezzar had. This made him so angry that he decided to execute all his advisors—including Daniel and his friends. But Daniel asked to visit the king who wanted him dead (Daniel 2:24). Standing before Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel gave God all the credit for revealing the mystery of the dream (v. 28). When the prophet described and deciphered it, Nebuchadnezzar honored the “God of gods and the Lord of kings” (v. 47). Daniel’s uncommon courage, which was born of his faith in God, helped him, his friends, and the other advisors avoid death that day. In our lives, there are times when bravery and boldness are needed to communicate important messages. May God guide our words and give us the wisdom to know what to say and the ability to say it well.
May
15
2022
In 1896, an explorer named Carl Akely found himself in a remote section of Ethiopia, chased by an eighty-pound leopard. He remembered the leopard pouncing, trying “to sink her teeth into my throat.” She missed, snagging his right arm with her vicious jaws. The two rolled in the sand—a long, fierce struggle. Akely weakened, and “it became a question of who would give up first.” Summoning his last bit of strength, Akely was able to suffocate the big cat with his bare hands. The apostle Paul explained how each of us who believe in Jesus will inevitably encounter our own fierce struggles, those places where we feel overwhelmed and are tempted to surrender. Instead, we must “stand firm” and take our “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11, 14). Rather than cower in fear or crumble as we recognize our weakness and vulnerability, Paul challenged us to step forward in faith, remembering that we don’t rely on our own courage and strength but on God. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” he wrote (v. 10). In the challenges we face, He’s only a prayer away (v. 18). Yes, we have many struggles, and we will never escape them by our own power or ingenuity. God is more powerful than any enemy or evil we will ever face.
May
14
2022
In the early 1980s, a prominent astronomer who didn’t believe in God wrote, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.” To this scientist’s eye, the evidence showed that something had designed everything we observe in the cosmos. He added, “There are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” In other words, everything we see looks as if it was planned by Someone. And yet, the astronomer remained an atheist. Three thousand years ago, another intelligent man looked at the skies and drew a different conclusion. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” wondered David (Psalm 8:3–4). Yet God cares for us deeply. The universe tells the story of its Intelligent Designer, the “Super Intellect” who made our minds and put us here to ponder His work. Through Jesus and His creation, God can be known. Paul wrote, “[Christ] existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth” (Colossians 1:15–16, nlt). The cosmos has indeed been “monkeyed with.” The identity of the Intelligent Designer is there to be discovered by anyone willing to seek.
May
13
2022
“No! I didn’t do it!” Jane heard her teenage son’s denial with a sinking heart, for she knew he wasn’t telling the truth. She breathed a prayer asking God for help before asking Simon again what happened. He continued to deny he was lying, until finally she threw her hands up in exasperation. Saying she needed a time out, she began to walk away when she felt a hand on her shoulder and heard his apology. He responded to the convicting of the Holy Spirit, and repented. In the Old Testament book of Joel, God called His people to true repentance for their sins as He welcomed them to return to Him wholeheartedly (2:12). God didn’t seek outward acts of remorse, but rather that they would soften their hard attitudes: “Rend your heart and not your garments.” Joel reminded the Israelites that God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (v. 13). We might find confessing our wrongdoing difficult, for in our pride we don’t want to admit to our sins. Perhaps we’ve fudged the truth, and we justify our actions by saying it was only “a little white lie.” But when we heed God’s gentle but firm prompting to repent, He will forgive us and cleanse us from all of our sins (1 John 1:9). We can be free of guilt and shame, knowing we are forgiven.
May
12
2022
As I enter the final few minutes of my forty-minute workout, I can almost guarantee that my instructor will yell out, “Finish strong!” Every personal trainer or group fitness leader I’ve known uses the phrase a few minutes before cool down. They know that the end of the workout is just as important as showing up for it. And they know that the human body has a tendency to want to slow down or slack off when it’s been in motion for a while. The same is true in our journey with Jesus. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus that he needed to finish strong as he headed to Jerusalem where he was certain to face more persecution as an apostle of Christ (Acts 20:17–24). Paul, however, was undeterred. He had a mission and that was to finish the journey he’d begun and to do what God called him to do (v. 19). He had one job—to tell “the good news of God’s grace” (v. 24). And he wanted to finish strong. Even if hardship awaited him (v. 23), he continued to run toward his finish line—focused and determined to remain steadfast in his journey. Whether we’re exercising our physical muscles or working out our God-given abilities through actions, words, and deeds, we too can be encouraged by the reminder to finish strong. Don’t “become weary” (Galatians 6:9). Don’t give up. God will provide what you need to finish strong.
May
11
2022
In 1799 twelve-year-old Conrad Reed found a large, glittering rock in the stream that ran through his family’s small farm in North Carolina. He carried it home to show his father, a poor immigrant farmer. His father didn’t understand the rock’s potential value and used it as a doorstop. The family walked by it for years. Eventually Conrad’s rock—actually a seventeen-pound gold nugget—caught the eye of a local jeweler. Soon the Reed family became wealthy, and their property became the site of the first major gold strike in the United States. Sometimes we walk past a blessing, intent on our own plans and ways. After Israel was exiled to Babylon for disobeying God, He proclaimed freedom for them once again. But He also reminded them of what they’d missed. “I am the Lord your God,” He told them, “who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea” (italics added). God then encouraged them to follow Him away from old ways into a new life: “Leave Babylon . . . . Announce this with shouts of joy”! (Isaiah 48:17–18, 20). Leaving Babylon, perhaps now as much as then, means leaving sinful ways and “coming home” to a God who longs to do us good—if only we’ll obey and follow Him!
May
10
2022
After I became a believer in Jesus, I shared the gospel with my mother. Instead of making a decision to trust Jesus, as I expected, she stopped speaking to me for a year. Her bad experiences with people who claimed to follow Jesus made her distrust believers in Christ. I prayed for her and reached out to her weekly. The Holy Spirit comforted me and continued working on my heart as my mom gave me the silent treatment. When she finally answered my phone call, I committed to loving her and sharing God’s truth with her whenever I had the opportunity. Months after our reconciliation, she said I’d changed. Almost a year later, she received Jesus as her Savior. Our relationship deepened. Believers in Jesus have access to the greatest gift given to humanity—Christ. The apostle Paul says we’re to “spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). He refers to those who share the gospel as “the pleasing aroma of Christ” to those who believe, but acknowledges we reek of death to those who reject Jesus (vv. 15–16). After we receive Christ as our Savior, we have the privilege of using our limited time on earth to spread His life-changing truth while loving others. Even during our hardest and loneliest moments, we can trust He’ll provide what we need. No matter what the personal cost, God’s good news is always worth sharing.
May
9
2022
After receiving the devastating diagnosis of a rare and incurable brain cancer, Caroline found renewed hope and purpose through providing a unique service: volunteering photography services for critically ill children and their families. Through this service, families could capture the precious moments shared with their children, both in grief and “the moments of grace and beauty we assume don’t exist in those desperate places. In the hardest moments imaginable, those families . . . choose to love, despite and because of it all.” There’s something unspeakably powerful about capturing the truth of grief—both the devastating reality of it and the ways in which we experience beauty and hope in the midst of it. Much of the book of Job is like a photograph of grief—capturing honestly Job’s journey through devastating loss (1:18–19). After sitting with Job several days, his friends wearied of his grief, resorting to minimizing it or explaining it away as God’s judgment. But Job would have none of it, insisting that what he was going through mattered, and wishing that the testimony of his experience would be “engraved in rock forever!” (19:24). Through the book of Job, it was “engraved”—in a way that points us in our grief to the living God (vv. 26–27), who meets us in our pain, carrying us through death into resurrection life.
May
8
2022
The deer in our neighborhood and I have two different opinions about sunflowers. When I plant sunflowers each spring, I’m looking forward to the beauty of their blooms. My deer friends, however, don’t care about the finished product. They simply want to chew the stems and leaves until there’s nothing left. It’s an annual summertime battle as I try to see the sunflowers to maturity before my four-hoofed neighbors devour them. Sometimes I win; sometimes they win. When we think about our lives as believers in Jesus, it’s easy to see a similar battle being waged between us and our enemy—Satan. Our goal is continual growth leading to spiritual maturity that helps our lives stand out for God’s honor. The devil wants to devour our faith and keep us from growing. But Jesus has dominion over “every power.” He can bring us “to fullness” (Colossians 2:10), which means He makes us “complete.” Christ’s victory on the cross allows us to stand out in the world like those beautiful sunflowers. When Jesus nailed the “record of the charges against us” (the penalty for our sins) to the cross (v. 14 nlt), he destroyed “the powers” that controlled us. We became “rooted and built up” (v. 7) and made “alive with Christ” (v. 13). In Him we have the power (v. 10) to resist the enemy’s spiritual attacks and to flourish in Jesus—displaying a life of true beauty.
May
7
2022
Fingerprints have long been used to identify people, but they can be faked by creating copies. Similarly, the pattern of the iris in the human eye is a reliable source for ID—until someone alters the pattern with a contact lens to skew the results. The use of biometrics to identify individuals can be defeated. So, what qualifies as a unique identifying characteristic? It turns out that everyone’s blood-vessel patterns are unique and virtually impossible to counterfeit. Your own personal “vein map” is a one-of-a-kind identifier, setting you apart from everyone else on the planet.   Pondering such complexities of human beings should prompt a sense of worship and wonder for the Creator who made us. David reminded us that we are, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and that is certainly worth celebrating. In fact, Psalm 111:2 reminds us, “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Even more worthy of our attention is the divine Maker Himself. While celebrating God’s great deeds, we also must celebrate Him! His deeds are great, but He’s even greater, prompting the psalmist to pray, “For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God” (Psalm 86:10). Today, as we consider the greatness of what God does, may we also marvel at the greatness of who He is.
May
6
2022
Juanita told her nephew about growing up during the Great Depression. Her poor family only had apples to eat, plus whatever wild game her dad might provide. Whenever he bagged a squirrel for dinner, her mom would say, “Give me that squirrel head. That’s all I want to eat. It’s the best piece of meat.” Years later Juanita realized there wasn’t any meat on a squirrel’s head. Her mom didn’t eat it. She only pretended it was a delicacy “so us kids could get more to eat and we wouldn’t worry about her.” As we celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow, may we also recount stories of our mothers’ devotion. We thank God for them, and strive to love more like them. Paul served the Thessalonian church “as a nursing mother cares for her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He loved fiercely, fighting through “strong opposition” to tell them about Jesus and to share his own life with them (vv. 2, 8). He “worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while [he] preached the gospel of God to [them]” (v. 9). Just like Mom. Few can resist a mother’s love, and Paul modestly said his efforts were “not without results” (v. 1). We can’t control how others respond, but we can choose to show up, day after day, to serve them in a sacrificial way. Mom would be proud, and so will our heavenly Father.
May
5
2022
Lea was about to start a job as a nurse in Taiwan. She’d be able to provide better for her family, more than she could in Manila, where job opportunities were limited. On the night before her departure, she gave instructions to her sister, who’d be taking care of her five-year-old daughter. “She’ll take her vitamins if you also give her a spoonful of peanut butter,” Lea explained “And remember, she’s shy. She’ll play with her cousins eventually. And she’s afraid of the dark, . . .” While looking out the plane window the next day, Lea prayed: Lord, no one knows my daughter like I do. I can’t be with her, but You can. We know the people we love, and we notice all the details about them because they’re precious to us. When we can’t be with them due to various circumstances, we’re often anxious that, since no one knows them as well as we do, they’ll be more vulnerable to harm. In Psalm 139, David reminds us that God knows us more than anyone does. In the same way, He knows our loved ones intimately (vv. 1–4). He’s their Creator (vv. 13–15), so He understands their needs. He knows what will happen each day of their lives (v. 16), and He’s with them and will never leave them (vv. 5, 7–10). When you’re anxious for others, entrust them to God for He knows them best and loves them the most.
May
4
2022
Most mornings I recite the Lord’s Prayer. I’m not worth much for the new day until I’ve grounded myself in those words. Recently I’d said only the first two words—“Our Father”—when my phone rang. It startled me as it was 5:43 a.m. Guess who? The phone display read—“Dad.” Before I had a chance to answer, the call quickly ended. I guessed my dad had called by mistake. Sure enough, he had. Random coincidence? Maybe, but I believe we live in a world awash in the mercy of God. That particular day I needed that reassurance of our Father’s presence. Think about that for a minute. Of all the ways Jesus could have taught His disciples to begin their prayers, He chose those two words—“Our Father” (Matthew 6:9) as the starting point. Random? No, Jesus was never less than intentional with His words. We all have different relationships with our earthly fathers—some good, some far less than that. However, praying in the way we should is not addressing “my” father or “your” father, but “our” Father, the One who sees us and hears us, and who knows what we need before we even ask Him (v. 8). What an amazing reassurance, especially on those days when we might feel forgotten, alone, abandoned, or simply just not worth much. Remember, regardless of where we are and what time of day or night it might be, our Father in heaven is always near.
May
3
2022
A ministry in Carlsbad, New Mexico, supports their community by offering more than 24,000 pounds of free food each month to local residents. The leader of the ministry shared, “People can come here, and we will accept them and meet them right where they are. Our goal is . . . to meet their practical needs to get to their spiritual needs.” As believers in Christ, God desires for us to use what we’ve been given to bless others, drawing our communities closer to Him. How can we develop a heart for service that brings glory to God? We develop a heart for service by asking God to show us how to use the gifts He’s given us to benefit others (1 Peter 4:10). In this way, we offer “many expressions of thanks to God” for the abundance He’s blessed us with (2 Corinthians 9:12). Serving others was an important part of Jesus’ ministry. When He healed the sick and fed the hungry, many were introduced to God’s goodness and love. By caring for our communities, we’re following His model of discipleship. God’s wisdom reminds us that when we demonstrate God’s love through our actions “others will praise God” (v. 13). Service isn’t about self-gratification but about showing others the extent of God’s love and the miraculous that ways He works through those who are called by His name.  
May
2
2022
Anne, the lead character in the Anne of Green Gables stories, longed for a family. Orphaned, she had lost hope of ever finding a place to call home. But then she learned that an older man named Matthew and his sister Marilla would take her in. On the buggy ride to their home, Anne apologized for chattering on and on, but Matthew, a quiet man, said, “You can talk as much as you like. I don’t mind.” This was music to Anne’s ears. She felt no one had ever wanted her around, much less wanted to hear her chatter. After arriving, her hopes were dashed when she learned the siblings had thought they were getting a boy to help as a farmhand. She feared being returned, but Anne’s longing for a loving home was met when they made her a part of their family. We’ve all had times when we felt unwanted or alone. But when we become a part of God’s family through salvation in Jesus, He becomes for us a secure home (Psalm 62:2). He delights in us and invites us to talk with Him about everything: our worries, temptations, sorrows, and hopes. The psalmist tells us we can “find rest in God” and “pour out [our] hearts to him” (vv. 5, 8). Don’t hesitate. Talk to God as much as you like. He won’t mind. He delights in our hearts. In Him you’ll find a home.  
May
1
2022
Victor slowly became addicted to pornography. Many of his friends looked at porn, and he fell into it because he was bored. But now he understands how it crushed his wife, and he’s vowed to put safeguards in his life so he will never look at it again. Yet he fears it’s too late. Can his marriage be saved? Will he ever be free and fully forgiven? Our enemy the devil presents temptation as if it’s no big deal. Everyone’s doing it. What’s the harm? But the moment we catch on to his scheme, he switches gears. It’s too late! You’ve gone too far! You’re hopeless now! The enemy will say whatever it takes to destroy us as we engage in spiritual warfare. Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). If the devil is a liar, then we should never listen to him. Not when he says our sin is no big deal, and not when he says we’re beyond hope. May Jesus help us dismiss the evil one’s words and listen to Him instead. We rest our hearts on His promise: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vv. 31–32).
Apr
30
2022
In my daughter’s earliest days, I often named for her the things she encountered. I’d identify objects or allow her to touch something unfamiliar and say the word for her, bringing understanding—and vocabulary—to the vast world she was exploring. Though my husband and I might naturally have expected (or hoped) her first word would be Mama or Daddy, she surprised us with an entirely different first word: her small mouth murmured dight one day—a sweet, mispronounced echo of the word light I’d just shared with her. Light is one of God’s first words recorded for us in the Bible. As the Spirit of God hovered over a dark, formless, and empty Earth, God introduced light into His creation, saying “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). He said the light was good, which the rest of Scripture bears out: the psalmist explains that God’s words illuminate our understanding (Psalm 119:130), and Jesus refers to Himself as the light of the world, the giver of the light of life (John 8:12). God’s first utterance in the work of creation was to give light. That wasn’t because He needed light to do His work; no, the light was for us. Light enables us to see Him and to identify His fingerprints on the creation around us, to discern what is good from what is not, and to follow Jesus one step at a time in this vast world.
Apr
29
2022
It’s 3 a.m. at an acute-care hospital. A worried patient presses the call button for the fourth time in an hour. The night-shift nurse answers without complaint. Soon another patient is screaming, crying for attention. The nurse isn’t surprised. She requested the night shift five years ago to avoid her hospital’s daytime frenzy. Then the reality hit. Night work often means taking on extra tasks, such as lifting and turning patients by herself. It also means closely monitoring patients’ conditions so physicians can be notified in emergencies. Buoyed by close friendships with her nighttime co-workers, this nurse still struggles to get adequate sleep. Often, she asks her church for prayer, seeing her work as vital. “Praise God, their prayers make a difference.” Her praise is good and right for a night worker—as well as for all of us. The psalmists wrote, “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord” (Psalm 134:1–2). This psalm, written for the Levites who served as temple watchmen, acknowledged their vital work—protecting the temple by day and night. In our nonstop world, it feels proper to share this psalm especially for nighttime workers, yet every one of us can praise God in the night. As the psalm adds, “May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who is the Maker of heaven and earth” (v. 3).
Apr
28
2022
Chemotherapy reduced the tumor in my father-in-law’s pancreas, until it didn’t. As the tumor began to grow again, he was left with a life-and-death decision. He asked his doctor, “Should I take more of this chemo or try something else, perhaps a different drug or radiation?”  The people of Judah had a similar life-and-death question. Weary from war and famine, God’s people wondered whether their problem was too much idolatry or not enough. They concluded they should offer more sacrifices to a false god and see if she would protect and prosper them (Jeremiah 44:17). Jeremiah said they had wildly misdiagnosed their situation. Their problem wasn’t a lack of commitment to idols; their problem was that they had them. They told the prophet, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!” (v. 16). Jeremiah replied, “Because you have burned incense and have sinned against the Lord and have not obeyed him or followed his law or his decrees or his stipulations, this disaster has come upon you” (v. 23). Like Judah, we may be tempted to double down on sinful choices that have landed us in trouble. Relationship problems? We can be more aloof. Financial issues? We’ll spend our way to happiness. Pushed aside? We’ll be equally ruthless. But the idols that contributed to our problems can’t save us. Only Jesus can carry us through our troubles as we turn to Him.
Apr
27
2022
At the beginning of my gardening journey, I’d wake up early and run to my vegetable garden to see if anything had sprouted. Nothing. After an internet search for “fast garden growth,” I learned that the seedling stage is the most important phase of a plant’s lifespan. Knowing now that this process couldn’t be rushed, I came to appreciate the strength of small sprouts fighting their way through the soil toward the sun and their resilience to temperamental weather. After waiting patiently for a few weeks, I was finally greeted by bursts of green sprouts creeping through the soil. Sometimes it’s easy to praise the victories and triumphs in our lives without similarly acknowledging that growth in our character often comes through time and struggle. James instructs us to “consider it pure joy” when we “face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). But what could possibly be delightful about trials? God will sometimes allow us to go through challenges and hardships so that we can be molded into who He’s called us to be. He waits in anticipation for us to come out of the trials of life “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4). By staying grounded in Jesus, we can persevere through any challenge, growing stronger and ultimately allowing the fruit of the Spirit to blossom in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23). His wisdom gives us the nourishment we need to truly flourish each and every day (John 15:5).
Apr
26
2022
Australia’s regent honeyeater bird is in trouble—it’s losing its song. Though once an abundant species, just three hundred birds now remain; and with so few others to learn from, the males are forgetting their unique song and failing to attract mates. Thankfully, conservationists have a plan to rescue the honeyeaters—sing to them. Or more precisely, play them recordings of other honeyeaters singing so they can relearn their heart song. As the males pick up the tune and attract females again, it’s hoped the species will flourish once more. The prophet Zephaniah addressed a people in trouble. With so much corruption among them, he announced that God’s judgment was coming (Zephaniah 3:1–8). When this later came to pass through capture and exile, the people too lost their song (Psalm 137:4). But Zephaniah foresaw a time beyond judgment when God would come to this decimated people, forgive their sins, and sing to them: “He will take great delight in you, in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). As a result, the heart song of the people would be restored (v. 14). Whether through our own disobedience or the trials of life, we too can lose our heart song of joy. But a Voice is singing over us songs of forgiveness and love. Let’s listen to His melody and sing along.
Apr
25
2022
Youthfulness shouldn’t stop anyone from achievement. It certainly didn’t stop eleven-year-old Mikaila. Instead of putting up a lemonade stand, Mikaila opened a lemonade business. Me & the Bees Lemonade started with her grandmother’s recipe and eventually earned a $60,000 investment from investors on the television show Shark Tank. She also signed a contract with a major grocer to sell her lemonade at fifty-five of the chain’s stores. Mikaila’s drive and dreams point us back to Paul’s words to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12). Timothy, though not a child like Mikaila, was likely considerably younger than most in his congregation. And he had concerns about people treating him with contempt. Also, even after interning with the apostle Paul, some thought that Timothy wasn’t mature enough to lead them. Instead of proving himself by showing his credentials, Paul encouraged Timothy to demonstrate his spiritual maturity by the way he used his words, lived his life, loved his parishioners, exercised his faith, and remained sexually pure (v. 12). No one could discredit him as a teacher and pastor if he backed it up with a godly example. Regardless of our age, we can impact the world. We do it by setting a godly example for others as God provides what we need. May He shape our lives with the gospel, so whether we’re seventeen or seventy, we’ll be worthy to teach and share it with others.
Apr
24
2022
A little girl waded in a shallow creek while her father watched. Her rubber boots reached her knees. As she sloshed downstream, the water deepened until it flowed over the top of her waders. When she couldn’t take another step, she yelled, “Daddy, I’m stuck!” In three strides, her father was at her side, pulling her to the grassy bank. She yanked her boots off and laughed as water poured onto the ground. After God rescued the psalmist David from his enemies, he took a moment to sit down, “pull off his boots,” and allow the relief to flood his soul. He wrote a song to express his feelings. “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies,” he said (2 Samuel 22:4). He praised God as his rock and fortress, shield, and stronghold, and then went on to narrate a poetic response of God’s response: The earth trembled. God came down from heaven. Lightning bolts flew from His presence. His voice thundered, and He drew him out of deep water (vv. 8, 10, 13–15, 17). Maybe today you feel opposition around you. Maybe you’re stuck in sin that makes it hard to advance spiritually. Reflect on how God has helped you in the past—praise Him and ask Him to do it again! And thank Him especially for rescuing you by bringing you into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
Apr
23
2022
When Warren mentioned during our weekly ministry team call that he was “feeling dusty,” I sensed that this was his way of referencing the physical challenges associated with aging and ill-health. For Warren and his wife, both in their late sixties, 2020 included doctors’ visits, surgical procedures, and the rearranging of their home to accommodate in-home care. They were on the other side of the prime of life and they were feeling it. One doesn’t have to live long before sensing our inadequacies, imperfections, and weaknesses—physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. God, in the person of His Son Jesus, stepped into our fallen world and cares for those who experience the liabilities of human existence (Psalm 103:13). Furthermore, David wrote, “He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (v. 14). The term dust takes us back to Genesis: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (2:7). Are you feeling dusty these days? Welcome to the realities of earthly living. Remember, however, that when we feel most vulnerable, we’re not left alone. Our compassionate God “knows” and “remembers.” He demonstrated His love to us by sending His Son to provide forgiveness for earthly people like you and me. Whatever life may bring, may we trust in Him.
Apr
22
2022
My friend recounted how she’d pointedly been asked by a fellow believer and colleague which political party she belonged to. His aim in asking the question seemed to be to predict whether he agreed with her on any number of issues currently dividing their community. In an effort to find common ground between them, she simply replied, “Since we’re both believers, I’d rather focus on our unity in Christ.” People were also divided in Paul’s day, though over different issues. Topics such as what foods were permissible to eat and which days were holy brought disagreement among the Christians in Rome. Despite being “fully convinced in their own mind” on whichever position they held, Paul reminds them of their common ground: living for the Lord (Romans 14:5–9). Instead of passing judgment on one another, he encouraged them to “do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (v. 19). In an era when many countries, churches, and communities are divided over issues large and small, we can point one another to the unifying truth of Christ’s work on the cross to secure our life with Him eternally. Paul’s reminder that we ought not “destroy the work of God” (v. 20) with our individual positions is as timely today as it was 2,000 years ago. Instead of passing judgment on one another, we can act in love and live in a way that honors our brothers and sisters.
Apr
21
2022
Earth Day is an annual event observed on April 22. In recent years, more than one billion people in about two hundred countries have taken part in educational and service activities. Each year, Earth Day is a reminder of the importance of caring for our amazing planet. But the mandate to care for the environment […]
Apr
20
2022
Since it was the week after Easter, our five-year-old son, Wyatt, had heard plenty of resurrection talk. He always had questions—usually real stumpers. I was driving, and he was buckled into his seat behind me. Wyatt peered out the window, deep in thought. “Daddy,” he said, pausing and preparing to ask me a tough one. […]
Apr
19
2022
Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
Apr
18
2022
Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
Apr
17
2022
“Are you still upset that I want to reduce the size of your favorite department?” Evelyn’s manager asked. “No.” She tightened her jaw. She was more frustrated that he seemed to be teasing her about it. She’d been trying to help the company by finding ways to draw in different interest groups, but limited space […]
Apr
16
2022
Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
Apr
15
2022
Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
Apr
14
2022
Somber eyes peer out from the painting Simon of Cyrene, by contemporary Dutch artist Egbert Modderman (Mark 15:21). Simon was pulled from the watching crowd and forced to help Jesus carry His cross. In the painting, Simon’s eyes reveal the immense physical and emotional burden of this responsibility. Mark tells us that Simon was from Cyrene, a big city in North Africa that had a large population of Jews during Jesus’ time. Most likely Simon had journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Then he found himself in the middle of this unjust execution, but was able to perform a small but meaningful act of assistance to Jesus (Mark 15:21). Earlier in the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells His followers, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34). On the road to Golgotha, Simon literally did what Jesus figuratively asks His disciples to do: he took up the cross given to him and carried it for Jesus’s sake. We too have “crosses” to bear—perhaps an illness, a challenging ministry assignment, the loss of a loved one, or persecution for our faith. As we carry these sufferings by faith, we point people to the sufferings of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. It was His cross that gave us peace with God and strength for our own journey.
Apr
13
2022
Eli Wiesel’s novel Night starkly confronts us with the horrors of the Holocaust. Based on his own experiences in Nazi death camps, Wiesel’s account flips the biblical story of the Exodus. While Moses and the Israelites escaped slavery at the first Passover (Exodus 12), Wiesel tells of the SS arresting Jewish leaders following Passover. Lest we criticize Wiesel and his dark irony, consider that the Bible contains a similar plot twist. On the night of Passover, Jesus, expected to free God’s people from suffering, instead permits Himself to be arrested by those who would kill Him. John ushers us into the holy scene before Jesus’s arrest. “Troubled in spirit” over what awaited Him, at the Last Supper Jesus predicted His betrayal (John 13:21). Then, in an act we can scarcely comprehend, Christ served His betrayer bread. The account reads: “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night” (v. 30). History’s greatest injustice was underway, yet Jesus declared, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him” (v. 31). In a few hours, the disciples would experience panic, defeat, and dejection. But Jesus saw God’s plan unfolding as it should. When it seems as though the darkness is winning, recall that our Lord faced His dark night and defeated it. He walks with us. It will not always be night.
Apr
12
2022
My four-year-old grandson sat on my lap and patted my bald head, studying it intently. “Papa,” he asked, “What happened to your hair?” “Oh,” I laughed, “I lost it over the years.” His face turned thoughtful: “That’s too bad” he responded. “I’ll have to give you some of mine.” I smiled at his compassion and pulled him close for a hug. Reflecting later on his love for me in that cherished moment also caused me to ponder God’s selfless, generous love. G. K. Chesterton wrote: “We have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” By this he meant that the “Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9) is untainted by sin’s decay—God is ageless and loves us exuberantly with a love that never falters or fades. He is fully willing and able to fulfill the promise He made to His people in Isaiah 46: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you” (v. 4). Five verses later He explains, “I am God, and there is none like me.” (v. 9). The great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) loves us so deeply that He went to the extreme of dying on the cross to bear the full weight of our sin, so that we might turn to Him and be free of our burden and gratefully worship Him forever!
Apr
11
2022
Derek noticed his son didn’t want to take off his shirt to swim and realized it was because he was self-conscious about a birthmark that covers parts of his chest, belly, and left arm. Determined to help his son, Derek underwent a lengthy and painful tattooing process to create an identical mark on his own body. Derek’s love for his son reflects God’s love for His sons and daughters. Because we, His children, “have flesh and blood” (Hebrews 2:14), Jesus became like us and took on a human form and “shared in [our] humanity” to free us from the power of death (v. 14). “He had to be made like [us], fully human in every way” (v. 17) to make things right with God for us. Derek wanted to help his son overcome his self-consciousness and so made himself “like” him. Jesus helped us overcome our far greater problem—slavery to death. He overcame it for us by making Himself like us, bearing the consequence of our sin by dying in our place. Jesus’ willingness to share in our humanity not only secured our right relationship with God but enables us to trust Him in our moments of struggle. When we face temptation and hardship, we can lean on Him for strength and support because “He is able to help” (v. 18). Like a loving father, He understands and cares.
Apr
10
2022
The halted hands of a pocket watch in a library’s archives at the University of North Carolina tell a harrowing tale. They mark the exact moment (8:19 and 56 seconds) the watch’s owner Elisha Mitchell slipped and fell to his death at a waterfall in the Appalachian Mountains on the morning of June 27, 1857. Mitchell, a professor at the university, was gathering data to defend his (correct) claim that the peak he was on—which now bears his name, Mount Mitchell—was the highest one east of the Mississippi. His grave is located at the mountain’s summit, not far from where he fell. As I ascended that mountain peak recently, I reflected on Mitchell’s story and my own mortality and how each of us has only so much time. And I pondered Jesus’ words about His return as He spoke to His disciples on the Mount of Olives: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). Jesus clearly indicates that none of us knows either the moment He will return and establish His kingdom forever or when He may summon us to leave this world and come to Him. But He tells us to be prepared and “keep watch” (v. 42). Tick . . . tick . . . The “clockwork” of each of our lives is still in motion—but for how long? May we live our moments in love with our merciful Savior, waiting and working for Him.
Apr
9
2022
It was Sunday—the day we now call Palm Sunday. Without a doubt, this wasn’t Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem. As a devout Jew, He would’ve gone to the city every year for the three great feasts (Luke 2:41–42; John 2:13; 5:1). In the past three years, Christ had also ministered and taught in Jerusalem. But this Sunday His coming into the city was radically different. By riding a young donkey into Jerusalem at a time when thousands of worshipers were coming into the city, Jesus was the center of attention (Matthew 21:9–11). Why would He take the place of prominence before thousands of people when for the past three years He’d deliberately kept a low profile? Why would He accept the people’s proclamation that He was King just five days before His death?  Matthew says that this took place to fulfill a five-hundred-year-old prophecy (Matthew 21:4–5) that God’s chosen king would come into Jerusalem “righteous and victorious, [yet] lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9; see also Genesis 49:10–11). This was a truly unusual way for a triumphant king to enter a city. Conquering kings normally rode on mighty stallions. But Jesus wasn’t riding a warhorse. This reveals what kind of King Jesus is. He came in meekness and lowliness. Jesus came not for war, but for peace, establishing peace between God and us (Acts 10:36; Colossians 1:20–21). 
Apr
8
2022
In 2019, the Oxford Bus Company launched the instantly popular “Chatty Bus,” a bus with designated people on board willing to talk with interested passengers. The route was initiated in response to government research which found that thirty percent of Britons go at least one day each week without a meaningful conversation. Many of us have likely experienced the loneliness that comes from not having someone to talk to in a time of need. As I reflect on the value of important conversations in my life, I’m especially reminded of discussions that were full of grace. Those times brought me joy and encouragement, and they helped to cultivate deeper relationships. At the end of his letter to the Colossian church, Paul encouraged his readers with principles of authentic living for believers in Jesus, including ways our conversations can exhibit love to everyone we encounter. The apostle wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (4:6), reminding his readers that it is not simply the presence of words but the quality of those words—“full of grace”—that would allow them to be a true encouragement to others. The next time you have the opportunity to connect deeply in conversation—with a friend, co-worker, or even a stranger seated next to you on a bus or in a waiting room—look for ways your time together might bring blessing into both of your lives.
Apr
7
2022
Not long ago we moved to a new home just a short distance from our old one. Despite the close proximity, we still needed to load all of our belongings onto a moving truck because of the timing of the financial transactions. Between the sale and purchase, our furnishings stayed on the truck and our family found temporary lodging. During that time, I was surprised to discover how “at home” I felt despite the displacement from our physical home—simply because I was with those I love most: my family. For part of his life, David lacked a physical home. He lived life on the run from King Saul. As God’s appointed successor to the throne, Saul perceived David as a threat and sought to kill him. David fled his home and slept wherever he found shelter. Though he had companions with him, David’s most earnest desire was to “dwell in the house of the Lord”—to enjoy permanent fellowship with Him (Psalm 27:4). Jesus is our constant companion, our sense of “home” no matter where we are. He’s with us in our present troubles and even prepares a place for us to live with Him forever (John 14:3). Despite the uncertainty and change we might experience as citizens of this earth, we can dwell permanently in our fellowship with Him every day and everywhere.
Apr
6
2022
“Kumain ka na ba?” (Have you eaten?) This is what you’ll always hear as a visitor in many homes in the Philippines, where I’m from. It’s the Filipino way of expressing care and kindness for our guests. And regardless of your reply, your host will always prepare something for you to eat. Filipinos believe that true kindness isn’t just saying the standard greeting, but also going beyond words to show real hospitality. Rebekah, too, knew all about being kind. Her daily chores included drawing water from the well outside town and carrying the heavy jar of water home. When Abraham’s servant, who was very thirsty from his journey, asked for a little water from her jar, she didn’t hesitate to give him a drink (Genesis 24:17–18). But then Rebekah did even more. When she saw that the visitor’s camels were thirsty, she quickly offered to go back to draw more water for them (vv. 19–20).  She didn’t hesitate to help, even if it meant making an extra trip (or more) to the well and back with a heavy jar. Life is tough for many people, and often, a small gesture of practical kindness can encourage them and lift their spirits. Being a channel of God’s love doesn’t always mean delivering a powerful sermon or planting a church. Sometimes, it can simply be giving someone a drink of water.  
Apr
5
2022
The scene in the parking lot might have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Two drivers were arguing loudly over one of their cars that was blocking the passage of the other, and harsh words were being exchanged. What made it especially painful to watch was that this quarrel was taking place in the parking lot of a church. The two men had possibly just heard a sermon about love, patience, or forgiveness, but it was all forgotten in the heat of the moment. Passing by, I shook my head—then quickly realized I was no better. How many times had I read the Bible, only to fall into sin moments later with an uncharitable thought? How many times had I behaved like the person who “looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like”? (James 1:23–24). James was calling on his readers not only to read and reflect on God’s Word, but also to do what it says (v. 22). A complete faith, he noted, means both knowing Scripture and putting it into action. Life’s circumstances can make it hard to apply what Scripture reveals. But if we ask the Father, He will surely help us obey His words and please Him with our actions.  
Apr
4
2022
As a teenager, Charles Spurgeon wrestled with God. He'd grown up going to church, but what was preached seemed bland and meaningless. God was a struggle for him, and Charles, in his own words “rebelled and revolted.” One night a fierce snowstorm forced the sixteen-year-old Spurgeon to seek shelter in a tiny Methodist church. The pastor's sermon seemed directed at him personally. In that moment, God won the wrestling match, and Charles gave his heart to Jesus. Spurgeon later wrote, “long before I began with Christ, He began with me.” In fact, our life with God doesn’t begin with the moment of salvation. The Psalmist notes that God “created our inmost being, having been knit together in our mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The apostle Paul writes, “Even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace” (Galatians 1:15, NLT). And God doesn’t stop working with us when we’re saved: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).  We’re all works-in-progress in the hands of a loving God. He leads us through our rebellious wrestling and into His warm embrace. But His purpose with us then is only beginning. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him” (Philippians 2:13, NLT). Rest assured, we are His good work regardless of how old we are or what stage of life we’re in.
Apr
3
2022
While attending seminary, I was working full-time. Add to that a chaplaincy rotation and an internship at a church. I was busy. When my father visited me, he said, “You’re going to have a breakdown.” I shrugged off his warning thinking he was of another generation, and he didn’t understand goal-setting. I didn’t have a breakdown. But I did experience a very rough, dry season in which I fell into depression. Since then, I’ve learned to listen to warnings—especially from loved ones—more carefully. That’s what Moses did. He was diligently working, serving as Israel’s judge (Exodus 18:13). Yet, he chose to listen to his father-in-law’s warning (vv. 17–18). Jethro had a different perspective than Moses. He wasn’t in the thick of things, but he loved Moses and his family. Perhaps that’s why Moses was able to listen to Jethro and heed his advice. Moses set up a system for “capable men from all the people” to take on the smaller disputes and he took the more difficult cases (vv. 21–22). Because he rearranged his work, listened to Jethro, and entrusted others to shoulder the load, he was able to avoid burnout during that season of life. Many of us take our work for God, our families, and others seriously—passionately even. But we still need to heed the advice of trusted loved ones and to rely on the wisdom and power of God in all we do.
Apr
2
2022
When a friend asked me to speak with teen girls at a workshop promoting purity, I declined. As a teenage runaway, I struggled and had decades of scars caused by my immorality. After getting married and losing our first child to a miscarriage, I thought God was punishing me for my past sins. When I finally surrendered my life to Christ at the age of thirty, I confessed my sins and repented . . . repeatedly. Still, guilt and shame consumed me. How could I share about God’s grace when I couldn’t even bring myself to fully receive the gift of His great love for me? Thankfully, over time, God has abolished the lies that chained me to who I was before I confessed my sins. By His grace, I’ve finally received the forgiveness God had been offering me all along. God understands our laments over our afflictions and the consequences of our past sins. However, He empowers His people to overcome despair, turn from our sins, and arise with hope in His great “love,” “compassion,” and “faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:19–23). Scripture says that God Himself is our portion—our hope and salvation—and we can learn to trust His goodness (vv. 24–26). Our compassionate Father helps us believe His promises. When we receive the fullness of His great love for us, we can spread the good news about His grace.
Apr
1
2022
In rural Amish culture, the building of a barn is a social event. It would take months for a single farmer and his family to construct a barn, but the Amish, doing it together, make quick work of it. Lumber is stocked ahead of time; tools are prepped. On the designated day, the entire Amish community gathers early morning, divvies up tasks, and together pitches in to raise a barn. In some cases, a barn is built in a single day. This is a good picture of God’s vision for the church and our role in it. The Bible says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT). God has equipped each of us differently and divvied up tasks in which we each do our “own special work” as part of a body “fit together perfectly” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT).  In community, we’re encouraged to “share one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2 NLT). Yet too often we go it alone. We keep our needs to ourselves, wanting control of our circumstance. Or we fail to reach out and help shoulder the weight of someone else’s need. But God longs for us to connect with others. He knows beautiful things happen when we ask for others’ help and pray for other’s needs. Only by depending on one another can we experience what God has for us and accomplish His amazing plan for our lives—like building a barn in a day.
Mar
31
2022
“See that?” The clock repairman pointed his flashlight beam on a small, fine mark roughly engraved inside the old grandfather clock he was working on in our home. “Another repairman could have put that there almost a century ago,” he said. “It’s called a ‘witness mark,’ and it helps me know how to set the mechanism.” Before the age of technical bulletins and repair manuals, “witness marks” were used to help the person making a future repair to align moving parts with precision. They were more than just time-saving reminders; they were often left as a simple kindness to the next person doing the work. The Bible encourages us to leave our own “witness marks” as we work for Him by serving others in our broken world. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2). This is the example of our God, “who gives endurance and encouragement” (v. 5). It’s about being a good citizen of both earth and heaven. Our “witness marks” may seem like small things, but they can make a vital difference in someone’s life. An uplifting word, a financial gift to someone in need, and a listening ear—all are kindnesses that can have a lasting impact. May God help you to make a mark for Him in someone’s life today!
Mar
30
2022
Ludmilla, a widow aged eighty-two, has declared her home in the Czech Republic: “Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven,” saying, “My home is an extension of Christ’s kingdom.” She welcomes strangers and friends who are hurting and in need with loving hospitality, sometimes providing food and a place to sleep—always with a compassionate and prayerful spirit. Relying on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to help her care for her visitors, she delights in the ways God answers their prayers. Ludmilla serves Jesus through opening her home and heart, in contrast to the prominent religious leader at whose home Jesus ate one Sabbath. Jesus told this teacher of the law that he should welcome “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to his home—and not those who could repay him (Luke 14:13). While Jesus’s remarks imply that the Pharisee hosted Jesus out of pride (v. 12), Ludmilla, so many years later, invites people to her home so she can be “an instrument of God’s love and His wisdom.” Serving others with humility is one way we can be “representatives of the kingdom of heaven,” as Ludmilla says. Whether or not we can provide a bed for strangers, we can put the needs of others before our own in different and creative ways. How will we extend God’s kingdom in our part of the world today?
Mar
29
2022
What if our clothes were more functional, having the ability to clean themselves after we dropped ketchup or mustard or spilled a drink on them? Well, according to the BBC, engineers in China have developed a special “coating which causes cotton to clean itself of stains and odors when exposed to ultraviolet lights.” Can you imagine the implications of having self-cleaning clothes? A self-cleaning coating might work for stained clothing, but only God can clean a stained soul. In ancient Judah, God was angry with His people because they had “turned their backs on” Him, given themselves to corruption and evil, and were worshiping false gods (Isaiah 1:2–4). But to make matters worse, they tried to clean themselves by offering sacrifices, burning incense, saying many prayers, and gathering together in solemn assemblies. Yet their hypocritical and sinful hearts remained (vv. 12–13). The remedy was for them to come to their senses and with a repentant heart to bring the stains on their souls to a holy and loving God. His grace would cleanse them and make them spiritually “white as snow” (v. 18). When we sin, there’s no self-cleaning solution. With a humble and repentant heart, we must acknowledge our sins and place them under the cleansing light of God’s holiness. We must turn from them and return to Him. And He, the only One who cleans the stains of the soul, will offer us complete forgiveness and renewed fellowship.
Mar
28
2022
It was a hard day when my husband found out that, like so many others, he too would soon be furloughed from employment as a result of the COVID pandemic. We knew that we likely had no reason to fear that our basic needs would not be met, but the uncertainty was still terrifying. As I processed my jumbled emotions, I found myself revisiting a favorite poem by sixteenth-century reformer John of the Cross. Entitled “I Went In, I Knew Not Where,” the poem depicts the wonder to be found in a journey of surrender, when, going “past the boundaries of knowing,” we learn to “discern the Divine in all its guises.” And so that’s what my husband and I are trying to do during this season, to turn our focus from what we can control and understand to the unexpected, mysterious, and beautiful ways God can be found all around us. The apostle Paul invited believers to a journey from the seen to the unseen, from outward to inward realities, and from temporary struggles to the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Paul urged this, not because he lacked compassion for their struggles. He knew it would be through letting go of what they could understand that they could experience the comfort, joy, and hope they so desperately needed (vv. 10, 15–16). They could know the wonder of Christ’s life making all things new.
Mar
27
2022
For several months, I coped with intense workplace politics and intrigues. Worrying is second nature to me, so I was surprised to find myself at peace. Instead of feeling anxious, I was able to respond with a calm mind and heart. I knew that this peace could come only from God. In contrast, there was another period in my life when everything was going well—and yet, I felt a deep unrest in my heart. I knew it was because I was trusting in my own abilities instead of trusting God and His leading. Looking back, I’ve realized that true peace—God’s peace—isn’t defined by our circumstances, but by our trust in Him. God’s peace comes to us when our minds are steadfast (Isaiah 26:3). In Hebrew, steadfast means “to lean upon.” As we lean on Him, we’ll experience His calming presence.  We can trust in God, remembering that He’ll humble the proud and wicked and smooth the path of those who love Him (vv. 5–7). When I experienced peace in a season of difficulty rather than ease, I discovered that God’s peace isn’t an absence of conflict, but a profound sense of security even in distress. It’s a peace that surpasses human understanding and guards our hearts and minds in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances (Philippians 4:6−7).
Mar
26
2022
When Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States, he was tasked with leading a fractured nation. Lincoln is viewed as a wise leader and a man of high moral character, but another element to his makeup, perhaps, was the foundation for everything else. He understood that he was inadequate for the task at hand. His response to that inadequacy? Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” When we come to grips with the massive nature of life’s challenges and the severe limitations of our own wisdom, knowledge, or strength, we find, like Lincoln, that we are utterly dependent on Jesus—the One who has no limitations. Peter reminded us of this dependency when he wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). God’s love for His child, paired with His absolute power, make Him the perfect Person to approach with our frailties, and that’s the essence of prayer. We go to Him acknowledging to Him (and ourselves) that we’re inadequate and He’s eternally sufficient. Lincoln said he felt he “had nowhere else to go”—but when we begin to comprehend God’s great care for us, that’s wonderfully good news. We can go to Him!
Mar
25
2022
Abel Mutai, a Kenyan runner competing in a grueling international cross-country race, was mere yards from victory—his lead secure. Confused by the course’s signage and thinking he’d already crossed the finish line, however, Mutai stopped short. The Spanish runner in second place, Ivan Fernandez Anaya, saw Mutai’s mistake. Rather than take advantage and bolt past for the win, however, he caught up to Mutai, put out his arm and guided Mutai forward to a gold-medal win. When reporters asked Anaya why he purposefully lost the race, he insisted that Mutai deserved the win, not him. “What would be the merit of my victory? What would be the honor of that medal? What would my mom think of that?” As one report put it: “Anaya chose honesty over victory.” Proverbs says that those who desire to live honestly, who want their lives to display faithfulness and authenticity, make choices based on what’s true rather than what’s expedient. “The integrity of the upright guides them” (11:3). This commitment to integrity isn’t only the right way to live, but it also offers a better life. The proverb continues: “But the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (v. 3). In the long run, dishonesty never pays. If we abandon our integrity, short term “wins” actually yield defeat. But when fidelity and truthfulness shape us in God’s power, we slowly become people of deep character who lead genuinely good lives.
Mar
24
2022
In Martin Handford’s book Where’s Waldo? a series of children’s puzzle books first created in 1987, the elusive character wears a red and white striped shirt and socks with a matching hat, blue jeans, brown boots, and glasses. Handford has cleverly hidden Waldo in plain sight within the busy illustrations filled with crowds of characters at various locations around the world. Waldo isn’t always easy to see, but the creator promises readers will always be able to find him. Though looking for God isn’t really like looking for Waldo in a puzzle book, our Creator promises we can find Him, too. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God instructs His people on how to live as foreigners in exile (Jeremiah 29:4–9). He promises to protect them until He restores them according to His perfect plan (vv. 10–11). God assures the Israelites that the fulfillment of His promise will deepen their commitment to call on Him in prayer (v. 12). Today, even though God has revealed Himself in the story and Spirit of Jesus, it can be easy to get distracted by the busyness in this world. We may even be tempted to ask, “Where’s God?” However, the Creator and Sustainer of all things declares that those who belong to Him will always find Him if they seek Him with all their hearts (vv. 13–14).
Mar
23
2022
Tragedy struck near Los Angeles in January 2020 when nine people died in a helicopter crash. Most news stories began something like this, “NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna (“Gigi”), and seven others lost their lives in the accident.” It’s natural and understandable to focus on the well-known people involved in a horrible situation like this—and the deaths of Kobe and his precious teenager Gigi are heartbreaking beyond description. But we must keep in mind that in life’s big picture there’s no dividing line that makes the “seven others” (Payton, Sarah, Christina, Alyssa, John, Keri, and Ara) any less significant. Sometimes we need to be reminded that each human is important in God’s eyes. Society shines bright lights on the rich and famous. Yet fame doesn’t make a person any more important than your next-door neighbor, the noisy kids who play in your street, the down-on-his-luck guy at the city mission, or you. Every person on earth is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), whether rich or poor (Proverbs 22:2). No one is favored more than another in His eyes (Romans 2:11), and each is in need of a Savior (3:23). We glorify our great God when we refuse to show favoritism—whether in the church (James 2:1–4) or in society at large.
Mar
22
2022
Scientists from Penn State University recently engineered a new kind of glue that’s both extremely strong and also removable. Their design is inspired by a snail whose slime hardens in dry conditions and loosens again when wet. The reversible nature of the snail’s slime allows it to move freely in more humid conditions—safer for the snail—while keeping it securely planted in its environment when movement would be hazardous. The researchers’ approach of mimicking an adhesive found in nature calls to mind scientist Johannes Kepler’s description of his discoveries. He said he was “merely thinking God’s thoughts after him.” The Bible tells us that God created the earth and all that’s in it: the vegetation on the land (Genesis 1:12); the “creatures of the sea” and “every winged bird” (v. 21); “the creatures that move along the ground” (v. 25); and “mankind in his own image” (v. 27). When humankind discovers or identifies a special attribute of a plant or animal, we’re simply following in God’s creative footsteps, having our eyes opened to the way He designed them. At the end of each day in the creation account, God surveyed the fruit of His work and described it as “good.” As we learn and discover more about God’s creation, may we too recognize His magnificent work, care for it well, and proclaim how very good it is!
Mar
21
2022
The email was short but urgent. “Request salvation. I would like to know Jesus.” What an astonishing request. Unlike reluctant friends and family who hadn’t yet received Christ, this person didn’t need convincing. My task was to quiet my self-doubt about evangelizing and simply share key concepts, Scriptures, and trusted resources that addressed this man’s plea. From there, by faith, God would lead his journey. Philip demonstrated such simple evangelism when on a desert road he met the treasurer of Ethiopia who was reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked (Acts 8:30). “How can I,” the man answered, “unless someone explains it to me” (v. 31). Invited to clarify, “Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (v. 35).   Starting where people are and keeping evangelism simple, as Philip showed, can be an effective way to share Christ. In fact, as the two traveled along, the man said, “Look here is water” and asked to be baptized (v. 37). Philip complied, and the man “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39). I rejoiced when the email writer replied that he had repented of sin, confessed Christ, found a church, and believed he was born again. What a beautiful start! Now, may God take him higher!
Mar
20
2022
Upset with the corruption and extravagance plaguing his kingdom, Korea’s King Yeongjo (1694–1776) decided to change things. In a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, he banned the traditional art of gold-thread embroidery as excessively opulent. Soon, knowledge of that intricate process vanished into the past. In 2011, Professor Sim Yeon-ok wanted to reclaim that long-lost tradition. Surmising that gold leaf had been glued onto mulberry paper and then hand-cut into slender strands, she was able to recreate the process, reviving an ancient art form. In the book of Exodus, we learn of the extravagant measures employed to construct the tabernacle—including gold thread to make Aaron’s priestly garments. Skilled craftsmen “hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen” (Exodus 39:3). What happened to all that exquisite craftsmanship? Did the garments simply wear out? Were they eventually carried off as plunder? Was it all in vain? Not at all! Every aspect of the effort was done because God had given specific instructions to do it.   God has given each of us something to do as well. It may be a simple act of kindness—something to give back to Him as we serve each other. We need not concern ourselves with what will happen to our efforts in the end (1 Corinthians 15:58). Any task done for our Father becomes a thread extending into eternity.
Mar
19
2022
In a widely shared video, an elegant elderly woman sits in a wheelchair. Once a famed ballet dancer, Marta González Saldaña now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. But something magical happens when Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is played to her. As the music builds, her frail hands slowly rise, and as the first trumpets blast she starts performing from her chair. Though her mind and body are perishing, her talent is still there. Reflecting on that video, my thoughts went to Paul’s teaching on resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Likening our bodies to a seed that is buried before it sprouts into a plant, he says that though our bodies may perish through age or illness, may be a source of dishonor, and may be wracked with weakness, the bodies of believers will be raised imperishable, full of glory and power (vv. 42–44). Just as there is an organic link between the seed and the plant, we will be “us” after our resurrection, our personalities and talents intact, but we will flourish like never before. When the haunting melody of Swan Lake began to play, Marta at first looked downcast, perhaps mindful of what she once was and could no longer do. But then a man reached over and held her hand. And so it will be for us. Trumpets will blast (v. 52), a hand will reach out to us, and we will rise to dance like never before.
Mar
18
2022
My mother shared with me how she chose not to attend college so she could marry my father in the 1960s, but she always held on to her dream of becoming a home economics teacher. Three children later, though she never received a college degree, she did become a nutritionist aide for the state of Louisiana’s health system. She cooked meals to demonstrate healthier meal choices—much like a home economics teacher. As she shared her dream with me after recounting the events of her life, she proclaimed that God had indeed heard her prayers and given her the desires of her heart. Life can be like that for us. Our plans point one way but reality goes another way. But with God, our time and lives can be turned into beautiful displays of His compassion, love, and restoration. God told the people of Judah (Joel 2:21) that He would “repay” them for their lost or destroyed years—brought about by a “locust swarm” (V. 25). He also works to help us in the challenges and unfulfilled dreams we face. For we serve a Redeemer God who honors and rewards our sacrifices for Him (Matthew 19:29). Whether we’re facing a devastating challenge or a time of unrealized dreams, may we call out to the God who restores and give Him praise.
Mar
17
2022
A pilot couldn’t fit his tea into the cupholder so he set it on the center console. When the plane hit turbulence the drink spilled onto the control panel, shutting off an engine. The flight was diverted and landed safely, but when it happened again to a crew from a different airline two months later, the manufacturer realized there was a problem. The plane cost US$300 million, but its cupholders were too small. This seemingly small oversight led to some harrowing moments. Small details can wreck the grandest plans, so the man in the Song of Songs urges his lover to catch “the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” of their love (2:15). He’d seen foxes climb over walls and dig out vines in search of grapes. They were hard to catch as they darted into the vineyard then melted back into the night. But they must not be ignored. What threatens your closest relationships? It may not be large offenses. It might be the little foxes, a small comment here or a slight there that digs at the root of your love. Minor offenses add up, and what once was a blossoming friendship or passionate marriage might be in danger of dying. May God help us catch the little foxes! Let’s ask for and grant forgiveness as needed and nourish our vineyards in the soil of ordinary acts of thoughtfulness as God provides what we need.
Mar
16
2022
Our family was planning to get a puppy, so my eleven-year-old daughter researched for months. She knew what the dog should eat and how to introduce it to our new home—among myriad other details.     Turns out puppies do best, she told me, if they’re introduced to one room at a time. So we carefully prepared a spare bedroom. I’m sure there will still be surprises as we raise our new puppy, but my daughter’s delight-infused preparation couldn’t have been more thorough. The way my daughter channeled her eager anticipation for a puppy into loving preparation reminded me of Christ’s longing to share life with His people, and His promise to prepare a home for them. Nearing the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus urged His disciples to trust Him, saying, “You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Then He promised to “prepare a place for [them] . . . that you also may be where I am” (v. 3). Trouble was coming. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was at work to bring them home to Him. I can’t help but delight in the careful, deliberate intent with which my daughter has prepared for our new puppy. But I can only imagine how much more our Savior is delighting in His own detailed preparation for each of His people to share eternal life with Him (John 14:2).
Mar
15
2022
A Christian school for autistic children in India received a big donation from a corporation. After checking that there were no strings attached, they accepted the money. But later, the corporation requested to be represented on the school board. The school director returned the money. She refused to allow the values of the school to be compromised. She said, “It’s more important to do God’s work in God’s way.” There are many reasons to decline help, and this is one of them. In the Bible we see another. When the exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem, King Cyrus commissioned them to rebuild the temple (Ezra 4). When their neighbors said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God” (v. 2), the leaders of Israel declined. They concluded that by accepting the offer of help, the integrity of the temple rebuilding project might have been compromised and idolatry might have crept into their community since their neighbors also worshiped idols. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of wise believers in Jesus, we can develop discernment. We can also be confident to say no to friendly offers that may hide subtle spiritual dangers because God’s work done in His way will never lack His provision.
Mar
14
2022
When Jen was young, her well-intentioned Sunday school teacher instructed the class in evangelism training, which included memorizing a series of verses and a formula for sharing the gospel. She and a friend nervously tried this out on another friend, fearful they’d forget an important verse or step. Jen doesn’t “remember if the evening ended in conversion [but guesses] it did not.” The approach seemed to be more about the formula than the person. Now, years later, Jen and her husband are modeling for their own children a love for God and sharing their faith in a more inviting way. They understand the importance of teaching their children about God, the Bible, and a personal relationship with Jesus, but they’re doing so through a living, daily example of a love for God and the Scriptures. They’re demonstrating what it means to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and to reach out to others through kindness and hospitable words. Jen says, “We cannot impart words of life to others if we don’t possess them ourselves.” As she and her husband show kindness in their own lifestyle, they’re preparing their children “to invite others into their faith.” We don’t need a formula to lead others to Jesus—what matters most is that a love for God compels and shines through us. As we live in and share His love, God draws others to know Him too.
Mar
13
2022
Caesar Augustus (63 BC–AD 14), the first emperor of Rome, wanted to be known as a law-and-order ruler. Even though he built his empire on the back of slave labor, military conquest, and financial bribery, he restored a measure of legal due process and gave his citizens Iustitia, a goddess our justice system today refers to as Lady Justice. He also called for a census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of a long-awaited ruler whose greatness would reach to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:2–4).    What neither Augustus nor the rest of the world could have anticipated is how a far greater King would live and die to show what real justice looks like. Centuries earlier, in the prophet Micah’s day, the people of God had once again lapsed into a culture of lies, violence, and “ill-gotten treasures” (6:10–12). God’s dearly loved nation had lost sight of Him. He longed for them to show their world what it meant to do right by each other and walk humbly with Him (v. 8).  It took a Servant King to personify the kind of justice that hurting, forgotten, and helpless people long for. It took the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy in Jesus to see right relationships established between God and people, and person-to-person. This would come not in the outward enforcement of Caesar-like law-and-order, but in the freedom of the mercy, goodness, and spirit of our servant King Jesus.
Mar
12
2022
Oliver Cromwell, known as the “Protector of England,” was a military commander in the seventeenth century. It was common practice during those days for people of importance to have their portraits painted. And it wasn’t unusual for an artist to avoid depicting the less attractive aspects of a person’s face. Cromwell, however, wanted nothing to do with a likeness that would flatter him. He cautioned the artist, “You must paint me just as I am—warts and all—or I won’t pay you.”  Apparently, the artist complied. The finished portrait of Cromwell displays a couple of prominent facial warts that in the present day would surely be filtered or airbrushed before being posted on social media.  The expression “warts and all” has come to mean that people should be accepted just as they are—with all their annoying faults, attitudes, and issues. In some cases, we feel that’s too difficult a task. Yet, when we take a hard inward look, we might find some pretty unattractive aspects of our own character.  We’re grateful that God forgives our “warts.” And in Colossians 3, we’re taught to extend grace to others. The apostle Paul encourages us to be more patient, kind, and compassionate—even to those who aren’t easy to love. He urges us to have a forgiving spirit because of the way God forgives us (vv. 12–13). By His example, we’re taught to love others the way God loves us—warts and all. 
Mar
11
2022
It’s a quiet riverside park on a Saturday afternoon. Joggers pass by, fishing rods whirl, seagulls fight over fish and chip wrappers, and my wife and I sit watching the couple. They are dark-skinned, maybe in their late 40s. She sits gazing into his eyes while he, without a hint of self-consciousness, sings to her a love song in his own tongue, carried on the breeze for us all to hear. This delightful act got me thinking about the book of Zephaniah. At first you might wonder why. In Zephaniah’s day God’s people had become corrupt by bowing to false gods (1:4–5), and Israel’s prophets and priests were now arrogant and profane (3:4). For much of the book, Zephaniah declares God’s coming judgment on not just Israel, but all the nations of the earth (3:8). Yet Zephaniah foresees something else. Out of that dark day will emerge a people who wholeheartedly love God (vv. 9–13). To these people God will be like a bridegroom who delights in His beloved: “In his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (v. 17) Creator, Father, Warrior, Judge. Scripture uses many titles for God. But how many of us see God as a Singer with a love song for us on His lips?
Mar
10
2022
We live in a world that offers a wide range of choices—from paper towels to life insurance. In 2004, Psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote a book titled The Paradox of Choice in which he argued that while freedom of choice is important to our well-being, too many choices can lead to overload and indecision. While the stakes are certainly lower when deciding on which paper towel to buy, indecision can become debilitating when making major decisions that impact the course of our lives. So how can we overcome indecision and move forward confidently in living for Jesus? As believers in Christ, seeking God’s wisdom helps us as we face difficult decisions. When we’re deciding on anything in life, large or small, the Scriptures instruct us to “trust in the Lord with all [our] heart and lean not on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). When we rely on our own judgment, we can become confused and worry about missing an important detail or making the wrong choice. When we look to God for the answers, however, He’ll “make our path straight” (v. 6). He’ll give us clarity and peace as we make decisions in our day-to-day lives. God doesn’t want us to be paralyzed or overwhelmed by the weight of our decisions. We can find peace in the wisdom and direction He provides when we bring our concerns to Him in prayer.
Mar
9
2022
Baby gender reveals in 2019 were dramatic. A look back reveals that in July, a video showed a car emitting blue smoke to indicate “It’s a Boy!” In September, a crop-duster plane in Texas dumped hundreds of gallons of pink water to announce “It’s a Girl!” There was another “reveal” though that uncovered significant things about the world these children will grow up in. At the conclusion of 2019, YouVersion revealed that the most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of the year on its online and mobile Bible app was Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” That’s quite the revelation. People are anxious about many things these days—from the needs of our sons and daughters, to the myriad ways family and friends are divided, to natural catastrophes and wars. But in the middle of all those worries, the good news is that a huge number of people clung to a verse that says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Furthermore, those same people encouraged others as well as themselves to present every request to God “in every situation.” The mindset that doesn’t ignore but faces life’s anxieties is one of “thanksgiving.” The verse that didn’t make “verse of the year” but follows it is—“And the peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (v. 7, nkjv). That’s quite the reassurance!
Mar
8
2022
Michelle Grant trained a baby beaver named Timber to return to the wild. When she took him for swims in a pond, he’d come back to her kayak to snuggle and rub noses. One morning Timber didn’t return. Michelle scoured the pond for six hours before giving up. Weeks later she found a beaver skull. Assuming it was Timber, she began to cry. My soul ached for Michelle and Timber. I told myself, “Snap out of it. He’s just a large, aquatic rodent.” But the truth is I cared—and so does God. His love reaches high to the heavens and down to the smallest creature, part of the creation He calls us to steward well (Genesis 1:28). He preserves “both people and animals” (Psalm 36:5–6), providing “food for the cattle and for the young ravens” (Psalm 147:9). One day Michelle was kayaking in a neighbor’s pond and surprise, there was Timber! He’d found a beaver family and was helping them raise two kits. He surfaced beside Michelle’s kayak. She smiled, “You look well. You have a beautiful family.” He cooed, splashed his tail, and swam to his new mom. I love happy endings, especially my own! Jesus promised that as His Father feeds the birds, so He will supply whatever we need (Matthew 6:25–26). Not one sparrow falls “to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).
Mar
7
2022
John Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994, recognizing his pioneering work in mathematics. His equations have since been used by businesses around the world in understanding the dynamics of competition and rivalry. A book and a full-length movie have documented his life and refer to him as having “a beautiful mind”—not because his brain had any particular aesthetic appeal, but because of what it did.  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah uses the word beautiful to describe feet—not because of any visible physical attribute but because he saw beauty in what they did. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7). After seventy years in captivity in Babylon resulting from their unfaithfulness to God, messengers arrived with encouraging words that God’s people would soon be returning home because “the Lord has . . . redeemed Jerusalem” (v. 9).  The good news wasn’t attributed to the military might of the Israelites or any other human effort. Rather it was the work of God’s “holy arm” on their behalf (v. 10). The same is true today, as we have victory over our spiritual enemy through Christ’s sacrifice for us. In response, we become the messengers of good news, proclaiming peace, good tidings, and salvation to those around us. And we do so with beautiful feet.  
Mar
6
2022
Waiting can be a culprit in stealing our peace. According to computer scientist Ramesh Sitaraman, few things “inspire universal frustration and ire” in internet users as waiting for a sluggish web browser to load. His research says that we’re willing to wait an average of two seconds for an online video to load. After five seconds, the abandonment rate is about twenty-five percent, and after ten seconds, half of the users desert their efforts. We’re certainly an impatient bunch!  James encouraged believers in Jesus to not abandon Jesus while they were waiting for “the video” of his second coming to load. Christ’s return would motivate them to stand firm in the face of suffering and to love and honor one another (James 5:7–10). James used the example of the farmer to make his point. Like the farmer, who waited patiently for “autumn and spring rains” (v. 7) and for the land to yield its valuable crop, James encouraged believers to be patient under oppression until Jesus returned. And when He returned, He would right every wrong and bring shalom.  Sometimes, we are tempted to forsake Jesus while we wait for Him. But as we wait, let’s “keep watch” (Matthew 24:41–42), remain faithful (Matthew 25:14–30), and live out His character and ways (Colossians 3:12). Though we don’t know when the full video of Jesus’ return will load, let’s be willing to wait for Him as long as it takes.
Mar
5
2022
When my baby brother underwent surgery, I was concerned. My mother explained that “tongue-tie” (ankyloglossia) was a condition he was born with and that without help, his ability to eat and eventually to speak would be hindered. Today we often apply the term to describe being at a loss for words or being too shy to speak. Sometimes we can be tongue-tied in prayer, not knowing what to say. Our tongues tie up in spiritual clichés and repetitive phrases. We arrow our emotions heavenward, wondering if they will reach God’s ears. Our thoughts zigzag along an unfocused path. Writing to first-century Roman Christians, the apostle Paul addresses what to do when we struggle to know how to pray, inviting us to find help from the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). The concept of “help” here is to carry a heavy load. And “wordless groans” indicates an interceding presence as the Spirit carries our needs to God. When we’re tongue-tied in prayer, God’s Spirit helps shape our confusion, pain, and distraction into the perfect prayer that moves from our hearts to our good God’s ears. He listens and answers, bringing the exact kind of comfort we may not have known we needed until we asked Him to pray for us.
Mar
4
2022
Like the unraveling of a rope, the threads in Doug’s life were breaking one by one. “My mother had lost her prolonged battle with cancer; a long-term romantic relationship was failing; my finances were depleted; my vocation was foggy. . . . The emotional and spiritual darkness around me and within me was deep and debilitating and seemingly impenetrable,” writes pastor and sculptor Doug Merkey. These collective events, combined with living in a cramped attic, became the setting from which his sculpture The Hiding Place emerged. It depicts Christ’s strong, nailed-scarred hands openly cupped together as a place of safety. Doug explained the design of his artwork this way: The “sculpture is Christ’s invitation to hide in Him.” In Psalm 32, David wrote as one who had found the ultimate safe place—God Himself. He offers us forgiveness from our sin (vv. 1–5) and encourages us to offer prayer in the midst of tumult (v. 6). In verse 7, the psalmist declares his trust in God: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” When trouble shows up, where do you turn? How good it is to know that when the fragile cords of our earthly existence begin to unravel, we can run to the God who has provided eternal safety through the forgiving work of Jesus.
Mar
3
2022
Kevin walked into the nursing facility after his dad passed away to pick up his belongings. The staff handed him two small boxes. He said he realized that day that it really didn’t take an abundance of possessions to be happy.  His dad, Larry, had been carefree and always ready with a smile and an encouraging word for others. The reason for his happiness was another “possession” that didn’t fit into a box: an unshakable faith in his Redeemer, Jesus.  Jesus urges us to “store up . . . treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). He didn’t say we couldn’t own a home or buy a car or save for the future or have numerous possessions. But He urged us to examine the focus of our hearts. What was Larry’s heart set on? On loving God by loving others. He would wander up and down the halls where he lived, greeting and encouraging those he met. If someone was in tears, he was there with a comforting word or listening ear or heartfelt prayer. His mind was focused on living for God’s honor and the good of others.  We might want to ask ourselves if we could be happy with far fewer things that clutter and distract us from the more important matters of loving God and others. “Where [our] treasure is, there [our] heart will be also” (v. 21). What we value is reflected in how we live.
Mar
2
2022
In 1925 Langston Hughes, an aspiring writer working as a busboy at a hotel in Washington D.C., discovered that a poet he admired (Vachel Lindsey) was staying as a guest at the hotel. Hughes shyly slipped Lindsey some of his own poetry, which Lindsey later praised enthusiastically at a public reading. Lindsey’s encouragement resulted in Hughes receiving a university scholarship, furthering him on his way to his own successful writing career.   A little encouragement can go a long way, especially when God is in it. Scripture tells of an incident when David was on the run from King Saul, who was trying “to take his life.” Saul’s son Jonathan sought David out “and helped him find strength in God. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel’ ” (1 Samuel 23:15–17). Jonathan was right. David would be king. The key to the effective encouragement Jonathan offered is found in the simple phrase, “in God.” God, through Jesus, gives us “eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). As we humble ourselves before Him, He lifts us as no other can. All around us are people who need the encouragement God gives. If we seek them out as Jonathan did David and gently point them to God through a kind word or action, He will do the rest. Regardless of what this life may hold, a bright future in eternity awaits those who trust in Him.
Mar
1
2022
In 2013, British actor David Suchet was filming the final TV episodes as Agatha Christie’s beloved Belgium detective Hercule Poirot—and also starring in a stage play—when he took on “the biggest role in my life.” Between those projects he recorded an audio version of the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation—752,702 words over two hundred hours. Suchet, who converted to Christianity after reading the book of Romans in a hotel Bible, called the project the fulfillment of “a 27-year-long ambition. I felt totally driven. I did so much research on every part of it that I couldn’t wait to get going.” Then he donated his wages. His recording remains an inspiring example of how to glorify God by stewarding well a gift, then sharing it. Peter urged such stewardship in his letter to first-century Christians. Persecuted for worshiping Christ not Caesar, they were challenged to focus instead on living for God by nurturing their spiritual gifts. “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). The gift of helping? Likewise develop it “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Suchet’s talents as a dramatist are something he could offer to the Lord. We can do the same. Whatever God has given to you, manage it well for His glory.   
Feb
28
2022
Catherine and I were good friends in high school. When we weren’t talking on the phone, we were passing notes in class to plan our next sleepover. Sometimes we rode horses together and partnered on school projects. One Sunday afternoon, I started to think about Catherine. My pastor had spoken that morning about how to have eternal life, and I knew my friend didn’t believe the Bible’s teachings the way I did. I felt pressed to call her and explain how she could have a relationship with Jesus. I hesitated, though, because I was afraid she would reject what I said and distance herself from me. I think this fear keeps a lot of us quiet. Even the apostle Paul had to ask people to pray that he would “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). There’s no getting around the risk involved with sharing the good news, yet Paul said he was an ambassador—someone speaking on behalf of God (v.20). We are too. If people reject our message, they’re also rejecting the One who sent the message. God feels the sting along with us. So what compels us to speak up? We care about people, like God does (2 Peter 3:9). That’s what led me to dial my friend’s number. Amazingly, Catherine didn’t shut me down. She listened. She asked questions. She asked Jesus to forgive her sin and decided to live for Him. The risk was worth the reward.
Feb
27
2022
Writer Marilyn McEntyre shares the story of learning from a friend that “the opposite of envy is celebration.” Despite this friend’s physical disability and chronic pain, which limited her ability to develop her talents in the ways she’d hoped, she was somehow able to uniquely embody joy and to celebrate with others, bringing “appreciation into every encounter” before she passed away. That insight—“the opposite of envy is celebration”—lingers with me, reminding me of friends in my own life who seem to live out this kind of comparison-free, deep, and genuine joy for others. Envy is an easy trap to fall into. It feeds on our deepest vulnerabilities, wounds, and fears, whispering that if we were only more like so-and-so, we wouldn’t be struggling, and we wouldn’t be feeling bad. As Peter reminded new believers in 1 Peter 2, the only way to “rid [ourselves]” of the lies that envy tells us is to be deeply rooted in the truth, to “have tasted”—deeply experienced—”that the Lord is good” (vv. 1–3). We can freely “love one another deeply, from the heart” (1:22) when we know the true source of our joy—“the living and enduring word of God” (v. 23). And we can surrender comparison when we remember who we really are—beloved members of “a chosen people, . . . God’s special possession,” “called . . .  out of darkness into his wonderful light” (2:9).
Feb
26
2022
One evening in 1964, the Great Alaska earthquake shocked and writhed for more than four minutes, registering a 9.2 magnitude. In Anchorage, whole city blocks disappeared, leaving only massive craters and rubble. Through the dark, terrifying night, news reporter Genie Chance stood at her microphone, passing along messages to desperate people sitting by their radios: a husband working in the bush heard that his wife was alive, distraught families heard that their sons on a Boy Scout camping trip were okay, a couple heard that their children had been found. The radio crackled with line after line of good news—pure joy amid the ruin. This must have been something like what Israel felt when they heard these words from the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (61:1).  As they looked over the wasteland of their wrecked lives and grim future, Isaiah’s clear voice brought good news at the very moment when all seemed lost. God intended to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives. . . . [To] rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” (vv. 1, 4). In the midst of their terror, the people heard God’s assuring promise, His good news. For us today, it’s in Jesus that we hear God’s good news—this is what the word gospel means. Into our fears, pains and failures, He delivers good news. And our distress gives way to joy.
Feb
25
2022
Downton Abbey was a popular British television drama that followed the fictional Crawley family as they navigated a changing social structure in early 1900s England. One of the key characters, Tom Branson, initially worked as the family’s chauffeur before shocking everyone by marrying the youngest Crawley daughter. Following a period of exile, the young couple returned to Downton Abbey and Tom became part of the family, gaining access to rights and privileges he had been denied as an employee. We were once considered “foreigners and strangers” (Ephesians 2:19) and excluded from the rights given to those who are part of God’s family. But, because of Jesus, all believers, regardless of their background, are reconciled to God and called “members of his household” (v. 19). Being a member of God’s family brings incredible rights and privileges. We can “approach God with freedom and confidence” (3:12), enjoying unlimited, unhindered access to God. We become part of a larger family, a community of faith to support and encourage us (2:19–22). Members of God’s family have the privilege of helping each other grasp the enormity of God’s lavish love (3:18). Fear or doubt could easily make us feel like an outsider, keeping us from accessing fully the benefits of being part of God’s family. But hear and embrace once more the reality of God’s free and generous gifts of love (2:8–10), and bask in the wonder of being His.
Feb
24
2022
The dormouse’s nose twitched. Something tasty was nearby. Sure enough, the scent led to a birdfeeder full of delicious seed. The dormouse climbed down the chain to the feeder, slipped through the door, and ate and ate all night. Only in the morning did he realize the trouble he was in. Birds now pecked at him through the feeder’s door, but having gorged on the seed, he was now twice his size and unable to escape. Doors can lead us to wonderful places—or dangerous ones. A door features prominently in Solomon’s advice on avoiding sexual temptation in Proverbs 5. While sexual sin may be enticing, he says, trouble awaits if it’s pursued (5:3–6). Best to stay far from it, for if you walk through that door you’ll be trapped, your honor lost, your wealth pecked away by strangers (vv. 7–11). Solomon counsels us to enjoy the intimacy of our own spouse instead (vv. 15–20). His advice can apply to sin more broadly too (vv. 21–23). Whether it’s the temptation to overeat, overspend, or something else, God can help us to avoid the door that leads to entrapment. The dormouse must’ve been happy when the homeowner found him in her garden birdfeeder and freed him. Thankfully, God’s hand is ready to free us when we’re trapped too. But let’s call on His strength to avoid the door of entrapment in the first place.
Feb
23
2022
No words. Just music and moving. During a 24-hour Zumba marathon amid the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of people from around the globe worked out together and virtually followed instructors from India, China, Mexico, America, South Africa, parts of Europe, and several other places. These diverse individuals were able to move together without any language barriers. Why? Because instructors of the exercise craze Zumba, created in the mid-1990s by a Colombian aerobics instructor, utilize non-verbal cues. Class instructors move and students follow their lead. They follow with no words uttered or shouted. Words can sometimes get in the way and create barriers. They may cause confusion such as the Corinthians experienced, as noted in Paul’s first letter to them. It was confusion brought about by differing views of disputable matters pertaining to the eating of particular foods (1 Corinthians 10:27–30). But our actions can transcend barriers and even confusion. As Paul says in today’s passage, we should show people how to follow Jesus through our actions—seeking “the good of many” (10:32–33). We invite the world to believe in Him as we “follow the example of Christ” (11:1).   As someone once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” As we follow Jesus’ lead, may He guide our actions so as to cue others to the reality of our faith. And may our words and actions be done “all for the glory of God” (10:31).
Feb
22
2022
In the early twentieth century, Italian poet F. T. Marinetti launched Futurism, an artistic movement rejecting the past, scoffing at traditional ideas of beauty, and glorifying instead machinery. In 1909 Marinetti wrote his Manifesto of Futurism, in which he declared “contempt for women,” praised “the blow with the fist,” and asserted, “We want to glorify war.” The manifesto concludes: “Standing on the world’s summit we launch once again our insolent challenge to the stars!” Five years after Marinetti’s manifesto, modern warfare began in earnest. World War I did not bring glory. Marinetti himself died in 1944. The stars, still in place, took no notice. King David sang poetically of the stars but with a dramatically different outlook. He wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3–4). David’s question isn’t one of disbelief but of amazed humility. He knew that the God who made this vast cosmos is indeed mindful of us. He notices every detail about us—the good, the bad, the humble, the insolent—even the absurd. It’s pointless to challenge the stars. Rather, they challenge us to praise our Creator. 
Feb
21
2022
Amos was an overbearing extrovert and Danny was a loner wracked with self-doubt. Somehow these eccentric geniuses became best friends. They spent a decade laughing and learning together. One day their work would receive a Nobel Prize. But Danny tired of Amos’s self-centered ways and told him they were no longer friends. Three days later, Amos called with terrible news. Doctors had found cancer and given him six months to live. Danny’s heart broke. “We’re friends,” he said, “whatever you think we are.” Paul was a hard-nosed visionary and Barnabas a soft-hearted encourager. The Spirit put them together and sent them on a missionary journey (Acts 13:2–3). They preached and started churches, until their disagreement over Mark’s desertion. Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance. Paul said he could no longer be trusted. So they split up (15:36–41). Paul eventually forgave Mark. He closed three letters with greetings from or commendations for him (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24). We don’t know what happened with Barnabas. Did he live long enough to be reconciled with Paul in this life? I hope so. Whatever your situation today, try to reach out to those with whom you may have had a falling out. Now is the time to show and tell them how much you love them.
Feb
20
2022
An accomplished acrobat and aerialist, Jen was born without legs and abandoned at the hospital. Yet she says being put up for adoption was a blessing. “I am here because of the people who poured into me.” Her adoptive family helped her to see she was “born like this for a reason.” They raised her to “never say ‘can’t’ ” and encouraged her in all her pursuits. She meets challenges with an attitude of “How can I tackle this?” and motivates others to do the same. The Bible tells the stories of many people God used who seemed incapable or unsuited for their calling—but God used them anyway. Moses is a classic example. When God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he balked (Exodus 3:11; 4:1) and protested, “I am slow of speech and tongue.” God replied, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? . . . Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (4:10–12). When Moses still protested, God provided Aaron to speak for him and assured him He would help them (vv. 13–15). Like Jen and like Moses, all of us are here for a reason—and God graciously helps us along the way. He supplies people to help us and provides what we need to live for Him.
Feb
19
2022
Harriet Tubman couldn’t read or write. As an adolescent, she suffered a head injury at the hands of a cruel slave master. That injury caused her to have seizures and lapses of consciousness for the rest of her life. But once she escaped slavery, God used her to rescue as many as three hundred others. Nicknamed “Moses” by those she freed, Harriet bravely made nineteen trips back to the pre-Civil War south to rescue others. She continued even when there was a price on her head and her life was in constant danger. A devoted believer in Jesus, she carried a hymnal and a Bible on every trip and had others read her verses, which she committed to memory and quoted often. “I prayed all the time,” she said, “about my work, everywhere; I was always talking to the Lord.” She also gave God credit for the smallest successes. Her life was a powerful expression of the apostle Paul’s instruction to the earliest Christians: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). When we lean into God in the moment and live dependently in prayer, praising Him despite our difficulties, He gives us the strength to accomplish even the most challenging tasks. Our Savior is greater than anything we face, and He will lead us as we look to Him.
Feb
18
2022
A pirouette is a graceful spin that’s executed by ballerinas and contemporary dancers alike. As a child, I loved to do pirouettes in my modern dance class, whirling round and round until I was dizzy in the head and fell to the ground. As I got older, a trick I learned to help me maintain my balance and control was “spotting”—identifying a single point for my eyes to return to each time I made a full circle spin. Having a single focal point was all I needed to master my pirouette with a graceful finish. We all face many twists and turns in life. When we focus on our problems, however, the things we encounter seem unmanageable, leaving us dizzy and heading toward a disastrous fall. The Bible reminds us that if we keep our minds steadfast, or focused, on God, He’ll keep us in “perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3). Perfect peace means that no matter how many turns life takes, we can remain calm, assured that God will be with us through our problems and trials. He’s the “Rock eternal” (v. 4)—the ultimate “spot” to fix our eyes on—because His promises never change. May we keep our eyes on Him as we go through each day, going to Him in prayer and studying His promises in the Scriptures. May we rely on God, our eternal Rock, to help us move gracefully through all of life.
Feb
17
2022
During our tour of an aircraft carrier, a jet fighter pilot explained that planes need a 56-kilometer per hour wind to take off on such a short runway. To reach this steady breeze, the captain turns his ship into the wind. “Shouldn’t the wind come from the planes’ back?” I asked. The pilot answered, “No. The jets must fly into the wind. That’s the only way to achieve lift.” God called Joshua to lead His people into the “winds” that awaited them in the Promised Land. Joshua required two things. Internally, he needed to “be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7); and externally, he needed challenges. This included the daily task of leading thousands of Israelites, facing walled cities (6:1–5), Achan’s theft (7:16–26), demoralizing defeats (7:3–5), and continual battles (ch. 10–11). The wind that blew in Joshua’s face would lift his life as long as his thrust came from God’s instructions. God said he must “be careful to obey all the law . . . do not turn from it to the right or to the left . . . meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (1:7–8). Are you resolved to follow God’s ways, no matter what? Then look for challenges. Fly boldly into the wind, and see your spirit soar.
Feb
16
2022
In an article on mentoring, Hannah Schell explains that mentors need to support, challenge, and inspire, but “first, and perhaps foremost, a good mentor sees you. . . . Recognition, not in terms of awards or publicity but in the sense of simply ‘being seen,’ is a basic human need.” People need to be recognized, known, and believed in. In the New Testament, Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement,” had a knack for “seeing” people around him. In Acts 9, he was willing to give Saul a chance when the other disciples “were all afraid of him” (v. 26). Saul (also called Paul; 13:9) had a history of persecuting believers in Jesus (8:3), so they didn’t think “he really was a disciple” (9:26). Later, Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over whether to take Mark with them to “visit the believers in all the towns where [they’d] preached” (15:36). Paul didn’t think it was wise to bring Mark along because he’d deserted them earlier. Interestingly, Paul later asked for Mark’s assistance: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Barnabas took time to “see” both Paul and Mark. Perhaps we’re in Barnabas’ position to recognize potential in another person or we’re that individual in need of a spiritual mentor. May we ask God to lead us to those who we can encourage and those who will encourage us.
Feb
15
2022
When the roof of Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire in April 2019, its ancient wood beams and lead sheeting created a furnace so hot it couldn’t be contained. After the cathedral’s spire dramatically fell, attention turned to its bell towers. If the giant steel bells’ wooden frames also burned, their collapse would bring both towers down, leaving the cathedral in ruins. Pulling his firefighters back for safety, General Gallet, commander of Paris’ Fire Department, pondered what to do next. A firefighter named Remi nervously approached. “Respectfully, General,” he said, “I propose that we run hoses up the exterior of the towers.” Given the building’s fragility the commander dismissed the idea, but Remi spoke on. Soon General Gallet faced a decision: follow the junior firefighter’s advice, or leave the cathedral to fall. Scripture has much to say about taking advice. While this is sometimes in the context of youth respecting elders (Proverbs 6:20–23), most is not. Proverbs says “the wise listen to advice” (15:22), wars are won with it (24:6), and only a fool fails to heed it (12:15). Wise people listen to good advice, whatever the age or rank of those giving it. General Gallet listened to Remi. The burning bell frames were hosed just in time, and the cathedral was saved. What problem do you need godly advice on today? Sometimes God guides the humble through a junior’s lips.
Feb
14
2022
In a small farming community, news travels fast. Several years after the bank sold the farm David’s family had owned for decades, he learned the property would be available for sale. After much sacrifice and saving, David arrived at the auction and joined a crowd of nearly two hundred local farmers. Would David’s meager bid be enough? He placed the first bid, taking deep breaths as the auctioneer called for higher bids. The crowd remained silent until they heard the slam of the gavel. The fellow farmers placed the needs of David and his family above their own financial advancement. This story about the farmers’ sacrificial act of kindness demonstrates the way the apostle Paul urges followers of Christ to live. Paul warns us not to conform to the “pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2), by placing our selfish desires before the needs of others and scrambling for self-preservation. Instead, we can trust God to meet our needs as we serve others. As the Holy Spirit “renews” our minds, we can respond to situations with God-honoring love and motives. Placing others first can help us avoid thinking too highly of ourselves as God reminds us that we’re a part of something bigger—the church (vv. 3-4). The Holy Spirit helps believers understand and obey God’s Word. He empowers us to give selflessly and love generously, so we can thrive together as one.
Feb
13
2022
Two octogenarians, one from Germany and the other Denmark, were an unlikely couple. They each enjoyed sixty years of marriage before being widowed. Though living only fifteen minutes apart, their homes were in separate countries. Still, they fell in love, regularly cooking meals and spending time together. Sadly, in 2020, due to the coronavirus, the Danish government closed the border crossing. Undeterred, every day at 3:00 p.m., the two met at the border on a quiet country lane, and seated on their respective sides, shared a picnic. “We’re here because of love,” the man explained. Their love was stronger than borders, more powerful than a pandemic. The Song of Songs effuses in rapturous language about love’s indomitable power. “Love is as strong as death,” Solomon insists (8:6). None of us escapes death; it arrives with a steely finality we can’t break. And yet love, the writer says, is every bit as strong. What’s more, love “burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (v. 6). Have you ever watched a fire exploding in feverish rage? Fire—like love—is impossible to contain. “Many waters cannot quench love.” Not even a raging river can sweep love away (v. 7). Human love, whenever it’s selfless and true, offers reflections of these characteristics. However, only God’s love offers such potency, such limitless depths, such tenacious power. And here’s the stunner: God loves each of us with this unquenchable love.
Feb
12
2022
When we think of historic, trailblazing missionaries, the name of George Liele (1750–1820) doesn’t leap to mind. Perhaps it should. Born into slavery, Liele came to Christ in Georgia and gained his freedom prior to the American Revolutionary War. He took the message of Jesus to Jamaica, ministering to the slaves in the plantations there, and served as the founding pastor of two African churches in Savannah, Georgia—one of which is considered the “mother church of black Baptists.” Liele’s remarkable life of kingdom service may have been forgotten by some, but his spiritual service will never be forgotten by God. Neither will the work you do for God. The letter to the Hebrews encourages us with these words, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10). God’s faithfulness can never be underestimated, for He truly knows and remembers everything done in His name. And so Hebrews encourages us, “Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (v. 12). For many who serve behind the scenes in their church or community, it’s easy for them to feel their labor is unappreciated. Take heart. Whether or not your work is recognized or rewarded by the people around you, God is faithful. He will never forget you.
Feb
11
2022
Gary was experiencing some balance issues while walking. His doctor ordered physical therapy to improve his balance. During one session his therapist told him, “You’re trusting too much in what you can see, even when it’s wrong! You’re not depending enough on your other systems—what you feel under your feet and your inner-ear signals—which are also meant to help keep you balanced.” “You’re trusting too much in what you can see” brings to mind the story of David, a young shepherd, and his encounter with Goliath. For forty days, Goliath, a Philistine champion, “strutted in front of the Israelite army,” taunting them to send someone out to fight him (1 Samuel 17:16 NLT). But what the people focused on naturally caused them fear. Then young David showed up because his father asked him to take supplies to his older brothers (v. 18). How did David look at the situation? By faith in God, not by sight. He saw the giant but trusted that God would rescue his people. Even though he was just a boy, he told King Saul, “Don’t worry about this Philistine . . . . I’ll go fight him!” (v. 32 NLT). Then he told Goliath, “The battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (v. 47). And that’s just what God did. Trusting in God’s character and power can help us to more closely live by faith rather than by sight.
Feb
10
2022
My friend’s father died recently. He got sick, his condition deteriorated quickly, and in a matter of days he was gone. My friend and his dad always had a strong relationship, but there were still so many questions to be asked, answers to be sought, and conversations to be had. So many unsaid things, and now his father is gone. My friend is a trained counselor: he knows the ups and downs of grief and how to help others navigate those troubled waters. Still, he told me, “Some days I just need to hear Dad’s voice, that reassurance of his love. It always meant the world to me.” A pivotal event at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry was His baptism at the hands of John. Although John tried to resist, Jesus insisted that moment was necessary so He might identify with humankind: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15). John then did as Jesus asked. And then something happened that proclaimed Jesus’ identity to John the Baptist and the crowd, and it must have also deeply touched Jesus’ heart. The Father’s voice reassured His Son: “This is my Son whom I love” (v. 17). That same voice reassures believers in our hearts of His great love for us (1 John 3:1).
Feb
9
2022
The sheriff marveled at the prayers, estimating “hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of prayers” were lifted to God for help as the East Troublesome Fire raged through the mountains of Colorado in the fall of 2020. Living up to its name, the blaze consumed 100,000 acres in twelve hours, roaring through tinder-dry forests, burning three hundred homes to the ground, and threatening entire towns in its path. Then came “the Godsend,” as one meteorologist called it. No, not rain. A timely snowfall. It fell across the fire zone, arriving early for that time of year—dropping up to a foot or more of wet snow—slowing the fire and, in some places, stopping it. Such merciful help seemed too amazing to explain. Does God hear our prayers for snow? And rain, too?  The Bible records His many answers, including after Elijah’s hope for rain (1 Kings 18:41–46.) A servant of great faith, Elijah understood God’s sovereignty, including over the weather. As Psalm 147 says of God, “He supplies the earth with rain” (v. 8). “He spreads the snow like wool . . . Who can withstand his icy blast?” (vv. 16–17.) Elijah could hear “the sound of a heavy rain” before clouds even formed (1 Kings 18:41). Is our faith in His power that strong? God invites our trust, no matter His answer. Thus, look to Him for His amazing help.
Feb
8
2022
Ancient scholars Jerome and Tertullian referenced stories of how in ancient Rome, after a general triumphed in an epic victory, he would be paraded atop a gleaming chariot down the capital’s central thoroughfares from dawn to sunset. The crowd would roar. The general would bask in the adoration, reveling in the greatest honor of his life. However, legend has it that a servant stood behind the general the entire day, whispering into his ear: Memento Mori (“Remember you will die”). Amid all the adulation, the general desperately needed the humility that came with remembering that he was mortal. James wrote to a community infected with prideful desires and an inflated sense of self-sufficiency. Confronting their arrogance, he spoke a piercing word: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). What they needed was to “humble [themselves] before the Lord” (v. 10). And how would they embrace this humility? Like Roman generals, they needed to remember that they would die. “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow,” James insisted. “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (v. 14). And owning their frailty freed them to live under the solidity of the “Lord’s will” rather than their own fading efforts (v. 15). When we forget that our days are numbered, it can lead to pride. But when we’re humbled by our mortality, we see every breath and every moment as grace. Memento Mori.
Feb
7
2022
During a summer study program, my son read a book about a boy who wanted to climb an Alpine mountain in Switzerland. Practicing for this goal occupied most of his time. When he finally set off for the summit, things didn’t go as planned. Partway up the slope, a teammate became sick and the boy decided to stay behind to help instead of achieving his goal. In the classroom, my son’s teacher asked, “Was the main character a failure because he didn’t climb the mountain?” One student said, “Yes, because it was in his DNA to fail.” But another child disagreed. He reasoned that the boy was not a failure, because he gave up something important to help someone else. When we set aside our plans and care for others instead, we’re acting like Jesus. Jesus sacrificed having a home, reliable income, and social acceptance to travel and share God’s truth. Ultimately, He gave up His life to free us from sin and show us God’s love (1 John 3:16). Earthly success is much different from success in God’s eyes. He values the compassion that moves us to rescue disadvantaged and hurting people (v.17). He approves of decisions that protect people. With God’s help, we can align our values with His and devote ourselves to loving Him and others, which is the most significant achievement there is.
Feb
6
2022
Aaron Burr anxiously awaited the result of the tie-breaking vote from the US House of Representatives. Deadlocked with Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 race for the presidency, Burr had reason to believe that the House would declare him the winner. However, he lost, and bitterness gnawed at his soul. Nurturing grievances against Alexander Hamilton for not supporting his candidacy, Burr killed Hamilton in a gun duel less than four years later. Outraged by the killing, his country turned its back on him, and Burr died a dour old man. Political power plays are a tragic part of history. When King David was nearing death, his son Adonijah recruited David’s commander and a leading priest to make him king (1 Kings 1:5–8). But David had chosen Solomon as king (v. 25). With the help of the prophet Nathan, the rebellion was put down (vv. 11–52). Despite his reprieve, Adonijah plotted a second time to steal the throne, and Solomon had him executed (2:13–25). How human of us to want what’s not rightfully ours! No matter how hard we pursue power, prestige or possessions, it’s never quite enough. We always want something more. How unlike Jesus, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross”! (Philippians 2:8). Ironically, selfishly pursuing our own ambitions never brings us our truest, deepest longings. Leaving the outcome to God is the only path to peace and joy.
Feb
5
2022
When my friend Floss lies awake at night, she thinks about the lyrics of the hymn “My Jesus I Love Thee.” She calls it her “middle-of-the-night” song because it helps her to remember God’s promises and the many reasons that she loves Him. Sleep is a necessary—but sometimes elusive—part of life. At times we may sense the voice of the Holy Spirit bringing unconfessed sin to our mind. Or we begin worrying about our job, our relationships, our finances, our health, or our children. Soon a full-scale dystopian future starts running on a loop in our brain. We assume we nodded off for a bit, but when we look at the clock, we realize it’s been only moments since we last checked. In Proverbs 3:19–24, King Solomon suggested that we can receive sleep benefits when we embrace God’s wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. In fact, he claimed, “They will be life for you . . . . When you lie down, you will not be afraid [and] your sleep will be sweet” (vv. 22, 24). Maybe we all need a “middle-of-the-night” song, a prayer, or Bible verse to softly whisper to help us shift our jumbled-up thoughts to a mind fully focused on God and His character. A clear conscience and a heart full of gratitude for God’s faithfulness and love can bring us sleep that’s sweet. 
Feb
4
2022
Dan was riding his motorcycle when a car swerved into his lane and pushed him into oncoming traffic. When he woke up two weeks later in the trauma center, he was “a mess.” Worst of all, he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a paraplegic. Dan prayed for healing, but it never came. Instead, he believes God has compassionately taught him that “the purpose of this life is that we become conformed to the image of Christ. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen when everything is unicorns and rainbows. It . . . happens when life is tough. When we’re forced to rely upon God through prayer just to make it through the day.” The apostle Paul explained two benefits of right standing with God: persevering and rejoicing in suffering (Romans 5:3–4). These two benefits weren’t a call to endure sufferings with stoic fortitude or to find pleasure in pain. It was an invitation to unshakeable confidence in God. Suffering plus Christ cultivates “perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (vv. 3–4). This all flows from a faith that the Father wouldn’t abandon them but walk with them through the fire and into the future. God meets us in our suffering and helps us grow in Him. Rather than viewing afflictions as His disfavor, may we look for ways that He’s using them to sharpen and build our character and to experience His love “poured out into our hearts” (v. 5).
Feb
1
2022
“Keep your hands behind your back. You’ll be fine.” That’s the loving admonition Jan’s husband always gave before she ventured off to speak to a group. When she found herself trying to impress people or seeking to control a situation, she’d adopt this posture because it put her in a teachable, listening frame of mind. She used it to remind herself to love those before her and to be humble and available to the Holy Spirit. Jan’s understanding of humility is rooted in King David’s observation that everything comes from God. As David said to God, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2). David learned to trust God and seek His counsel: “Even at night my heart instructs me” (v. 7). He knew that with God next to him, he’d not be shaken (v. 8). He didn’t need to puff himself up because he trusted in the mighty God who loved him. As we look to God each day, asking Him to help us when we feel frustrated or to give us words to speak when we feel tongue-tied, we’ll see Him at work in our lives. We’ll “partner with God,” as Jan says; and we’ll realize that if we’ve done well, it’s because God has helped us flourish. We can look at others with love, our hands clasped behind our backs in a posture of humility to remind us that everything we have comes from God.
Jan
31
2022
I sat on the pier during a vacation, reading my Bible and watching my husband fish. A young man approached us, suggesting we use different bait. He glanced at me as he fidgeted from one foot to another and said, “I’ve been in jail,” He pointed to my Bible and sighed. “Do you think God really cares about people like me?” Opening to Matthew 25, I read aloud that Jesus talked about His followers visiting those in prison. “It says that? About being in prison?” Tears brimmed his eyes when I shared how God considers kindness toward His children a personal act of love toward Himself (vv. 31–45). “I wish my parents would forgive me too.” He lowered his head. “I’ll be right back.” He returned and handed me his tattered Bible. “Would you show me where to find those words?” I nodded. My husband and I hugged him as we prayed for him and his parents. We exchanged contact information and have continued praying for him. At one point or another, we’ll all feel unloved, unwelcomed, in need, and even physically or emotionally imprisoned (vv. 35–37). We’ll all need reminders of God’s loving compassion and forgiveness. We’ll also have opportunities to support others who struggle with these feelings. We can be a part of God’s redeeming plan as we spread His truth and love wherever we go.
Jan
30
2022
“I’m sorry,” Karen said, apologizing for her flowing tears. After the death of her husband, she stretched herself to care for her teenage kids. When men from church provided a weekend camping excursion to entertain them and give her a break, Karen wept with gratitude, apologizing over and over for her tears. Why do so many of us apologize for our tears? Simon, a Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner. In the middle of the meal, as Jesus reclined at the table, a woman who had lived a sinful life brought an alabaster jar of perfume. “As she stood behind [Jesus] at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (Luke 7:37–38). Unapologetically, this woman freely emoted and then unwound her hair to dry Jesus’ feet. Overflowing with gratitude and love for Jesus, she topped off her tears with perfumed kisses—actions that contrasted with those of her proper but cold-hearted host. Jesus’ response? He praised her exuberant expression of love and proclaimed her “forgiven” (vv. 44–48). We may be tempted to squelch tears of gratitude when they threaten to overflow. But God made us emotional beings and we can use our feelings to honor Him. Like the woman in Luke’s gospel, let’s unapologetically express our love for our good God who provides for our needs and freely receives our thankful response.
Jan
29
2022
Are we there yet? / Not yet. / Are we there yet? / Not yet. That was the back-and-forth game we played on the first (and definitely not the last) sixteen-hour trip back home to Arkansas from Colorado when our children were young. Our oldest two kept the game alive and well, and if I had a dollar for every time they asked, well, I’d have a stack of dollars. It was a question my children were obsessed with, but I (the driver) was equally obsessed wondering, “Are we there yet?” And the answer was “Not yet, but soon.” Truth be told, most adults are asking a variation on that question although we may not voice it out loud. But we’re asking it for that same reason—we’re tired, and our eyes have grown “weak with sorrow” (Psalm 6:7). We’re “worn out from [our] groaning” (v. 6) about everything from the nightly news to daily frustrations at work to never-ending health problems to relational strains, and the list goes on. We cry out: “Are we there yet? How long, Lord, how long?” The psalmist knew well that kind of weariness, and honestly brought that key question to God. Like a caring parent, He heard David’s cries and in His great mercy accepted them (v. 9). There was no shame for asking. Likewise, you and I can boldly approach our Father in heaven with our honest cries of “How long?” and His answer might be “Not yet. But soon. I’m good. Trust Me.”   
Jan
28
2022
“Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know,” Kathleen Norris writes, thoughtfully contrasting modern-day perfectionism with the “perfection” described in Matthew. Modern-day perfectionism she describes as a “a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks.” But the word translated “perfect” in Matthew actually means mature, complete, or whole. Norris concludes, “To be perfect . . . is to make room for growth [and become] mature enough to give ourselves to others.” Understanding perfection this way helps makes sense of the profound story told in Matthew 19, where a man asks Jesus what good he can do that will be rewarded in the life to come (v. 16). Jesus responds, “Keep the commandments” (v. 17). The man thought he’d obeyed all of them, yet he still knew something was  missing. “What do I still lack?” (v. 20) he asks. That’s when Jesus identifies the man’s wealth as the vise-grip stifling his heart. “If you want to be perfect” (v. 21), He responds—whole, open to giving to and receiving from others in God’s kingdom—then he must be willing to let go of what’s been closing off his heart from others. Each of us has our own version of this—possessions or habits we cling to as a futile attempt to control. Today, hear Jesus’ gentle invitation to surrender—and find freedom in the wholeness that’s only possible in Him (v. 26).
Jan
27
2022
The baby wasn’t due for another six weeks, but the doctor had just diagnosed Whitney with cholestasis, a liver condition common in pregnancy. In a whirlwind of emotions, Whitney was taken to the hospital where she received treatment and was told her baby would be induced in twenty-four hours! In another part of the hospital, ventilators and other equipment needed for the onslaught of COVID-19 cases were being put into place. As a result, Whitney was sent home. She made the decision to trust God and His plans, and delivered a healthy baby a few days later. When Scripture takes root in us, it transforms the way we react in trying situations. Jeremiah lived in a time when most of society trusted in human alliances, and the worship of idols was prevalent. The prophet contrasts the person who “draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5) with the one who trusts in God. “Blessed is the one . . . whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water . . . [that] does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green” (vv. 7–8). As believers in Christ, we’re called to live by faith as we look to Him for solutions. As He provides the strength, we can choose to fear or to trust Him. God says we’re blessed—fully satisfied—when we choose to trust Him.
Jan
26
2022
During a promotional event in 2011, two seventy-three-year-old former Canadian Football League players got into a fistfight on stage. They had a “beef” (grudges and feuds between friends, family members or enemies) dating back to a controversial championship football game in 1963. After one man knocked the other off the stage, the crowd called out to him to “let it go!” They were telling him to “squash the beef.” The Bible contains many examples of people “beefing.” Cain held a grudge against his brother Abel because God accepted Abel’s offering over his (Genesis 4:5). This grudge was so severe that it eventually led to murder as “Cain attacked his brother . . . and killed him” (v. 8). “Esau held a grudge against Jacob” because Jacob stole the birthright that was rightfully his (27:41). This grudge was so intense that it caused Jacob to run for his life in fear. Not only does the Bible give us several examples of people who held grudges, but it also instructs us on how to “squash the beef”—how to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. God calls us to love others (Leviticus 19:18), pray for and forgive those who insult and injure us (Matthew 5:43–47), live peaceably with all people, leave revenge to God, and overcome evil with good (Romans 12:18–21). By His power, may we “squash the beef” today.
Jan
25
2022
In the tenth century, Abd al-Rahman was the ruler of Cordoba, in Spain. After fifty years of successful reign (“beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies”), al-Rahman took a deeper look at his life. “Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call,” he said of his privileges. But when he counted how many days of genuine happiness he’d had during that time, they amounted to just fourteen. How sobering. The writer of Ecclesiastes was also a man of riches and honor (Ecclesiastes 2:7–9), power and pleasure (1:12; 2:1–3). And his own life evaluation was equally sobering. Riches, he realized, just led to a desire for more (5:10–11), while pleasures accomplished little (2:1–2), and success could be due to chance as much as ability (9:11). But his assessment didn’t end as bleakly as al-Rahman’s. Believing God was his ultimate source of happiness, he saw that eating, working, and doing good could all be enjoyed when done with Him (2:25; 3:12–13). “O man!” al-Rahman concluded his reflections, “place not thy confidence in this present world!” The writer of Ecclesiastes would agree. Since we have been made for eternity (3:11), earthly pleasures and achievements won’t satisfy by themselves. But with Him in our lives, genuine happiness is possible in our eating, working, and living.
Jan
24
2022
The professor ended his online class in one of two ways each time. He’d say, “See you next time” or “Have a good weekend.” Some students would respond with “Thank you. You too!” But one day a student responded, “I love you.” Surprised, he replied, “I love you too!” That evening the classmates agreed to create an “I love you chain” for the next class time in appreciation for their professor who had to teach to a blank screen on his computer. A few days later when he finished teaching, the professor said, “See you next time,” and one by one the students replied, “I love you.” They continued this practice for months. The teacher said this created a strong bond with his students, and he now feels they’re “family.” In 1 John 4:13–21, we, as part of God’s family, find several reasons to say “I love you” to Him. He sent His Son as a sacrifice for our sin (v. 10). He gave us His Spirit to live in us (vv. 13, 15). His love is always reliable (v. 16), and we never need to fear judgment (v. 17). He enables us to love Him and others “because he first loved us” (v. 19). The next time you gather with God’s people, take time to share your reasons for loving Him. Making an I love you chain for God will bring Him praise and bring you closer together.
Jan
23
2022
In 1952, in an effort to prevent clumsy or careless people from breaking items in a shop, a Miami Beach storeowner posted a sign that read: “You break it, you buy it.” The catchy phrase served as a warning to shoppers. This type of sign can now be seen in many boutiques. Ironically, a different sign might be placed in a real potter’s shop. It would say: “If you break it, we’ll make it into something better.” And that’s exactly what’s revealed in Jeremiah 18. The prophet reminds us that God is indeed a skillful potter and we are the clay. Jeremiah visits a potter’s and sees the potter shaping the “marred” clay with his hands, carefully handling the material and forming “it into another pot” (v. 4). He is sovereign and can use what He creates to both destroy evil and create beauty in us. God can shape us even when we’re marred or broken. He, the masterful potter, can and is willing to create new and precious pottery from our shattered pieces. God doesn’t look at our broken lives, mistakes, and past sins as unusable material. Instead, He picks up our pieces and reshapes them as He sees best. Even in our brokenness, we have immense value to our Master Potter. In His hands, the broken pieces of our lives can be reshaped into beautiful vessels that can be used “best by him” (v. 4).
Jan
22
2022
Les Miserablés begins with paroled convict Jean Valjean stealing a priest’s silver. He’s caught, and he expects to be returned to the mines. But the priest shocks everyone when he claims he’d given the silver to Valjean. After the police leave, he turns to the thief, “You belong no longer to evil, but to good.” Such extravagant love points to the love that flowed from the fountain from which all grace comes. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter told his audience that less than two months before, in that very city, they had crucified Jesus. The crowd was crushed and asked what they must do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Jesus had endured the punishment they deserved. Now their penalty would be forgiven if they put their faith in Him. Oh, the irony of grace! The people could only be forgiven because of Christ’s death—a death they were responsible for. How gracious and powerful is God! He has used humanity’s greatest sin to accomplish our salvation! If God has already done this with the sin of crucifying Jesus, we may assume there’s nothing He can’t turn into something good. Trust the One who “in all things . . . works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Jan
21
2022
I squeezed my eyes shut and started counting aloud. My fellow third-grade classmates tore out of the room to find a place to hide. After scouring every cabinet, trunk, and closet for what felt like hours, I still couldn’t find one of my friends. I felt ridiculous when she finally jumped out from behind a lacey, potted fern hanging from the ceiling. Only her head had been eclipsed by the plant—the rest of her body had been in plain sight the entire time! Since God is all-knowing, when Adam and Eve “hid from [Him]” in the garden of Eden, they were always in “plain sight” (Genesis 3:8). But they weren’t playing any childhood game; they were experiencing the sudden awareness—and shame—of their wrongdoing, having eaten from the tree God told them not to. Adam and Eve turned from God and His loving provision when they disobeyed His instructions. Instead of withdrawing from them in anger, however, He sought them out, asking “Where are you?” It’s not that He didn’t know where they were, but He wanted them to know His compassionate concern for them (v. 9). I couldn’t see my friend hiding, but God always sees us and knows us—to Him we’re always in plain sight. Just as He pursued Adam and Eve, Jesus sought us out while we were “yet sinners”—dying on the cross to demonstrate His love for us (Romans 5:8). We no longer need to hide.
Jan
20
2022
A successful businessman spent the last few decades of his life doing all he could to give away his fortune. A multi-billionaire, he donated cash to a variety of causes such as bringing peace to Northern Ireland, modernizing Vietnam’s health care system, and not long before he died he spent $350 million to turn New York City’s Roosevelt Island into a technology hub. The man said, “I believe strongly in giving while living. I see little reason to delay giving. . . . Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than to give while you’re dead.” Give while you live—what an amazing attitude to have. In John’s account of the man born blind, while Jesus’ disciples were trying to determine “who sinned” (9:2), Jesus briefly addressed their question, then kept moving: “Neither . . . this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me” (vv. 3–4). Jesus’ miracles are very different from what we can give (even as we give ourselves through our work), but the ready and loving spirit behind them are the same. Let’s give, whether it is resources or our work, in a way that the works of God might be displayed. For God so loved the world that He gave. In turn, we’re to give while we live.
Jan
19
2022
When asked how he became a journalist, a man shared the story of his mother’s dedication to his pursuit of education. While traveling on the subway each day, she collected newspapers left behind on seats and gave them to him. While he especially enjoyed reading about sports, the papers also introduced him to knowledge about the world, which ultimately opened his mind to a vast range of interests.  Children are wired with natural curiosity and a love for learning, so introducing them to the Scriptures at an early age is of great value. They become intrigued by God’s extraordinary promises and exciting stories of biblical heroes. As their knowledge deepens, they can begin to comprehend the consequences of sin, their need of repentance, and the joy found in trusting God. The first chapter of Proverbs, for instance, is a great introduction to the benefits of wisdom (Proverbs 1:1–7). Nuggets of wisdom found here shine a light of understanding on real-life situations. Developing a love of learning—especially about spiritual truths—helps us to grow stronger in our faith. And those who have walked in faith for decades can continue to pursue knowledge of God throughout their life. Proverbs 1:5 advises, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning.” God will never stop teaching us if we’re willing to open our heart and mind to His guidance and instruction.
Jan
18
2022
A German bank employee was in the middle of transferring 62.40 euros from a customer’s bank account when he accidentally took a power nap at his desk. He dozed off while his finger was on the “2” key, resulting in a 222 million euro (300 million dollars) transfer into the customer’s account. The fallout from the mistake included the firing of the employee’s colleague who verified the transfer. Although the mistake was caught and corrected, because he wasn’t watchful, the sleepy employee’s lapse almost became a nightmare for the bank. Jesus warned His disciples that if they didn’t remain alert, they, too, would make a costly mistake. He took them to a place called Gethsemane to spend some time in prayer. As He prayed, Jesus experienced a grief and sadness such as He’d never known in His earthly life. He asked Peter, James and John to stay awake to pray and “keep watch” with Him (Matthew 26:38), but they fell asleep (vv. 40–41). Their failure to watch and pray would leave them defenseless when the real temptation of denying Him came calling. In the hour of Jesus’ greatest need, the disciples lacked spiritual vigilance. May we heed Jesus’ words to remain spiritually awake by being more devoted to spending time with Him in prayer. As we do, He’ll strengthen us to resist all kinds of temptations and avoid the costly mistake of denying Jesus.
Jan
17
2022
My son Geoff was leaving a store when he saw an abandoned walking frame (a mobility aid) on the ground. I hope there isn’t a person back there who needs help, he thought. He glanced behind the building and found a homeless man unconscious on the pavement. Geoff roused him and asked if he was okay. “I’m trying to drink myself to death,” he responded. “My tent broke in a storm and I lost everything. I don’t want to live.” Geoff called a Christian rehabilitation ministry, and while they waited for help, he ran home briefly and brought the man his own camping tent. “What’s your name?” Geoff asked. “Geoffrey,” the homeless man answered, “with a G.” Geoff hadn’t mentioned his own name or its uncommon spelling. “Dad,” he told me later, “that could have been me.”  Geoff once struggled with substance abuse himself, and he helped the man because of the kindness he’d received from God. Isaiah the prophet used these words to anticipate God’s mercy to us in Jesus: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Christ, our Savior, didn’t leave us lost, alone, and hopeless in despair. He chose to identify with us and lift us in love, so that we may be set free to live anew in Him. There is no greater gift.
Jan
16
2022
A fierce thunderstorm lashed Memphis, Tennessee, on the evening of April 3, 1968. Weary and feeling ill, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided not to give his planned speech for striking sanitation workers at a church hall. He was surprised by an urgent phone call saying a large crowd had braved the weather to hear him. So he went to the hall and spoke for forty minutes, delivering what some say was his greatest speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The next day, King was killed by an assassin’s bullet, but his speech still inspires oppressed people that they’ll “get to the Promised Land.” Likewise, early followers of Jesus were uplifted by a stirring message. The book of Hebrews, written to encourage Jewish believers facing threats for their faith in Christ, offers firm spiritual encouragement to not lose hope. As it urged, “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (v. 12). As Jews, they would recognize that appeal as originally coming from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 35:3). But now, as Christ’s disciples, they were called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (vv. 1–2). The writer encouraged them: “You will not grow weary and lose heart” (v. 3). Certainly squalls and storms await us in this life. But in Jesus, we outlast life’s tempests by standing in Him.
Jan
15
2022
As I sat in the courtroom, I witnessed several examples of the brokenness of our world: a daughter estranged from her mother; a husband and wife who’d lost the love they once had and now shared only bitterness; a husband yearning for reconciliation with his wife and to be reunited with his children. They were in desperate need of changed hearts, healing of wounds, and for God’s love to prevail. Sometimes when the world around us seems to hold only darkness and despair, it’s easy to give in to despair. But then the Spirit, who lives inside believers in Christ (John 14:26), reminded me that Jesus died for that brokenness and pain. When Jesus came into the world as a human, He brought light into the darkness (John 1:4; 8:12). We see this in His conversation with Nicodemus, who furtively came to Jesus in the cover of darkness, but left impacted by the Light (3:1–2; 19:38–40). Jesus taught Nicodemus that “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” (3:16). Yet even though Jesus brought light and love into the world, many remain lost in the darkness of their sin (vv. 19–20). If we’re His followers, we have the light that dispels darkness. In gratitude, let’s pray that God make us beacons of His love (Matthew 5:14–16).
Jan
14
2022
Carl had contracted cancer and needed a double lung transplant. He asked God for new lungs, but felt odd doing so. He confessed it’s a strange thing to pray, because “someone has to die so I might live.”   Carl’s dilemma highlights a basic truth of Scripture: God uses death to bring life. We see this in the story of the Exodus. Born into slavery, the Israelites languished under the oppressive hands of the Egyptians. Pharaoh wouldn’t release his grip until God made it personal. Every eldest son would die, unless the family killed a spotless lamb and slathered its blood across their doorposts (Exodus 12:6–7). Today, you and I have been born into the bondage of sin. Satan would not release his grip on us until God made it personal, sacrificing His perfect Son on the blood-spattered arms of the cross. Jesus calls us to join Him there. Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When we put our faith in God’s spotless Lamb, we commit to daily dying with Him—dying to our sin so we might rise with Him to new life (Romans 6:4–5). We express this faith in baptism and every time we say no to the shackles of sin and yes to the freedom of Christ. We’re never more alive than when we die with Jesus.
Jan
13
2022
I started reading the Bible to my sons when my youngest, Xavier, entered kindergarten. I would look for teachable moments and share verses that would apply to our circumstances and encourage them to pray with me. Xavier memorized Scripture without even trying. If we were in a predicament in which we needed wisdom, he’d blurt out verses that shone a light on God’s truth. One day, I got angry and spoke harshly within his earshot. My son hugged me and said, “Practice what you preach, Mama.” Xavier’s gentle reminder echoes the wise counsel of the apostle James as he addresses Jewish believers in Jesus scattered in various countries (James 1:1). Highlighting the various ways sin can interfere with our witness for Christ, James encourages God’s people to “humbly accept the word planted in” us (v. 21). By hearing but not obeying Scripture, we’re like people who look in the mirror and forget what we look like (vv. 23–24). We can lose sight of the privilege we’ve been given as image-bearers—made right with God through the blood of Christ. Believers in Jesus are commanded to share the gospel. The Holy Spirit changes us while empowering us to become better representatives and therefore messengers of the good news. As our loving obedience helps us reflect the light of God’s truth and love wherever He sends us, we can point others to Jesus by practicing what we preach.
Jan
12
2022
In 1929, as the US economy crashed, millions of people lost everything. But not Floyd Odlum. As everyone else panicked and sold their stocks at cut-rate prices, Odlum appeared to foolishly jump in and purchase stocks just as the nation’s future disintegrated. But Odlum’s “foolish” perspective paid off, yielding robust investments that endured for decades. God told Jeremiah to make what seemed like an absolutely ludicrous investment: “buy [the] field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin” (Jeremiah 32:8). This was no time to be buying fields, however. The entire country was on the verge of being ransacked. “The army of the king of Babylon was . . . besieging Jerusalem” (v. 2) Whatever field Jeremiah purchased would soon be Babylon’s. What fool makes an investment when everything would soon be lost? Well, the person who’s listening to God—the One who intended a future no one else could envision. “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land” (v. 15). God saw more than the ruin. God promised to bring redemption, healing, and restoration. A ludicrous investment in a relationship or service for God isn’t foolish—it’s is the wisest possible move when God leads us to make it (and it's essential that we prayerfully seek to know He’s behind the instruction). A “foolish” investment in others as God leads makes all the sense in the world.
Jan
11
2022
At eighteen months old, little Maison had never heard his mother’s voice. Then doctors fitted him with his first hearing aids and his mom Lauryn asked Maison, “Can you hear me?” The child’s eyes lit up. “Hi Baby!” his mom added. A smiling Maison softly replied, “Hi!” In tears, the mother knew she’d witnessed a miracle. She’d given birth to Maison prematurely after gunmen shot her three times during a random home invasion. Weighing just one pound, Maison spent 158 days in intensive care and wasn’t expected to survive, let alone be able to hear. That heart-warming story reminds me of the God who hears us. King Solomon prayed fervently for God’s attuned ear, especially during troubling times. When “there is no rain ” (1 Kings 8:35), during “famine or plague,” disaster or disease (v. 37), war (v. 44), and even sin, “hear from heaven their prayer and their plea,” Solomon prayed, “and uphold their cause” (v. 45). In His goodness, God responded with a promise that still stirs our hearts. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Heaven may seem a long way off. Yet Christ is with those who believe in Him. God hears our prayers, and He answers them.
Jan
10
2022
“ESCAPE” the hot-tub store billboard blared. It got my attention—and got me thinking. My wife and I talk about getting a hot tub . . .  someday. It'd be like a vacation in our back yard! Except for the cleaning. And the electric bill. And . . . suddenly, the hoped-for escape starts to sound like something I might need escape from. Still, that word entices so effectively because it promises something we want: relief. Comfort. Security. Escape. It’s something our culture tempts and teases us with in myriad ways. Now, there's nothing wrong with resting, or a getaway to someplace beautiful. That said, there’s a difference between escaping life’s hardships and trusting God with them.   In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples the next chapter of their lives will test their faith. “In this world you will have trouble,” He summarizes at the end. But then He adds this promise, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). Jesus didn’t want His disciples to cave in to despair. Instead, He invited them to trust Him, to know the rest that He provides: “I have told you these things,” he said, “so that in me you may have peace.” Jesus doesn’t promise us a pain-free life. But He does promise that as we trust and rest in Him, we can experience a peace that’s deeper and more satisfying than any escape the world tries to sell us.
Jan
9
2022
The little red rectangular box was magical. As a kid, I could play with it for hours. When I turned one knob on the box, I could create a horizontal line on its screen. Turn the other knob and voila—a vertical line. When I turned the knobs together, I could make diagonal lines, circles, and creative designs. But the real magic came when I turned my Etch A Sketch toy upside down, shook it a little and turned it right side up. A blank screen appeared, offering me the opportunity to create a new design. God’s forgiveness works much like that Etch A Sketch game. He wipes away our sins, creating a clean canvas for us. Even if we remember wrongs we committed, God chooses to forgive and forget. He’s wiped them out and doesn’t hold our sins against us. He doesn’t treat us according to our sinful actions (Psalm 103:10), but extends grace through forgiveness. We have a clean slate—a new life awaiting us when we seek God’s forgiveness. We can be rid of guilt and shame because of His amazing gift to us. The psalmist reminds us that our sins have been separated from us as the east is separated from the west (v. 12). That’s as far away as you can get! In God’s eyes, our sins no longer cling to us like a scarlet letter or a bad drawing. That’s reason to rejoice and to thank God for His amazing grace and mercy.
Jan
8
2022
My friend Bill described Gerard, an acquaintance of his, as being “very far from God for a very long time.” But one day, after Bill met with Gerard and explained to him how God’s love has provided the way for us to be saved, Gerard became a believer. Through tears, he repented of his sin, and gave his life to Jesus. Afterward, Bill asked Gerard how he felt. Wiping away tears, he answered simply, “Washed.” What an amazing response! That’s precisely the essence of salvation made possible through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. In 1 Corinthians 6, after Paul gives examples of how disobedience against God leads to separation from Him, he says, “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 11). “Washed,” “sanctified, “justified”—words that point to believers being forgiven and made right with Him. Titus 3:4–5 tells us more about this miraculous thing called salvation. “God our Savior . . . saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth.” Our sin keeps us from God, but through faith in Jesus, the penalty of it is washed away. We become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), gain access to our heavenly Father (Ephesians 2:18), and we’re made clean (1 John 1:7). He alone provides what we need to be washed.
Jan
7
2022
In the wake of the coronavirus, retrieving something from my safety deposit box required even more layers of protocol than before. Now I had to make an appointment, call when I arrived to be granted entrance to the bank, show my identification and signature, and then wait to be escorted into the vault by a designated banker. Once inside, the heavy doors locked again until I’d found what I needed inside the metal box. Unless I followed the instructions, I wasn’t able to enter. In the Old Testament, God had specific protocols for entering part of the tabernacle called the Most Holy Place. Behind a special curtain, one that “separate[d] the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place,” only the high priest could enter once a year (Exodus 26:33; Hebrews 9:7). Aaron, and the high priests who would come after him, were to bring offerings, bathe, and wear sacred garments before entering (Leviticus 16:3–4). God’s instructions weren’t for health or security reasons; they were meant to teach the Israelites about the holiness of God and our need for forgiveness. At the moment of Jesus’ death, that special curtain was torn, symbolically showing that all people who believe in His sacrifice for their forgiveness of sin can enter God’s presence (Matthew 27:51). The tear in the tabernacle curtain is reason for our unending joy—Jesus has enabled us to draw near to God always!
Jan
6
2022
In the early 1960s, the US was filled with anticipation of a bright future. Youthful President John F. Kennedy had introduced the New Frontier, the Peace Corps, and the task of reaching the moon. A thriving economy caused many people to expect the future to simply “let the good times roll.” Then the war in Vietnam escalated, unrest on a national level unfolded, Kennedy’s assassination took place, and a dismantling of the accepted norms of that previously optimistic society ensued. Optimism simply wasn’t enough, and in its wake, disillusionment prevailed.   Then, in 1967, theologian Jürgen Moltmann’s A Theology of Hope pointed to a clearer vision. This path was not the way of optimism but the way of hope. The two are not the same thing. Moltmann affirmed that optimism is based on the circumstances of the moment, but hope is rooted in God’s faithfulness—regardless of our situation. What is the source of this hope? Peter wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Our faithful God has conquered death through His Son Jesus! The reality of this greatest of all victories lifts us beyond mere optimism to a strong, robust hope—every day and in every circumstance.
Jan
5
2022
The social media powerhouse Twitter created a platform where people all over the world express opinions in short sound bites. In recent years, however, this formula has become more complex as individuals have begun to leverage Twitter as a tool to reprimand others for attitudes and lifestyles they disagree with. Log on to the platform on any given day, and you’ll find the name of at least one person “trending.” Click on that name, and you’ll find millions of people expressing opinions about whatever controversy has emerged. We’ve learned to publicly criticize everything from the beliefs people hold to the clothes they wear. The reality, however, is that a critical and unloving attitude doesn’t align with who God has called us to be as believers in Jesus. After all, his death on the cross is the ultimate forgiveness. While there will be times when we disagree and hold opposing opinions, the Bible reminds us that as believers we’re to always carry ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Instead of being harshly critical, even of our enemies, God urges us to “bear with each other and forgive one another” (v. 13). This treatment isn’t limited to the people whose lifestyles and beliefs we agree with. Even when it’s difficult, may we extend grace and love to everyone we encounter as Christ guides us, recognizing that we’ve been redeemed by His love.
Jan
4
2022
Resolutions, it seems, are made to be broken. Some folks poke fun at this reality by proposing New Year’s vows that are—shall we say—attainable. Here are a few from social media: Wave to fellow motorists at stoplights. Sign up for a marathon. Don’t run it. Stop procrastinating—tomorrow. Get lost without any help from Siri. Unfriend everyone who posts their workout regimen. The concept of a fresh start can be serious business, however. The exiled people of Judah desperately needed one. Just over two decades into their seventy-year captivity, God brought encouragement to them through the prophet Ezekiel, promising, “I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob” (39:25). But the nation first needed to return to the basics—the instructions God had given to Moses eight hundred years earlier. This included observing a feast at the new year. For the ancient Jewish people, that began in early spring (45:18). A major purpose of their festivals was to remind them of God’s character and His expectations. God told their leaders, “Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right” (v. 9) and insisted on honesty (v. 10). The lesson applies to us too. Our faith must be put into practice or it’s worthless (James 2:17). In this new year, as God provides what we need, may we live out our faith by returning to the basics: “Love the Lord your God,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39).
Jan
3
2022
Towering dunes along the north shore of Silver Lake put nearby homes at risk of sinking into shifting sands. Though residents have tried moving mounds of sand in efforts to protect their homes, they have watched helplessly as well-built houses were buried right before their eyes. As a local sheriff oversaw the cleanup of a recently destroyed cottage, he affirmed the process couldn’t be opposed or prevented. No matter how hard homeowners try to avoid the dangers of these unsteady embankments, the dunes simply cannot provide a strong foundational support. Jesus knew the futility of building a house on sand. After warning the disciples to be wary of false prophets, the Lord assured them that loving obedience demonstrates wisdom (Matthew 7:15-23). He said that everyone who hears His words and “puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). The one who hears God’s words and chooses not to put them into practice, however, is “like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (v. 26). When circumstances feel like shifting sands burying us under the weight of affliction or worries, we can place our hope in Christ‒our Rock. He will help us develop resilient faith built on the unshakeable foundation of His unchanging character.
Jan
2
2022
“Whenever my grandfather took me to the beach,” Sandra reminisced, “he always took off his watch and put it away. One day I asked him why.” “He smiled and replied, ‘Because I want you to know how important my moments with you are to me. I just want to be with you, and let time go by.’” I heard Sandra share that recollection at her grandfather’s funeral. It was one of her favorite memories of their life together. As I reflected on how valued it makes us feel when others take time for us, it brought to mind Scripture’s words on God’s loving care. God always makes time for us. David prays in Psalm 145, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The Lord is near” (vv. 16–18). God’s goodness and thoughtful attention sustain our lives each moment, providing us with air to breath and food to eat. Because He is rich in love, the Creator of all things mercifully crafts even the most intricate details of our existence. God’s love is so deep and unending that in His kindness and mercy He has even opened the way to eternal life and joy in His presence. As if to say, “I love you so much, I just want to be with you forever, and let time go by.”  
Jan
1
2022
When Bryony turned thirty, she was sad to still be in a sales job she’d never liked. She decided it was time to stop procrastinating and find a new career. For David, New Year’s Eve had him looking in the mirror vowing this would be the year he lost weight. And for James, it was watching another month pass without his angry outbursts decreasing. Next month, he promised himself, he would try harder. If you’ve ever vowed to change at the start of a new month, new year, or a major birthday, you’re not alone. Researchers even have a name for it: the fresh start effect. They suggest that at calendar points like these we are more prone to assess our lives and try putting our failures behind us to start over. Wanting to be better people, we long for a fresh start. Faith in Jesus speaks powerfully to this longing, offering a vision of what our best selves can be (Colossians 3:12–14), and calling us to leave our past selves behind (vv. 5–8). It offers this change not by decisions and vows alone, but by divine power. When we choose to follow Jesus, we become new people; and God’s Spirit works in us to make us whole (vv. 9–10; Titus 3:5). Receiving salvation in Jesus is the ultimate fresh start. And it doesn’t need to wait for a special calendar date. Your new life can start right now.
Dec
31
2021
Michellan faced challenges while growing up in the Philippines, but she always loved words and found comfort in them. Then one day while attending university, she read the first chapter in the gospel of John. She said that her “stone heart stirred,” and she felt like someone was saying, “Yes, you love words, and guess what? There is an Eternal Word, One who . . . can cut through the darkness, now and always. A Word who took on flesh. A Word who can love you back.” She was reading the gospel that begins with words that would have reminded John’s readers of the opening of Genesis: “In the beginning . . .” (Genesis 1:1). He sought to show that Jesus was not only with God at the beginning of time but was God (John 1:1). And that this living Word became a man “and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14). Further, those who receive Him, believing in His name, become His children (v. 12). Michellan embraced God’s love that day and was “born of God” (v. 13). She credits God for saving her from her family’s pattern of addiction and now writes about the good news of Jesus, delighting in sharing her words about the living Word. If we are believers in Christ, we too can share God’s message and His love. As we begin 2022, what grace-filled words can we speak today?
Dec
30
2021
“I can’t believe Christmas is over,” my dejected daughter said. I know how she feels: The aftermath of Christmas can feel dreary. Presents have been opened. The tree and lights must come down. Listless January—and, for many, the need to shed holiday pounds—awaits. Christmas—and the breathless anticipation that comes with it—suddenly feels eons away. A few years ago, as we were putting Christmas stuff away, I realized, No matter what the calendar says, we’re always one day closer to the next Christmas. It’s become something I say frequently. But far more important than our temporal celebration of Christmas is the spiritual reality behind it: the salvation Jesus brought into our world and our hope for His return. Scripture talks repeatedly about watching, waiting, and longing for Christ’s second coming. I love what Paul says in Philippians 3:15–21. He contrasts the world’s way of living—with “minds set on earthly things” (v. 19)—with a lifestyle shaped by hope in Jesus’ return: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20). The reality that our “citizenship is in heaven” changes everything, including what we hope for and how we live. That hope is fortified by the knowledge that with every passing day, we are indeed one day closer to Jesus’ return.
Dec
29
2021
When gold seeker Edward Jackson set out for California during the Great Gold Rush in the US, his diary entry on May 20, 1849, lamented his grueling wagon journey, marked by disease and death. “O do not leave my bones here,” he wrote. “If possible let them lay at home.” Another gold-seeker named John Walker penned, “It is the most complete lottery that you can imagine . . . I cannot advise any person to come.” Walker, in fact, returned home and succeeded at farming, ranching, and state politics. When a family member took Walker’s yellowing letters to the American TV program Antiques Roadshow, they were valued at several thousand dollars. Said the TV host, “So he did get something valuable out of the Gold Rush. The letters.” Even more, both Walker and Jackson returned home after gaining wisdom that caused them to take hold of a more practical life. Consider these words about wisdom from King Solomon, “Blessed are those who find wisdom . . . she is a tree of life to those who take hold of her” (Proverbs 3:13, 18). A wise choice is  “more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (v. 14)—making wisdom more precious than any earthly desire (v. 15.) “Long life is in her right hand . . . and all her paths are peace” (vv. 16–17). Our challenge, therefore, is to hold tight to wisdom not shiny wishes. It’s a path God will bless.
Dec
28
2021
Two stately stone lions watch over the entrance to the New York Public Library. Hewn from marble, they’ve stood there proudly since the library’s dedication in 1911. They were first nicknamed Leo Lenox and Leo Astor to honor the library’s founders. But during the Great Depression, New York’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia renamed them Fortitude and Patience, virtues he thought New Yorkers should demonstrate in those challenging years. The lions are still called Fortitude and Patience today. The Bible describes a living, powerful Lion who also gives encouragement in trouble and is known by other names. In his vision of heaven, the apostle John wept when he saw that no one was able to open the sealed scroll containing God’s plan of judgment and redemption. Then John was told, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah . . . has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Yet in the very next verse, John describes something else entirely: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” (v. 6). The Lion and the Lamb are the same person: Jesus. He is the conquering King and “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Through His strength and His cross, we may receive mercy and forgiveness so that we may live in joy and wonder at all He is forever!
Dec
27
2021
“The shepherd needs great wisdom and a thousand eyes,” wrote the beloved church father John Chrysostom, “to examine the soul’s condition from every angle.” Chrysostom wrote these words as part of a discussion on the complexity of caring well for others spiritually. Since it’s impossible to force anyone to heal, he emphasized, reaching others’ hearts requires great empathy and compassion. But that doesn’t mean never causing pain, Chrysostom cautioned, because “if you behave too leniently to one who needs deep surgery, and do not make a deep incision in one who requires it, you mutilate yet miss the cancer. But if you make the needed incision without mercy, often the patient, in despair at his sufferings, throws all aside . . . and promptly throws himself over a cliff.” There’s a similar complexity in how Jude describes responding to those led astray by false teachers, whose behavior he describes starkly (1:12–13, 18–19). Yet when Jude turns to how to respond to such grave threats, he doesn’t suggest reacting with harsh anger. Instead, he taught that believers should respond to threats by rooting themselves even more deeply in God’s love (vv. 20–21). For it’s only when we’re deeply anchored in God’s unchanging love that we can find the wisdom to help others with appropriate urgency, humility, and compassion (vv. 22–23)—the way most likely to help them find healing and rest in God’s boundless love.
Dec
26
2021
I helped my elderly dog, Wilson, out to the grass and in the process, released the leash of our younger dog, Coach, for just a minute. As I bent to pick up Coach’s lead, he spied a bunny. Off he went, ripping the leash from my right hand and corkscrewing my ring finger in the process. I fell to the grass and cried out in pain. After returning from urgent care and learning I’d need surgery, I begged God for help. “I’m a writer! How will I type? What about my daily duties?” As God sometimes does, He spoke to me from my daily Bible reading. “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13). I scanned the context, which indicated that God’s people in Judah, to whom Isaiah was communicating His message, enjoyed a special relationship with Him. He promised His presence, strength, and help through His own righteous standing, symbolized by His right hand (v. 10). Elsewhere in Scripture God’s right hand is used to secure victories for His people (Psalm 17:7; 98:1). During my weeks of recovery, I experienced encouragement from God as I learned to dictate on my computer and trained my left hand in household and grooming functions. From God’s righteous right hand to our broken and needy right hands, God promises to be with us and to help us.
Dec
25
2021
The unresolved hurt between Simon and Geoffrey had persisted for years, and Simon’s attempts to reenter the relationship had been resisted. Upon hearing the news of the death of Geoffrey’s mother, Simon traveled “up country” in Kenya to attend her funeral service. Simon reflected on their encounter: “I had no expectations at all in terms of how the whole thing would turn out, [but] after the service, we opened up and had a fruitful talk. We hugged, shared the moment, prayed together, and planned to meet again.” If only Simon and Geoffrey had been able to reconcile earlier, so much ongoing pain could have been avoided. The words of Jesus in Matthew 5:21–26 help to put unresolved relational tensions in perspective. The anger that can lead to such rifts is a serious matter (v. 22). Furthermore, getting things in order relationally is a fitting prelude to worshiping God (vv. 23–24). The wise words of Jesus to “settle matters quickly with your adversary” (v. 25) remind us that the sooner we do what we can to work toward reconciliation the better for all. Relationships are risky; they demand work—in our families, in the workplace, in educational settings, and among people who share our faith in Christ. But as those who represent Him, the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), may we find ourselves going out of our way to extend our hearts and hands to those with whom we have unresolved conflict.
Dec
24
2021
Imagine the One who made cedars spring from seeds starting life over as an embryo, the One who made the stars submitting Himself to a womb, the One who fills the heavens becoming what would be in our day a mere dot on an ultrasound. Jesus, in very nature God, making Himself nothing (Philippians 2:6–7). What an astonishing thought! Imagine the scene as He is born in a plain peasant village, among farmers and angels and bright lights in the sky, with the bleating of animals His first lullabies. Watch as He grows in favor and stature: as a youngster astounding teachers with answers to grand questions; as a young man at the Jordan getting His Father’s approval from heaven; and in the wilderness as He wrestles in hunger and prayer. Watch next as He launches His world-changing mission—healing the sick, touching lepers, forgiving the impure. Watch as He kneels in a garden in anguish, and as they arrest Him while His closest friends flee. Watch as He is spat on and nailed to two wooden posts, the world’s sins on His shoulders. But watch, yes watch, as the stone rolls away, an empty tomb ringing hollow, because He is alive! Watch as He is lifted to the highest place (v. 9). Watch as His name fills heaven and earth (vv. 10–11). This Maker of the stars who became a dot on an ultrasound. This, our Christmas child.
Dec
23
2021
When John’s cold turned into pneumonia, he ended up in the hospital. At the same time, his mother was being treated for cancer a few floors above him, and he felt overwhelmed with worries about her and about his own health. Then on Christmas Eve, when the radio played the carol “O Holy Night,” John was flooded with a deep sense of God’s peace. He listened to the words about it being the night of the dear Savior’s birth: “A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” In that moment, his worries about himself and his mother vanished. This “dear Savior” born to us, Jesus, is the “Prince of Peace,” as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He came to earth as a baby, bringing light and salvation to “those living in the land of the shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16, quoting Isaiah 9:2). He embodies and gives peace to those He loves, even when they face hardship and death. There in the hospital, John experienced this peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) as he pondered the birth of Jesus. This encounter with God strengthened his faith and sense of gratitude as he lay in that sterile room away from his family at Christmas. May we too receive God’s gift of peace and hope.
Dec
22
2021
“The Gathering” in northern Thailand is an interdenominational, international church. On a recent Sunday, Christians from Korea, Ghana, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, America, the Philippines, and other countries came together in a humble, thread-worn hotel conference room. They sang “In Christ Alone” and “I Am a Child of God,” lyrics that were especially poignant in this setting. No one brings people together like Jesus does. He’s been doing it from the start. In the first century, Antioch contained eighteen different ethnic groups, each living in its own part of the city. When believers first came to Antioch, they spread the word about Jesus “only among Jews” (Acts 11:19). That wasn’t God’s plan for the church, however. Others soon came who “began to speak to Greeks [Gentiles] also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (vv. 20–21). People in the city noticed that Jesus was healing centuries of animosity between Jews and Greeks, and they declared this multi-ethnic church should be called “Christians,” or “little Christs” (v. 26). It can be challenging for us to reach across ethnic, social, and economic boundaries to embrace those different from us. But this difficulty is our opportunity. If it wasn’t hard, we wouldn’t need Jesus to do it. And few would notice we’re following Him.
Dec
21
2021
As the novel coronavirus marched across the globe, health experts advised increased physical distance between people as a means to slow the spread. Many countries asked their citizens to self-quarantine or shelter in place. Organizations sent employees home to work remotely if they could, while others suffered a financially debilitating loss of employment. Like others, I participated in church and small group meetings through digital platforms. As a world, we practiced new forms of togetherness despite being physically disconnected. It isn’t just the internet that lets us maintain a sense of connection. We connect to one another as members of the body of Christ through the Spirit. Paul expressed this notion centuries ago in his letter to the Colossians. Though he hadn’t personally founded their church, he cared deeply for them and their faith. And even though Paul couldn’t be with them in person, he reminded them that he was “present with [them] in spirit” (Colossians 2:5).   We can’t always be with those we love for financial, health, or other practical reasons, and technology can help fill that gap. Yet any form of virtual connection pales in comparison to the “togetherness” we can experience as fellow members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). In such moments, we can, like Paul, rejoice in one another’s firmness of faith and, through prayer, encourage each other to fully “know the mystery of God, namely Christ” (Colossians 2:2).
Dec
20
2021
During World War II, Waldemer Semenov was serving as a junior engineer aboard the SS Alcoa Guide when—nearly three hundred miles off the coast of North Carolina—a German submarine surfaced and opened fire on the ship. The ship was hit, caught fire, and began to sink. Semenov and his crew lowered a lifeboat into the water and used the vessel’s compass to sail toward the shipping lanes. After three days, a patrol plane spotted their lifeboat and the USS Broome rescued the men the next day. Thanks to that compass, Semenov and twenty-six other crewmembers were saved.          The psalmist reminded God’s people that they were equipped with a compass for life—the Bible. He compared Scripture to “a lamp” (Psalm 119:105) that provides light to illuminate the path of life for those pursuing God. When the psalmist was adrift in the chaotic waters of life, he knew God could use Scripture to provide spiritual longitude and latitude and help him survive. Thus, he prayed that God would send out His light to direct him in life and bring him safely to the port of His holy presence (Psalm 43:3).          As believers in Jesus, when we lose our way, God can guide us by the Holy Spirit and by the direction found in the Scriptures. May God transform our hearts and minds as we read the Bible, study it, and follow its wisdom. 
Dec
19
2021
Linus, in the Peanuts comic strip, is best known for his blue security blanket. He carries it everywhere and isn’t embarrassed at needing it for comfort. His sister Lucy especially dislikes the blanket and often tries to get rid of it. She buries it, makes it into a kite, and uses it for a science fair project. Linus too knows he should be less dependent on his blanket and lets it go from time to time, always to take it back. In the movie A Charlie Brown Christmas, when a frustrated Charlie Brown asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, with his security blanket in hand, steps center stage and quotes Luke 2:8–14. In the middle of his recitation as he says, “Fear not,” he drops his blanket—the thing he clung to when afraid. What is it about Christmas that reminds us we don’t need to fear? The angels that appeared to the shepherds said, “Do not be afraid  . . . a Savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:10–11). Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We have His very presence through His Holy Spirit, the true Comforter (John 14:16), so we don’t need to fear. We can let go of our “security blankets” and trust in Him.
Dec
18
2021
In the large African church, the pastor fell to his knees, praying to God. “Remember us!” As the pastor pleaded, the crowd responded, crying, “Remember us, Lord!” Watching this moment on YouTube, I was surprised that I shed tears, too. The prayer was recorded months earlier. Yet it recalled childhood times when I heard our family’s pastor make the same plea to God. “Remember us, Lord!” Hearing that prayer as a child, I’d wrongly assumed that God sometimes forgets about us. But God is all-knowing (Psalm 147:5; 1 John 3:20), He always see us (Psalm 33:13–15), and He loves us beyond measure (Ephesians 3:17–19). Even more, as we see in the Hebrew word zakar, meaning “remember,” when God “remembers” us, He acts for us. Zakar also means to act on a person’s behalf. Thus, when God “remembered” Noah and “all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark,” He then “sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1). When God “remembered” barren Rachel, He “listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son” (Genesis 30:22–23). What a great plea of trust to ask God in prayer to remember us! He will decide how He answers. We can pray knowing, however, that our humble request asks God to move.
Dec
17
2021
The school where my son Brian coaches lost the state football title game in a hard-fought battle. Their opponent was undefeated over the past two years. I sent Brian a text to commiserate with him and received a terse reply: “Kids battled!” No coach shamed the players after the game. No one shouted at them for their mishaps or bad decisions along the way. No, the coaches showered the young players with praise for what could be praised. Along the same vein, it’s good to know that believers in Jesus will not hear harsh words of condemnation from our Lord. When Jesus comes and we stand before Him He’ll not shame us. He’ll see what we’ve done as we’ve followed Him (2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 6:8). I think He’ll say something like, “You battled! Well done!” The apostle Paul testified that he had “fought the good fight” and looked forward to being welcomed by God (2 Timothy 4:7–8). Life is a relentless struggle with a fierce, unyielding foe devoted to our destruction. He will resist every effort we make to be like Jesus and to love others. There’ll be a few good wins, and some heart-breaking losses—God knows—but there will no eternal condemnation for those in Jesus (Romans 8:1). If we stand before Him in the merits of God’s Son, each one will “receive his praise" from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Dec
16
2021
Our bus finally arrived at our much-anticipated destination—an archaeological dig in Israel where we would actually do some excavation work of our own. The site’s director explained that anything we might unearth had been untouched for thousands of years. Digging up broken shards of pottery, we felt as though we were touching history. After an extended time, we were led to a workstation where those broken pieces—from huge vases shattered long, long ago—were being put back together.     The picture was crystal clear. Those artisans reconstructing centuries-old broken pottery were a beautiful representation of the God who loves to fix broken things. In Psalm 31:12, David wrote, “I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.” Though no occasion is given for the writing of this psalm, David’s life difficulties often found voice in his laments—just like this one. The song describes him as being broken down by danger, enemies, and despair. So, where did he turn for help? In verse 16, David declares, “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” The God who was the object of David’s trust is the same God who still fixes broken things today. All He asks is that we call out to Him and trust in His unfailing love.
Dec
15
2021
When I walked into the ice cream shop with my five-year-old biracial son, the man behind the counter glanced at me and stared at my child. “What are you?” His question and harsh tone triggered the all-too-familiar anger and heartache I’d experienced, growing up as a Mexican-American who didn’t fit stereotypes. Pulling Xavier closer, I turned toward my black husband as he entered the store. With eyes narrowed, the store clerk completed our order in silence. I prayed silently for the man as my son listed the flavors of ice cream he wanted to try. Repenting of my bitterness, I asked God to give me a spirit of forgiveness. With my light-but-not-white complexion, I’d been the target of similar glares accompanying that same question over the years. I’d struggled with insecurities and feelings of worthlessness until I began learning how to embrace my identity as God’s beloved daughter. The apostle Paul declares believers in Jesus are “all children of God through faith,” equally valued and beautifully diverse. We’re intimately connected and intentionally designed to work together (Galatians 3:26–29). When God sent His Son to redeem us, we became family through His blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins (4:4–7). As God’s image-bearers, our worth cannot be determined by the opinions, expectations, or biases of others. What are we? We are children of God.
Dec
14
2021
Jia Haixia lost his sight in the year 2000. His friend Jia Wenqi lost his arms as a child. But they’ve found a way around their disabilities. “I am his hands and he is my eyes,” Jia Haixia says. Together, they’re transforming their village in China. Since 2002 the friends have been on a mission to regenerate a wasteland near their home. Each day Jia Haixia climbs on Jia Wenqi’s back to cross a river to the site. Jia Wenqi then “hands” Jia Haixia a shovel with his foot, before Jia Haixia places a pail on a pole between Jia Wenqi’s cheek and shoulder. And as one digs and the other waters, the two plant trees—over 10,000 so far. “Working together, we don’t feel disabled at all,” Jia Haixia says. “We’re a team.” The apostle Paul likens the church to a body, each part needing the other to function. If the church was all eyes, there’d be no hearing; if all ears, there’d be no sense of smell (1 Corinthians 12:14–17). “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” Paul says (v. 21). Each of us plays a role in the church based on our spiritual gifts (vv. 7–11, 18). Like Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi, when we combine our strengths, we can bring change to the world. Two men combining their abilities to regenerate a wasteland. What a picture of the church in action!
Dec
13
2021
When I stopped to browse through a box of books marked “C.S. Lewis” at a used bookshop, the store owner appeared. As we chatted about the available titles, I wondered if he might be interested in the faith that inspired much of Lewis’s writing. I prayed silently for guidance. Information from a biography came to mind, and we began to discuss how C. S. Lewis’s character pointed to God. In the end, I was thankful that a quick prayer had reoriented our conversation to spiritual matters.    Nehemiah paused to pray before a pivotal moment in a conversation with King Artaxerxes in Persia. The king had asked how he could help Nehemiah who was distraught over Jerusalem’s destruction. Nehemiah was the king’s servant and therefore in no position to ask for favors, but he needed one—a big one. He wanted to restore Jerusalem. So, he “prayed to the God of heaven” before asking to leave his job so he could reestablish the city (Nehemiah 2:4–5). The king consented and even agreed to help Nehemiah make travel arrangements and procure timber for the project. The Bible encourages us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). This includes moments when we need courage, self-control, or sensitivity. Praying before we speak helps us give God control of our attitude and our words. How might He want to direct your words today? Ask Him and find out!
Dec
12
2021
Stuck in a stressful job with long hours and an unreasonable boss, James wished he could quit. But he had a mortgage, a wife, and a young child to take care of. He was tempted to resign anyway, but his wife reminded him: “Let’s hang on and see what God will give us.” Many months later, their prayers were answered. James found a new job that he enjoyed and gave him more time with the family. “Those months were long,” he told me, “but I’m glad I waited for God’s plan to unfold in His time.” Waiting for God’s help in the midst of trouble is hard; it can be tempting to try to find our own solution first. The Israelites did just that: under threat from their enemies, they sought help from Egypt instead of turning to God (Isaiah 30:2). But God told them: if only they would repent and put their trust in Him, they would find strength and salvation (v. 15). In fact, He added, He “longs” to be gracious to them (v. 18). Waiting for God takes faith and patience. But when we see His answer at the end of it all, we’ll realize that it was worth it: “Blessed are all who wait for him!” (v. 18). And what’s even more amazing, God is waiting for us to come to Him!
Dec
11
2021
Beethoven was angry. He’d intended to name his Third Symphony “The Bonaparte.” In an age of religious and political tyranny, he saw Napoleon as a hero of the people and champion of freedom. But when the French general declared himself emperor, the celebrated composer changed his mind. Denouncing his former hero as a rascal and tyrant, he rubbed so hard to erase Bonaparte’s name that he left a hole in the original score. Early believers in Jesus must have been disappointed when their hopes of political reform were dashed. He had stirred such hopes of life without the tyranny of Caesar’s heavy-handed taxes and military presence. Yet, decades later, Rome still ruled the world. Jesus’ messengers were left with fears and weakness. His disciples were marked by immaturity and infighting (1:11–12; 3:1–3.) But there was a difference. Paul saw beyond what remained unchanged. His letters began, ended, and overflowed with the name of Christ. Christ resurrected. Christ with a promise to return in power. Christ in judgment of everything and everyone. First and foremost, however, Paul wanted believers in Jesus to be grounded in the meaning and implications of Him crucified (2:2; 13:1–13). The love expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice made Him a different kind of leader. As Lord and Savior of the world, His cross changes everything. The Name of Jesus will forever be known and praised above every name.
Dec
10
2021
Elvis Summers answered the door to find Smokey, a frail woman who stopped by regularly to ask for empty cans to return for cash. This money was her primary source of income. Elvis got an idea. “Could you show me where you sleep?” he asked. Smokey led him to a narrow patch of dirt about two feet wide next to a house. Moved, Summers built her a “tiny house”—a simple shelter that provided space for her to sleep safely. Summers ran with the idea. He started a GoFundme page and teamed with local churches to provide land to build more shelters for other homeless people. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are reminded to care for those in need. When God spoke through Moses to prepare the Israelites to enter the promised land, He encouraged them to “be openhearted and freely lend [to the poor] whatever they need” (Deuteronomy 15:8). The passage also noted that “there will always be poor people in the land” (v. 11). We don’t have to go far to see this is true. As God compassionately called the Israelites “to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites” (v. 11), we too can find ways to help those in need. Everyone needs food, shelter, and water. Even if we don’t have much, may God guide use to use what we do have to help others. Whether it’s sharing a sandwich or a warm winter coat, small things can make a big difference!
Dec
9
2021
In 2010, at the age of ninety-four, George Vujnovich was awarded the bronze star for organizing what the New York Times called “one of the greatest rescue efforts of World War II.” Vujnovich, son of Serbian immigrants, had joined the US army, and when word arrived that downed American airmen were being protected by rebels in Yugoslavia, Vujnovich returned to his family’s homeland, parachuting into the forest to locate the pilots. Dividing the soldiers into small groups, he taught them how to blend in with the Serbs (wearing Serbian clothes and eating Serbian food). Then, over months, he walked each small group out one at a time to C-47 transport planes waiting at a landing strip they’d cut out of the woods. Vujnovich rescued 512 elated, joyful men. David described the elation of being rescued by God from enemies who’d hemmed him in with no escape. God “reached down from on high and took hold of me,” David said, “he drew me out of deep waters” (2 Samuel 22:17). King Saul, enraged with jealousy, hounded David, ruthlessly seeking blood. But God had other plans. “He rescued me from my powerful enemy,” David recounted, “from my foes, who were too strong for me” (v. 18). God rescued David from Saul. He rescued Israel from Egypt. And in Jesus, God came to rescue all of us. Jesus rescues us from sin, evil, and death. He’s greater than every powerful enemy.
Dec
8
2021
We came together for our Sunday morning church service with joy and anticipation. Although we were spatially distanced because of the coronavirus pandemic, we welcomed the opportunity to celebrate Gavin and Tijana’s wedding. Our technologically gifted Iranian friends broadcast the service to friends and family spread out geographically—including in Spain, Poland, and Serbia. This creative approach helped us overcome the constraints as we rejoiced in the covenant of marriage. God’s Spirit united us and gave us joy. That Sunday morning with our wonderfully multinational congregation was a small taste of the glory to come when people from “every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before God in heaven (Revelation 7:9). The beloved disciple John glimpsed this “great multitude” in a vision he recounts in the book of Revelation. There those gathered will worship God together along with the angels and elders, all giving praise: “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever” (v. 12). The union and marriage of Jesus and His international bride in the “wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9) will be an amazing time of worship and celebration. Our experience on that Sunday with people from many nations points to this event that one day we’ll enjoy. While we wait in hope for that joyful event, we can embrace the practice of feasting and rejoicing among God’s people.
Dec
7
2021
Dewberry Baptist Church split in the 1800s over a chicken leg. Various versions of the story exist, but the account told by a current member was that two men fought over the last drumstick at a church potluck. One man said God wanted him to have it. The other replied God didn’t care, and he really wanted it. The men became so furious that one moved a couple kilometers down the road and started Dewberry Baptist Church #2. Thankfully the churches have settled their differences, and everyone concedes the reason for their split was ridiculous. Jesus agrees. The night before His death Jesus prayed that His followers would “be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” May they “be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me” (John 17:21–23). Paul agrees. He urges us to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3–4), and these cannot be divided. We who weep for Christ’s body broken for our sin must not tear apart His body with our anger, gossip, and cliques. Better to let ourselves be wronged than be guilty of the scandal of church division. Give the other guy the chicken leg—and some pie too!
Dec
6
2021
On a hot and humid day one August, my wife gave birth to our second son. But he remained nameless as we struggled to settle on a given name. After spending many hours in ice cream shops and taking long car rides, we still couldn’t decide. He was simply “Baby Williams” for three days before finally being named Micah. Choosing the right name can be a little frustrating. Well, unless you’re God, who came up with the perfect name for the One who would change things forever. Through the prophet Isaiah, God directed King Ahaz to ask Him “for a sign” to strengthen his faith (Isaiah 7:10–11). Though the king refused to ask for a sign, God gave him one anyway: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (v. 14). God named the child, and he would be a sign of hope to people going through despair. The name stuck and Matthew breathed new meaning into it when he wrote the narrative of Jesus’ birth (1:23). Jesus, too, would be “Immanuel.” He wouldn’t just be a representative of God, but He would be God in the flesh, coming to rescue His people from the despair of sin. God gave us a sign. The sign is a Son. The Son’s name is Immanuel—God with us. It’s a name that reflects His presence and love. Today, He invites us to embrace Immanuel and know that He’s with us.
Dec
5
2021
Nicholas, who was born in the third century, had no idea that centuries after his death he would be known as Santa Claus. He was just a man who loved God and genuinely cared for people. One time he learned of a family who was in great financial distress. Nicholas decided to help. He came to their home at night and threw a bag of gold through an open window, which landed in a sock or shoe. Nicholas gave cheerfully of his own possessions and did many kind deeds. The apostle Paul urged the believers in Corinth to be cheerful givers. He wrote to them about the great financial needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and encouraged them to give generously. Paul explained to them the benefits and blessings that come to those who give of their possessions. He reminded them that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6).  As a result of their cheerful generosity, they would be “enriched in every way” (v. 11), and God would be glorified. Father, would you help us to be cheerful givers not only in this Christmas season but all year long? Thank You for Your incredible generosity in giving us Your “indescribable gift,” Your Son Jesus (v. 15).
Dec
4
2021
Decorative blue and white ceramic tiles commonly found in Dutch households were originally made in the city of Delft. They often depict familiar scenes of the Netherlands: beautiful landscapes, ubiquitous windmills, and people working and playing. In the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens wrote in his book A Christmas Carol how these tiles were used to illustrate the Scriptures. He described an old fireplace built by a Dutchman paved with these quaint Delft tiles: “There were Cains and Abels, Pharaohs’ daughters; Queens of Sheba, . . . [and] Apostles putting off to sea.” Many households used these tiles as a teaching tool as the family gathered around the warmth of a fire and shared the stories of Bible. They learned about God’s character—His justice, compassion, and mercy. The truths of the Bible continue to be relevant today. Psalm 78 encourages us to teach the “hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us” (vv. 2–3 nlt). It goes on to instruct us to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” and “they in turn [can] tell their children” (vv. 4, 6). With God’s help, we can find creative and effective ways to illustrate the truths of Scripture to each generation as we strive to give God the full honor and praise He deserves.
Dec
3
2021
“Never trust anyone over thirty,” said young environmentalist Jack Weinberg in 1964. His comment stereotyped an entire generation—something Weinberg later regretted. Looking back he said, “Something I said off the top of my head . . . became completely distorted and misunderstood.” Have you heard disparaging comments aimed at millennials? Or vice versa? Ill thoughts directed from one generation toward another can cut both ways. Surely there’s a better way. Although he was an excellent king, Hezekiah showed a lack of concern for another generation. When as a young man Hezekiah was struck with a terminal illness (2 Kings 20:1), he cried out to God for his life (vv. 2–3). God gave him fifteen more years (v. 6). But when Hezekiah received the terrible news that his children would one day be taken captive, the royal tears were conspicuously absent (vv. 16–18). He thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” (v. 19). It may have been that Hezekiah didn’t apply the passion he had for his own wellbeing to the next generation. God calls us to a love that dares to cross the lines dividing us. The older generation needs the fresh idealism and creativity of the younger, who in turn can benefit from the wisdom and experience of their predecessors. This is no time for snarky memes and slogans but for thoughtful exchange of ideas. We’re in this together.
Dec
2
2021
As my friend reviewed the pictures I took of her, she pointed out the physical characteristics she saw as imperfections. I asked her to look closer. “I see a beautiful and beloved daughter of the Almighty King of Kings,” I said. “I see a compassionate lover of God and others, whose genuine kindness, generosity, and faithfulness have made a difference in so many lives.” When I noticed the tears brimming her eyes, I said, “I think you need a tiara!” Later that afternoon, we picked out the perfect crown for my friend so she would never forget her true identity. When we come to know the Lord personally, He crowns us with love and calls us His children (1 John 2:29-3:1). He gives us the power to persevere in faith so that “we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). Though He accepts us as we are, His love purifies us and transforms us into His likeness (vv. 2-3). He helps us recognize our need for Him and repent as we rejoice in the power to turn away from sin (vv. 4-9). We can live in faithful obedience and love (v. 10), with His truth hidden in our hearts and His Spirit present in our lives. My friend didn’t really need a tiara or any other trinket that day. But we both needed the reminder of our worth as God’s beloved children.
Dec
1
2021
At the 2019 graduation ceremony at a local high school, 608 students prepared to receive their diplomas. The principal began by asking students to stand when he read the name of the country where they were born: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bosnia. . . . The principal kept going until he’d named sixty countries and every student was standing and cheering together. Sixty countries, one high school. The beauty of unity amid diversity was a powerful image that celebrated something near to God’s heart, people living together in unity. We read an encouragement for unity among God’s people in Psalm 133, a psalm of ascent—a song sung as people entered Jerusalem for annual celebrations. The psalm reminded the people of the benefits of living harmoniously (v. 1) despite differences that could cause division. In vivid imagery, unity is described as refreshing dew (v. 3) and oil—used to anoint priests (Exodus 29:7)—“running down” the head, beard and clothing of a priest (v. 2). Together, these images point to the reality that in unity God’s blessings flow so lavishly they can’t be contained. For believers in Jesus, despite differences such as ethnicity, nationality or age, there is a deeper unity in the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). When we stand together and celebrate that common bond as Christ leads us, we can embrace our God-given differences and celebrate the source of true unity.
Nov
30
2021
I grew up the firstborn son of a Southern Baptist preacher. Every Sunday the expectation was clear: I was to be in church. Possible exceptions? Maybe if I had a significant fever. But the truth is, I absolutely loved going, and even went a few times feverish. But the world has changed, and the numbers for regular church attendance are not what they used to be. Of course, the quick question is why? The answers are many and varied. Author Kathleen Norris counters those answers with a response she received from a pastor to the question “Why do we go to church?” He said, “We go to church for other people. Because someone may need you there.” Now by no means is that the only we reason we go to church, but his response does resonate with the heartbeat of the writer to the Hebrews. He urged the believers to persevere in the faith, and to achieve that goal he stressed “not giving up meeting together.” Why? Because something vital would be missed in our absence – “encouraging one another” (v. 25). We need that mutual encouragement to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v. 24). Brothers and sisters, keep meeting together, because someone may need you there. And the corresponding truth is that you may need them as well.
Nov
29
2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Singaporeans stayed home to avoid being infected. But I blissfully continued swimming, believing it was safe. My wife, however, feared that I might pick up an infection at the public pool and pass it on to her aged mother—who, like other seniors, were more vulnerable to the virus. “Can you just avoid swimming for some time, for my sake?” she asked. At first, I wanted to argue that there was little risk. Then I realized that this mattered less than her feelings. Why would I insist on swimming—hardly an essential thing—when it made her worry unnecessarily? In Romans 14, Paul addressed issues like whether believers in Christ should eat certain foods or celebrate certain festivals. He was concerned that some people were imposing their views on others. Paul reminded the church in Rome, and us, that believers in Jesus may view situations differently. We also have diverse backgrounds that color our attitudes and practices. He wrote, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (v. 13). God’s grace gives us great freedom even as it helps us express His love to fellow believers. We can use that freedom to put the spiritual needs of others above our own convictions about rules and practices that don’t contradict the essential truths found in the gospel (v. 20).
Nov
28
2021
Raised in a tribe in the Philippines opposed to belief in Christ, Esther received salvation through Jesus after an aunt prayed for her during Esther’s battle with a life-threatening illness. Today, Esther leads Bible studies in her local community in spite of threats of violence and even death. She serves joyfully, saying “I can’t stop telling people about Jesus because I ‘ve experienced the power, love, goodness, and faithfulness of God in my life.” Serving God in the face of opposition is a reality for many today just as it was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young Israelites living in captivity in Babylon. In the book of Daniel, we learn that they refused to pray to a large golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar even when threatened with death. The men testified that God was capable of protecting them but they chose to serve Him “even if” He didn’t rescue them (Daniel 3:18). When they were thrown into the fire, God actually joined them in their suffering (v. 25). To everyone’s amazement, they survived without even “a hair of their heads singed” (v. 27). If we face suffering or persecution for an act of faith, ancient and modern examples remind us that God’s Spirit is present with us to strengthen and sustain us when we choose to obey Him, “even if” things turn out differently than we hope.
Nov
27
2021
During the Golden Age of radio, Fred Allen (1894–1956) used comedic pessimism to bring smiles to a generation living in the shadows of economic depression and a world at war. His sense of humor was born out of personal pain. Having lost his mother before he was three, he was later estranged from his father who struggled with addictions. He once rescued a young boy from the traffic of a busy New York City street with a memorable, “What’s the matter with you, kid? Don’t you want to grow up and have troubles?” The life of Job unfolds in such troubled realism. When his early expressions of faith eventually gave way to despair, his friends multiplied his pain by adding insult to injury. With good sounding arguments they insisted that if he could admit his wrongs (4:7–8) and learn from the God’s correction, he would find strength to laugh in the face of his problems (5:22). Job’s “comforters” meant well while being so wrong (1:6–12). Never could they have imagined that they would one day be invoked as examples of “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Never could they have imagined the relief of Job praying for them, or why they would need prayer at all (42:10–11). Never could they have imagined how they foreshadowed the accusers of the One who suffered so much misunderstanding to become the source of our greatest joys.                                     
Nov
26
2021
After Prem Pradham’s (1924–1998) plane was shot down during World War II, he was wounded in the leg by ground fire while parachuting to safety. As a result, he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He once noted, “I have a lame leg. Isn’t it strange of God that He called [me] to preach the gospel in the Himalaya Mountains?” And preach in Nepal he did—but not without opposition that included imprisonment in “dungeons of death” where prisoners faced extreme conditions. In a span of fifteen years, Prem spent ten years in fourteen different prisons. His bold witness, however, bore the fruit of changed lives for Christ that included guards and prisoners who took the message of Jesus to their own people. Peter faced opposition due to his faith in Jesus and for being used by God to heal a “man who was lame” (Acts 4:9). But he used the opportunity to boldly speak for Christ (vv. 8–13). Though some today will also face the ire of hardhearted religious leaders (vv. 10–11), we also encounter individuals and groups who are spiritually destitute. Family members, co-workers, fellow students, and others we share life and space with need to hear about the One in whom “salvation is found” (v. 12), who died as payment for our sins and was raised from the dead as proof of His power to forgive (v. 10). May they hear as we prayerfully and boldly proclaim this good news of salvation found in Jesus (v. 12).
Nov
25
2021
Diet Eman was an ordinary, shy young woman in the Netherlands—in love, working, and enjoying time with family and friends—when the Germans invaded in 1940. As Diet (pronounced Deet) later wrote, “When there is danger on your doorstep, you want to act almost like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.” Yet Diet felt God calling her to resist the German oppressors, which included risking her life to find hiding places for Jews and other pursued people. This unassuming young woman became a warrior for God.   We find many stories in the Bible similar to Diet’s, stories of God using seemingly unlikely characters to serve Him. For instance, when the angel of the Lord approached Gideon, he proclaimed, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Yet Gideon seemed anything but mighty. He’d been secretly threshing wheat away from the prying eyes of the Midianites, who oppressively controlled Israel at the time (vv. 1–6). He was from the weakest clan of Israel (Manasseh) and the “least” in his family (v. 15). He didn’t feel up to God’s calling and even requested several signs. Yet God used him to defeat the cruel Midianites (see ch. 7). God saw Gideon as “mighty.” And just as God was with and equipping Gideon, so God is with us, His “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1)—supplying all we need to live for and serve Him in little and big ways.
Nov
24
2021
Seneca, the great philosopher of ancient Rome (4 bc–ad 65), was once accused by the empress Messalina of adultery. After the Senate sentenced Seneca to death, the emperor Claudius instead exiled him to Corsica, perhaps because he suspected the charge was false. This reprieve may have shaped Seneca’s view of thankfulness when he wrote: “. . . homicides, tyrants, thieves, adulterers, robbers, sacrilegious men, and traitors there always will be, but worse than all these is the crime of ingratitude.”
Nov
23
2021
God's will is sometimes hard. He asks us to do the right things. He calls us to endure hardship without complaining; to love awkward people; to heed the voice inside us that says, You mustn't; to take steps we'd rather not take. So we must tell our souls all day long: "Hey soul, listen up. Be silent: Do what Jesus is asking you to do."  "My soul waits in silence for God only” (Psalm 62:1 nasb). "My soul, wait in silence for God only" (62:5 nasb). The verses are similar, but different. David says something about his soul; then says something to his soul. “Waits in silence” addresses a decision, a settled state of mind. "Wait in silence” is David stirring his soul to remember that decision. David determines to live in silence—quiet submission to God's will. This is our calling as well, the thing for which we were created. We will be at peace when we've agreed: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). This is our first and highest calling when we make Him Lord and the source of our deepest pleasure. “I desire to do your will,” the psalmist said (Psalm 40:8). We must always ask for God's help, of course, for our “hope comes from Him" (62:5). When we ask for His help He delivers it. God never asks us to do anything He will not or cannot do.
Nov
22
2021
As Emma shared how God helped her embrace her identity as His beloved child, she weaved Scripture into our conversation. I could barely figure out where the high school student stopped speaking her words and began quoting the words of God. When I commended her for being like a walking Bible, her brow furrowed. She hadn’t been intentionally reciting Scripture verses. Through daily reading of the Bible, the wisdom found in it had become a part of Emma’s everyday vocabulary. She rejoiced in God’s constant presence and enjoyed every opportunity He provided to share His truth with others. But Emma isn’t the first young person God has used to inspire others to prayerfully read, memorize, and apply Scripture. When the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to step into leadership, he demonstrated confidence in this young man (1 Timothy 4:11–16). Paul acknowledged that Timothy was rooted in Scripture from infancy (2 Timothy 3:15). Like Paul, Timothy faced doubters. Still, both men lived as if they believed all Scripture was “God-breathed.” They recognized Scripture was “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). When we hide God’s wisdom in our hearts, His truth and love can pour into our conversations naturally. We can be like walking Bibles sharing God’s eternal hope wherever we go.
Nov
21
2021
She finally had the chance to visit the church. Inside, in the deepest part of the basement, she reached the small cave or grotto. Candles filled the narrow space and hanging lamps illuminated a corner of the floor. There it was—a fourteen-pointed silver, covering a raised bit of the marble floor. Bethlehem’s Grotto of the Nativity—the place marking the spot where, according to tradition, Christ was born. Yet the writer Annie Dillard found herself less than impressed, realizing God was much bigger than that spot.    Still, such places have always held great significance in our faith stories. Another such place is mentioned in the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well—Mount Gerizim. It was sacred to the Samaritans, who contrasted it to the Jewish insistence that Jerusalem was where true worship occurred (John 4:20). However, Jesus declared the time had arrived when worship was no longer specific to a place, but a Person: “the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (v. 23). The woman declared her faith in the Messiah, but she didn’t realize she was talking to Him, “Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am he’ ” (v. 26). God isn’t limited to any mountain or physical space. He’s present with us everywhere. The true pilgrimage we make each day is to approach His throne as we boldly say, “Our Father,” and He is there.
Nov
20
2021
In 2019, Cap Dashwood and his sweet black lab companion, Chaela (“la” Dashwood’s abbreviation for “Labrador angel”), accomplished something remarkable: reaching a mountain summit each day for 365 consecutive days. Dashwood has a moving story to tell. He left home at sixteen, explaining simply, “Bad family life.” But these past wounds led him to find healing elsewhere. He explains, “Sometimes when you’re disappointed by people, you turn to something else. You know?” For Dashwood, mountain climbing and the unconditional love of his black lab companion has been a big part of that “something else.” For those of us, like myself, who deeply love our animal companions, a big piece of why we do is the sweet, utterly unconditional love they pour out—a kind of love that’s rare. But I like to think the love they effortlessly give points to a much greater and deeper reality than the failures of others—God’s unshakeable, boundless love upholding the universe. In Psalm 143, as in many of his prayers, it is only David’s faith in that unshakable, “unfailing love” (v. 12) that tethers him to hope in a time when he feels utterly alone. But a lifetime of walking with God gives him just enough strength to trust that the morning will “bring me word of your unfailing love” (v. 8). Just enough hope to trust again and to let God lead the way to paths unknown (v. 8).
Nov
19
2021
Psychologist Madeline Levine noticed the fifteen-year-old girl’s “cutter disguise”—a long sleeve T-shirt pulled halfway over her hand commonly used by people who engage in self-harm. When the young girl pulled back her sleeve, Levine was startled to find that the girl had used a razor to carve “empty” on her forearm. She was saddened, but also grateful the teen was open to receiving the serious help she desperately needed. The teen in some way represents many people who have carved “empty”—perhaps not on their forearms, but on their hearts. John wrote that Jesus came to fill the empty and to offer life “to the full” (John 10:10). God placed the desire for a full life in every human being, and He longs for people to experience a loving relationship with Him. But He also warned them that the “thief” would use people, things, and circumstances to attempt to ravage their lives (vv. 1, 10). The claims each made to give life would be counterfeit and an imitation. In contrast, Jesus offers what’s true—“eternal life” and the promise that “no one will snatch [us] out of [His} hand” (v. 28). Only Jesus can fill the empty spaces in our hearts with life. If you’re feeling empty, call out to Him today. And if you’re experiencing serious struggles, seek out godly counsel. Christ alone provides life that’s abundant and full—life full of meaning found in Him.
Nov
18
2021
In 2006, my dad was diagnosed with a neurological disease that robbed him of his memory, speech, and control over body movements. He became bedridden in 2011 and continues to be cared for by my mom at home. The beginning of his illness was a dark time. I was fearful: I knew nothing about caring for a sick person, and I was anxious about finances and my mom’s health.  The words of Lamentations 3:22 helped me get up many mornings when the light was as gray as the state of my heart: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.” The Hebrew word for “consumed” means “to be used up completely” or “to come to an end.” God’s great love enables us to go on, to get up to face the day. Our trials may feel overwhelming, but we won’t be destroyed by them because God’s love is far greater! There are many times I can recount when God has shown His faithful, loving ways to my family. I saw His provision in the kindness of relatives and friends, the wise counsel of doctors, financial provision, and the reminder in our hearts that—one day—my dad will be whole again in heaven. If you’re going through a dark time, don’t lose hope. You will not be consumed by what you face. Keep trusting in God’s faithful love and provision for you.
Nov
17
2021
Collin and his wife, Jordan, wandered through the craft store, looking for a picture to hang in their home. Collin thought he’d found just the right piece and called Jordan over to see it. On the right side of the ceramic artwork was the word grace. But the left side held two long cracks. “Well, it’s broken!” Jordan said as she started looking for an unbroken one on the shelf. But then Collin said, “No. That’s the point. We’re broken and then grace comes in—period.” They decided to purchase the one with the cracks. When they got to the checkout, the clerk exclaimed, “Oh, no, it’s broken!” “Yes, so are we,” Jordan whispered. What does it mean to be a “broken” person? Someone defined it this way: A growing awareness that no matter how hard we try, our ability to make life work gets worse instead of better. It’s a recognition of our need for God and His intervention in our lives. The apostle Paul talked about our brokenness in terms of being “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The answer to our need to be forgiven and changed comes in verses 4 and 5: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, makes us alive . . . it is by grace [we] have been saved.” God is willing to heal our brokenness with His grace when we admit, “I’m broken.”
Nov
16
2021
As a child, Tenny felt insecure. He sought approval from his father, but he never received it. It seemed that whatever he did, whether in school or at home, it was never good enough. Even when he entered adulthood, the insecurity remained. He continually wondered, Am I good enough? Only when Tenny received Jesus as his Savior did he find the security and approval he’d long yearned for. He learned that God—having created him—loved and cherished him as His son. Tenny finally could live with the confidence that he was truly valued and appreciated. In Isaiah 43:1–4, God told His chosen people that, having formed them, He would use His power and love to redeem them. “You are precious and honored in my sight,” He proclaimed. He would act on their behalf because He loved them (v. 4). The value God places on those He loves doesn’t come from anything we do, but from the simple and powerful truth that He has chosen us to be His own. These words in Isaiah 43 not only gave Tenny great security, but also empowered him with the confidence to do his best for God in whatever task he was called to do. Today he is a pastor who does all he can to encourage others with this life-giving truth: we are accepted and approved in Jesus. May we confidently live out this truth today.
Nov
15
2021
First, the man selected a tackle box. Standing in his town’s small bait shop, he then filled a shopping cart with hooks, lures, bobbers, line, and weights. Finally, he added live bait and selected a new rod and reel. “Ever fished before?” the shop owner asked. The man said no. “Better add this,” said the owner. It was a first-aid kit. The man agreed and paid, then headed off to a day of not catching a thing—except snags on his fingers from his hooks and gear. That wasn’t Simon Peter’s problem. An experienced fisherman, he was surprised one dawn when Jesus told him to push his boat into deep water and “let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Despite a long night of catching nothing, Simon and his crew let down their nets and “caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” In fact, his two boats started to sink from the haul (v. 6). Seeing this, Simon Peter “fell at Jesus’ knees,” urging Him to “go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v. 8). Jesus, however, knew Simon’s true identity. He told His disciple, “From now on you will fish for people.” Hearing that, Simon “left everything and followed” Christ (vv. 10–11). When we follow Him, He helps us learn who we are and what we’re called to do as His own.
Nov
14
2021
As they made their way toward their car, Zander escaped his mother’s arms and made a mad dash back toward the church doors. He didn’t want to leave! His mom ran after him and tried to lovingly wrangle her son so they could depart. When his mother finally scooped four-year-old Zander back into her embrace, he sobbed and reached longingly over her shoulder and toward the church as they walked away. Zander may merely have enjoyed playing with friends at church, but his enthusiasm is a picture of David’s desire to worship God. Though he might have asked God to thwart his enemies for his own comfort and security, David wanted peace to prevail so that he could instead “gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). His heart’s desire was to be with God—wherever He was—and to enjoy His presence. Israel’s greatest king and military hero intended to use peacetime to “sing and make music to the Lord” (v. 6). We can freely worship God anywhere, for He now dwells within us through faith in the person of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 3:16). May we yearn to spend our days in His presence and to gather corporately to worship Him with other believers. In God—not the walls of a building—we find our safety and our greatest joy.
Nov
13
2021
In 2020, the Ecuadorian volcano Sangay erupted. The BBC described the “dark ash plume which reached a height of more than 12,000m.” The discharge covered four provinces (about 198,000 acres) in gray ash and grimy soot. The sky turned dingy and grim, and the air was thick—making it difficult to breathe. Farmer Feliciano Inga described the unnerving scene to El Comercio newspaper: “We didn’t know where all this dust was coming from. . . . We saw the sky go dark and grew afraid.” The Israelites experienced a similar fear at the base of Mount Sinai, as they “stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire . . . with black clouds and deep darkness” (Deuteronomy 4:11). God’s voice thundered, and the people trembled. It was terrifying. It’s an awesome, knee-buckling experience to encounter the living God. ”Then the Lord spoke,” and they “heard the sound of words but saw no form” (v. 12). The voice that rattled their bones provided life and hope. God gave Israel the Ten Commandments and renewed His covenant with them. The voice from the dark cloud caused them to quake, but also wooed and loved them with tenacity (Exodus 34:6–7). God is powerful, beyond our reach, even startling. And yet He’s also full of love, always reaching out to us. A God both powerful and loving—this is who we desperately need.
Nov
12
2021
When Pris’ father, a pastor, answered God’s call to pioneer a mission on a small island in Indonesia, her family found themselves living in a rundown shack once used to house animals. Pris remembers the family celebrating Christmas sitting on the floor and singing praises while rainwater dripped through the thatched roof. But her father reminded her: “Pris, just because we are poor doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us.” Some may see a life blessed by God as one that’s filled with riches, health, and longevity. So in times of hardship, some may wonder if they’re still loved by Him. But in Romans 8:31–39, Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from Jesus’ love—including trouble, hardship, persecution, and famine (v. 35). This is the foundation for a truly blessed life: God showed His love for us by sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins (v. 32). Christ rose from death and is now sitting “at the right hand” of the Father, interceding for us (v. 34). In times of suffering, we can hold fast to the comforting truth that our life is rooted in what Christ has done for us. Nothing, “neither death nor life . . . nor anything else in all creation” (vv. 38–39), can separate us from His love. Whatever our circumstance, whatever our hardship, may we be reminded that God is with us and that nothing can separate us from Him.”
Nov
11
2021
What began as a simple spring nature walk turned into something special as my wife and I trekked along our hometown’s Grand River. We noticed some familiar “friends” on a log in the rippling water—five or six large turtles basking in the sun. Sue and I smiled at the amazing sight of these reptiles, which we hadn’t seen for many months. We were delighted that they were back, and we celebrated a moment of joy in God’s magnificent creation. God took Job on quite a nature walk (see Job 38). The troubled man needed an answer from his Creator about his situation (v. 1). And what he saw on his journey with God through His creation provided the encouragement he needed. Imagine Job’s amazement as God reminded him of His grand design of the world. Job got a firsthand explanation of the natural world: “Who laid its cornerstone while morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (vv. 6–7). He got a geography lesson regarding God’s imposed limitations of the seas (v. 11). The Creator continued to inform Job about the light He created, snow He produces, and rain He provides to make things grow (vv. 22–28). Job even heard about the constellations from the one who flung them into space (vv. 31–32). Finally, Job responds: “I know that you can do all things” (42:2). As we experience the natural world, may we stand in awe of our wise and wonderful Creator.
Nov
10
2021
In 1941, as Hitler’s reign was expanding across Europe, novelist John Steinbeck was asked to help with the war effort. He wasn’t asked to fight or visit troops on the frontline, but to instead write a story. The result was The Moon Is Down, a novel about a peaceful land that gets invaded by an evil regime. Printed on underground presses and secretly distributed throughout occupied countries, the novel sent a message: the Allies were coming, and by imitating the novel’s characters readers could help secure their freedom. Through The Moon Is Down, Steinbeck brought good news to people under Nazi rule—their liberation was near. Like the characters in Steinbeck’s story, Jews in the first century were an occupied people under brutal Roman rule. But centuries before, God had promised to send an Ally to liberate them and bring peace to the world (Isaiah 11). Joy erupted when that Ally arrived! “We tell you the good news,” Paul said, “What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us . . . by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32–33). Through Jesus’s resurrection and offer of forgiveness, the world’s restoration had begun (vv. 38–39; Romans 8:21). Since then, this story has spread throughout the globe, bringing peace and freedom wherever it’s embraced. Jesus has been raised from dead. Our liberation from sin and evil has begun. In Him we’re free!
Nov
9
2021
“So great to see you!” “You, too!” “So glad you’re here!” The greetings were warm and welcoming. Members of a ministry in Southern California gathered online before their evening program. As their speaker, calling in from Colorado, I watched silently as the others gathered on the video call—not knowing anyone and, as an introvert, feeling like a social outsider. Then suddenly, a screen opened and there was my pastor. Then another screen opened. A longtime church friend was joining the call, too. Seeing them, I no longer felt alone. God, it seemed, had sent support. Elijah wasn’t alone either, despite feeling like “the only [prophet] left” after fleeing the wrath of Jezebel and Ahab (1 Kings 19:10). Journeying through desert wilderness for forty days and forty nights, Elijah hid in a cave on Mount Horeb. But God called him back into service, telling him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet” (vv. 15–16). God then assured him, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him” (v. 18). As Elijah learned, while serving God we don’t serve alone. As God brings help, we’ll serve together.
Nov
8
2021
When Christian Mustad showed his Van Gogh landscape to art collector Auguste Pellerin, Pellerin took one look and said it wasn’t authentic. Mustad hid the painting in his attic, where it remained for fifty years. Mustad died, and the painting was evaluated off and on over the next four decades. Each time it was determined to be a fake. Until 2012, when an expert used a computer to count the thread separations in the painting’s canvas. He discovered it had been cut from the same canvas as another work of Van Gogh. Mustad had owned a real Van Gogh all along. Do you feel like a fake? Do you fear that if people examined you they’d see how little you pray, give, and serve? Are you tempted to hide in the attic, away from prying eyes? Look deeper, beneath the colors and contours of your life. If you have turned from your own ways and put your faith in Jesus, then you and He belong to the same canvas. To use Jesus’ picture, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (v. 5). Jesus and you form a seamless whole. Resting in Jesus makes you a true disciple of Him. It’s also the only way to improve your picture. He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).  
Nov
7
2021
The heat and humidity of the Midwestern summer closed in on us all week at the discipleship conference, but on the last day we welcomed a front of cooler air. Giving thanks for the break in weather and the amazing work God had done, hundreds joined voices to worship God. Many felt liberated to sing wholeheartedly before God, offering our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds to Him. As I think back to that day decades later, I’m reminded of the pure wonder and joy of praising God. King David knew how to wholeheartedly worship God. He rejoiced when the ark of the covenant, which signified God’s presence, was placed in Jerusalem—by dancing, leaping, and celebrating (1 Chronicles 15:29). Even though his wife Michal observed his abandon and “despised him in her heart” (v. 29), David didn’t let her criticism stop him from worshiping the one true God. Even if he appeared undignified, he wanted to give thanks to the Lord for choosing him to lead the nation (see 2 Samuel 6:21–22). David  “appointed Asaph and his associates to give praise to the Lord in this manner: Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts” (1 Chronicles 16:7–9). May we too give ourselves fully to worshiping God by pouring out our praise and adoration.
Nov
6
2021
“Son, I don’t have much to give you. But I do have a good name, so don’t mess it up.” Those wise, weighty words were uttered by Johnnie Bettis as his son Jerome left home for college. Jerome quoted his father in his Professional American Football Hall of Fame acceptance speech. These sage words that Jerome has carried with him throughout his life have been so influential that he closed his riveting speech with similar words to his own son. “Son, there’s not much that I can give you that’s more important than our good name.” A good name is vital for believers in Jesus. Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12–17 remind us about who it is that we represent (v. 17). Character is like clothing that we wear, and this passage puts the “Jesus label” of clothing on display: “As God’s chosen people . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another. . . . And over all these virtues put on love” (vv. 12–14). These are not just our “Sunday clothes”—we’re to wear them everywhere, all the time as God works in us to reflect Him. When our lives are characterized by these qualities, we demonstrate that we “have His name.” May we prayerfully and carefully represent Him as He provides what we need.
Nov
5
2021
When Hugh and DeeDee released their only child to heaven, they struggled with what to call themselves in the aftermath. There is no specific word in the English language to describe a parent who has lost a child. A wife without her husband is a widow. A husband without his wife is a widower. A child bereft of parents is an orphan. A parent whose child has died before they have is an undefined hollow of hurt. Miscarriage. Sudden infant death. Suicide. Illness. Accident. Death steals a child from this world and then robs the surviving parents of an expressed identity. Yet God Himself knows such devastating grief as His only Son, Jesus, called to Him while dying on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). God was Father before Jesus’ earthly birth and remained Father when Jesus released His final breath. God continued as Father when the still body of His Son was laid in a tomb. God lives on today as Father of a risen Son who brings every parent the hope that a child can live again. What do you call a heavenly Father who sacrifices His Son for the universe? For you and for me? Father. Still, Father. When there are no words in the glossary of grief to describe the pain of loss, God is our Father and calls us His children (1 John 3:1).
Nov
4
2021
In 2010, James Ward, the creator of the blog “I like Boring Things,” launched a conference called the “Boring Conference.” It’s a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, and the overlooked. In the past, speakers have addressed seemingly meaningless topics like sneezing, sounds that vending machines make, and inkjet printers of 1999. Ward knows the topics may be boring, but the speakers can take a mundane subject and make it interesting, meaningful, and even joyful. Several millennia ago, Solomon, the wisest of kings, launched his own search for joy in the meaningless and mundane. He pursued work, bought flocks, built wealth, acquired singers, and constructed buildings (Ecclesiastes 2:4–9). Some of these pursuits were honorable and some were not. Ultimately, in his pursuit of meaning, the king found nothing but boredom (v. 11). Solomon maintained a worldview that didn’t press beyond the limits of human experience to include God. Ultimately, however, he realized that he would find joy in the mundane, only when he remembered and worshiped God (12:1–7). When we find ourselves in the whirlwind of tedium, let’s launch our own daily, mini-conference, as we “remember [our] Creator” (v. 1)—the God who fills the mundane with meaning. As we remember and worship Him, we’ll find wonder in the ordinary, gratitude in the mundane, and joy in the seemingly meaningless things of life.
Nov
3
2021
When small businesses in Tennessee were abruptly shuttered by government officials, shop owners worried about how to care for their employees, how to pay their rent, and how to simply survive the crisis. In response to their concerns, the pastor of a church near Nashville started an initiative to supply cash to struggling business owners. “We don’t feel like we can sit on a rainy-day fund when somebody else is going through a rainy day,” the pastor explained, as he encouraged other churches in the area to join the effort. A rainy-day fund is money that’s put aside in case normal income is decreased for a time while regular operations need to continue. While it’s natural for us to look out for ourselves first, Scripture encourages us to always look beyond our own needs, to find ways to serve others, and to practice generosity. Proverbs 11 reminds us, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more,” “a generous person will prosper,” and “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (vv. 24–25). Is the sun shining extra bright in your life today? Look around to see if there’s torrential rain in someone else’s world. The blessings God has graciously given you are multiplied when you freely share them with others. Being generous and open-handed is a wonderful way to give hope to others and to remind hurting people that God loves them.
Nov
2
2021
When my daughter Hayley came to visit me, I saw her three-year-old son, Callum, wearing a strange piece of clothing. Called a ScratchMeNot, it’s a long-sleeved top with mittens attached to the sleeves. My grandson Callum suffers from chronic eczema, a skin disease that makes his skin itch, making it rough and sore. “The ScratchMeNot prevents Callum from scratching and injuring his skin,” Hayley explained. Seven months later, Hayley’s skin flared up, and she couldn’t stop scratching. “I now understand what Callum endures,” Hayley confessed to me. “Maybe I should wear a ScratchMeNot!” Hayley’s situation reminded me of 2 Corinthians 1:3–5, in which Paul says that our God is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” Sometimes God allows us to go through trying times such as an illness, loss, or crisis. He teaches us through our suffering to appreciate the greatest suffering that Christ went through on our behalf on the cross. In turn, when we rely on Him for comfort and strength, we’re able to comfort and encourage others in their suffering. Let’s reflect on whom we can extend comfort because of what God has brought us through.
Nov
1
2021
A decade ago they didn’t know the name of Jesus. Hidden in the mountains of Mindanao in the Philippines, the Banwaon people had little contact with the outside world. A trip for supplies could take two days, requiring an arduous hike over rugged terrain. The world took no notice of them. Then a mission group reached out, shuttling people in and out of the region via helicopter. This gained the Banwaon access to needed supplies, crucial medical help, and an awareness of the larger world. It also introduced them to Jesus. Now, instead of singing to the spirits, they chant their traditional tribal songs with new words that praise the one true God. Mission aviation established the critical link. When Jesus returned to His heavenly Father, He gave His disciples these instructions: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). That command still stands. Unreached people groups aren’t limited to exotic locales we haven’t heard of. Often they live right with us. Reaching the Banwaon people took creativity and resourcefulness, and it inspires us to find creative ways to overcome the barriers in our communities. That might include an “inaccessible” group you haven’t even considered—someone right in your neighborhood. How might God use you as a critical link?
Oct
31
2021
After an astounding thirty rounds of radiation treatments, Darla was finally pronounced cancer-free. As part of hospital tradition, she was eager to ring the “cancer-free bell” that marked the end of her treatment and celebrated her clean bill of health. Darla was so enthusiastic and vigorous in her celebratory ringing that the rope actually detached from the bell! Peals of joyous laughter ensued! Darla’s story brings a smile to my face and gives me a sense of what the psalmist might have envisioned when he invited the Israelites to celebrate God’s work in their lives. The writer encouraged them to “clap their hands,” “shout to God,” and “sing praises” because God had routed their enemies and chosen them as His beloved people (Psalm 47:1, 6).   God doesn’t always grant us victory over our struggles in this life, whether health-related or financial or relational. He’s worthy of our worship and praise in even those circumstances because we can trust that He’s still “seated on his holy throne” (v. 8). When He does bring us to a place of healing—at least in a way we recognize in this earthly life—it’s cause for great celebration. We may not have a physical bell to ring, but we can joyfully celebrate His goodness to us with the same kind of exuberance Darla showed.
Oct
30
2021
Leisa wanted a way to redeem the season. So many of the autumn decorations she saw seemed to celebrate death, sometimes in gruesome and macabre ways.   Determined to counter the darkness in some small way, Leisa began to write things she was grateful for with a permanent marker on a large pumpkin. “Sunshine” was the first item. Soon visitors were adding to her list. Some entries were whimsical: “doodling,” for instance. Others were practical: “a warm house”; “a working car.” Still others were poignant, like the name of a departed loved one. A chain of gratitude began to wind its way around the pumpkin. Psalm 104 offers a litany of praise to God for things we easily overlook. “[God] makes springs pour water into the ravines,” sang the poet (v. 10). “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate” (v. 14). Even the night is seen as good and fitting. “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl” (v. 20). But then, “The sun rises. . . . People go out to their work, to their labor until evening” (vv. 22–23). For all these things, the psalmist concluded, “I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (v. 33). In a world that doesn’t know how to deal with death, even the smallest offering of praise to our Creator can become a shining contrast of hope.
Oct
29
2021
Teenage gang leader Casey and his followers broke into homes and cars, robbed convenience stores, and fought other gangs. Eventually, Casey was arrested and sentenced. In prison, he became a “shot caller,” someone who handed out homemade knives during riots. Sometime later, he was placed in solitary confinement. While daydreaming in his cell, Casey experienced a “movie” of sorts replaying key events of his life—and of Jesus, being led to and nailed to the cross and telling him, “I’m doing this for you.” Casey fell to the floor weeping and confessed his sins. Later, he shared his experience with a chaplain, who explained more about Jesus and gave him a Bible. “That was the start of my journey of faith,” Casey said. Eventually, he was released into the mainline prison population, where he was mistreated for his faith. But he felt at peace, because “[he] had found a new calling: telling other inmates about Jesus.” In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul talks about the power of Christ to change lives: God calls us from lives of wrongdoing to follow and serve Jesus (2 Timothy 1:9). When we receive Him by faith, we desire to be a living witness of Christ’s love. The Holy Spirit enables us to do so, even when suffering, in our quest to share the good news (v. 8). Like Casey, let’s live out our new calling. 
Oct
28
2021
Seventeen months after our first child—a boy—was born, along came a little girl. I was overjoyed at the thought of having a daughter, but I was also a bit uneasy because while I knew a few things about little boys, this was uncharted territory. We named her Sarah, and one of my privileges was rocking her to sleep so my wife could rest. I’m not sure why, but I started trying to sing her to sleep, and the song of choice was “You Are My Sunshine.” Whether holding her in my arms or standing above her in her crib, I quite literally sang over her, and loved every minute of it. She’s in her 20s now, and I still call her Sunshine.      We usually think about angels singing. But when was the last time you thought about God singing? That’s right—God singing. And furthermore, when was the last time you thought about Him singing over you? Zephaniah is clear in his message to Jerusalem, “The Lord your God” takes great delight in you, so much so that He “rejoice[s] over [you] with singing” (3:17). Although this message speaks directly to Jerusalem, it’s likely God sings over us—those who have received Jesus as Savior—too! What song does He sing? Well, Scripture’s not clear on that. But the song is born out of His love, so we can trust it’s true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8).  
Oct
27
2021
When I served on my church’s congregational care team, one of my duties was to pray over the requests penciled on pew cards during the services. For an aunt’s health. For a couple’s finances. For a grandson’s discovery of God. Rarely did I hear the results of these prayers. Most were anonymous and I had no way of knowing how God had responded. I confess that at times I wondered, was He really listening? Was anything happening as a result of my prayers? Over our lifetimes, most of us question, “Does God hear me?” I remember my own Hannah-like pleas for a child that went unanswered for years. And there were my pleas that my father find faith, yet he died without any apparent confession. Etched across the millennia are myriad instances of God’s ear bending to listen: to Israel’s groans under slavery (Exodus 2:24); to Moses on Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 9:19); to Joshua at Gilgal (Joshua 10:14); to Hannah’s prayers for a child (1 Samuel 1:10–17;) to David crying out for deliverance from Saul (2 Samuel 22:7). First John 5:14 crescendos, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” The word for “hears” means to pay attention and to respond on the basis of having heard. As we go to God today, may we have the confidence of His listening ear spanning the history of His people. He hears our pleas.
Oct
26
2021
“So what you’re saying is, it may not be my fault.” The woman’s words took me by surprise. Having been a guest speaker at her church, we were now discussing what I’d shared that morning. “I have a chronic illness,” she explained, “and I have prayed, fasted, confessed my sins, and done everything else I was told to do to be healed. But I’m still sick, so I thought I was to blame.” I felt sad at the woman’s confession. Having been given a spiritual “formula” to fix her problem, she had blamed herself when the formula hadn’t worked. Even worse, this formulaic approach to suffering was disproved generations ago. Simply put, this old formula says that if you’re suffering, you must have sinned. When Job tragically lost his livestock, children, and health, his friends used the formula on him. “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?” Eliphaz said, suspecting Job’s guilt (Job 4:7). Bildad even told Job that his children only died because they had sinned (8:4). Ignorant of the real cause of Job’s calamities (1:6–2:10), they tormented him with simplistic reasons for his pain, later receiving God’s rebuke (42:7). Suffering is a part of living in a fallen world. Like Job, it can happen for reasons we may never know. But God has a purpose for you that goes beyond the pain you endure. Don’t get discouraged by falling for simplistic formulas.
Oct
25
2021
The three-wheeled taxis of Sri Lanka, known as “tuk tuks,” are a convenient and delightful mode of transport for many. Lorraine, a resident of the capital of Colombo, also realized that they’re a mission field: hopping onto a tuk tuk one day, she found the friendly driver more than happy to engage in conversation about religion. The next time, she told herself, she would talk to the driver about the good news. The book of Romans starts with Paul declaring himself as “set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). The Greek word for “gospel” is evangelion, which means “good news.” Paul was essentially saying that his main purpose was to tell God’s good news. What is this good news? Romans 1:3 says that the gospel of God is “regarding his Son.” The good news is Jesus! It’s God who wants to tell the world that Jesus came to save us from sin and death, and He’s chosen us to be His mode of communication. What a humbling fact! Sharing the good news is a privilege all believers in Jesus have been given. We’ve “received grace” to call others to this faith (vv. 5–6). God has set us apart to carry the exciting news of the gospel to those around us, whether on tuk tuks or wherever we are. May we, like Lorraine, look for opportunities in our daily life to tell others the good news that is Jesus. Asiri Fernando
Oct
24
2021
The first time I took my sons to hike a Colorado Fourteener—a mountain with an elevation of a least 14,000 feet—they were nervous. Could they make it? Were they up to the challenge? My youngest stopped on the trail for extended breaks. “Dad, I can’t go any more,” he said repeatedly. But I believed this test would be good for them, and I wanted them to trust me. A mile from the peak, my son who’d insisted he could go no further caught his second wind and beat us to the summit. He was so glad he trusted me, even amid his fears. I marvel at the trust Isaac had in his father as they climbed their mountain. Far more, I’m undone by the trust Abraham had in God, raising his knife over his son (Genesis 22:10). Even with his confused and wrenching heart, Abraham obeyed. Mercifully, an angel stopped him. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” God’s messenger declared (22:12). God never intended for Isaac to die. As we draw parallels from this unique story to our own with caution, it’s crucial to note the opening line: “God tested Abraham” (v. 1). Through his test, Abraham learned how much he trusted God. He discovered His loving heart and profound provision. In our confusion, darkness, and testing, we learn truths about ourselves and about God. And we may even find that our testing leads to a deeper trust in Him.
Oct
23
2021
“Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel was the law we lived by,” says Frederick Buechner in his powerful memoir Telling Secrets, “and woe to the one who broke it.” Buechner is describing his experience of what he calls the “unwritten law of families who for one reason or another have gone out of whack.” In his own family, that “law” meant Buechner was not allowed to talk about or grieve his father’s suicide, leaving him with no one he could trust with his pain. Can you relate? Many of us in one way or another have learned to live with a warped version of love, one that demands dishonesty or silence about what’s harmed us. That kind of “love” relies on fear for control—and is a kind of slavery. We can’t afford to forget just how different Jesus’ invitation to love is from the kind of conditional love we often experience—a kind of love we’re always afraid we could lose. As Paul explains, through Christ’s love, we can finally understand what it means to not live in fear (Romans 8:5) and start to understand the kind of glorious freedom (v. 21) that’s possible when we know we’re deeply, truly, and unconditionally loved. We’re free to talk, to trust, and to feel once more—to learn what it means to live unafraid.
Oct
22
2021
The coronavirus pandemic canceled schools around the world. In China, teachers responded with DingTalk, a digital app that enabled class to be held online. Then their students figured out that if DingTalk’s rating fell too low, it might be removed from the App Store. Overnight thousands of one-star reviews dropped DingTalk’s score. Jesus wouldn’t be impressed with the students shirking their responsibilities, but He might admire their ingenuity. He told an unusual story about a fired manager who on his final day slashed the bills of his master’s debtors. Jesus didn’t praise the manager’s dishonesty. Rather He commended his cleverness and wished His followers would be equally shrewd. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). When it comes to money, most people look at how much they might lose. Wise people look for what they can use. Jesus said giving to others “gain(s) friends,” which provides safety and influence. Who is the leader in any group? The one who pays. Giving also gains “eternal dwellings,” for our willingness to part with our cash shows our trust is in Jesus. Maybe we don’t have money. We do have time, skills, or a listening ear. Let’s cleverly plot ways to serve others for Jesus. What we lose is less than what we’ll win.
Oct
21
2021
After ten-year-old Chelsea received an elaborate art set, she discovered that God used art to help her feel better when she was sad. When she found out that some kids didn’t have art supplies readily available, she wanted to help them. So when it was time for her birthday party, she asked her friends not to bring her gifts. Instead, she invited them to donate art supplies and help fill boxes for children in need. Later, with her family’s help, she started Chelsea’s Charity. She began asking more people to help her fill boxes so she could help more kids. She has even taught art tips to groups who have received her boxes. After a local newscaster interviewed Chelsea, people started donating supplies from all over the country. As Chelsea’s Charity continues sending art supplies internationally, this young girl is demonstrating how God can use us when we’re willing to live to serve others. Chelsea’s compassion and willingness to share reflects the heart of a faithful steward. The apostle Peter encourages all believers in Jesus to be faithful stewards as they “love each other deeply” by sharing the resources and talents God has given them (1 Peter 4:8–11). Our small acts of love can inspire others to join us in giving. God can even rally supporters to serve alongside us. As we rely on God, we can live to serve and give Him the glory He deserves.
Oct
20
2021
J. I. Packer (1926–2020), in his classic work Knowing God, spoke of four well-known believers in Christ whom he called “beavers for the Bible.” Not all were trained scholars, but each one exercised great care to know God by gnawing into the Scripture, like a beaver digs in and gnaws away at a tree. Packer further noted that knowing God through Bible study is not just for scholars. “A simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Savior than a more learned scholar who is content with being theologically correct.” Unfortunately, not all who study the Bible do so with humble hearts with the goal of getting to know the Savior better and becoming more like Him. In Jesus’ day there were those who read the Old Testament Scriptures, yet they missed the very One they spoke of. “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40). Do you sometimes find yourself stumped as you read the Bible? Or have you given up studying the Scriptures altogether? Bible “beavers” are more than Bible readers. They prayerfully and carefully gnaw away at Scripture in ways that open their eyes and hearts to see and love Jesus—the One revealed in it. 
Oct
19
2021
When I was a teenager, my mom painted a mural on our living room wall, which stayed there for several years. It showed an ancient Greek scene of a ruined temple with white columns lying on their sides, a crumbling fountain, and a broken statue. As I looked at the Hellenistic architecture that had once held great beauty, I tried to imagine what had destroyed it. I was curious, especially when I began studying about the tragedy of once great and thriving civilizations that had decayed and crumbled from within. The sinful depravity and wanton destruction we see around us today can be troubling. It’s natural for us to try to explain it by pointing to people and nations that have rejected God. But shouldn’t we be casting our gaze inwardly as well? Scripture warns us about being hypocrites when we call out others to turn from their sinful ways without also taking a deeper look inside our own hearts (Matthew 7:1–5). Psalm 32 challenges us to see and confess our own sin. It’s only when we recognize and confess our personal sin that we can experience freedom from guilt and the joy of true repentance (vv. 1–5). And as we rejoice in knowing that God offers us complete forgiveness, we can share that hope with others who are also struggling with sin.
Oct
18
2021
In February 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis was just beginning, a newspaper columnist’s concerns struck me. Would we willingly self-isolate, she wondered, changing our work, travel, and shopping habits so others wouldn’t get sick? “This isn’t just a test of clinical resources,” she wrote, “but of our willingness to put ourselves out for others.” Suddenly, the need for virtue was frontpage news. It can be hard to consider others’ needs while we’re anxious about our own. Thankfully, we’re not left with willpower alone to meet the need. We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us love to replace our indifference, joy to counter sadness, peace to replace our anxiety, forbearance (patience) to push out our impulsiveness, kindness to care about others, goodness to see to their needs, faithfulness to keep our promises, gentleness instead of harshness, and self-control to lift us beyond self-centeredness (Galatians 5:22–23). While we won’t be perfect at all this, we’re called to seek the Spirit’s gifts of virtue regularly (Ephesians 5:18). Author Richard Foster once described holiness as the ability to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. And such holiness is needed every day, not just in a pandemic. Do we have the capacity to make sacrifices for the sake of others? Holy Spirit, fill us with the power to do what needs to be done.
Oct
17
2021
For thirty long years, the African American woman worked faithfully for a large global ministry. Yet when she sought to talk with co-workers about racial injustice, she was met with silence. Finally, however, in the spring of 2020—as open discussions about racism expanded around the world—her ministry friends “started having some open dialogue.” With mixed feelings and pain, she was grateful discussions began, but wondered why it took her colleagues so long to speak up. Silence can be a virtue in some situations. As King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7). Silence in the face of bigotry and injustice, however, only enables harm and hurt. Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoeller, jailed in Nazi Germany, confessed that in a poem he penned after the war. “First they came for the Communists,” he wrote, “but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.” He added, “then they came for” the Jews, the Catholics, and others, “but I didn’t speak up.” Then finally “they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up.” It takes courage—and love—to speak up against racism and injustice. Seeking God’s help, however, we recognize the time to speak is now.
Oct
16
2021
As the French soldier dug in the desert sand, reinforcing the defenses of his army’s encampment, he had no idea he would make a momentous discovery. Moving another shovel-full of sand he saw a stone. Not just any stone. The Rosetta Stone, containing laws and governance from King Ptolemy V written in three languages. That stone (now housed in the British Museum) would be one of the most important archaeological finds of the nineteenth century, helping to unlock the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian writing known as hieroglyphics. For many of us, much of Scripture is also wrapped in deep mystery. Still, the night before the cross, Jesus promised His followers that He would send the Holy Spirit. He told them, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit is, in a sense, our divine Rosetta Stone, shedding light on the truth—including truths behind the mysteries of the Bible.  While we are not promised absolute understanding of everything given to us in the Scriptures, we can have confidence that, by the Spirit, we can comprehend everything necessary for us to follow Jesus. He will guide us into those vital truths.
Oct
15
2021
Free funerals for the living. That’s the service offered by an establishment in South Korea. Since it opened in 2012, more than 25,000 people—from teenagers to retirees—have participated in mass “living funeral” services, hoping to improve their lives by considering their deaths. Officials say “the simulated death ceremonies are meant to give the participant a truthful sense of their lives, inspire gratitude, and aid in forgiveness and reconnection among family and friends.” These words echo the wisdom given by the teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes. “Death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Death reminds us of the brevity of life and that we only have a certain amount of time to live and love well. It loosens our grip on some of God’s good gifts—such as money, relationships, and pleasure—and frees us to enjoy them in the here and now as we store up “treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). As we remember that death may come knocking anytime, perhaps it’ll compel us to not postpone that visit with our parents, delay our decision to serve God in a particular way, or compromise our time with our children for our work. With God’s help, we can learn to live wisely.
Oct
14
2021
For six years, a woman tried to make herself the “perfect minister’s wife,” modeling herself after her adored mother-in-law (also a pastor’s wife). She thought that in this role she couldn’t also be a writer and painter, but in burying her creativity she became depressed and contemplated suicide. Only the help of a neighboring pastor moved her out of the darkness as he prayed with her and assigned her two hours of writing each morning. This awakened her to what she called her “sealed orders”—the calling God had given her. She wrote, “For me to be really myself—my complete self—every . . . flow of creativity that God had given me had to find its channel.” Later, she pointed to one of David’s songs that expressed how she found her calling: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). As she committed her way to God, trusting Him to lead and guide her (v. 5), He made a way for her not only to write and paint but to help others to better communicate with Him. God has a set of “sealed orders” for each of us, not only that we’ll know we’re His beloved children but understand the unique ways we can serve Him through our gifts and passions. He’ll lead us as we trust and delight in Him.
Oct
13
2021
After my mother’s sudden death, I was motivated to start blogging. I wanted to write posts that would inspire people to use their minutes on earth to create significant life moments. So I turned to a beginner’s guide to blogging. I learned what platform to use, how to choose titles, and how to craft compelling posts. And, in 2016 my first blog post was born. Paul wrote a “beginner’s guide” that explains how to obtain eternal life. In Romans 6:16–17, he contrasts the fact that we’re all born in rebellion to God (sinners) with the truth that Jesus can help us be “set free from [our] sin” (v. 18). Paul then describes the difference between being a slave to sin and a slave to God and His life-giving ways (vv. 19–20). He continues by stating that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (v. 23). Death means being separated from God forever. This is the devastating outcome we face when we reject Christ. But God has offered us a gift in Jesus—new life. It’s the kind of life that begins on earth and continues forever in heaven with Him. Paul’s beginner’s guide to eternal life leaves us with two choices—choosing sin which leads to death or choosing Jesus’ gift which leads to eternal life. May you receive His gift of life, and if you already have, may you share it with others today!
Oct
12
2021
In the early nineteenth century, Thomas Carlyle gave a manuscript to philosopher John Stuart Mill to review. Whether accidentally or intentionally, the manuscript got tossed into a fire. It was Carlyle’s only copy. Undaunted, he set to work rewriting the lost chapters. Mere flames couldn’t stop the story, which remained intact in his mind. Out of great loss, Carlyle produced his monumental work The French Revolution. In the waning days of ancient Judah’s decadent kingdom, God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 36:2). The message revealed God’s tender heart, calling on His people to repent in order to avoid imminent invasion (v. 3). Jeremiah did as he was told. The scroll soon found its way to Judah’s king Jehoiakim, who methodically shredded it and threw it into the fire (vv. 23–25). The king’s act of arson only made matters worse. God told Jeremiah to write another scroll with the same message. He said, “[Jehoiakim] will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night” (v. 30). It’s possible to burn the words of God by tossing a book into a fire. Possible, but utterly futile. The Word behind the words endures forever.
Oct
11
2021
“I don’t get it!” My daughter slapped her pencil down on the desk. She was working on a math assignment, and I’d just begun my “job” as a homeschooling mom/teacher. We were in trouble. I couldn’t recall what I’d learned thirty-five years ago about changing decimals into fractions. I couldn’t teach her something I didn’t already know, so we watched an online teacher explain the skill. As human beings, we’ll struggle at times with things we don’t know or understand. But not God; He’s the all-knowing One—the omniscient One. Isaiah wrote, “Who can . . . instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13–14). The answer? No one!         Humans have intelligence because God created us in His own image. Still, our intelligence is just an inkling of His. Our knowledge relies on what others have learned before us, but God knows everything from eternity past to eternity future (Psalm 147:5). Our knowledge is increasing today with the aid of technology, but we still get things wrong. Jesus, however, knows all things “immediately, simultaneously, exhaustively and truly,” as one theologian put it. No matter how much humans advance in knowledge, we’ll never surpass Christ’s all-knowing status. We’ll always need Him to bless our understanding and to teach us what’s good and true.
Oct
10
2021
“He’ll live,” the vet announced, “but his leg will have to be amputated.” The stray mongrel my friend had brought in had been run over by a car. “Are you the owner?” There would be a hefty surgery bill, and the puppy would need care as it recovered. “I am, now,” my friend replied. Her kindness has given that dog a future in a loving home. Mephibosheth saw himself as a “dead dog,” unworthy of favor (2 Samuel 9:8). Being crippled in both feet due to an accident, he was dependent on others to protect and provide for him (see 2 Samuel 4:4). Furthermore, after the death of his grandfather, King Saul, he probably feared that David, the new king, would order all enemies and rivals to the throne killed, as was the common practice of the time. Yet, out of love for his friend Jonathan, David ensured that Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth would always be safe and cared for as his own son (v. 7). In the same way, we who were once God’s enemies, marked for death, have been saved by Jesus and given a place with Him in heaven forever. That’s what it means to eat at the banquet in the kingdom of God that Luke describes in his gospel (Luke 14:15). Here we are—the sons and daughters of a King! What extravagant, undeserved kindness we’ve received! Let’s therefore draw near to God in gratitude and joy. Karen Kwek
Oct
9
2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Singaporeans stayed home to avoid being infected. But I blissfully continued swimming, believing it was safe. My wife, however, feared that I might pick up an infection at the public pool and pass it on to her aged mother—who, like other seniors, were more vulnerable to the virus. “Can you just avoid swimming for some time, for my sake?” she asked. At first, I wanted to argue that there was little risk. Then I realized that this mattered less than her feelings. Why would I insist on swimming—hardly an essential thing—when it made her worry unnecessarily? In Romans 14, Paul addressed issues like whether believers in Christ should eat certain foods or celebrate certain festivals. He was concerned that some people were imposing their views on others. Paul reminded the church in Rome, and us, that believers in Jesus may view situations differently. We also have diverse backgrounds that color our attitudes and practices. He wrote, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (v. 13). God’s grace gives us great freedom even as it helps us express His love to fellow believers. We can use that freedom to put the spiritual needs of others above our own convictions about rules and practices that don’t contradict the essential truths found in the gospel (v. 20).
Oct
8
2021
Growing up without a dad, Rob felt he missed out on a lot of practical wisdom that fathers often pass on to their children. Not wanting anyone to lack important life skills, Rob made a series of practical “Dad, How Do I?” videos demonstrating everything from how to put up a shelf to how to change a tire. With his kind compassion and warm style, Rob has become a YouTube sensation, amassing millions of subscribers. Many of us long for the expertise of a parental figure to teach us valuable skills, as well as help us navigate difficult situations. Moses needed some wisdom after he and the Israelites fled captivity in Egypt and were establishing themselves as a nation. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, saw the strain that settling disputes among the people was having on Moses. So, Jethro gave Moses thoughtful advice on how to delegate responsibility in leadership (Exodus 18:17-23). Moses “listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (v. 24). God knows we all need wisdom. Some may be blessed with godly parents but all of us can ask God, who gives wisdom to all who ask Him (James 1:5). He’s also provided wisdom throughout the pages of Scripture. In the book of Proverbs, for example, we’re reminded that when we humbly and sincerely listen to the wise, we “will be counted among the wise” (Proverbs 19:20) and have wisdom to share with others.
Oct
7
2021
When Anita passed away in her sleep on her ninetieth birthday, the quietness of her departure reflected the quietness of her life. A widow, she had been devoted to her children and grandchildren, and to being a friend to younger women in church. Anita wasn’t particularly remarkable in talent or achievement. But her deep faith in God inspired those who knew her. “When I don’t know what to do about a problem,” a friend of mine said, “I don’t think about the words of a famous preacher or author. I think about what Anita would say.” Many of us are like Anita—ordinary people living ordinary lives. Our names will never be in the news, and we won’t have monuments built in our honor. But a life lived with faith in Jesus is never ordinary. Some of the people listed in Hebrews 11 were not named (vv. 35–38); they walked the path of obscurity and did not receive the reward promised to them in this life (v. 39). Yet, because they obeyed God, their faith wasn’t in vain. God used their lives in ways that went beyond their lack of notoriety (v. 40). If you feel discouraged about the seeming ordinary state of your life, remember that a life lived by faith in God has an impact throughout eternity. Even if we’re ordinary, we can have an extraordinary faith.
Oct
6
2021
When you plug in your toaster, you benefit from the results of a bitter feud from the late nineteenth century. Back then, inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla battled over which was the best kind of electricity for development: direct current (DC), like the current that goes from a battery to a flashlight; or alternating current (AC), which we get from an electrical outlet. Eventually, Tesla’s AC ideas powered through and have been used to provide electricity for homes, businesses, and communities around the world. AC is much more efficient at sending electricity across great distances and proved to be the wiser choice. Sometimes we need wisdom as we face issues of concern between believers in Jesus (see Romans 14:1–12). The apostle Paul called for us to seek God’s help for clarity in such matters. He said, “If on some point you think differently, that too will God make clear to you” (Philippians 3:15). A few verses later, we see the results of two people who let a difference divide them—a conflict that grieved Paul: “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2). Whenever a disagreement starts to tear us apart, may we seek God’s grace and wisdom in the Scriptures, the counsel of mature believers, and prayer. Let’s strive to “be of the same mind” in Him (v. 2).
Oct
5
2021
When playing basketball with her girlfriends, Amber realized her community could benefit from an all-women’s league. So she started a nonprofit organization to foster teamwork and impact the next generation. The leaders of Ladies Who Hoop strive to build confidence and character in the girls and encourage them to become meaningful contributors to their local communities. One of the original players who now mentors other girls, said, “There is so much camaraderie amongst us. This is something I’d been missing. We support each other in so many different ways. I love seeing the girls succeed and grow.” God intends His people to team up to help each other as well.  The apostle Paul urged the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). God has put us into the family of His people for support in our lives. We need each other to keep walking the path of life in Christ. Sometimes we might just listen to someone who is struggling, provide for a practical need, or speak a few words of encouragement. We can celebrate successes, offer a prayer for strength in a difficulty, or challenge each other to grow in faith. And in everything, we can “always strive to do what is good for each other” (v. 15). What camaraderie we can enjoy as we team up with other believers in Jesus to keep trusting God together!
Oct
4
2021
As Hannah Wilberforce (aunt of British abolitionist William Wilberforce) lay dying, she wrote a letter in which she mentioned hearing about the death of a fellow believer in Jesus: “Happy is the dear man who is gone to glory, now in the presence of Jesus, whom unseen he loved. My heart seemed to jump for joy.” Then she described her own situation: “Myself, better and worse; Jesus, as good as ever.” Her words make me think of Psalm 23, where David writes, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley [the valley of the shadow of death], I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4). Those words leap from the page because it is there, in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death, where David’s description of God turns deeply personal. He moves from talking about God in the beginning of the psalm—“the Lord is my shepherd” (v. 1)—to talking to Him: “for you are with me” (v. 4, italics added). How reassuring it is to know that Almighty God who “brought forth the whole world” (90:2) is so compassionate that He walks with us through even the most difficult places. Whether our situation turns better or worse, we can turn to our Shepherd, Savior, and Friend and find Him “as good as ever.” So good that death itself is vanquished, and we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (23:6).
Oct
3
2021
Intense pain and a debilitating headache prevented me from attending services with my local church family . . . again. Grieving the loss of community worship, I watched an online sermon. At first, complaints soured my experience. The poor sound and video quality distracted me. As I wrestled with my frustrations, a voice on the video warbled a familiar hymn. Tears flowed as I sang: “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night. Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.” Focusing on the gift of God’s constant presence, I worshiped Him while sitting in my living room. While Scripture affirms the vital, essential nature of corporate worship (Hebrews 10:25), God’s not bound within the walls of a church building. During Jesus’ chat with the Samaritan woman at the well, He defied all expectations of the Messiah (John 4:9). Instead of condemnation, Jesus spoke truth and loved her as she stood next to that well (v. 10). He revealed His intimate and sovereign knowledge of His children (vv. 17­–18). Proclaiming His deity, Jesus declared that the Holy Spirit evoked true worship from the hearts of God’s people, not from a specific physical location (v. 23). When we focus on who God is, what He’s done, and all He’s promised, we can rejoice in His constant presence as we worship Him with other believers, in our living rooms . . . everywhere!
Oct
2
2021
It started with a tickle in my throat. Uh oh, I thought. That tickle turned out to be influenza. And that was just the beginning of bronchial affliction. Influenza morphed into whooping cough—yes, that whooping cough—and that turned into pneumonia. Eight weeks of torso-wracking coughing—it’s not called whooping cough for nothing—has left me humbled. I don’t think of myself as old. But I’m old enough to start thinking about heading that direction. A member of my church’s small group has a funny name for the health issues that assail us as we age: “the dwindles.” But there’s nothing funny about dwindling’s work “in action.”    In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul, too, wrote—in his own way—about “the dwindles.” That chapter chronicles the persecution he and his team endured. Fulfilling his mission had taken a heavy toll: “Outwardly, we are wasting away,” he admitted. But even as his body failed—from age, persecution and harsh conditions—Paul held tightly to his sustaining hope: “Inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (v. 16). These “light and momentary troubles,” he insisted, can’t compare to what awaits: “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v. 17).    Even as I write tonight, the dwindles claw insistently at my chest. But I know that in my life and that of anyone who clings to Christ, they will not have the last word.
Oct
1
2021
The teenage years are sometimes among the most agonizing seasons in life—for both parent and child. In my adolescent quest to “individuate” from my mother, I openly rejected her values and rebelled against her rules, suspicious their purposes were merely to make me miserable. Though we’ve since come to agree on those matters, that time in our relationship was riddled with tension. Mom undoubtedly lamented my refusal to heed the wisdom of her instructions, knowing they would spare me unnecessary emotional and physical pain. God had the same heart for His children, Israel. God imparted His wisdom for living in what we know as the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:7–21). Though they could be viewed as a list of rules, God’s intention is evident in His words to Moses: “so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (v. 29). Moses recognized God’s desire, saying that obedience to the decrees would result in their enjoyment of His ongoing presence with them in the Promised Land (v. 33). We all go through a season of “adolescence” with God, not trusting that His guidelines for living are truly meant for our good. May we grow into the realization that He wants what’s best for us and learn to heed the wisdom He offers. His guidance is meant to lead us into spiritual maturity as we become more like Christ (Psalm 119:97–104; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Peter 3:18).
Sep
30
2021
Someone said we go through life with three names: the name our parents gave us, the name others give us (reputation), and the name we give ourselves (character). The name others give us matters, as “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). But reputation can be wrong. Character matters more. There’s yet another name that matters most. Jesus told the Christians in Pergamum that though their reputation had suffered some well-deserved hits, He had a new name reserved in heaven for those who fight back and conquer temptation. “To the one who is victorious, I will give . . . a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (v. 17). We aren’t sure why Jesus promised a white stone. Is it an award for winning? A token for admission to the Messianic banquet? Perhaps it’s similar to what jurors once used to vote for acquittal. We simply don’t know. Whatever it is, God promises our new name will wipe away our shame (see Isaiah 62:1–5). Our reputation may be tattered and our character may be seemingly beyond repair. But neither name ultimately defines us. It’s not what others call you, nor even what you call yourself that matters. You are who Jesus says you are. Live into your new name.
Sep
29
2021
Seated at the dining room table, I gazed at the happy chaos around me. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews were enjoying the food and being together at our family reunion. I was enjoying it all, too. But one thought pierced my heart: You’re the only woman here with no children. With no family you can call her own. Many single women like myself have similar experiences. In my culture, an Asian culture where marriage and children are highly valued, not having a family of one’s own can bring a sense of incompleteness. It can feel like you’re lacking something that defines who you are and makes you whole. That’s why the truth of God being my “portion” is so comforting to me (Psalm 73:26). When the tribes of Israel were given their allotments of land, the priestly tribe of Levi was assigned none. Instead, God promised that He Himself would be their portion and inheritance (Deuteronomy 10:9). They could find complete satisfaction in Him and trust Him to supply their every need. For some of us, the sense of lack may have nothing to do with family. Perhaps, we may be yearning for a better job or higher academic achievement. Regardless of our circumstances, we can embrace God as our portion. He makes us whole. In Him, we have no lack.
Sep
28
2021
In the city of Mysore, India, there’s a school made of two refurbished train cars connected end-to-end. Local educators teamed up with the South Western Railways Company to buy and remodel the discarded coaches. The units were essentially large metal boxes, unusable until workers installed stairways, fans, lights, and desks. Workers also painted the walls and added colorful murals inside and out. Now, sixty students attend classes there because of the amazing transformation that took place. Something even more amazing takes place when we follow the apostle Paul’s command to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). As we allow the Holy Spirit to uncouple us from the world and its ways, our thoughts and attitudes begin to change. We become more loving, more hopeful, and filled with inner peace (8:6). Something else happens too. Although this transformation process is ongoing, and often has more stops and starts than a train ride, the process helps us understand what God wants for our lives. It takes us to a place where we “will learn to know God’s will” (12:2 nlt). Learning His will may or may not involve specifics, but it always involves aligning ourselves with His character and His work in the world. Nali Kali, the name of the transformed school in India, means “joyful learning” in English. How is God’s transforming power leading you to the joyful learning of His will?
Sep
27
2021
In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving tells of Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher who seeks to marry a beautiful young woman named Katrina. Key to the story is a headless horseman who haunts the colonial countryside. One night Ichabod encounters a ghostly apparition on horseback and flees the region in terror. It’s clear to the reader that this “horseman” is actually a rival suitor for Katrina, who then marries her. Ichabod is a name first seen in the Bible, and it too has a gloomy backstory. While at war with the Philistines, Israel carried the sacred ark of the covenant into battle. Bad move. Israel’s army was routed and the ark captured. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of the high priest Eli, were killed (1 Samuel 4:17). Eli too would die (v. 18). When the pregnant wife of Phinehas heard the news, “she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains” (v. 19). With her last words she named her son Ichabod (literally, “no glory”). “The glory has departed from Israel,” she gasped (v. 22).   Thankfully, God was unfolding a much larger story. His glory would ultimately be revealed in Jesus, who said of His followers, “I have given them the glory that you [the Father] gave me” (John 17:22). No one knows where the ark is today, but no matter. Ichabod has fled. Through Jesus, God has given us His very glory!
Sep
26
2021
There I am, sitting in the shopping mall food court, my body tense and my stomach knotted over looming work deadlines. As I unwrap my burger and take a bite, people rush around me, fretting over their own tasks. How limited we all are, I think to myself—limited in time, energy, and capacity. I consider writing a new to-do list and prioritize the urgent tasks, but as I pull out a pen another thought enters my mind: a thought of One who is infinite and unlimited, who effortlessly accomplishes all that He desires. This God, Isaiah says, can measure the oceans in the hollow of His hand and collect the dust of the earth in a basket (Isaiah 40:12). He names the stars of the heavens and directs their path (v. 26), knows the rulers of the world and oversees their careers (v. 23), considers islands mere specks of dust and the nations like drops in the sea (v. 15). “To whom will you compare me?” He asks (v. 25). “The Lord is the everlasting God,” Isaiah replies. “He will not grow tired or weary” (v. 28). Stress and strain are never good for us, but on this day they deliver a powerful lesson. The unlimited God is not like me. He accomplishes everything He wishes. I finish my burger, and then pause once more. And silently worship.
Sep
25
2021
The clock blinked 1:55 a.m. Burdened by a late-night text conversation, sleep wasn’t coming. I unwound the mummy-like clutch of my tangled sheets and padded quietly to the couch. I googled what to do to fall asleep but instead found what not to do: Don’t take a nap or drink caffeine or work out late in the day. Check. Reading further on my tablet, I was advised not to use “screen time” late either. Oops. Texting hadn’t been a good idea. When it comes to resting well, there are lists of what not to do. In the Old Testament, God handed down rules regarding what not to do on the Sabbath in order to embrace rest. In the New Testament, Jesus offered a new way. Rather than stressing regulations, Jesus called the disciples into relationship. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). In the preceding verse, Jesus pointed to His own ongoing relationship of oneness with His Father—the Father He’s revealed to us. The provision of ongoing help Jesus enjoyed from the Father is one we can experience as well. While we’re wise to avoid certain pastimes that can interrupt our sleep, resting well in Christ has more to do with relationship than regulation. I clicked my reader off and laid my burdened heart down on the pillow of Jesus’ invitation: “Come . . .”  
Sep
24
2021
Feeling overwhelmed, Sierra grieved her son’s fight with addiction. “I feel bad,” she said. “Does God think I have no faith because I can’t stop crying when I’m praying?” “I don’t know what God thinks,” I said. “But I know He can handle real emotions. It’s not like He doesn’t know we feel.” I prayed and shed tears with Sierra as we pleaded for her son’s deliverance. Scripture contains many examples of people wrestling with God while struggling. The writer of Psalm 42 expresses a deep longing to experience the peace of God’s constant and powerful presence. He acknowledges his tears and his depression over the grief he’s endured. His inner turmoil ebbs and flows with confident praises, as he reminds himself of God’s faithfulness. Encouraging his “soul,” the psalmist writes, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 11). He’s tugged back and forth between what he knows to be true about God and the undeniable reality of his overwhelming emotions. God designed us in His image and with emotions. Our tears for others reveal deep love and compassion, not necessarily a lack of faith. We can approach God with raw wounds or old scars, because He knows we feel. Each prayer, whether silent, sobbed, or shouted with confidence, demonstrates our trust in His promise to hear and care for us.
Sep
23
2021
Every Friday evening, the national news my family views concludes the broadcast by highlighting an uplifting story. In contrast to the rest of the news, it’s always a breath of fresh air. A recent “good” Friday story focused on a reporter who had suffered from COVID-19, fully recovered, and then decided to donate plasma to possibly help others in their fight against the virus. At the time the jury was still out on how effective antibodies would be. But when many of us felt helpless and even in light of the discomfort of donating plasma (via needle), she felt it “was a small price to pay for the potential payoff.” After that Friday broadcast, my family and I always feel encouraged—dare I say hope-filled. That’s the power of the “whatevers” Paul described in Philippians 4: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (v. 8). Did Paul have in mind plasma donation? Of course not. But did he have in mind sacrificial actions on behalf of someone in need—in other words, Christlike behavior? I’ve no doubt the answer is yes. But that hopeful news wouldn’t have had its full effect if it hadn’t been broadcast. It’s our privilege as witnesses to God’s goodness to look and listen for the “whatevers” all around us and then share that good news with others that they may be encouraged.  
Sep
22
2021
A third-generation farmer, Jim was so moved when he read “You who revere my name. . . . will go and frolic like well-fed calves” (Malachi 4:2) that he prayed to receive Jesus’ offer of eternal life. Vividly recalling his own calves’ leaps of excitement after exiting their confined stalls at high speed, Jim finally understood God’s promise of true freedom. Jim’s daughter told me this story because we‘d been discussing the imagery in Malachi 4, where the prophet made a distinction between those who revered God’s name, or remained faithful to Him, and those who only trusted in themselves (4:1–2). The prophet was encouraging the Israelites to follow God at a time when so many, including the religious leaders, disregarded God and His standards for faithful living (1:12–14; 3:5–9). Malachi called the people to live faithfully because of a coming time when God would make the final distinction between these two groups. In this context, Malachi used the unexpected imagery of a frolicking calf to describe the unspeakable joy that the faithful group will experience when “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” (4:2). Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise, bringing the good news that true freedom is available to all people (Luke 4:16–21). And one day, in God’s renewed and restored creation, we’ll experience this freedom fully. What indescribable joy it will be to frolic there!
Sep
21
2021
Alexa, Siri, and other voice assistants embedded in smart devices in our homes occasionally misunderstand what we’re saying. A six-year-old talked to her family’s new device about cookies and a dollhouse. Later her mom received an email saying that an order of seven pounds of cookies and a $170 dollhouse were on their way to her home. Even a talking parrot in London, whose owner had never bought anything online, somehow ordered a package of golden gift boxes without her knowledge. One person asked their device to “turn on the living room lights,” and it replied, “There is no pudding room.” There’s no such misunderstanding on God’s part when we talk with Him. He’s never confused, because He knows our hearts better than we do. The Spirit both searches our hearts and understands God’s will. The apostle Paul told the churches in Rome that God promises He will accomplish His good purpose of maturing us and making us more like His Son (Romans 8:28). Even when because of “our weakness” we don’t know what we need in order to grow, the Spirit prays according to God’s will for us (vv. 26–27). Troubled about how to express yourself to God? Not understanding what or how to pray? Say what you can from the heart. The Spirit will understand and accomplish God’s purpose.
Sep
20
2021
During the 2018 baseball season, a Chicago Cubs coach wanted to give a baseball to a young boy sitting by the dugout. But when the coach tossed the ball toward him, a man scooped it up instead. Video of the event went viral. News outlets and social media skewered this “brute” of a man. Except, viewers didn’t know the whole story. Earlier, the man had helped the young boy snag a foul ball; and they agreed to share any additional balls that came their way. Unfortunately, it took 24 hours before the true story emerged. The mob had already done its damage, demonizing an innocent man. Too often, we think we have all the facts when we only have fragments. In our modern gotcha culture, with snippets of dramatic video and inflamed tweets, it’s easy to condemn people without hearing the full story. However, Scripture warns us not to “spread false reports” (Exodus 23:1). We must do everything possible to confirm the truth before leveling accusations, making sure not to participate in lies. We should be cautious whenever a vigilante spirit takes hold, whenever passions ignite and waves of judgment swell. We want to safeguard ourselves from “follow[ing] the crowd in doing wrong” (v. 2).  As believers in Jesus, may God help us not to spread falsehoods. May He provide what we need to exhibit wisdom, making certain our words are actually true.
Sep
19
2021
Zach was a lonely guy. When he walked down the city streets, he could feel the hostile glares. But then his life took a turn. Clement of Alexandria, one of the church fathers, says that Zach became a very prominent Christian leader and a pastor of the church in Caesarea. Yes, we’re talking about Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:1–10). What prompted him to climb the tree? Tax collectors were perceived as traitors because they heavily taxed their own people to serve the Roman Empire. Yet Jesus had a reputation for accepting them. Zacchaeus might have wondered if Jesus would accept him too. Being short in stature, however, he couldn't see over the crowd (v. 3). Perhaps he climbed a tree to seek Him out. And Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus too. When Christ reached the tree where he was perched, He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). Jesus considered it absolutely necessary that He be a guest in this outcast’s home. Imagine that! The Savior of the world wanting to spend time with a social reject. Whether it’s our hearts, relationships, or lives that need mending, like Zacchaeus we can have hope. Jesus will never reject us when we turn to Him. He can restore what’s been lost and broken and give our lives new meaning and purpose.
Sep
18
2021
Louis Zamperini survived, somehow. His military plane crashed at sea during the war, killing eight of eleven men onboard. “Louie” and two others clambered into life rafts. They drifted for two months, fending off sharks, riding out storms, ducking bullets from an enemy plane, and catching and eating raw fish and birds. They finally drifted onto an island and were immediately captured. For two years Louie was beaten, tortured, and worked mercilessly as a prisoner of war. His remarkable story is told in the book, Unbroken. Jeremiah is one of the Bible’s unbreakable characters. He endured enemy plots (11:18), was whipped and put in stocks (20:2), flogged and bound in a dungeon (37:15–16), and lowered by ropes into the deep mire of a cistern (38:6). He survived because God had promised to stay with him and rescue him (1:8). God makes a similar promise to us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). God didn’t promise to save Jeremiah or us from trouble, but He has promised to carry us through trouble.  Louie recognized God’s protection, and after the war he gave his life to Christ. He forgave his captors, and led some to Jesus. Louie realized that while we can’t avoid all problems, we need not suffer them alone. When we face them with Jesus, we become unbreakable.
Sep
17
2021
I knew a rancher who lived near Lometa, Texas. His two grandsons were my best friends. We would go into town with him and follow him around while he shopped and chatted with the folks he knew. He knew them all by name and he knew their stories. He’d stop here and there and ask about a sick child or a difficult marriage, and he’d offer a word of encouragement or two. He would share Scripture and pray if it seemed the right thing to do. I’ll never forget the man. He was something special. He didn’t force his faith on anyone, but he always seemed to leave it behind. The elderly rancher had about him what Paul would call the sweet “aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15). God used him to “spread the aroma of the knowledge of [Christ]” (v. 14). He’s gone to be with God now, but his fragrance lingers on in Lometa. C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked with a mere mortal.” Put another way, every human contact has eternal consequences. Every day we have opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people around us through the quiet witness of a faithful and gentle life or through encouraging words to a weary soul. Never underestimate the effect of a Christ-life on others.
Sep
16
2021
The village vicar couldn’t sleep. As World War II raged, he’d told a small group of American soldiers they couldn’t bury their fallen comrade inside the fenced cemetery next to his church. Only burials for church members were allowed. So the men buried their beloved friend just outside the fence. The next morning, however, the soldiers couldn’t find the grave. “What happened? The grave is gone,” one soldier told the reverend. “Oh, it’s still there,” he told him. The soldier was confused, but the churchman explained. “I regretted telling you no. So, last night, I got up—and I moved the fence.” God may give fresh perspective for our life challenges too—if we look for it. That was the prophet Isaiah’s message to the downtrodden people of Israel. Instead of looking back with longing at their Red Sea rescue, they needed to shift their sight, seeing God doing new miracles, blazing new paths. “Do not dwell on the past,” He urged them. “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18–19). He is our source of hope during doubts and battles. “I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”—providing “drink to my people, my chosen . . . people” (vv. 20–21).  Refreshed with new vision, we too can see God’s fresh direction in our lives. May we look with new ways to see His new paths. Then, with courage, may we step onto new ground, bravely following Him.
Sep
15
2021
Darryl was a baseball legend who nearly destroyed his life with drugs. But Jesus set him free, and he’s been clean for years. Today he helps others struggling with addiction and points them to faith. Looking back, he affirms that God turned his mess into a message. Nothing is too hard for God. When Jesus came ashore near a cemetery after a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee with His disciples, a man possessed by darkness immediately approached Him. Jesus spoke to the demons inside him, drove them away, and set him free. When Jesus left, the man begged to go along. But Jesus didn’t allow it, because He had work for him to do: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). We never see the man again, but Scripture shows us something intriguing. The people of that region had fearfully pleaded with Jesus “to leave” (v. 17), but the next time He returned there, a large crowd gathered (8:1). Could the crowd have resulted from Jesus sending the man? Could it be that he, once dominated by darkness, became one of the first missionaries, effectively communicating Jesus’s power to save? We’ll never know this side of heaven, but this much is clear. When God sets us free to serve Him, He can turn even a messy past into a message of hope and love.
Sep
14
2021
Considered one of the greatest video games ever made, Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time published by Nintendo has sold more than seven million copies worldwide. It’s also popularized the ocarina, a tiny, ancient, potato-shaped musical instrument made of clay. The ocarina doesn’t look like much of a musical instrument. However, when it’s played—by blowing into its mouthpiece and covering various holes around its misshapen body—it produces a strikingly serene and hauntingly hopeful sound.  The ocarina’s maker took a lump of clay, applied pressure and heat to it, and transformed it into an amazing musical instrument. I see a picture of God and us here. Isaiah 64:6, 8–9 tells us: “All of us have become like one who is unclean. . . . Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter. . . . Do not be angry beyond measure.” The prophet was saying: God, you’re in charge. We’re all sinful. Shape us into beautiful instruments for You. That’s exactly what God does! In His mercy, He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sin, and now, He’s shaping and transforming us as we walk in step with His Spirit every day. Just as the ocarina maker’s breath flows through the instrument to produce beautiful music, God works through us—His molded instruments—to accomplish His beautiful will: to be more and more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).
Sep
13
2021
Friday was market day in the rural town in Ghana where I grew up. After all these years, I still recall one particular vendor. Her fingers and toes eroded by Hansen’s disease (leprosy), she would crouch on her mat and scoop her produce with a hollowed-out gourd. Some avoided her. My mother made it a point to buy from her regularly. I saw her only on market days. Then she would disappear outside the town. In the time of the ancient Israelites, diseases like leprosy meant living “outside the camp.” It was a forlorn existence. Israelite law said of such people, “They must live alone” (Leviticus 13:45–46). Outside the camp was also where the carcasses of the sacrificial bulls were burned (Leviticus 4:12). Outside the camp was not where you wanted to be. This harsh reality breathes life into the statement about Jesus in Hebrews 13: “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (v. 13). Jesus was crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem, a significant point when we study the Hebrew sacrificial system. We want to be popular, to be honored, to live comfortable lives. But God calls us to go “outside the camp”—where the disgrace is. That’s where we’ll find the vendor with Hansen’s disease. That’s where we’ll find people the world has rejected. That’s where we’ll find Jesus.
Sep
12
2021
In memorializing his grandfather’s work, Peter Croft wrote, “It is my deepest desire for the person who picks up their Bible, whatever version they use, to not only understand but experience the scriptures as living documents, just as relevant, dangerous, and exciting now as they were those thousands of years ago.” Peter’s grandfather was J.B. Philips, a youth minister who undertook a new paraphrase of the Bible in English during World War II in order to make it come alive to students at his church. Like Phillips’ students, we face barriers to reading and experiencing Scripture, and not necessarily because of our Bible translation. We may lack time, discipline, or the right tools for understanding. But Psalm 1 tells us that “Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord” (vv. 1–2). Meditating on Scripture daily allows us to “prosper” in all seasons, no matter what hardship we are facing. How do you view your Bible? It is still relevant with insight for living today; still dangerous in its call to believe and follow Jesus; still exciting in the intimate knowledge of God and humanity that it imparts. It’s like a stream of water (v. 3) that provides the sustenance we need daily. Today, let’s lean in—make time, get the right tools, and ask God to help us experience Scripture as a living document.
Sep
11
2021
In Oregon's Malheur National Forest, a fungus popularly known as the honey mushroom spreads through tree roots across 2,200 acres, making it the largest living organism ever found. It's been “weaving its black shoestring filaments” through the forest for more than two millennia, killing trees as it grows. Its shoestring filaments, called “rhizomorphs,” tunnel as deep as ten feet into the soil. And although the organism is incredibly large, it began with a single microscopic spore! The Bible tells us of a single act of disobedience that caused widespread condemnation, and a single act of obedience that reversed it. The apostle Paul contrasted two individuals—Adam and Jesus (Romans 5:14–15). Adam’s sin brought condemnation and death “to all people” (v. 12). Through one act of disobedience, all people were made sinners and stood condemned before God (v. 17). But He had a means of dealing with humanity’s sin problem. Through the righteous act of Jesus on the cross, God provides eternal life and a right standing before Him. Christ’s act of love and obedience was powerful enough to overcome Adam’s one act of disobedience—providing “life for all people” (Romans 5:18). Through His death on the cross, Jesus offers eternal life to anyone who puts their faith in Him. If you haven’t received His forgiveness and salvation, may you do so today. If you’re already a believer, praise Him for what He’s done by His great act of love!
Sep
10
2021
The phone rang and I picked it up without delay. Calling was the oldest member of our church family—a vibrant, hard-working woman who was nearly 100 years old. Putting the final touches on her latest book, she asked some writing questions to help her cross the finish line. As always, however, I soon was asking her questions—about life, work, love, family. Her many lessons from a long life sparkled with wisdom. She told me, “Pace yourself.” And soon we were laughing about times she’d forgotten to do that—her wonderful stories all seasoned with true joy. Wisdom leads to joy, the Bible teaches. “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding” (Proverbs 3:13 nlt). We find that this path—from wisdom to joy—is a biblical virtue, indeed. “For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy” (Proverbs 2:10 nlt). “God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him” (Ecclesiastes 2:26 nlt). Wisdom “will guide you down delightful paths,” adds Proverbs 3:17 nlt. Reflecting on life matters, author C. S. Lewis declared that “joy is the serious business of Heaven.” The path there, however, is paved with wisdom. My church friend, who lived to 107, would agree. She walked a wise, joyful pace to the King.
Sep
9
2021
I surprised my wife with concert tickets to listen to a performer she’d always wanted to see. The gifted singer was accompanied by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and the setting was the matchless venue at Red Rocks—an open-air amphitheater built between two three hundred-foot rock formations at more than 6,000 feet above sea level. The orchestra played a number of well-loved classical songs and folk tunes. Their final number was a fresh treatment of the classic hymn, “Amazing Grace.” The beautiful, harmonized arrangement took our breath away! There’s something beautiful about harmony—individual instruments playing together in a way that creates a bigger and more layered sonic landscape. The apostle Paul pointed to the beauty of harmony when he told the Philippians to be “like-minded,” have “the same love,” and be “one in spirit and . . . mind” (Philippians 2:2). He wasn’t asking them to become identical but to embrace the humble attitude and self-giving love of Jesus. The gospel, as Paul well knew and taught, doesn’t erase our distinctions, but it can eliminate our divisions. It’s also interesting that Paul’s words here are a prelude for a song he quotes (vv. 6–11). Here’s the point: When we allow the Holy Spirit to work through our distinct lives and contexts, making us more like Jesus, together we becomes a symphony that reverberates with a humble Christlike love.
Sep
8
2021
The Dan Hotel in Jerusalem became known by a different name in 2020—“Hotel Corona.” The government dedicated the hotel to patients recovering from COVID-19, and the hotel became known as a rare site of joy and unity during a difficult time. Since the residents already had the virus, they were free to sing, dance, and laugh together. And they did! In a country where tensions between different political and religious groups runs high, the shared crisis created a space where people could learn to see each other as human beings first—and even become friends. It’s natural, normal even, for us to be drawn toward those we see as similar to us, people we suspect share similar experiences and values to our own. But as the apostle Paul often emphasized, the gospel is a challenge to any barriers between human beings that we see as “normal” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Through the lens of the gospel, we see a bigger picture than our differences—a shared brokenness and a shared longing and need to experience healing in God’s love. If we believe that “one died for all,” then we can also no longer be content with surface-level assumptions about others. Instead, “Christ’s love compels us” (v. 14) to share His love and mission with those God loves more than we can imagine—all of us.
Sep
7
2021
When Swedish missionary Eric Lund felt called by God to go to Spain to do mission in the late 1890s, he immediately obeyed. He saw little success there, but persevered in his conviction of God’s calling. One day, he met a Filipino man, Braulio Manikan, and shared the gospel with him. Together, Lund and Manikan translated the Bible into a local Philippine language, and later started the first Baptist mission station in the Philippines. Many would turn to Jesus—all because Lund, like Isaiah, responded to God’s call: “Here am I. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). In Isaiah 6:8, God asked for a willing person to go to Israel to declare His judgment for the present and hope for the future. Isaiah volunteered boldly: “Here I am. Send me!” He didn’t think he was qualified, for he’d confessed earlier: “I am a man of unclean lips” (v. 5). But he responded willingly because he’d witnessed God’s holiness, recognized his own sinfulness, and received His cleansing (vv. 1–6). Is God calling you to do something for Him? Are you holding back? If so, let’s remember all that God has done for us through Jesus’ death and resurrection and understand that He’s given us the Holy Spirit to help and guide us (John 14:26; 15:26–27). He will prepare us to answer His call. Like Isaiah, may we respond, “Send me!”
Sep
6
2021
In a popular film, an actor plays a success-driven sports agent whose marriage begins to crumble. Attempting to win his wife, Dorothy, back, he looks into her eyes and says, “You complete me.” It’s a heart-warming message that echoes a tale in Greek philosophy. According to that myth, each of us is a “half” that must find our “other half” to become whole. The belief that a romantic partner “completes” us is now part of popular culture. But is it true? I talk to many married couples who still feel incomplete because they haven’t been able to have children, and others who’ve had kids but feel something else is missing. Ultimately, no human can fully complete us. The apostle Paul gives another solution. “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ” (Colossians 2:9–10 NLT). Jesus doesn’t just forgive us (vv. 11–12) and liberate us (vv. 14–15), He completes us by bringing the life of God into our lives (v. 13). Marriage is good, but it can’t make us whole. Only Jesus can do that. Instead of expecting a person, career, or anything else to complete us, let’s accept God’s invitation to let His fullness fill our lives more and more.
Sep
5
2021
I wrote a letter to our children as each became a teenager. In one I talked about our identity in Christ, remembering that when I was a teenager, I felt unsure of myself, lacking confidence. I had to learn that I was God’s beloved—His child. I said in the letter, “Knowing who you are comes down to knowing Whose you are.” For when we understand that God has created us and we commit to following Him, we can be at peace with who He has made us to be. And we also know that He changes us to be more like Him each day. A foundational passage from Scripture about our identity as God’s children is Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.” Just before Moses died, this is the blessing he proclaimed over the tribe of Benjamin as God’s people prepared to enter the land He’d promised them. God wanted them to remember always that they were His beloved, resting secure in their identity as His children. Knowing this identity is important equally for everyone—teenagers, those in the middle of life, and those who have lived a long time. When we understand that God created us and watches over us, we can find security, hope, and love.   
Sep
4
2021
While my classmates and I used to skip the occasional lecture in university, everyone always made sure to attend Professor Chris’ lecture the week before the year-end exams. That was when he would unfailingly drop big hints about the exam questions he’d set. I always wondered why he did that, until I realized that Prof Chris genuinely wanted us to do well. He had high standards, but he would help us meet them. All we had to do was turn up and listen so we could prepare properly. It struck me that God is like that too. God can’t compromise His standards, but because He deeply desires us to be like He is, He’s given us the Holy Spirit to help us meet those standards. In Jeremiah 3:11–14, God urged unfaithful Israel to acknowledge their guilt and return to Him. But knowing how stubborn and weak they were, He would help them. He promised to cure their backsliding ways (v. 22), and He sent shepherds to teach and guide them (v. 15). How comforting it is to know that no matter how big the sin we’re trapped in or how far we’ve turned from God, He’s ready to heal us of our faithlessness! All we need to do is to acknowledge our wrong ways and allow His Holy Spirit to begin changing our hearts.
Sep
3
2021
My family remembers my Grandpa Dierking as a man of strong faith and prayer. But it wasn’t always so. My aunt recalls the first time her father announced to the family, “We’re going to start giving thanks to God before we eat.” His first prayer was far from eloquent, but Grandpa continued the practice of prayer for the next fifty years, praying often throughout each day. When he died, my husband gave my grandmother a “praying hands” plant, saying, “Grandpa was a man of prayer.” His decision to follow God and talk to Him each day had changed him into a faithful servant of Christ. The Bible has a lot to say about prayer. In Matthew 6:9–13, Jesus gave a pattern for prayer to His followers, teaching them to approach God with sincere praise for who He is. As we bring our requests to God, we trust Him to provide “our daily bread” (v. 11). As we confess our sins, we ask Him for forgiveness and for help to avoid temptation (vv. 12–13). But we aren’t limited to praying the “Lord’s Prayer.” God wants us to pray “all kinds of prayers” on “all occasions” (Ephesians 6:18). Praying is vital for our spiritual growth, and it gives us the opportunity to be in continual conversation with Him every day (1 Thessalonians 5:17–18). As we approach God with humble hearts that yearn to talk with Him, may He help us know and love Him better.
Sep
2
2021
Robert was embarrassed when he showed up for a breakfast meeting and realized he’d forgotten his wallet. It bothered him to the point that he pondered whether he should eat at all or simply get something to drink. After some convincing from his friend, he relaxed his resistance. He and his friend enjoyed their entrees, and his friend gladly paid the bill. Perhaps you can identify with this dilemma or some other situation that puts you on the receiving end. Wanting to pay our own way is normal, but there are occasions when we must humbly receive what’s graciously being given. Some kind of payback may have been what the younger son had in mind in Luke 15:17-24 as he contemplated what he would say to his father. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants” (v. 19). Hired servant? His father would have no such thing! In his father’s eyes, he was a much-loved son who’d come home. As such he was met with a father’s embrace and an affectionate kiss (v. 20). What a grand gospel picture! It reminds us that by Jesus’ death He revealed a loving Father who welcomes empty-handed children with open arms. One hymnwriter expressed it like this: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
Sep
1
2021
When Colin opened the box of stained-glass pieces he’d purchased, instead of finding the fragments he’d ordered for a project, he discovered intact, whole windows. He sleuthed out the windows’ origins and learned they'd been removed from a church to protect them from World War II bombings. Colin marveled at the quality of work and how the “fragments” formed a beautiful picture. If I’m honest, there are times when I open particular passages of the Bible—such as chapters containing lists of genealogies—and I don’t immediately see how they fit within the bigger picture of Scripture. Such is the case with Genesis 11—a chapter that contains a repetitive cadence of unfamiliar names and their families, such as Shem, Shelah, Eber, Nahor, and Terah (vv. 10–32). I’m often tempted to gloss over these sections and skip to a part that contains something that feels familiar and fits more easily into my “window” of understanding of the Bible’s narrative. Since “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16), the Holy Spirit can help us better understand how a fragment fits into the whole, opening our eyes to see, for example, how Shelah is related to Abram (Genesis 11:26), the ancestor of David and—more importantly—Jesus (Matthew 1:2, 6, 17). He delights in surprising us with the treasure of a perfectly intact window where even the smaller parts reveal the story of God’s mission throughout the Bible.
Aug
31
2021
It was time to give the inside of our home a fresh, new look. But just as I’d begun prepping a room for painting, our state government announced it would be halting the sale of many home improvement items due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as I heard the announcement, I rushed to the store and nabbed the essential materials. You simply can’t remodel without the proper supplies. Paul had a bit of a remodeling project in mind when he wrote Ephesians 4. But the changes he was talking about went far beyond superficial alterations. Of course, trusting Jesus as Savior makes us a new creation, for the Holy Spirit lives within us. But there’s still some ongoing work the Spirit needs to do. And it takes some time and work for Him to accomplish “true righteousness and holiness” (v. 24). The presence of the Spirit makes needed changes on the inside that can help us reflect Jesus in our words and actions. He helps us replace lying with speaking “truthfully” (v. 25). He can guide us to avoid sin in regard to anger (v. 26). And He can direct us to speak words that are “helpful for building others up” (v. 29). These Spirit-controlled actions are part of the internal change that is manifested in things like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (v. 32). The Spirit works in us to enable us to imitate Jesus Himself and reflect the hear of our heavenly Father (4:24; 5:1).
Aug
30
2021
Shortly after Dwight Moody (1837–99) came to faith in Christ, the evangelist resolved not to let a day pass without sharing God’s good news with at least one person. On busy days, he’d sometimes forget his resolution until late. One night, he was in bed before he remembered. As he stepped outside, he thought, No one will be out in this pouring rain. Just then he saw a man walking down the street. Moody rushed over and asked to stand under his umbrella to avoid the rain. When granted permission, he asked, “Have you any shelter in the time of storm? Could I tell you about Jesus?” Moody embodied a readiness to share how God saves us from the consequences of our sins. He obeyed God’s instructions to the Israelites to proclaim His name and “make known among the nations what he has done” (Isaiah 12:4). Not only were God’s people called to “proclaim that his name is exalted” (v. 4) but they were also to share how the Lord had “become [their] salvation” (v. 2). Centuries later, our call remains to tell the wonders of Jesus becoming a man, dying on the cross, and rising again. Perhaps we heard about God’s love when, as Moody did, someone left their comfort zone to talk with us about Jesus. And we too, each in our own way, can let someone know about the One who saves.
Aug
29
2021
A stately sunflower stood on its own in the center of a lonely stretch of national highway, just a few feet from the fast lane. As I drove past I wondered how it had grown there with no other sunflowers visible for miles. Only God could create a plant so hardy it could thrive so close to the roadway in the gray gravel lining the median. There it was, thriving, swaying gently in the breeze and cheerfully greeting travelers as they hurried by. The Old Testament tells the story of a faithful king of Judah who also showed up unexpectedly. His father and grandfather had enthusiastically served other gods; but after Josiah had been in power for eight years, “while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David” (2 Chronicles 34:3). He sent workmen to “repair the temple of the Lord” (v. 8), and as they did they discovered the Book of the Law (the first five books of the Old Testament). God then inspired Josiah to lead the entire nation of Judah to return to the faith of their ancestors, and they served the Lord “as long as [Josiah] lived” (v. 33). Our God is the master of unanticipated mercies. He is able to cause great good to spring up unexpectedly out of the hard gravel of life’s most unfavorable circumstances. Watch Him closely. He may do it again today.
Aug
28
2021
Ancient Rome had its own version of “the gospel”—the good news. According to the poet Virgil, Zeus, king of the gods, had decreed for the Romans a kingdom without end or boundaries. The gods had chosen Augustus as divine son and savior of the world by ushering in a golden age of peace and prosperity. This, however, wasn’t everyone’s idea of good news. For many it was an unwelcome reality enforced by the heavy hand of the emperor’s army and executioners. The glory of the empire was built on the backs of enslaved people who served without legal personhood or property at the pleasure of masters who ruled over them. This was the world in which Paul introduced himself as a servant of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). Jesus—oh, how Paul had once hated that name. And how Jesus Himself had suffered for admitting to being the king of the Jews and Savior of the world. This was the good news Paul would explain in the rest of his letter to the Romans. This gospel was “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). Oh, how it was needed by those who suffered under Caesar! Here was the news of a crucified and resurrected Savior—the liberator who conquered His enemies by showing how much He loved them.   As you read Paul’s opening words to the Romans, what phrases describe the good news to you? (1:1–7). Why would someone (Paul) who had once hated Jesus so much now want everyone to believe in Him? (see Acts 26).
Aug
27
2021
My husband and son surfed television channels looking for a movie to watch and discovered that their favorite movies were already in progress. As they enjoyed watching the final scenes, the search became a game. They managed to find eight of their favorite flicks. Frustrated, I asked why they wouldn’t just choose a movie to watch from the beginning. My husband laughed. “Who doesn’t love a great ending?” I had to admit I too look forward to the endings of my favorite books or movies. I’ve even skimmed through my Bible and focused on my favorite parts or the stories that seem more palatable and easier to understand. But the Holy Spirit uses all of God’s reliable and life-applicable words to transform us and affirm that His story will end well for believers in Jesus. The Lord declares Himself to be “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). He proclaims that His people will inherit eternal life (v. 14) and warns those who dare add or subtract from the Word (vv. 18–19). We may not know or understand everything in Scripture, but we do know Jesus is coming again. He’ll keep His word. He’ll demolish sin, right every wrong, make all things new, and reign as our loving King forever. Now, that’s a great ending that leads to our new beginning!
Aug
26
2021
When a medical treatment began to provide relief for a family member’s severe food allergies, I became so excited that I talked about it all the time. I described the intense process and extolled the doctor who had created the program. Finally, some friends commented, “We think God should always get the credit for healing.” Their statement made me pause. Had I taken my eyes off of the Ultimate Healer and made the healing into an idol? The nation of Israel fell into a similar trap when they began to burn incense to a bronze snake which God had used to heal them. They’d been performing this act of worship until Hezekiah identified it as idolatry and “broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made” (2 Kings 18:4). Several centuries earlier, a group of venomous snakes had invaded the Israelite camp. The snakes bit the people and many died (Numbers 21:6). Although spiritual rebellion had caused the problem, the people cried out to God for help. Showing mercy, He directed Moses to sculpt a bronze snake, fasten it to a pole, and hold it up for everyone to see. When the people looked at it, they were healed (vv. 4–9).  Think of God’s gifts to you. Have any of them become objects of praise instead of evidence of His mercy and grace? Only our holy God—the source of every good gift (James 1:17)—is worthy of worship.
Aug
25
2021
When a pickpocketer tried to pilfer my property while I was on vacation in another country, it wasn’t a surprise. I’d read warnings about the danger of subway thieves, so I knew what to do to protect my wallet. But I never expected it to happen. Fortunately, the young man who grabbed my wallet had slippery fingers, so it fell to the floor where I could retrieve it. But the incident reminded me that I should have heeded the warnings. We don’t like to dwell on warnings, because we think they’ll get in the way of enjoying life, but it’s imperative to pay attention to them. For instance, Jesus gave us a clear warning while sending out His disciples to proclaim God’s coming kingdom (Matthew 10:7). He said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (vv. 32–33). Jesus is stating that we have a choice, and if we choose to reject His message of salvation, we turn away from God. Salvation and the real life He offers for both now and forever will be refused. In love, God provided a Savior and a plan for us to be in His presence for eternity.   May we trust in Jesus, the One who chose to save us from being eternally separated from the One loves and made us.
Aug
24
2021
The two women occupied the aisle seats across from each other. The flight was two hours, so I couldn’t help but see some of their interactions. It was clear they knew each other, might even be related. The younger of the two (probably in her sixties) kept reaching in her bag to hand the older (I’d guess in her nineties) fresh apple slices, then homemade finger sandwiches, then a towelette for clean up, and finally a crisp copy of the New York Times. Each hand-off was done with such tenderness, such dignity. As we stood to exit the plane, I told the younger woman, “I noticed the way you cared for her. It was beautiful.” She replied, “She’s my best friend. She’s my mother.”   Wouldn’t it be great if we could all say something like that? Some parents are like best friends. Some parents are nothing like that. The truth is those relationships are always complicated at best. While Paul’s letter to Timothy doesn’t ignore that complexity, it still calls us to put our “religion into practice” by taking care of parents and grandparents—our “relatives,” our “own household” (1 Timothy 5:4, 8). We all too often practice such care only if family members were good to us. In other words, if they deserve it. But Paul offers up a more beautiful reason to repay them. Take care of them because “this is pleasing to God” (v. 4).    
Aug
23
2021
We trekked deeper and deeper into the forest, venturing farther and farther away from the village at Yunnan Province, China. After an hour or so, we heard the deafening roar of the water. Quickening our steps, we soon reached a clearing and were greeted by a beautiful view of a curtain of white water cascading over the gray rocks. Spectacular! Our hiking companions, who lived in the village we had left an hour earlier, decided that we should have a picnic. Great idea, but where was the food? We hadn’t brought any. My friends disappeared into the surrounding forest and returned with an assortment of fruits and vegetables and even some fish. The shuixiangcai looked strange with its small purple flowers, but tasted heavenly! I was reminded that creation declares God’s extravagant provision. We can see proof of His generosity in “all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit” (Genesis 1:12 nlt) that He’s created. God has made and given us for food “every seed-bearing plant . . . and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” (v. 29). Do you sometimes find it hard to trust God to meet your needs? Why not take a walk in nature? Let what you see remind you of Jesus’ assuring words: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:31–32).
Aug
22
2021
I ducked into a room before she saw me. I was ashamed of hiding, but I didn’t want to deal with her right then—or ever. I longed to tell her off, to put her in her place. Though I was annoyed by her behavior, it’s likely I had irritated her even more! The Jews and Samaritans also shared a mutually irritating relationship.  Being a people of mixed origin and worshiping their own gods, the Samaritans—in the eyes of the Jews—had spoiled the Jewish bloodline and faith, erecting a rival religion on Mount Gerazim (John 4:20). In fact, the Jews so despised Samaritans they walked the long way around rather than take the direct route through their country. Jesus revealed a better way. He brought salvation for all people, including Samaritans. So He ventured into the heart of Samaria to bring living water to a sinful woman and her town (John 4:4-42). His last words to His disciples were to follow His example. They must share His good news with everyone, beginning in Jerusalem and dispersing through Samaria until they reached “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Samaria was more than the next geographical sequence. It was the most painful part of the mission. The disciples must overcome lifetimes of prejudice to love people they didn’t like. Does Jesus matter more than our grievances? There’s only one way to be sure. Love your “Samaritan.”
Aug
21
2021
The farmer climbed into his truck and began his morning inspection of the crops. On reaching the farthest edge of the property, his blood began to boil. Someone had used the farm’s seclusion to illegally dump their trash—again. As he filled the truck with the bags of food scraps, the farmer found an envelope. On it was printed the offender’s address. Here was an opportunity too good to ignore. That night he drove to the offender’s house and filled his garden with not just the dumped trash but his own! Revenge is sweet, some say, but is it right? In 1 Samuel 24, David and his men are hiding in a cave to escape a murderous King Saul. When Saul wanders into the same cave to relieve himself, David’s men see a too-good-to-ignore opportunity for David to get revenge (vv. 3–4). But David goes against this desire to get even. “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master,” he says (v. 6). When Saul discovers that David chose to spare his life, he’s incredulous. “You are more righteous than I,” he exclaims (vv. 17–18). As we or our loved ones face injustice, opportunities to take revenge on offenders may well come. Will we give in to these desires, as the farmer did, or go against them, like David? Will we choose righteousness over revenge?
Aug
20
2021
During Scottish missionary Alexander Duff’s first voyage to India in 1830, he was shipwrecked in a storm off the coast of South Africa. He and his fellow passengers made it to a small, desolate island; and a short time later, one of the crew found a copy of a Bible belonging to Duff washed ashore on the beach. When the book dried, Duff read Psalm 107 to his fellow survivors, and they took courage. Finally, after a rescue and yet another shipwreck, Duff arrived in India. Psalm 107 lists some of the ways God delivered the Israelites. Duff and his shipmates no doubt identified with and took comfort in the words: “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” (vv. 29–30). And, like the Israelites, they too “[gave] thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (v. 31). We see a parallel to Psalm 107:28–30 in the New Testament (Matthew 8:23–27; Mark 4:35–41). Jesus and His disciples were in a boat at sea when a violent storm began. His disciples cried out in fear, and Jesus—God in flesh—calmed the sea. We too can take courage! Our powerful God and Savior hears and responds to our cries and comforts us in the midst of our storms.
Aug
19
2021
Something that sounded like firecrackers roused Joanne from sleep. Glass shattered. Wishing she didn’t live alone, she got up to see what was going on. The dark streets were empty and the house seemed to be okay—then she saw the broken mirror. Investigators found a bullet only a half-inch from the gas line. If it had struck the line, she probably wouldn’t have made it out alive. Later they discovered it was a stray bullet from nearby apartments, but Joanne was afraid to be at home. She prayed for peace, and once the glass was cleaned up, her heart calmed. Psalm 121 is a reminder for us to look to God in times of trouble. Here, we see that we can have peace and calm because our “help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (v. 2). The God who created the universe helps and watches over us (v. 3)—even while we sleep—but He Himself never sleeps (v. 4). He watches over us day and night (v. 6) “both now and forevermore” (v.8). No matter what kind of situations we find ourselves in, God sees. And He’s waiting for us to turn to Him. When we do, our circumstances may not always change, but He’s promised His peace in the midst of it all.
Aug
18
2021
On December 6, 1907, explosions rocked a small community in the US state of West Virginia, producing one of the worst disasters in the history of the coal mining industry. Some 360 miners were killed, and it’s been estimated that this horrific tragedy left behind about 250 widows and one thousand children without fathers. Historians maintain that the memorial service became the seedbed from which the celebration of Father’s Day in the US would eventually grow. Out of great loss came remembrance and—eventually—celebration. The greatest tragedy in human history occurred when human beings crucified their Creator. Yet, that dark moment also produced both remembrance and celebration. The night before He would go to the cross, Jesus took the elements of Israel’s Passover and created His own memorial celebration. Luke’s record describes the scene this way, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19). Still today, whenever we approach the Lord’s Table, we honor His great, unflinching love for us—remembering the cost of our rescue and celebrating the gift of life His sacrifice produced. As Charles Wesley said in his great hymn, “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
Aug
17
2021
As I drove home after lunch with my best friend, I thanked God out loud for her. She knows me and loves me in spite of things I don’t love about myself. She’s one of a small circle of people who accept me as I am—my quirks, habits, and screw-ups. Still, there are parts of my story I resist sharing even with her and others that I love—times where I’ve clearly not been the hero, times I’ve been judgmental or unkind or unloving. But God does know my whole story. He’s the One I can freely talk to even if I’m reluctant to talk with others. The familiar words of Psalm 139 describe the intimacy we enjoy with our Sovereign King. He knows us completely! (v. 1). He’s “familiar with all [our] ways” (v. 3). He invites us to come to Him with our confusion, our anxious thoughts, and our struggles with temptation. When we’re willing to yield completely to Him, He reaches out to restore and rewrite the parts of our story that make us sad because we’ve wandered from Him. God knows us better than anyone else ever can and still . . . He loves us! When we daily surrender ourselves to Him and seek to know Him more fully, He can change our story for His glory. He’s the Author who’s continuing to write it.
Aug
16
2021
Billy Graham, the renowned American evangelist, once described his struggle to accept the Bible as  completely true. One night as he walked alone in the moonlight at a retreat center in the San Bernardino Mountains, he dropped to his knees and placed his Bible on a tree stump, able only to “stutter” a prayer: “Oh God! There are many things in this book I do not understand.” By confessing his confusion, Graham said the Holy Spirit finally “freed me to say it. ‘Father, I am going to accept this as thy Word—by faith!’” When he stood up, he still had questions. But “I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.” The young prophet Jeremiah fought spiritual battles too. Yet he consistently sought answers in Scripture. “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16). As he declared, “the word of the Lord . . . is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:8–9). Nineteenth-century evangelist Charles Spurgeon wrote, “[Jeremiah] lets us into a secret. His outer life, especially his faithful ministry, was due to his inward love of the word which he preached.” We too can shape our life through the words of Scripture despite our struggles. We can keep studying, as always, by faith.
Aug
15
2021
Sam’s father had to flee for his life during a military coup. With the sudden loss of income, the family could no longer afford the crucial medicine that kept Sam’s brother alive. Seething at God, Sam thought, What have we done to deserve this? A follower of Jesus heard about the family’s troubles. Finding he had enough money to cover the medicine, he bought a supply and took it to them. The life-saving gift from a stranger had a profound impact. “This Sunday, we will go to this man’s church,” his mother declared. Sam’s anger began to subside. And eventually, one by one, each member of the family would put their faith in Jesus. When James wrote about the necessity of a lifestyle of integrity accompanying a profession of faith in Christ, he singled out the need to care for others. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food,” James wrote. “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (2:16–17). Our actions demonstrate the genuineness of our faith. Significantly, those actions can influence the faith-choices of others. In Sam’s case, he became a pastor and church-planter. Eventually he would call the man who helped his family “Papa Mapes.” He now knew him as his spiritual father—the one who showed them the love of Jesus.
Aug
14
2021
Our son spent the early years of his life in a children’s home prior to our adopting him. Before leaving the cinderblock building together to go home, we asked to collect his belongings. Sadly, he had none. We exchanged the clothes he was wearing for the new items we’d brought for him and also left some clothing for the other children. Even though I was grieved by how little he had, I rejoiced that we could now help meet his physical and emotional needs. A few years later, we saw a person asking for donations for families in need. My son was eager to donate his stuffed animals and a few coins to help them. Given his background, he might have (understandably) been more inclined to hold tightly to his belongings. I’d like to think the reason for his generous response was the same as that of the early church: “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all” that nobody in their midst had need (Acts 4:33–34). The people willingly sold their own possessions to provide for one another’s needs. When we become aware of the needs of others, whether material or intangible, may God’s grace be so powerfully at work in us that we respond as they did, willingly giving from our hearts to those in need. This makes us vessels of God’s grace as fellow believers in Jesus, “one in heart and mind” (v. 32). 
Aug
13
2021
“I don’t understand His plan. I turned my whole life over to Him. And this happens!” Such was the message of a son to his mother when his dream to succeed as a professional athlete was temporarily derailed. Who among us hasn’t had some kind of unexpected, disappointing experience that sends our minds into overdrive with exclamations and questions? A family member cuts off communication without explanation; health gains are reversed; a company relocates unexpectedly; a life-altering accident happens. Job 1–2 records a series of tragedies and setbacks in Job’s life. Humanly speaking, if there was anyone who qualified for a life free from trouble, it was Job. “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). But life doesn’t always work out the way we’d like it to—it didn’t for Job and it doesn’t for us. When his wife counseled him to “curse God and die!” (2:9), Job’s words to her were wise, instructive, and fitting for us as well when things happen—big or small—that we’d rather not face. “ ‘Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (v. 10). By God’s strength, may our trust in and reverence for Him remain even when we can’t understand how He’s at work during life’s difficult days.
Aug
12
2021
During the pandemic lockdown, Jerry was forced to close his fitness center and had no income for months. One day he received a text from a friend asking to meet him at his facility at 6:00 p.m. Jerry wasn’t sure why but made his way there. Soon cars started streaming into the parking lot. The driver in the first car placed a basket on the sidewalk near the building. Then car after car (maybe fifty of them) came by. Those inside waved at Jerry or hollered out a hello, stopped at the basket, and dropped in a card or cash. Some sacrificed their money; all gave their time to encourage him. The true nature of love is sacrificial, according to the apostle Paul. He explained to the Corinthians that the Macedonians gave “even beyond their ability” so they could meet the needs of the apostle and others (2 Corinthians 8:3). They even “pleaded” with Paul for the opportunity to give to him and God’s people. The basis for their giving was the sacrificial heart of Jesus Himself. He left the riches of heaven to come to earth to be a servant and to give His very life. “Though he was rich, yet for [our] sake he became poor” (v. 9). May we too plead with God so that we might “excel in this grace of giving” (v. 7) in order to lovingly meet the needs of others. 
Aug
11
2021
“Come at once. We have struck a berg.” Those were the first words Harold Cottam, the wireless operator on the RMS Carpathia, received from the sinking RMS Titanic at 12:25 a.m. on April 15, 1912. The Carpathia would be the first ship to the disaster scene, saving 706 lives.                 In the US Senate hearings days later, the Carpathia’s captain Arthur Rostron testified, “The whole thing was absolutely providential. . . . The wireless operator was in his cabin at the time, not on official business at all, but just simply listening as he was undressing. . . . In ten minutes maybe he would have been in bed, and we would not have heard the message.”             Listening matters—especially listening to God. The writers of Psalm 85, the sons of Korah, urged attentive obedience when they wrote, “I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him” (vv. 8–9). Their admonition is especially poignant because their ancestor Korah rebelled against God, and had perished in the wilderness (Numbers 16:1–35). The night the Titanic sank, another ship was much closer, but its wireless operator had gone to bed. Had he heard the distress signal, perhaps more lives would have been saved. When we listen to God by obeying His Word, He’ll help us navigate even life’s most troubled waters.
Aug
10
2021
From a manmade bridge on the small Caribbean island of Eleuthera, visitors can admire the stark contrast between the roiling dark blue waters of the Atlantic and the calm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Over time, storms washed away the original strip of land once marked by a natural stone arch. The glass window bridge that now serves as a tourist attraction on Eleuthera is known as “the narrowest place on earth.” The Bible describes the road that leads to eternal life as narrow “and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). The gate is considered small because God the Son is the only bridge that can reconcile fallen man and God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 13–14). However, Scripture also says that every people, nation, and societal rank can enter heaven and will bow before the King of kings and worship together around His throne (Revelation 5:9). This phenomenal image of contrast and unity includes all of God’s beautifully diverse people. Though we are separated from God by our sin, every person God created is invited to enter eternity in heaven by walking this narrow path of reconciliation through a personal relationship with Christ. His sacrifice on the cross, resurrection from the tomb, and ascension to heaven is the good news, accessible to all and worth sharing today and every day.    [MOU1]Xochi would like us to keep the reference to the Holy Spirit.
Aug
9
2021
She slammed the door. She slammed the door again. I went to the garage, grabbed a hammer and a screwdriver, and walked to my daughter’s room. Calmly, I whispered, “Sweetheart. You have to learn to control your temper.” And then I removed her door from the hinges, and carried it to the garage. My hope was that removing the door would help her remember the importance of self-control. In Proverbs 3:11–12, the wise teacher invites readers to accept God’s discipline. The word discipline, could be translated, “correction.” As a good and loving Father, God speaks through His Spirit and the Scriptures to correct self-destructive behavior. God’s discipline is relational—rooted in His love and His desire for what’s best for us. Sometimes God’s discipline looks like consequences. Sometimes God prompts someone to point out our blind spots. Often, it’s uncomfortable, but God’s discipline is a gift. But we don’t always see it that way. The wise man cautions, “do not despise the Lord’s discipline.” Sometimes we fear God’s discipline. At other times we misinterpret bad things in our lives as God’s discipline. This is far from the heart of a loving Father who disciplines because He delights and corrects because He loves. Instead of fearing God’s discipline, may we learn to accept it. When we hear God’s voice of correction in our hearts, or experience conviction when reading Scripture, may we thank God that He delights in us enough to lead us to what’s best.
Aug
8
2021
There are some images so powerful they can never be forgotten. That was my experience of a famous photograph of the late Princess Diana of Wales. At first glance, the captured scene looks mundane: smiling warmly, the princess is shaking the hand of an unidentified man. But it’s the photograph’s story that makes it remarkable. On April 19, 1987, when Princess Diana visited London Middlesex Hospital, the United Kingdom was engulfed in a wave of panic as it confronted the AIDS epidemic. Not knowing how the disease—which often killed with terrifying speed—was spread, the public at times treated AIDS victims like social pariahs. So it was a stunning moment when Diana, with ungloved hands and a genuine smile, calmly shook an AIDS patient’s hand that day. That image of respect and kindness would move the world to treat victims of the disease with similar mercy and compassion. The picture reminds me of something I often forget: that freely and generously offering the love of Jesus to others is always worth it, no matter the risk. As John reminded early believers in Christ, to let love wither or hide in the face of our fear is really to live “in death” (1 John 3:14). And to love freely and unafraid, filled and empowered with the Spirit’s self-giving love, is to experience resurrection life in all its fullness (vv. 14, 16). 
Aug
7
2021
When John Lewis, an American congressman and civil rights leader, died in 2020, people from many political persuasions mourned. In 1965, Lewis marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. to secure voting rights for black citizens. During the march, Lewis suffered a cracked skull, causing scars he carried the rest of his life. “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair,” Lewis said, “you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something.” He also said: “Never, ever, be afraid to make some noise and get in good, necessary trouble.” Lewis learned early that doing what was right, to be faithful to the truth, required making “good” trouble. He would need to speak things that were unpopular. The prophet Amos knew this too. Seeing Israel’s sin and injustice, he couldn’t keep quiet. Amos denounced how the powerful were oppressing “the innocent and tak[ing] bribes and depriv[ing] the poor of justice in the courts,” while building “stone mansions” with “lush vineyards.” (Amos 5:11–12). Rather than maintaining his own safety and comfort by staying out of the fray, Amos named the evil. The prophet made good, necessary trouble. But this trouble aimed at something good—justice for all. “Let justice roll on like a river!” Amos exclaimed (v. 24). When we get into good trouble (the kind of righteous, nonviolent trouble justice requires), the goal is always goodness and healing.
Aug
6
2021
We called ourselves “sisters in Christ.” But my white friend and I had begun to act like enemies. Over a café breakfast one morning, we argued unkindly over our differing racial views. Then we parted, with me vowing not to see her again. One year later, however, we were hired by the same ministry—working in the same department, unable not to reconnect. Awkwardly at first, we talked over conflicts. Then, over time, God helped us to apologize to each other and to heal, but also give the ministry our best. God also healed the bitter division between Esau and his twin brother Jacob, also blessing both their lives. A onetime schemer, Jacob had robbed Esau of their father’s blessing. But twenty years later, God called Jacob to return to their homeland. So, Jacob sent ahead bountiful gifts to appease Esau. “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept” (Genesis 33:4).   Their reunion stands as a classic example of God’s urging to settle anger with a brother or sister before offering our gifts—talents or treasuries—to Him (Matthew 5:22). Instead, “first go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (v. 24). Jacob obeyed God, by reconciling with Esau, and later setting up an altar to the Lord (Genesis 33:20). What a beautiful order—first strive for forgiveness and reconciliation. Then at His altar, He receives us.
Aug
5
2021
Olympic runner Ryan Hall is the U.S. record holder for the half marathon. He completed the event distance of 13.1 miles (21 kilometers) in a remarkable time of fifty-nine minutes and forty-three seconds, making him the first U.S. athlete to run the race in under one hour. While Hall has celebrated record-setting victories, he has also known the disappointment of not being able to finish a race.  Having tasted both success and failure, Hall credits his faith in Jesus for sustaining him. One of his favorite Bible verses is an encouraging reminder from the book of Proverbs that “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (24:16). This proverb reminds us that the righteous, those who trust in and have a right relationship with God, will still experience difficulties and hardships. However, as they continue to seek God even in the midst of difficulty, God is faithful to give them the strength to rise again.  Have you recently experienced a devastating disappointment or failure and feel like you will never recover? Scripture encourages us not to rely on our strength but to continue to put our confidence in God and His promises. As we trust Him, God’s Spirit gives us strength for every difficulty we encounter in this life, from seemingly mundane to significant struggles (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Aug
4
2021
Cuthbert is a much-loved figure in northern England. Responsible for evangelizing much of the area in the seventh-century, Cuthbert counseled monarchs, influenced state affairs, and after his death the city of Durham was built in his honor. But Cuthbert’s legacy is great in more ways than these. After a plague ravaged the region, Cuthbert once toured affected towns offering solace. Readying to leave one village, he checked if there was anyone left to pray for. There was—a woman, clutching a child. She had already lost one son, and the child she held was nearing death too. Cuthbert took the fevered boy in his arms, prayed for him, and kissed his forehead. “Do not fear,” he told her, “for no one else of your household will die.” The boy reportedly lived. Jesus once took a small boy into his arms to give a lesson on greatness, saying, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (Mark 9:37). To “welcome” someone in Jewish culture meant to serve them, the way a host welcomes a guest. Since children were to serve, not be served by, adults, the idea must’ve been shocking. Jesus’s point? True greatness resides in serving the smallest and lowliest (9:35). A counselor to monarchs. An influencer of history. A city built in his honor. But perhaps heaven records Cuthbert’s legacy more like this: A mother noticed. A forehead kissed. A humble life reflecting his Master.
Aug
3
2021
“Uncle Arthur, do you remember the day you took me to the barbershop and the supermarket? I was wearing tan khakis, a blue-plaid oxford shirt, a navy-blue cardigan, brown socks, and brown Rockport shoes. The date was Thursday, October 20, 2016.” My nephew Jared’s autism-related challenges are offset by his phenomenal memory that can recall details like days and dates and the clothes he was wearing years after an event took place. Because of the way he’s wired, Jared possesses the kind of memory that reminds me of the all-knowing, loving God—the Keeper of time and eternity. He knows the facts and won’t forget His promises or His people. Have you had moments when you’ve questioned whether or not you’ve been forgotten by God? When others appear to be healthier or happier or more successful or otherwise better off?  Ancient Israel’s less-than-ideal situation caused her to say, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14). But that wasn’t the case. God’s compassion and care exceeded the natural bonds of affection that mothers have for their children (v. 15). Before embracing labels like “forsaken” or “forgotten,” think again of what God has done in and through His Son, Jesus. In the gospel that brings forgiveness, God has clearly said, “I will not forget you!” (v. 15).
Aug
2
2021
Lean food rations, waterproof boots, and a map are some of the essentials carried by hikers on the John Muir Trail. The John Muir Trail is a 211-mile path in the western United States that winds across creeks, around lakes and woods, and up and over mountains, encompassing 47,000 feet of elevation gain. Because traversing this trail takes about three weeks, carrying the right amount of supplies is critical. Too much and you will run out of strength to carry it all; too little and you won’t have what you need for the journey.  Finishing well on our journey as believers in Jesus also requires careful consideration of what we bring. In Hebrews 12, the apostle Paul exhorts us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” He compares our lives to a “race marked out for us,” one in which we must “not grow weary and lose heart” (vv. 1, 3). To become overburdened with sin or distracted by things outside of God’s purpose for us is to carry an unnecessary weight. Just as there are packing lists for the John Muir Trail, God has provided directions for us in the Bible. We can know what habits, dreams, and desires are worth bringing along by examining them in light of the Scriptures. When we travel light, we are able to finish well.
Aug
1
2021
The 2009 film The Blind Side depicts the true story of Michael Oher, a homeless teenager who’s adopted by a family who helps him overcome learning difficulties and achieve excellence in American football. In a moving scene, the family talks with Michael about the possibility of adopting him after he’d been living with them for several months. In a sweet and tender reply, Michael exclaims that he thought he already was a part of the family!   It’s a beautiful moment, just as adoption is a beautiful thing. Love is extended and full inclusion is offered as a family opens its arms to a new member. Adoption changes lives, just as it profoundly changed Michael’s life. In Jesus, believers are made “children of God” through faith in Him (Galatians 3:26). We’re adopted by God and become His sons and daughters (4:5). As God’s adopted children, we receive the Spirit of His Son, we call God “Father” (4:6), and we become His heirs (4:7) and coheirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). We become full members of His family. When Michael Oher was adopted it changed his life, his identity, and his future. How much more for us who are adopted by God! Our life changes as we know Him as Father. Our identity changes as we belong to Him. And our future changes as we’re promised a glorious, eternal inheritance.
Jul
31
2021
Clifford Williams was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. From death row he vainly filed motions to reconsider the evidence against him. Each petition was denied—for forty-two years. Then attorney Shelley Thibodeau learned of his case. She found that not only was there no evidence to convict Williams, but that another man had confessed to the crime. At the age of seventy-six, Williams was finally exonerated and released.  The prophets Jeremiah and Uriah were also in deep trouble. They had told Judah that God promised to judge His people if they didn’t repent (Jeremiah 26:12–13, 20). This message angered the people and officials of Judah, who sought to kill both prophets. They succeeded with Uriah. He fled to Egypt, but was brought back to face the king, who “had him struck down with a sword” (v. 23). Why didn’t they kill Jeremiah? In part because Ahikam “stood up for Jeremiah” (nlt), “and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (v. 24 niv). We may not know anyone facing death, but we probably know someone who could use our support. Whose rights are trampled? Whose talents are dismissed? Whose voice isn’t heard? It may be risky to step out like Thibodeau or Ahikam, but it’s so right. Who needs us to stand up for them as God guides us?
Jul
30
2021
Tears streamed down my cheeks during a frantic search for my lost wedding and anniversary rings. After an hour of lifting couch cushions and scouring every nook and cranny of our home, Alan said, “I’m sorry. We’ll replace them.” “Thanks. But their sentimental value surpasses their material worth. They’re irreplaceable.” Praying, I continued hunting for the jewelry. “Please, Lord. Help me find them.” Later, while reaching into the pocket of a sweater worn earlier in the week, I found the priceless jewels. “Thank You, Jesus.” As we rejoiced, I slipped on the rings and recalled the parable of the woman who lost a coin (Luke 15:8-10). Like the woman who searched for one of her ten silver coins, I knew the worth of what had been lost. Neither of us was wrong for wanting to find our valuables. Jesus simply used that story to emphasize His desire to save every person He created. One sinner repenting results in a celebration in heaven. What a gift it would be to become a person who prays as passionately for others as we pray for lost treasures to be found. What a privilege it is to celebrate when someone repents and surrenders their lives to Christ. If we’ve placed our trust in Jesus, we can be thankful that we’ve experienced the joy of being loved by Someone who never gave up because He thought we were worth finding.
Jul
29
2021
In the film Amadeus, aging composer Antonio Salieri plays some of his music on the piano for a visiting priest. The embarrassed priest confesses he doesn’t recognize the tunes. “What about this one?” Salieri says, playing an instantly familiar melody. “I didn’t know you wrote that,” the priest says. “I didn’t,” Salieri replies. “That was Mozart!” As viewers discover, Mozart’s success has caused deep envy in Salieri—even leading him to play a part in Mozart’s death. A song lies at the heart of another envy story. After David’s victory over Goliath, the Israelites heartily sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). The comparison doesn’t sit well with King Saul. Envious of David’s success and afraid of losing his throne (vv. 8–9), Saul begins a prolonged pursuit of David, trying to take his life. Like Salieri with music or Saul with power, we’re usually tempted to envy those with similar but greater gifts than we possess. And whether it’s picking fault with their work or belittling their success, we too can seek to damage our “rivals.” Saul had been divinely chosen for his task (10:6–7, 24), a status that should’ve fostered security in him rather than envy. Since we each have unique callings too (Ephesians 2:10), maybe the best way to overcome envy is to quit comparing ourselves. Let’s celebrate each other’s successes instead.
Jul
28
2021
A monk named Telemachus lived a quiet life, but his death at the end of the fourth century changed the world. Visiting Rome from the East, Telemachus intervened in the blood sport of the gladiatorial arena. He jumped over the stadium wall and tried to stop the gladiators from killing each other. But the outraged crowd stoned the monk to death. The emperor Honorius, however, was moved by Telemachus’ act and decreed the end of the 500-year practice of gladiator games. When Paul calls Jesus “our peace,” he refers to the end of hostility between Jews and gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). God’s chosen people Israel were distinct from the nations and enjoyed certain privileges. For instance, while gentiles were allowed to worship at the Jerusalem temple, a dividing wall restricted them to the outer court—on punishment of death. Jews regarded gentiles unclean, and they experienced mutual hostility. But now, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for all, both Jew and gentile can worship God freely through faith in Him (vv. 18–22). There’s no dividing wall. There’s no privilege of one group over the other. Both are equal in their standing before God. Just as Telemachus brought peace to warriors through his death, so Jesus makes peace and reconciliation possible for all who believe in Him through His death and resurrection. So, if Jesus is our peace, let’s not let our differences divide us. He’s made us one by His blood.
Jul
27
2021
In 2020, Alyssa Mendoza received a surprising email from her father in the middle of the night. The message had instructions about what to do for her mother on her parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary. Why was this shocking? Alyssa’s father had passed away ten months earlier. She discovered that he had written and scheduled the email while he was sick, knowing he might not be there. He’d also arranged and paid for flowers to be sent to his wife for upcoming years on her birthday, future anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day. This story could stand as an example of the kind of love that’s described in detail in Song of Songs. “Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave” (8:6). Comparing graves and death to love seems odd, but they’re strong because they don’t give up their captives. However, neither will true love give up the loved one. The book reaches its peak in these verses, describing marital love as one so strong that “many waters cannot quench [it]” (v. 7). Throughout the Bible, the love of a husband and wife is compared to God’s love (Isaiah 54:5; Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 21:2). Jesus is the groom and the church is His bride. God showed His love for us by sending Christ to face death so we wouldn’t have to die for our sins (John 3:16). Whether we’re married or single, we can remember that God’s love is stronger than anything we could imagine.
Jul
26
2021
When Marcia’s out in public, she always tries to smile at others. It’s her way of reaching out to people who might need to see a friendly face. Most of the time, she gets a genuine smile in return. But during a time when Marcia was mandated to wear a facemask, she realized that people could no longer see her mouth, thus no one could see her smile. It’s sad, she thought, but I’m not going to stop. Maybe they’ll see in my eyes that I’m smiling. There’s actually a bit of science behind that idea. The muscles for the corners of the mouth and the ones that make the eyes crinkle can work in tandem. It’s called a Duchenne smile and it has been described as “smiling with the eyes.” Proverbs reminds us that “a cheerful look brings joy to the heart” and “a cheerful heart is good medicine” (15:30 nlt; 17:22). Quite often, the smiles of God’s children stem from the supernatural joy we possess. It’s a gift from God that regularly spills out into our lives, as we encourage people who are carrying heavy burdens or share with those who are looking for answers to life’s questions. Even when we experience suffering, our joy can still shine through. When life seems dark, choose joy. Let your smile be a window of hope reflecting God’s love and the light of His presence in your life.
Jul
25
2021
I wasn’t truthful about the tulips. A gift from my younger daughter, the packaged bulbs traveled home with her to the US from Amsterdam after she visited there. So I made a show of accepting the bulbs with great excitement, as excited as I was to reunite with her. But tulips are my least favorite flower. Many bloom early and fade fast. The July weather, meantime, made it too hot to plant them. Finally, however, in late September, I planted “my daughter’s” bulbs—thinking of her and thus planting them with love. With each turn of the rocky soil, my concern for the bulbs grew. Giving their plant bed a final pat, I offered the bulbs a blessing, “sleep well,” hoping to see blooming tulips in the spring. My little project became a humble reminder of God’s call for us to love one another, even if we’re not each other’s “favorites.” Looking past each other’s faulty “weeds,” we’re enabled by God to extend love to others, even in temperamental seasons. Then, over time, mutual love blooms in spite of ourselves. “By this,” Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (v. 34). Pruned by Him, we’re blessed then to bloom, as my tulips did the next spring—on the same weekend my daughter arrived for a short visit. “Look what’s blooming!” I said. Finally, me.
Jul
24
2021
Lara and Dave desperately wanted a baby, but their physician told them they were unable to have one. Lara confided to a friend: “I found myself having some very honest talks with God.” But it was after one of those “talks” that she and Dave spoke to their pastor, who told them about an adoption ministry at their church. A year later they were blessed with an adopted baby boy. In Genesis 15, the Bible tells of another honest conversation—this one between Abram and God. God had told him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am . . . your very great reward” (v. 1). But Abram, uncertain of God’s promises about his future, answered candidly: “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless?” (vv. 2–3). Earlier God had promised Abram, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth” (13:16). Now Abram—in a very human moment—reminded God of that. But note God’s response: He assured Abram by telling him to look up and “count the stars—if indeed you can,” indicating his descendants would be beyond numbering (15:5). How good is God, not only to allow such candid prayer but also to gently reassure Abram. Later, God would change his name to Abraham (“father of many”). Like Abraham, you and I can openly share our hearts with Him and know that we can trust Him to do what’s best for us and others.
Jul
23
2021
In 2019, Hurricane Dorian was overwhelming the islands of the Bahamas with intense rain, wind, and flooding—the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. Sheltering at home with his adult son who has cerebral palsy, Brent knew they needed to leave. Even though Brent is blind, he had to save his son. Tenderly, he placed him over his shoulders and stepped into chin-deep water to carry him to safety. If an earthly father facing a great obstacle himself is eager to help his son, think of how much more our heavenly Father is concerned about His children. The Old Testament tells how God carried His people even as they experienced the danger of faltering faith. Moses was reminding the Israelites how God had delivered them, providing food and water in the desert, fighting against their enemies, and guiding the Israelites with pillars of cloud and fire. Meditating on the many ways God acted on their behalf, Moses said, “There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son” (Deuteronomy 1:31). The Israelites’ journey through the wilderness wasn’t easy and their faith waned at times. But it was also full of evidence of God’s protection and provision. The image of a father carrying a son—tenderly, courageously, confidently—is a wonderful picture of how God cared for Israel. Even when you face challenges that test your faith, remember that God is there carrying you through them
Jul
22
2021
When BBC Music Magazine asked one hundred fifty-one of the world’s leading conductors to list twenty of what they believed to be the greatest symphonies ever written, Beethoven’s Third, Eroica, came out on top. The work, whose title means “heroic,” was written during the turmoil of the French revolution. But it also came out of Beethoven’s own struggle as he slowly lost his hearing. The music evokes extreme swings of emotion that express what it means to be human and alive while facing challenges. Through wild swings of happiness, sadness, and eventual triumph Beethoven’s Third Symphony is regarded as a timeless tribute to the human spirit. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians deserves our attention for similar reasons. Through inspired words rather than musical scores it rises in blessing (1:4–9), falls in the sadness of soul-crushing conflict (11:17–22), and rises again in the unison of gifted people working together for one another and for the glory of God (12:6­–7). The difference is that here we see the triumph of our human spirit as a tribute to the Spirit of God. As he urges us to experience together the inexpressible love of Christ, Paul helps us see ourselves as called together by our Father, led by his Son, and inspired by his Spirit—not for noise, but for our contribution to the greatest symphony of all.
Jul
21
2021
For five years in the late 1800s, grasshoppers descended on Minnesota, destroying the crops. Farmers tried trapping the grasshoppers in tar and burning their fields to kill the eggs. Feeling desperate, and on the brink of starvation, many people sought a statewide day of prayer, yearning to seek God’s help together. The governor relented, setting aside April 26 to pray. In the days after the collective prayer, the weather warmed and the eggs started to come to life. But then four days later a drop in temperature surprised and delighted many, for the freezing temperatures killed the larvae. Minnesotans once again would harvest their crops of corn, wheat, and oats. Prayer was also behind the saving of God’s people during the reign of King Jehoshaphat. When the king learned that a vast army was coming against him, he called God’s people to pray and fast. The people reminded God how He’d saved them in times past. And Jehoshaphat said that if calamity came upon them, “whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine,” they would cry out to God knowing that He would hear and save them (2 Chronicles 20:9). God rescued His people from the invading armies, and He hears us when we cry out to Him in distress. Whatever your concern, whether a relationship or something threatening from the natural world, lift it to God in prayer. Nothing it too hard for Him.
Jul
20
2021
I applied for a position in a Christian organization years ago and was presented with a list of legalistic rules having to do with the use of alcohol, tobacco, and certain forms of entertainment. “We expect Christian behavior from our employees” was the explanation. I could agree with this list because I, for reasons mostly unrelated to my faith, didn’t do those things. But my argumentative side thought, Why don’t they have a list about not being arrogant, insensitive, harsh, spiritually indifferent, and critical? None of these were addressed. Following Jesus can’t be defined by a list of rules. It’s a subtle quality of life that’s difficult to quantify but can best be described as “beautiful.” The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–10 sum up that beauty: Those who are indwelt by and dependent on the Spirit of Jesus are humble and self-effacing. They’re deeply touched by the suffering of others. They’re gentle and kind. They long for goodness in themselves and in others. They’re merciful to those who struggle and fail. They’re single-minded in their love for Jesus. They’re peaceful and leave behind a legacy of peace. They’re kind to those who misuse them, returning good for evil. And they’re blessed, a word that means “happy” in the deepest sense. This kind of life attracts the attention of others and belongs to those who come to Jesus and ask Him for it.
Jul
19
2021
It was a lightning storm, and my six-year-old daughter and I laid down on the floor to watch the dazzling display through the glass door. She kept repeating, “Wow! God is so big.” I felt the same way. It was obvious to both of us how small we were, and how powerful God must be. Lines from the book of Job flashed through my mind, “What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?” (Job 38:24) Job needed to be reminded of God’s power (vv. 34–41). His life had fallen apart. His children were dead. He was broke. He was sick. His friends offered no empathy. His wife encouraged him to abandon his faith (2:9). Eventually, Job asked God, “Why?” (ch. 24) and He responded out of a storm (ch. 38). God reminded Job of His control over the physical attributes of the world (Job 38). This comforted him and he responded, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5). In other words, “Now I get it, God! I see that you don’t fit into my box.” When life falls apart, sometimes the most comforting thing we can do is to lay on the floor and watch the lightning—to be reminded that the God who created the world is big enough and loving enough to take care of us too. We may even start singing our favorite worship songs that tell of the might and greatness of our God.
Jul
18
2021
When the Nazis drafted Franz Jägerstätter during World War II, he completed military basic training but refused to take the required pledge of personal loyalty to Adolf Hitler. Authorities allowed Franz to return to his farm, but they later summoned him to active duty. After seeing Nazi ideology up close and learning of the Jewish genocide, however, Jägerstätter decided his loyalty to God meant he could never fight for the Nazis. He was arrested and sentenced to execution, leaving behind his wife and three daughters. Over the years, many believers in Jesus—under peril of death—have offered a firm refusal when commanded to disobey God. The story of Daniel is one such story. When a royal edict threatened that anyone “who pray[ed] to any god or human being except [the king]” (Daniel 6:12) would be thrown into the lions’ den, Daniel discarded safety and remained faithful. “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (v. 10). The prophet would bend his knee to God—and only God—no matter the cost.  Sometimes, our choice is clear. Though everyone around us implores us to go along with prevailing opinion, though our own reputation or well-being may be at risk—may we never turn from our obedience to God. Sometimes, even at great cost, all we can offer is a firm refusal.
Jul
17
2021
One of the most moving songs in the musical The Greatest Showman is “From Now On.” Sung after the main character comes to some painful self-realizations about the ways he’d wounded family and friends, the song celebrates the joy of coming back home and finding that what we already have is more than enough. The book of Hosea concludes with a similar tone—one of breathless joy and gratitude at the restoration God makes possible for those who return to Him. Much of the book, which compares the relationship between God and His people to a relationship with an unfaithful spouse, grieves Israel’s failures to love Him and live for Him. But in chapter 14, Hosea lifts up the promise of God’s boundless love, grace, and restoration—freely available to those who return to Him heartbroken over the ways they’ve abandoned Him (vv. 1–3). “I will heal their waywardness,” God promises, “and love them freely” (v. 4). And what had seemed broken beyond repair will once more find wholeness and abundance, as God’s grace, like dew, causes His people to “blossom like a lily” and “flourish like the grain” (vv. 5–7).  When we’ve hurt others or taken for granted God’s goodness in our life, it’s easy to assume we’ve forever marred the good gifts we’ve been given. But when we humbly turn to Him, we find His love is always reaching to embrace and restore.
Jul
16
2021
After hearing a message about correcting injustice, a church member approached the pastor weeping, asking for forgiveness and confessing that he hadn’t voted in favor of calling the black minister to be pastor of their church because of his own prejudice. “I really need you to forgive me. I don’t want the junk of prejudice and racism spilling over into my kids’ lives. I didn’t vote for you, and I was wrong.” His tears and confession were met with the tears and forgiveness of the minister. A week later, the entire church rejoiced upon hearing the man’s testimony of how God had worked in his heart. Even Peter, a disciple of Jesus and a chief leader in the early church, had to be corrected because of his ill-conceived notions about non-Jewish people. Eating and drinking with gentiles (who were considered unclean), was a violation of social and religious protocol. Peter said, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile” (Acts 10:28). It took nothing less than the supernatural activity of God (vv. 9–23) to convince him that he “should not call anyone impure or unclean” (v. 28). Through the preaching of Scripture, the conviction of the Spirit, and life experiences God continues to work in human hearts to correct our misguided perspectives about others. He helps us to see that “God does not show favoritism” (v. 34).
Jul
15
2021
On July 16, 1999, the small plane piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Investigators determined the cause of the accident to be a common error known as spatial disorientation. This phenomenon occurs when, due to poor visibility, pilots become disoriented and forget to rely on their instruments to help them successfully reach their destination. As we navigate life, there are often times when life gets so overwhelming we feel disoriented. A cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, a job loss, a betrayal by a friend—life’s unexpected tragedies can easily leave us feeling lost and confused. When we find ourselves in these kinds of situations, we might try offering the prayer of Psalm 43. In this psalm, the psalmist is overwhelmed and feeling lost because he feels surrounded by evil and injustice. In despair, the psalmist pleads with God to provide His sure guidance to help him safely navigate through the situation to his desired destination, God’s presence (vv. 3–4). In God’s presence the psalmist knows he will find renewed hope and joy.   What are the tools the psalmist requests for guidance? The light of truth and the assurance of God’s presence by His Holy Spirit. When you’re feeling disoriented and lost, God’s faithful guidance through His Spirit and loving presence can comfort you and light your way.
Jul
14
2021
Having tried for years to conceive, Richard and Susan were elated when Susan became pregnant. Her health problems, however, posed a risk to the baby, and so Richard lay awake each night praying for his wife and child. One night, Richard sensed he didn’t need to pray so hard, that God had promised to take care of things. But a week later Susan miscarried. Richard was devastated. He wondered, Had they lost the baby because he hadn’t prayed hard enough? On first reading, we might think today’s parable suggests so. In the story, a neighbor (sometimes thought to represent God) only gets out of bed to help the friend because of the friend’s annoying persistence (Luke 11:5–8). Read this way, the parable suggests that God will give us what we need only if we badger Him. And if we don’t pray hard enough, maybe God won’t help us. But biblical commentators like Klyne Snodgrass believe this misunderstands the parable—its real point being that if neighbors might help us for selfish reasons, how much more will our unselfish Father. We can therefore ask confidently (vv. 9–10), knowing that God is greater than flawed human beings (vv. 11–13). He isn’t the neighbor in the parable, but the opposite of him. “I don’t know why you lost your baby,” I told Richard, “but I know it wasn’t because you didn’t pray ‘hard’ enough. God isn’t like that.”
Jul
13
2021
On one side of the street a homeowner displays in his yard a giant blow-up bald eagle draped in a US flag. A big truck sits in the driveway, and its side window has a painted flag and the back bumper is covered with patriotic stickers. Directly across the street in a neighbor’s yard are signs that highlight the slogans for current social justice issues in the news. Are the people in these homes feuding or friends? we might wonder. Is it possible that both families are believers in Jesus? God calls us to live out the words of James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Too often we stubbornly hold on to our opinions and aren’t willing to consider what others are thinking. The Matthew Henry Commentary says about this verse: “We should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak . . . and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath.” Someone has said, “Learning requires listening.” The practical words from God in the book of James can only be accomplished if we’re filled with God’s loving Spirit and choose to respect others. He’s willing to help us make changes in our hearts and attitudes. Are we open to listen and learn?
Jul
12
2021
When Conner and Sarah Smith moved five miles up the road, their cat S’mores expressed his displeasure by running away. One day Sarah saw a current photo of their old farmhouse on social media. There was S’mores in the picture! Happily the Smiths went to retrieve him. S’mores ran away again. Guess where he went. This time, the family that had purchased their house agreed to keep S’mores too. The Smiths couldn’t stop the inevitable; S’mores would always return “home.” Nehemiah served in a prestigious position in the king’s court in Susa, but his heart was elsewhere. He had just heard news of the sad condition of “the city where my ancestors are buried” (Nehemiah 2:3). And so he prayed, e had H“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, . . . ‘if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name’ ” (1:8–9). Home is where the heart is, they say. In Nehemiah’s case, longing for home was more than being tied to the land. It was communion with God that he most desired. Jerusalem was “the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.” The dissatisfaction we sense deep down is actually a longing for God. We’re yearning to be home with Him.
Jul
11
2021
Although Sam had done nothing wrong, he lost his job on the assembly line. Carelessness in another division led to problems in cars they built. After several crashes made the news, leery customers stopped buying their brand. The company had to downsize, leaving Sam out of work. He’s collateral damage, and it isn’t fair. It never is. History’s first collateral damage occurred immediately after the first sin. Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness, so God graciously clothed them with “garments of skin” (v. 21). It’s painful to imagine, but one or more animals that had always felt safe with God were now slaughtered and skinned. There was more to come. God told Israel, “Every day you are to provide a year-old lamb without defect for a burnt offering to the Lord; morning by morning you shall provide it” (Ezekiel 46:13). Every. Single. Day. How many thousands of animals have been sacrificed because of human sin? Their death was necessary to cover our sin until Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to remove it (John 1:29). Call this “collateral repair.” As Adam’s sin kills us, so the Last Adam’s [Christ’s] obedience restores all who believe in Him (Romans 5:17–19). Collateral repair isn’t fair—it cost Jesus’ life—but it’s free. Reach out to Jesus in belief and receive the salvation He offers, and His righteous life will count for you.
Jul
10
2021
As the cabbie drove us to London’s Heathrow Airport, he told us his story. He had come alone to the United Kingdom at age fifteen, seeking to escape war and deprivation. Now, eleven years later, he has a family of his own and is able to provide for them in ways unavailable in his native land. But he laments that he’s still separated from his parents and siblings. He told us that he has had a hard journey that won’t be complete until he’s reunited with his family. Being separated from our loved ones in this life is hard, but losing a loved one in death is much harder and creates a sense of loss that won’t be made right until we’re reunited with them. When the new believers at Thessalonica wondered about such losses, Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). He explained that as believers in Jesus, we can live in expectation of a wonderful reunion—together forever in the presence of Christ (v. 17).  Few experiences mark us so deeply as the separations we endure, but in Jesus we have hope of being reunited. And in the midst of grief and loss we can find the comfort (v. 18) we need in that enduring promise.
Jul
9
2021
I set my Bible on the podium and stared at the eager faces waiting for me to begin the message. I’d prayed and prepared. Why couldn’t I speak? You’re worthless. No one will ever listen to you, especially if they know your past. And God would never use you. Seared into my heart and mind, the words spoken in various ways over my life ignited a decade-long war against the lies I so easily believed. Though I knew the words weren’t true, I couldn’t seem to escape my insecurities and fears. So, I opened my Bible. Turning to Proverbs 30:5, I inhaled and exhaled slowly before reading out loud. “Every word of God is flawless,” I said, “he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” I closed my eyes as peace overwhelmed me, and I began to share my testimony with the crowd. Many of us have experienced the paralyzing power of negative words or opinions others have of us. However, God’s words are “flawless,” perfect and absolutely sound. When we’re tempted to believe spirit-crushing ideas about our value or our purpose as God’s children, God’s enduring and infallible truth protects our minds and our hearts. We can echo the psalmist who wrote: “I remember, Lord, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them” (Psalm 119:52). Let’s combat lies we’ve accepted about God, ourselves, and others by replacing negative-speak with Scripture.
Jul
8
2021
The English preacher Charles H. Spurgeon (1834–1892) lived life “full throttle.” He became a pastor at age 19—and soon was preaching to large crowds. He personally edited all of his sermons, which eventually filled sixty-three volumes, and wrote many commentaries, books on prayer, and other works. And he typically read six books a week! In one of his sermons, Spurgeon said, “The sin of doing nothing is about the biggest of all sins, for it involves most of the others. . . . Horrible idleness! God save us from it!” Spurgeon lived with diligence, which meant he “[made] every effort” (2 Peter 1:5) to grow in God’s grace and to live for Him. If we are Christ’s followers, God can instill in us that same desire and capacity to grow more like Jesus, to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge . . . self-control, perseverance . . . godliness” (vv. 3, 5–7) We each have different motivations, abilities, and energy levels—not all of us can, or should, live at Spurgeon’s pace! But when we understand all Jesus has done for us, we have the greatest motivation for diligent, faithful living. And we find our strength through the resources God has given us to live for and serve Him. God through His Spirit can empower us in our efforts—big and small—to do so.
Jul
7
2021
For fourteen years, the Mars rover Opportunity faithfully communicated with the people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After it landed in 2004, it traversed twenty-eight miles of the Martian surface, took thousands of images, and analyzed many materials. But in 2018 communication between Opportunity and scientists ended when a major dust storm coated its solar panels, causing the rover to lose power. Is it possible that we can allow “dust” to block our communication with Someone outside of our world? When it comes to prayer—communicating with God—there are certain things that can get in the way. Scripture says that sin can block our relationship with God. “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Jesus instructs, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25). Our communication with God can also be hindered by doubt and relationship problems (James 1:5–7; 1 Peter 3:7). Opportunity’s blockage of communication seems to be permanent. But our prayers don’t have to be blocked. By the work of the Holy Spirit, God lovingly draws us to restored communication with Him. As we confess our sins and turn to Him, by God’s grace we experience the greatest communication the universe has ever known: one-to-one prayer between us and our holy God.
Jul
6
2021
Ellen opened her mailbox and discovered a bulky envelope with her dear friend’s return address. Just a few days prior, she’d shared a relational struggle with that friend. Curious, she unwrapped the package and found a colorful beaded necklace on a simple jute string. Attached was a card with a company’s slogan, “Say it in Morse Code,” and words translating the necklace’s hidden and wise message, “Seek God’s Ways.” Ellen smiled as she fastened it about her neck. The book of Proverbs is a compilation of wise sayings—many penned by Solomon, who was acclaimed as the wisest man of his era (1 Kings 10:23). Its thirty-one chapters call the reader to listen to wisdom and avoid folly, starting with the core message of 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Wisdom—knowing what to do when—comes from honoring God by seeking His ways. In the introductory verses, we read, “Listen when your father corrects you. Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction. What you learn from them will crown you with grace and be a chain of honor around your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8 nlt). Ellen’s friend had directed her to the Source of the wisdom she needed: Seek God’s ways. Her gift focused Ellen’s attention on where to discover the help she needed. When we honor God and seek His ways, we’ll receive the wisdom we need for all the matters we face in life. Each and every one.
Jul
5
2021
John Sowers in his book Fatherless Generation writes that “No generation has seen as much voluntary father absence as this one with 25 million kids growing up in single-parent homes.” In my own experience, if I’d bumped into my father on the street, I wouldn’t have known him. My parents were divorced when I was very young, and all the photos of my dad were burned. So for years I felt fatherless. Then at age thirteen, I heard the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) and said to myself, You may not have an earthly father, but now you have God as your heavenly Father. In Matthew 6:9 we’re taught to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Previously verse 7 says not to “keep on babbling” when praying, and we may wonder how these verses are connected. Then I realized that because God remembers, we don’t need to repeat. He truly understands, so we don’t need to explain. He has a compassionate heart, so we don’t need to be uncertain of His goodness. And because He knows the end from the beginning, we know His timing is perfect. Because God is our Father, we don’t need to use “many words” (6:7) to move Him. Through prayer, we’re talking with a Father who loves and cares for us and made us His children through Jesus.
Jul
4
2021
Alan came to me for advice on how to deal with his fear of public speaking. Like so many others, his heart would begin to race, his mouth would feel sticky and dry, and his face would flush bright red. Glossophobia is among the most common social fears people have—many even joke that they’re more fearful of public speaking than of dying! To help Alan conquer his fear of not “performing” well, I suggested he focus on the substance of his message instead of how well he’d deliver it. Shifting the focus to what will be shared, instead of one’s ability to share it, is similar to Paul’s approach to pointing others to God. When he wrote to the church at Corinth, he remarked that his message and preaching “were not with wise and persuasive words” (1 Corinthians 2:4). Instead, he’d determined to focus solely on the truth of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion (v. 2), trusting the Holy Spirit to empower his words, not his eloquence as a speaker. When we’ve come to know God personally, we’ll want to share about Him with those around us. Yet we sometimes shy away from it because we’re afraid of not presenting it well—with the “right” or eloquent words. By focusing instead on the “what”—the truth of who God is and His amazing works—we can, like Paul, trust Him to empower our words and share without fear or reluctance.  
Jul
3
2021
In the early days of the American Revolutionary War, an expedition was launched against British forces in Quebec. When the expedition passed through Newburyport, Massachusetts, on the way to Canada, they visited the tomb of the renowned evangelist George Whitefield. Whitefield’s coffin was opened and his clerical collar and cuffs were removed. The clothing was cut in pieces and distributed in the mistaken belief that it could somehow give the soldiers success. The expedition failed. But what the soldiers did demonstrates our human tendency to trust in something less than a relationship with God—money or human strength or even religious traditions—for our ultimate well-being. God cautioned His people against this when invasion from Assyria threatened, and they sought Pharaoh’s help instead of turning from their sins and turning personally to Him: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, “No, we will flee on horses.” Therefore you will flee!’” (Isaiah 30:15–16). Their “expedition” failed as well (just as God said it would) and Assyria overwhelmed Judah. But God also told His people, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you.” Even when we have trusted in lesser things, God still holds out His hand to help us return to Him. “Blessed are all who wait for him!” (v. 18)
Jul
2
2021
At the sink, two little children happily sing the “Happy Birthday” song—two times each—while washing their hands. “It takes that long to wash away the germs,” their mother tells them. So even before the COVID-19 pandemic, they’d learned to take time to clean dirt from their hands. Getting clean can be a tedious process, as we learned in the pandemic. Scrubbing away sin, however, means following focused steps back to God. James urged believers in Jesus scattered throughout the Roman Empire to turn their focus back to God. Beset by quarrels and fights, their battles for one-upmanship, possessions, worldly pleasures, money, and recognition made them an enemy of God, James told them. Instead, he warned, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). As he said, “submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (v. 7)). But how? “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (v. 8). These are sanitizing words, describing the necessity of turning to God to scour away the soil of sin from our lives. James then further explained the cleaning method: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (vv. 9–10). Dealing with our sin is humbling. But, hallelujah, God is faithful to turn our “washing” into worship.
Jul
1
2021
In the novella Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy, main characters Sergey and Masha meet when Masha is young and impressionable. Sergey is an older, well-traveled businessman who understands the world beyond the rural setting where Masha lives. Over time, the two fall in love and marry. They settle in the countryside, but Masha becomes bored with her surroundings. Sergey, who adores her, arranges a trip to St. Petersburg. There, Masha’s beauty and charm bring her instant popularity. Just as the couple is about to return home, a prince arrives in town, wanting to meet her. Sergey knows he can force Masha to leave with him, but he lets her make the decision. She chooses to stay, and her betrayal breaks his heart. Like Sergey, God will never force us to be faithful to Him. Because He loves us, he lets us choose for or against Him. Our first choice for Him happens when we receive His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sacrifice for our sin (1 John 4:9–10). After that, we have a lifetime of decisions to make. Will we choose faithfulness to God as His Spirit guides us, or let the world entice us? David’s life wasn’t perfect, but he often wrote about keeping “the ways of the Lord” and the good outcomes that came from doing so (Psalm 18:21–24). When our choices honor God, we can experience the blessing David described: to the faithful, God shows himself faithful.
Jun
30
2021
  Alice Kaholusuna recounts a story of how the Hawaiian people would sit outside their temples for a lengthy amount of time preparing themselves before entering in. Even after entering, they would creep to the altar to offer their prayers. Afterward, they would sit outside again for a long time to “breathe life” into their prayers. When missionaries came to the island, not always but sometimes their prayers felt different. They would stand up, utter a few sentences, call them “prayer,” say amen, and be done with it. The Hawaiians described these prayers as “without breath.” Alice’s story speaks of how sometimes God’s people may not take the opportunity to “be still, and know” (Psalm 46:10). Make no mistake—God hears our prayers, whether they’re quick or slow. But often the pace of our lives mimics the pace of our hearts, and we need to allow ample time for God to speak not only into our lives but the lives of those around us. How many life-giving moments have we missed by rushing, saying amen, and being done with it? We’re often impatient with everything from slow people to the slow lane in traffic. Yet, I believe God in His kindness says, “Be still. Breathe in and out. Go slow, and remember that I am God, your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” To do so is to know that God is God. To do so is to trust. To do so is to live.
Jun
29
2021
When Joni Eareckson Tada returned home after suffering a swimming accident that left her a quadriplegic, her life was vastly different. Now doorways were too narrow for her wheelchair and sinks were too high. Someone had to feed her, until she decided to relearn how to feed herself. Lifting the special spoon to her mouth from her arm splint the first time, she felt humiliated as she smeared applesauce on her clothes. But she pressed on. As she says, “My secret was learning to lean on Jesus and say, ‘Oh God, help me with this!’” Today she manages a spoon very well. Joni says her confinement made her look at another captive—the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned in a Roman jail—and his letter to the Philippians. Joni strives for what Paul achieved: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Note that Paul had to learn to be at peace; he wasn’t naturally peaceful. How did he find contentment? Through trusting in Christ: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v. 13). We all face different challenges throughout our days, and we all can look to Jesus moment by moment for help, strength, and peace. He will help us to hold back from snapping at our loved ones; He will give us the courage to do the next hard thing. Look to Him and find contentment.
Jun
28
2021
One evening years ago, my wife and I were making our way down a mountain trail, accompanied by two friends. The trail was narrow and wound around a slope with a steep drop on one side and an unclimbable bank on the other. As we came around a bend, I saw a large bear moseying along, swinging his head from side to side, and quietly huffing. We were downwind and he hadn’t detected our presence, but he would soon. Our friend began to rummage around in her jacket for a camera. “Oh, I must take a picture!” she said. I, being less comfortable with our odds, said, "No, we must get out of here." So we backed up quietly until we were out of sight—and ran. That’s how we should feel about the dangerous passion to get rich. There’s nothing wrong with money; it's just a medium of exchange. But those who desire to get rich "fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction,” Paul wrote (1 Timothy 6:9). Wealth is only a goad to get more. Instead, we should “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (v. 11). These traits grow in us as we pursue them and ask God to form them within us. This is how we secure the deep satisfaction we seek in God.
Jun
27
2021
Needles, milk, mushrooms, elevators, births, bees, and bees in blenders—these are just a fraction of the many phobias attributed to Mr. Adrian Monk, detective and title character of the TV show Monk. But when he and long-time rival Harold Krenshaw find themselves locked in a car trunk, Monk has a breakthrough that allows him to cross at least one fear off the list—claustrophobia.   It’s while Monk and Harold are both panicking that the epiphany comes, abruptly interrupting Monk’s angst. “I think we’ve been looking at this the wrong way,” he tells Harold. “This trunk, these walls . . . they’re not closing in on us. . . . they’re protecting us, really. They’re keeping the bad stuff out. . . . germs, and snakes, and harmonicas.” Eyes widening, Harold sees what he means and whispers in wonder, “This trunk is our friend.” In Psalm 63, it’s almost as if David has a similar epiphany. Despite being in a “dry and parched land,” when David remembers God’s power, glory, and love (vv. 2–3), it’s as if the desert transforms into a place of God’s care and protection. Like a baby bird hiding in the shelter of a mother’s wings, David finds that when he clings to God, even in that barren place he can feast “as with the richest of foods” (v. 5), finding nourishment and strength in a love that “is better than life” (v. 3).
Jun
26
2021
Martha served as a teacher’s aide at an elementary school for over thirty years. Every year, she saved money to buy new coats, scarves, and gloves for students in need. After she lost her fight with leukemia, we held a celebration of life service. In lieu of flowers, people donated hundreds of brand-new winter coats to the students she loved and served for decades. Many people shared stories about the countless ways Martha encouraged others with kind words and thoughtful deeds. Her fellow teachers honored her memory with an annual coat drive for three years after her life ended on this side of eternity. Her legacy of kindness still inspires others to generously serve those in need. In Acts 9, the apostle Luke shares a story about Dorcas, a woman who was “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). After she got sick and died, the grieving community urged Peter to visit. All the widows showed Peter how Dorcas had lived to serve (v. 39). In a miraculous act of compassion, Peter brought Dorcas back to life. The news of Dorcas’ resurrection spread and “many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). But it was Dorcas’ commitment to serving others in practical ways that touched the hearts in her community and revealed the power of loving generosity. How might God use you to leave a legacy of kindness?
Jun
25
2021
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. As the story is told, he complained that no one really paid attention to what was said. So, he decided to experiment at a reception. To everyone who passed down the line and shook his hand, he said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. God bless you, sir.” It was not until the end of the line, greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.” Do you ever wonder if people are really listening? Or worse, do you fear that God isn’t listening? We can tell if people are listening based on their responses or eye contact. But how do we know if God is listening? Should we rely on feelings? Or see if God answers our prayers? After seventy years of exile in Babylon, God promised to bring His people back to Jerusalem and secure their future (Jeremiah 29:10–11). When they called upon Him, He heard them (v. 12). They knew that God heard their prayers because He promised to listen. And the same is true for us (1 John 5:14). We don’t need to rely on feelings or wait for a sign to know that God listens to us. He’s promised to listen, and He always keeps His promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Jun
24
2021
I once spoke at a secular conference for childless couples. Heartbroken over their infertility, many attendees despaired at their future. Having walked the childless path too, I tried to encourage them. “You can have a meaningful identity without becoming parents,” I said. “I believe you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and there’s new purpose for you to find.” A woman later approached me in tears. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ve felt worthless being childless and needed to hear that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made.” I asked the woman if she was a Christian. “I walked away from God years ago,” she said. “But I need a relationship with Him again.” Times like this remind me how profound the gospel is. Some identities, like “mother” and “father,” are hard for some to attain. Others, like those based on a career, can be lost through unemployment. But through Jesus we become God’s “dearly loved children”—an identity that can never be stolen (Ephesians 5:1). And then we can “walk in the way of love”—a life purpose that transcends any role or employment status (v. 2). All human beings are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and those who follow Jesus become children of God (John 1:12–13). Once in despair, that woman left in hope—about to find an identity and purpose bigger than this world can give.
Jun
23
2021
When author and evangelist Becky Pippert lived in Ireland, she longed to share the good news of Jesus with Heather, who’d done her nails for two years. But Heather hadn’t seemed remotely interested. Feeling unable to start a conversation, Becky prayed before her appointment. While Heather worked on her nails, Becky flipped through an old magazine and paused at a picture of one of the models. When Heather asked her why she was so riveted, Becky told her the photograph was of a close friend who’d years before been a Vogue cover model. Becky shared some of her friend’s story of coming to faith in God, which Heather listened to in rapt attention. Becky left for a trip and later, when she returned to Ireland, learned that Heather had moved to a new location. As Becky reflected, “I had asked God to provide an opportunity to share the gospel, and He did!” Becky looked to God for help in her weakness, inspired by the apostle Paul. For when Paul was weak and pleaded with God to remove the thorn in his flesh, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul had learned to rely on God in all things—the big and the small. When we depend on God to help us love those around us, we too will find opportunities to share our faith authentically.
Jun
22
2021
During the course of a popular home renovation television program, viewers often hear the host say, “Imagine this!” Then she unveils what could be when old things are restored and drab walls and floors are painted or stained. In one episode, after the renovation the homeowner was so overjoyed that, along with other expressions of elation, the words “That's beautiful!” gushed from her lips three times. One of the stunning “Imagine this!” passages in the Bible is Isaiah 65:17–25. What a dazzling re-creation scene! The future renovation of heaven and earth is in view (v. 17), and it’s not merely cosmetic. It’s deep and real, life-altering and life-preserving. “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (v. 21). Violence will be a thing of the past, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (v. 25). While the reversals envisioned in Isaiah 65 will be realized in the future, the God who will orchestrate universal restoration is in the business of life-change now. The apostle Paul assures us, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In need of restoration? Has your life been broken by doubt, disobedience, and pain? Life-change through Jesus is real and beautiful and available to those who ask and believe.
Jun
21
2021
Aubrey bought a fleece-lined coat for her aging father, but he died before he could wear it. So she tucked a note of encouragement with a $20 bill into the pocket and donated the jacket to charity. Ninety miles away, unable to endure his family’s dysfunction any longer, nineteen-year-old Kelly left his house without grabbing a coat. He knew of only one place to turn—the home of his grandmother who prayed for him. Hours later he stepped off a bus and into grandma’s arms. Shielding him from the winter wind, she said, “We’ve got to get you a coat!” At the mission store, Kelly tried on a coat he liked. Slipping his hands into the pockets he found an envelope—with a $20 bill and Aubrey’s note. Jacob fled his dysfunctional family in fear for his life (Genesis 27:41–45). When he stopped for the night, God revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go,” God told him (28:15). Jacob vowed, “If God will . . . give me food to eat and clothes to wear . . . , then the Lord will be my God” (vv. 20–21). Jacob made a rudimentary altar and named the spot “God’s house” (v. 22). Kelly keeps Aubrey’s note and that $20 wherever he goes. Each serves as a reminder that no matter where we run, God is there.
Jun
20
2021
The wounded horse was named Drummer Boy. One of 112 mounts carrying British soldiers into battle during the famed Charge of the Light Brigade, the animal showed such bravery and stamina that his assigned commander, Lieutenant Colonel de Salis, decided his horse deserved a medal as much as his valiant men. This was done even though their military action against enemy forces failed. Yet the cavalry’s valor, matched by the courage of their horses, established the clash as one of Britain’s greatest military moments, still celebrated today. The confrontation, however, shows the wisdom of an ancient Bible proverb: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). Scripture affirms this principle clearly. “For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory” (Deuteronomy 20:4). Indeed, even against the sting of death, wrote the apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). Knowing this, our task still is to be prepared for life’s tough tests. To build a ministry, we study, work, and pray. To create beautiful art, we master a skill. To conquer a mountain, we secure our tools and build our strength. Then prepared, we’re more than conquerors through Christ’s strong love.
Jun
19
2021
A River Runs Through It is Norman Maclean’s masterful story of two boys growing up in western Montana with their Presbyterian minister father who loved preaching and fly-fishing. On Sunday mornings, Norman and his brother, Paul, went to church where they heard their father preach. Once Sunday evening rolled around, there was another service and their father would preach again. But between those two services, they were free to walk the hills and streams with him “while he unwound between services.” It was an intentional withdrawing on their father’s part to “restore his soul and be filled again to overflowing for the evening sermon.” Throughout the gospels, Jesus is seen teaching multitudes on hillsides and cities, and healing the sick and diseased who were brought to Him. All this interaction was in line with the Son of Man’s mission: “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). But it’s also noted that He “often withdrew to lonely places” (5:16). His time there was spent communing with the Father, being renewed and restored to step back once more into his mission. In our faithful efforts to serve, it is good for us to remember that Jesus “often” withdrew. If this practice was important for Jesus, how much more so for us? May we regularly spend time with our Father, who can fill us again to overflowing.
Jun
18
2021
What do you imagine dinosaurs looked like when they were alive? Big teeth? Scaly skin? Long tails? Artist Karen Carr recreates these extinct creatures in large murals. One of her panoramas is over twenty feet tall and sixty feet long. Because of its size, it required a crew of experts to install it in sections where it resides in the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. It would be hard to stand in front of this mural without feeling dwarfed by the dinosaurs. I get a similar sensation when I read God’s description of the powerful animal called “Behemoth” (Job 40:15). This big guy munched grass like an ox and had a tail the size of a tree trunk. His bones were like iron pipes. He lumbered through the hills grazing, stopping occasionally to relax at the local swamp. When floodwaters surged, Behemoth never raised an eyebrow. No one could tame this incredible creature—except its maker (v. 19). God reminded Job of this truth during a time when Job’s problems had cast ominous shadows over his life. Grief, bewilderment, and frustration filled his field of vision until he began to question God. But God’s response helped Job see the real size of things. God was bigger than all his issues, and powerful enough to handle problems that Job could not resolve on his own. In the end, Job conceded, “I know that You can do all things” (42:2).
Jun
17
2021
In Perth, Australia, there is a place called Shalom House where men struggling with addictions go to find help. At Shalom House, they’ll meet caring staff members who introduce them to God’s shalom (Hebrew for peace). Lives crushed under the weight of addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other destructive behaviors are being transformed by the love of God. Central to this transformation is the message of the cross. The broken people of Shalom discover that through the resurrection of Jesus, they can find their own lives resurrected. In Christ, we gain true peace and healing. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict; it is the presence of God’s wholeness. All of us need this shalom, and it is only found in Christ and His Spirit. This is why Paul pointed the Galatians to the Spirit’s transformational work. As the Holy Spirit operates in our lives, He generates His fruit that includes love, joy, patience, and more (Galatians 5:22–23). He gives us that vital element of true, enduring peace. As the Spirit enables us to live in God’s shalom, we learn to bring our needs and concerns to our heavenly Father. This in turn brings us “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,”—the peace that “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). In Christ’s Spirit, our hearts experience true shalom.
Jun
16
2021
In a 2017 World Cup qualifying match that pitted the US against Trinidad and Tobago, the Soca Warriors shocked the world when they beat the US men’s national team, a team ranked fifty-six places higher. The 2-1 upset eliminated the US team from the 2018 World Cup. Trinidad and Tobago’s victory was so unexpected in part because the United States’ population and resources dwarfed those of the small Caribbean nation. But those seemingly insurmountable advantages weren’t enough to defeat the passionate Soca Warriors. The story of Gideon and the Midianites features a similar upset, one between a small group of fighters and a large army. The Israelite army actually had more than 30,000 fighters, but the Lord whittled the army down to just three hundred warriors so the nation would learn that their success was dependent on God—not the size of their army, the amount of money in their treasury, or the skill of their leaders (Judges 7:1–8). It can be tempting to put our trust and confidence in things we can see or measure, but that’s not the way of faith. Though it’s often difficult, when we are willing to depend on God, to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:1), we can go into situations, even when we feel overwhelmed and unqualified, with courage and confidence. His presence and power can do amazing things in and through us.
Jun
15
2021
When my friend Marge met Tami at a Bible study meeting, she noticed that they seemed to have little in common. But Marge befriended her, and she learned a valuable lesson from her new friend. Tami had never been to a Bible study, and she was having a hard time understanding something the other women in the study talked about: that God communicated with them—something she’d never experienced. She so desired to hear from God that she took action. Later, she told Marge. “I set aside an old wooden chair, and every time I study my Bible, I ask Jesus to come sit in it.” Then Tami explained that whenever a verse stood out to her, she would write out the verse in chalk on the chair. It’s become her special “Jesus chair,” and she’s filled it up with God’s messages to her directly from the Bible.     Marge says, “[The Jesus Chair] has changed her life. She’s growing spiritually because Scripture is becoming personal.” While speaking to Jewish believers, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). Let’s hold to His teaching, whether it means writing His words on a chair, memorizing them, or seeking to put them into action. The truth and wisdom of Christ’s messages help us grow in Him and set us free.
Jun
14
2021
Thwack! I looked up and craned my ear toward the sound. Spotting a smudge on the windowpane, I peered out onto the deck and discovered the still beating body of a bird. My heart hurt. I longed to help the fragile feathered being. In Matthew 10, Jesus described His Father’s care for sparrows in order to comfort the disciples as He warned of upcoming dangers. He offered instructions to the twelve as He “gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (v. 1). While the power to do such deeds might have seemed grand to the disciples, many would oppose them including governing authorities, their own families, and the ensnaring grip of the evil one (vv. 16–28). Then in 10:29–31, Jesus told them not to fear, whatever they faced, because they would never be out of their Father’s care. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” He asked. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” I checked on the bird throughout the day, each time finding it alive but unmoved. Then, late into the evening, it was gone. I prayed it had survived. Surely, if I cared this much about the bird, God cared even more. Imagine how much He cares for you and me!
Jun
13
2021
Rebecca and Russell’s doctors had told them they couldn’t have children. But God had other ideas, and ten years later Rebecca conceived. The pregnancy was a healthy one; and when the contractions started they excitedly rushed to the hospital. The hours of labor grew long and more intense, and Rebecca’s body still wasn’t progressing enough for delivery. Finally, the doctor decided she needed to perform an emergency C-section. Fearful, Rebecca sobbed for her baby and herself. The doctor calmly said, “I will do my best, but we’re going to pray to God because He can do more.” She prayed with Rebecca, and Bruce, a healthy baby boy, was born fifteen minutes later. That doctor knew her dependence on God and His power. She recognized that although she had the training and skill to do the surgery, she still looked to God for His help and to guide her hands (Psalm 121:1–2). It’s encouraging to hear about highly skilled people, or anyone, who recognizes they need Him—because, honestly, we all do. He is God; we are not. God alone “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20–21). Let’s have a humble heart to learn from Him and to trust Him in prayer “because He can do more” than we ever could.
Jun
12
2021
My mother has been committed to many things over the course of her life, but one that has remained constant is her desire to see little children introduced to Jesus. Of the few times I’ve witnessed my mother display disagreement publicly, all were when someone attempted to cut a children’s ministry budget in favor of what they felt were more “serious” expenditures. “I took off one summer when I was pregnant with your brother, but that’s it,” she told me. I did a little family math and I realized my mom had been working with children in the church for fifty-five years.  Mark 10 records one of the endearing stories in the Gospels commonly titled “The Little Children and Jesus.” People were bringing children to Jesus that He might touch and bless them. But the disciples tried to prevent this from happening. Mark records Jesus as “indignant”—and rebuking His very own disciples: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (v. 14). Charles Dickens wrote, “I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.” And it is not a slight thing when we, who are older, do all we can to make sure the little children are never hindered from the ever-fresh love of Jesus.  
Jun
11
2021
After breaking with our longtime church, my husband and I reunited with the fellowship after three long years. But how would people treat us? Would they welcome us back? Love us? Forgive us for leaving? We got our answer on a sunny Sunday morning. As we walked through the big church doors, we kept hearing our names. “Pat! Dan! It’s so great to see you!” As children’s author Kate DiCamillo wrote in one of her popular books, “Reader, nothing is sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name.” The same assurance was true for the people of Israel. Where we had chosen a different church for a time, they had turned their backs on God. Yet He welcomed them back. He sent the prophet Isaiah to assure them, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). In this world, where we can feel unseen, unappreciated, and even unknown, be assured that God knows each of us by name. “You are precious and honored in my sight,” He promises (v. 4). “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (v. 3). This promise isn’t just for Israel. Jesus ransomed His life for us. He knows our names. Why? In love, we are His.
Jun
10
2021
In the twilight of her years, Mrs. Goodrich’s thoughts came in and out of focus along with memories of a challenging and grace-filled life. Sitting by a window overlooking the waters of Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, she reached for her notepad. In words she soon wouldn’t recognize as her own she wrote: “Here I am in my favorite chair; With my feet on the sill, and my heart in the air. The sun-struck waves on the water below; In constant motion—to where I don’t know. But thank You—dear Father above; For Your innumerable gifts—and Your undying love! It always amazes me—How can it be? That I’m so in love with One I can’t see.” The apostle Peter acknowledged such wonder. He had seen Jesus with his own eyes, but those who would read his letter had not. His words reflect their unseen reality, and ours: “Though you have not seen him . . . you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). We love Jesus not because we’re commanded to, but because with the help of the Spirit (v. 11) we begin to see how much He loves us. It’s more than hearing that He cares for people like us. It’s experiencing for ourselves the promise of Christ to make the wonder of His unseen presence and Spirit real to us, at every stage of life.
Jun
9
2021
The leader of our video conference said, “Good morning!” I said “Hello” back, but I wasn’t looking at him. I was distracted by my own image on the screen. Do I look like this? I looked at the smiling faces of the others on the call. That looks like them. So yes, this must be me. I should lose some weight. And get a haircut. In his mind, Pharaoh was pretty great. He was “a lion among the nations . . . a monster in the seas” (Ezekiel 32:2). But then he caught a glimpse of himself from God’s perspective. God said he was in trouble and that He would expose his carcass to wild animals, causing “many peoples to be appalled at you, and their kings [to] shudder with horror because of you” (v. 10). Pharaoh was much less impressive than he thought. We may think we’re “spiritually handsome”—until we see our sin as God sees it. Compared to His holy standard, even “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). But God also sees something else, something even more true. He sees Jesus, and us in Jesus. Feeling discouraged about how you are? Remember this is not who you are. If you have put your trust in Jesus, then you are in Jesus, and His holiness drapes over you. You are more beautiful than you imagine.
Jun
8
2021
A recent survey asked respondents to identify the age at which they believed they became adults. Those who considered themselves adults pointed to specific behaviors as evidence of their status. Having a budget and buying a house topped the list as being marks of “adulting.” Other adult activities ranged from cooking dinner every weeknight and scheduling one’s own medical appointments, to the more humorous ability to choose to eat snacks for dinner or being excited to stay at home on a Saturday evening instead of going out. The Bible says we should press on toward spiritual maturity as well. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, urging the people to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). While we’re “young” in our faith, we’re vulnerable to “every wind of teaching” (v. 14), which often results in division among us. Instead, as we mature in our understanding of the truth, we function as a unified body under “him who is the head, that is, Christ” (v. 15). God gave us His Spirit to help us grow into a full understanding of who He is (John 14:26), and He equips pastors and teachers to instruct and lead us toward maturity in our faith (Ephesians 4:11). Just as certain characteristics are evidence of physical maturity, our unity as His body is one evidence of our spiritual growth.
Jun
7
2021
After being informed of a 911 call from a concerned citizen, a police officer drove alongside the train tracks, shining his floodlight into the dark until he spotted the vehicle straddling the iron rails. The trooper’s dashboard camera captured the harrowing scene as the train barreled forward. "That train was coming fast,” the officer said, “Fifty to 80 eighty per hour." Acting without hesitation, he pulled an unconscious man from the car mere seconds before the train slammed into it. Scripture reveals God as the One who rescues—and rescues often at precisely the moment when all seems lost. Trapped in Egypt and withering under suffocating oppression, the Israelites imagined no possibility for escape. In Exodus, however, we find God offering them words resounding with hope: “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt,” He said. “I have heard them crying out . . . and I am concerned about their suffering” (3:7). And God not only saw—God acted. “I have come down to rescue them” (v.8). God led Israel out of bondage. This was a divine rescue. God’s rescue of Israel reveals God’s heart—and His power—to help all of us who are in need. He assists those of us who are destined for ruin unless God arrives to save us. Though our situation may be dire or impossible, we can lift our eyes and heart and watch for the One who loves to rescue.
Jun
6
2021
Sojourner Truth, whose birth name was Isabella Baumfree, was born a slave in 1797 in Esopus, New York. Though nearly all of her children were sold as slaves, she escaped to freedom in 1826 with one daughter and lived with a family who paid the money for her freedom. Instead of allowing an unjust system to keep her family apart, she took legal action to regain her small son Peter—an amazing feat for an African-American woman in that day. Knowing she couldn’t raise her children without God’s help, she became a believer in Christ and later changed her name to Sojourner Truth to show that her life was built on the foundation of God’s truth. King Solomon, the writer of Proverbs 14:1, declares, “The wise woman builds her house.” In contrast, one without wisdom “tears hers down.” This building metaphor shows the wisdom God provides to those willing to listen. How does one build a house with wisdom? By saying “only what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:29; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:11). How does one tear down? Proverbs 14 gives the answer: “A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride” (v. 3). Sojourner had a “secure fortress” (v. 26) in a turbulent time, thanks to the wisdom of God. You may never have to rescue your children from an injustice. But you can build your house on the same foundation Sojourner did—the wisdom of God.
Jun
5
2021
Inside my parents’ old photo album is a picture of a young boy. He has a round face, freckles, and straight light-blond hair. He loves cartoons, hates avocado, and owns just one record, by Abba. Also inside that album are pictures of a teenager. His face is long, not round; his hair is wavy, not straight. He has no freckles, likes avocado, watches movies rather than cartoons, and would never admit to owning an Abba record! The boy and the teenager are little alike. According to science they have different skin, teeth, blood, and bones. And yet they are both me. This paradox has baffled philosophers. Since we change throughout our lives, who is the real us? The Scriptures provide the answer. From the moment God began knitting us in the womb (Psalm 139:13–14), we’ve been growing into our unique design. While we can’t yet imagine what we’ll finally become, we know that if we’re children of God we will ultimately be like Jesus (1 John 3:2)—our body with His nature, our personality but His character, all our gifts glistening, all our sins gone. Until the day Jesus returns, we’re being drawn towards this future self. By His work, step by step, we can reflect His image ever more clearly (2 Corinthians 3:18). We aren’t yet who we’re meant to be, but as we become like Him, we become our true selves.
Jun
4
2021
  Xochitl E. Dixon   Suggested Reading: Romans 12:9–13   Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12   Rogelio served as our waiter during our weeklong vacation. During one conversation, he credited Jesus for blessing him with Kaly, a compassionate wife with strong faith. After they had their first baby, God gave them the opportunity to help care for their niece who had Downs Syndrome. Soon after, Rogelio’s mother-in-law needed live-in care. Rogelio works with joy, often taking on double shifts to ensure his wife can stay home to care for the people God entrusted to them. When I shared how the couple opening their hearts and home to serve their family members inspired me to love better, he said, “It is my pleasure to serve them . . . and you.” Rogelio’s life affirms the power of living with generosity and trusting the Lord to provide as we serve one another selflessly. The apostle Paul urged God’s people to be “devoted to one another in love . . . joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” as we “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” and practice hospitality (Romans 12:10–13). Our life can change in an instant, leaving us or those we love in circumstances that feel impossible to bear. But when we’re willing to share all God has given us while we wait on Him, we can cling to His enduring hope . . . together.  
Jun
3
2021
In 1983, three teens were arrested for the murder of a fourteen-year-old. According to news reports, the younger teen was “shot . . . because of his [athletic] jacket.” Sentenced to life in prison, the three spent thirty-six years behind bars before evidence surfaced that revealed their innocence. Another man had committed the crime. Before the judge released them as free men, he issued an apology. No matter how hard we try (and no matter how much good is done by our officials), human justice is often flawed. We never have all the information. Sometimes dishonest people manipulate the facts. Sometimes we’re just wrong. And often, evils may take years to be righted, if they ever are in our lifetime. Thankfully, unlike fickle humans, God wields perfect justice. “His works are perfect,” says Moses, “and all his ways are just” (Deuteronomy 32:4). God sees things as they truly are. In time, after we humans have done our worst, God will bring about final, ultimate justice. Though uncertain of the timing, we have confidence because we serve a “faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (v. 4). We may be dogged by uncertainty regarding what’s right or wrong. We may fear that the injustices done to us or those we love will never be made right. But we can trust the God of justice to one day—either in this life or the next—enact justice for us.
Jun
2
2021
I dropped to my knees and let my tears fall to the floor. “God, why aren’t you taking care of me?” I cried. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. I’d been laid-off for almost a month, and something had gone wrong with my unemployment application. I hadn’t received any money yet, and on top of that, the stimulus check the US government had promised hadn’t arrived. Deep down, I trusted that God would work out everything. I believed He truly loved me and would take care of me, but in that moment, I felt abandoned. The book of Lamentations reminds us it’s okay to lament. The book was likely written during or soon after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587 bc and describes the affliction (3:1, 19), oppression (1:18), and starvation (2:20; 4:10) the people faced. Yet, in the middle of the book the author remembers why he could hope: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22–23). Despite the devastation, the author remembered that God remains faithful. Sometimes it feels impossible to believe that “the Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him” (v. 25), especially when we don’t see an end to our suffering. But we can cry out to Him, trust that He hears us, and that He'll be faithful to see us through.
Jun
1
2021
I came to learn about Catherine Hamlin, a remarkable Australian surgeon, through reading her obituary. In Ethiopia, Catherine and her husband established the world’s only hospital dedicated to curing women from the devastating physical and emotional trauma of obstetric fistulas, a common injury in the developing world that can occur during childbirth. Catherine is credited with overseeing the treatment of more than 60,000 women. Still operating at the hospital when she was 92 years old, and still beginning each day with a cup of tea and Bible study, Hamlin told curious questioners that she was an ordinary believer in Jesus who was simply doing the job God had given her to do.  I was grateful to learn about her remarkable life because she powerfully exemplified for me Scripture’s encouragement to believers to live our lives in such a way that even people who actively reject God “may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).   The power of God’s Spirit that called us out of spiritual darkness into a relationship with God (v. 9) can also transform our work or areas of service into testimonies of our faith. For whatever passion or skill God has gifted us, we can embrace added meaning and purpose in doing all of it in a manner that has the power to point people to God.
May
31
2021
She was perhaps the greatest “scapecow” in history. We don’t know if her name was Daisy, Madeline, or Gwendolyn (each name has been suggested), but Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was blamed for the 1871 Great Chicago Fire that left every third resident of the city homeless. Carried by strong winds through wooden structures, the fire burned for three days and took the lives of nearly 300 people. For years, many believed the fire began when the cow knocked over a lantern left burning in a shed. After further investigation—126 years later—the city’s Committee on Police and Fire passed a resolution exonerating the cow and her owners and suggesting the activities of a neighbor warranted scrutiny. Justice often takes time, and Scripture acknowledges how difficult that can be. The refrain, “How long?” is repeated four times in Psalm 13: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (vv. 1–2). But in the middle of his lament, David finds reason for faith and hope: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5). Even when justice is delayed, God’s love will never fail us. We can trust and rest in Him not just for the moment but for eternity.  
May
30
2021
For Christopher, a physically disabled veteran, everyday activities had become more challenging, took longer to finish, and increased his pain. Still, he did his best to serve his wife and child. Passersby would see him using a push-mower to cut his lawn every week.One day, Christopher received a letter—and an expensive riding lawnmower—from an anonymous donor. The secret giver’s satisfaction came through the privilege of helping someone in need. Jesus doesn’t say that all of our giving should be in secret, but He does remind us to check our motives when we give (Matthew 6:1). He also said: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others” (v. 2). While the Lord expects us to be openhanded givers, He encourages us to avoid doing good deeds in front of people for the purpose of receiving accolades or special recognition (v. 3). When we realize everything we have comes from God, we can be secret givers who don’t need to pat our own backs or gain the admiration of others. Our all-knowing Giver of all good things delights in the genuine generosity of His people. Nothing beats the reward of His approval.
May
29
2021
Helen Roseveare, an English missionary physician in the African Congo, was taken prisoner by rebels during the Simba Rebellion in 1964. Beaten and abused by her captors, she suffered terribly. In the days that followed, she found herself asking, “Is it worth it?” As she began to ponder the cost of following Jesus, she sensed God speaking to her about it. Years later she explained to an interviewer, “When the awful moments came during the rebellion and the price seemed too high to pay, the Lord seemed to say to me, ‘Change the question. It’s not, ‘Is it worth it?’ It’s ‘Am I worthy?’” She concluded that in spite of the pain she had endured, “Always the answer is ‘Yes, He is worthy.’” Through God’s grace at work within her during her harrowing ordeal, Helen Roseveare decided that the Savior who had suffered even death for her was worthy to be followed no matter what she faced. Her words, “He is worthy” echo the cries of those surrounding Jesus’ throne in the book of Revelation: “In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’” (5:12). Our Savior suffered and bled and died for us, giving Himself entirely, so that we may freely receive eternal life and hope. His all deserves our all. He is worthy!
May
28
2021
In 2019, a climber saw his last sunrise from the peak of Mount Everest. He survived the dangerous ascent, but the high altitude squeezed his heart, and he passed away on the trek down. One medical expert warns climbers not to think of the summit as their journey’s end. They must get up and down quickly, remembering “they’re in the Death Zone.” David survived his dangerous climb to the top. He killed lions and bears, slew Goliath, dodged Saul’s spear and pursuing army, and conquered Philistines and Ammonites to become king of the mountain. But David forgot he was in the death zone. At the peak of his success, as “the Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (2 Samuel 8:6), he committed adultery and murder. His initial mistake? He lingered on the mountaintop. When his army set out for new challenges, he “remained in Jerusalem” (11:1). David once had volunteered to fight Goliath; now he relaxed in the accolades of his triumphs. It’s hard to stay grounded when everyone, including God, says you’re special (2 Samuel 7:11–16). But we must. If we’ve achieved some success, we may appropriately celebrate the accomplishment and accept congratulations, but we must keep moving. We’re in the death zone. Come down the mountain. Humbly serve others in the valley—asking God to guard our heart and our steps.  
May
27
2021
On a hike in the mountains, Adrian found himself above some low-lying clouds. With the sun behind him, Adrian looked down and saw not only his shadow but also a brilliant display known as a Brocken spectre. This phenomenon resembles a rainbow halo, encircling the shadow of the person. It occurs when the sunlight reflects back off the clouds below. Adrian described it as a “magical” moment, one that delighted him immensely. We can imagine how similarly stunning seeing the first rainbow must have been for Noah. More than just a delight to his eyes, the refracted light and resulting colors came with a promise from God. After a devastating flood, God assured Noah, and all the “living creatures” who’ve lived since, that “never again [would] the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Genesis 9:15). Our earth still experiences floods and other frightening weather that results in tragic loss, but the rainbow is a promise that God will never judge the earth again with a worldwide flood. This promise of His faithfulness can remind us that though we individually will experience personal losses and physical death on this earth—whether by disease, natural disaster, wrongdoing, or advancing age—God bolsters us with His love and presence throughout the difficulties we face. Sunlight reflecting colors through water is a reminder of His faithfulness to fill the earth with those who bear His image and reflect His glory to others.  
May
26
2021
Given enough sunlight and water, vibrant wildflowers carpet areas of California such as Antelope Valley and Figueroa Mountain. But what happens when drought strikes? Scientists have discovered that certain wildflowers store large quantities of their seeds underground instead of allowing them to push through the soil and bloom. After the drought, the plants use the seeds they have saved to begin to flourish again. The ancient Israelites thrived in the land of Egypt, despite harsh conditions. Slave masters forced them to work in fields and make bricks. Ruthless overseers required them to build entire cities for Pharaoh. The king of Egypt even tried to use infanticide to reduce their numbers. However, because God sustained them, “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread” (Exodus 1:12). Many Bible scholars estimate that the population of Israelite men, women, and children grew to two million (or more) during their time in Egypt. God, who preserved His people then, is upholding us today, as well. He can help us in any environment. We may worry about enduring through another season. But the Bible assures us that God, who “cares so wonderfully for the wildflowers that are here today and [are gone] tomorrow” can provide for our needs (Matthew 6:30 nlt).
May
25
2021
The four chaplains weren’t known as “heroes.” But on a frigid February night in 1943, when their transport ship, the SS Dorchester, was torpedoed off the coast of Greenland during World War II, the four gave their all to calm hundreds of panicked soldiers. With the ship sinking and injured men jumping for overcrowded lifeboats, the four chaplains calmed pandemonium by “preaching courage,” a survivor said. When life jackets ran out, each took his off, giving it to a frightened young man. They had determined to go down with the ship so that others might live. Said one survivor: "It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven." Linking arms as the ship began to sink, the chaplains prayed aloud together, offering encouragement to those perishing with them. Bravery marks their saga. Love, however, defines the gift the four offered. Paul urged such love of all believers, including those in the storm-tossed church at Corinth. Roiled by conflict, corruption, and sin, Paul urged them to “be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). Then he added, “Do everything in love” (v. 14). It’s a sterling command for every believer in Jesus, especially during a crisis. In life, when upheaval threatens, our bravest response reflects Christ—giving to others His love.
May
24
2021
The man ahead of me at the carwash was on a mission. He purposefully strode to the back of his pickup and removed the hitch, so it wouldn’t snag the high-powered rolling brushes. He paid the attendant then pulled onto the automated track—where he left his truck in drive. The attendant shouted after him, “Neutral! Neutral!” but the man’s windows were up and he couldn’t hear. He zipped through the car wash in four seconds flat. His truck barely got wet. Elijah was on a mission too. He was busy serving God in big ways. He had just defeated the prophets of Baal in a supernatural showdown, which left him drained (see 1 Kings 18:16–39). He needed time in neutral. God brought Elijah to Mount Horeb, where He had appeared to Moses long before. Once again God shook the mountain. But He wasn’t in the rock-shattering wind, earthquake, or raging fire. Instead, God came to Elijah in a gentle whisper. “When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out” to meet the Lord (1 Kings 19:13). You and I are on a mission. We put our lives in drive to accomplish big things for our Savior. But if we never shift down to neutral, we can zip through life and miss the outpouring of His Spirit. God whispers, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Neutral! Neutral!
May
23
2021
Caden, a young man of almost eighteen, was anticipating attending his first choice of a college on an academic scholarship. He was involved in a campus ministry in high school and looked forward to participating in a similar ministry in the new environment. He’d saved money from his part-time job and also had an excellent lead on a new job. He’d established some great goals, and everything was coming together exactly on schedule. And then in the spring of 2020 a global health crisis changed everything. The school let Caden know that his first semester would probably be online. The campus ministry was on hiatus. The job prospect dried up when the business closed. As he despaired, his buddy glibly quoted words from a well-known professional boxer: “Yeah, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Proverbs 16 tells us that when we commit all we do to God, He’ll establish our plans and work things out according to His will (vv. 3–4). True commitment, however, can be difficult. It involves an open heart to God’s direction, along with a willingness to resist charting our course independently (v. 9; 19:21) Dreams that don’t come to fruition can bring disappointment, but our limited vision for the future can never compete with God’s all-knowing ways. As we yield ourselves to Him, we can be certain that He’s still lovingly directing our steps even when we don’t see the path ahead (16:9).
May
22
2021
After Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, he parachuted into the Russian countryside. A farmwoman spotted the orange-clad cosmonaut, still wearing his helmet and dragging two parachutes. “Can it be that you have come from outer space?” she asked in surprise. “As a matter of fact, I have,” he said. Soviet leaders sadly turned the historic flight into anti-religious propaganda. “Gagarin went into space, but he didn’t see any god there,” their premier declared. (Gagarin himself never said such a thing.) As C. S. Lewis observed, “Those who do not find [God] on earth are unlikely to find Him in space.” Jesus warned us about ignoring God in this life. He told a story of two men who died—a rich man who had no time for God, and Lazarus, a destitute man rich in faith (Luke 16:19–23). In torment, the rich man pleaded with Abraham for his brothers still on earth. “Send Lazarus,” he begged Abraham. “If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent” (vv. 27, 30). Abraham got to the heart of the problem: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (v. 31). “Seeing is never believing,” wrote Oswald Chambers. “We interpret what we see in the light of what we believe.”
May
21
2021
Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, is vast and magnificent. Measuring one mile deep and nearly 400 miles (636 km) by 49 miles (79 km) across, it contains one-fifth of all the surface fresh water in the world. But this water is largely inaccessible. Lake Baikal is located in Siberia—one of the most remote areas of Russia. With water so desperately needed in much of our planet, it’s ironic that such a vast supply of water is tucked away in a place where not many people can access it. Although Lake Baikal may be remote, there is an endless source of life-giving water that is available and accessible to those who need it most. When at a well in Samaria, Jesus engaged a woman in conversation, probing at the edges of her deep spiritual thirst. The solution to her heart-need? Jesus Himself. In contrast to the water she had come to draw from the well, Jesus invited, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13–14). Many things promise satisfaction but never fully quench our thirsty hearts. Jesus alone can truly satisfy our spiritual thirst, and His provision is available to everyone, everywhere.
May
20
2021
In Papua New Guinea, the Kandas tribe awaited with excitement the arrival of New Testament Bibles printed in their language. To get there, however, both the books and their visitors had to travel on the ocean in small boats to reach the village. What gave them courage to travel across great waters? Their seafaring skills, yes. But they also know who created the seas. He is the One who guides each of us across our life’s churning waves and deepest waters. As David wrote, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” (Psalm 139:7). “If I go up to the heavens, you are there . . . if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (vv. 8–10). These words would resonate deeply with the Kandas, who live on an island nation whose tropical coasts, dense rainforests, and rugged mountains have been called “The Last Unknown.” Yet as believers there and everywhere know, no place or problem is too remote for God. “Even the darkness will not be dark to you,” says Psalm 139:12, and “the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” On stormy waters, therefore, our Lord speaks, “Peace, be still!” and the waves and wind obey (Mark 4:39 nkjv). So, don’t fear life’s deep or turbulent waters today. Our God safely leads us ashore.
May
19
2021
I’d see her welcoming the dawn each day. She was our local power walker. As I drove my kids to school, she’d be there on the road’s shoulder. Equipped with an oversized pair of headphones and knee-high, colorful socks, she walked with an alternating movement of arms and feet, always with one foot in contact with the ground. The sport is different from running or jogging. Power walking involves an intentional restraint, a reining in of the body’s natural inclination to run. Although it doesn’t look like it, there’s just as much energy, focus, and power involved as in running or jogging. But it’s under control. Power under control—that’s the key. Biblical humility, like power walking, is often viewed as weakness. The truth is, it’s not. Humility is not diminishing our strengths or abilities, but rather allowing them to be reined in much like the arms and legs and feet guided by the mind of an early morning power walker. Micah’s words “walk humbly,” are a call for us to rein in our inclination to go ahead of God. He says to “act justly and love mercy” (6:8) and that can bring with it a desire to do something and do it fast. That’s fair since the daily injustices in our world are so overwhelming. But we are to be controlled and directed by God. Our goal is to see His will and purposes accomplished in the dawning of His kingdom here on earth.
May
18
2021
She loaded the plastic container of cupcakes onto the conveyor belt, sending it toward the cashier. Next came the birthday card and various bags of chips. Hair escaped from her ponytail, crowning her fatigued forehead. Her toddler clamored for attention. The clerk announced the total and the mom’s face fell. “Oh, I guess I’ll have to put something back. But these are for her party,” she sighed, glancing regretfully at her child. Standing behind her in line, another customer felt this mother’s pain. Then Jesus’ words to Mary of Bethany echoed to her: “She did what she could” (Mark 14:8). After anointing Him with a bottle of expensive nard before His death and burial, Mary was ridiculed by the disciples. Jesus corrected His followers by celebrating what she had done. Jesus didn’t say, “She did all she could,” but rather, “She did what she could.” The lavish cost of the perfume wasn’t His point. It was Mary’s investment of her love in action that mattered. A relationship with Jesus results in a response. In that moment, the second customer sensed God’s nudge. Before the mom could object, she leaned forward and inserted her credit card into the reader, paying for the purchase. It wasn’t a large expense, and the woman had the extra funds that month. But to that mom, it was everything. A gesture of pure love poured out in her moment of need.
May
17
2021
In the mid-1960s, two people participated in research on the effects of darkness on the human psyche. They entered separate caves, while researchers tracked their eating and sleeping habits. One remained in total darkness for 88 days, the other 126 days. Each guessed how long they could remain in darkness and were off by months. One took what he thought was a short nap only to discover he’d slept for 30 hours. Darkness is disorienting. The people of God found themselves in the darkness of impending exile. They waited, unsure of what would take place. The prophet Isaiah used darkness as a metaphor for their disorientation and as a way of speaking about God’s judgment (Isaiah 8:22). Previously, the Egyptians had been visited with darkness as a plague (Exodus 10:21–29). Now, it was Israel that found herself in darkness. But a light would come. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2) Oppression would be broken, disorientation would end. A Child would come to change everything and bring about a new day—a day of forgiveness and freedom (v. 6). Jesus did come! And although the darkness of the world can be disorienting, may we experience the comfort of the forgiveness, freedom, and light found in Christ.
May
16
2021
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days,” opens the famous poem “The Hound of Heaven” by English poet Francis Thompson. Thompson describes Jesus’ unceasing pursuit—despite his efforts to hide, or even run away, from God. The poet concludes “I am he whom Thou seekest!” The pursuing love of God is a central theme of the book of Jonah. The prophet received an assignment to tell the people of Nineveh (notorious enemies of Israel) about their need to turn to God, but instead “Jonah ran away from the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). He secured passage on a ship sailing in the opposite direction of Nineveh but the vessel was soon overcome by a violent storm. To save the ship’s crew, Jonah was thrown overboard before being swallowed by a large fish (1:15–17). In his own beautiful poem, Jonah recounted that despite his best efforts to run away from God, God pursued him. When Jonah was overcome by his situation and needed to be saved, he cried out to God in prayer and turned toward His love (vv. 2, 8). God answered and provided rescue not only for Jonah, but for his Assyrian enemies as well (v. 10). As described in both poems, there may be seasons of our lives when we try to run from God. Even then Jesus loves us and is at work to guide us back into restored relationship with Him (1 John 1:9).
May
15
2021
In his book Human Universals, anthropologist Donald Brown lists more than four hundred behaviors that he considers common across humanity. He includes such things as toys, jokes, dances, and proverbs, wariness of snakes, and tying things with string! Likewise, he believes all cultures have concepts of right and wrong, where generosity is praised, promises valued, and things like meanness and murder understood to be wrong. We all have a sense of conscience, wherever we’re from. The apostle Paul made a similar point many centuries ago. While God gave the Jewish people the Ten Commandments to clarify right from wrong, Paul noted that since gentiles could do right by obeying their conscience, God’s laws were evidently written on their hearts (Romans 2:14–15). But that didn’t mean people always did what was right. The gentiles rebelled against their conscience (1:32), the Jews broke the Law (2:17–24), leaving both guilty. But through faith in Jesus, God removes the death penalty from all our rule-breaking (3:23–26; 6:23). Since God created all humans with a sense of right and wrong, each of us will likely feel some guilt over a bad thing we’ve done or a good thing we failed to do. When we confess those sins, God wipes away the guilt like a whiteboard wiped clean. All we have to do is ask Him—whoever we are, wherever we’re from.
May
14
2021
I can close my eyes and go back in time to the house where I grew up. I remember stargazing with my father. We took turns squinting through his telescope, trying to focus on glowing dots that shimmered and winked with eye-catching brilliance. These pinpricks of light, born of heat and fire, stood out in sharp contrast to the smooth, ink-black sky. Do you consider yourself to be a shining star? I’m not talking about reaching the heights of human achievement, but standing out as a light against a dark background of brokenness and evil. The apostle Paul told the Philippian believers that God would shine in and through them as they held “firmly to the word of life” and avoided grumbling and arguing (Philippians 2:14-16). Our unity with other believers and our faithfulness to God can set Christians apart from the world. The problem is, these things don’t come naturally. We constantly strive to overcome temptation so we can maintain a close relationship with God. We wrestle against selfishness to have harmony with our spiritual brothers and sisters. But still, there is hope. Alive in each believer, God’s Spirit empowers us to be self-controlled, kind, and faithful (Galatians 5:19-23). Just as we are called to live beyond our natural capacity, Gods supernatural help makes this possible (v. 13). If every believer became a “shining star” through the power of the Spirit, just imagine how the light of God would repel the darkness around us.
May
13
2021
My old dog sits by my side and stares off into space. A penny for her thoughts. One thing I know she isn’t thinking about is dying, because dogs don’t “understand.” They don’t think about future things. But we do. No matter our age or health or wealth, we at some point think about dying. That’s because we, unlike beasts, have “understanding,” according to Psalm 49:20. We know that we will die, and there’s nothing we can do about it. “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them” (v. 7). No one has enough money to buy himself or herself out of the grave.   But there is a way out of the finality of death: “God will redeem me from the realm of the dead,” insists the psalmist. "He will surely take me to himself” (v. 15) (literally, “He will take me in”). Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. ” God has redeemed us from death through His Son, "who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:6). Thus Jesus promised that when our time comes, He will greet us and take us in (John 14:3). When my time comes, Jesus, who gave to God the price of my life, will welcome me into His Father's house with open arms.
May
12
2021
In Australia, a report outlined “a grim story” of extreme drought, heat, and fire. The account described a horrific year with only minuscule rainfall, turning parched brush into tinder. Raging fires torched the countryside. Fish died. Crops failed. All because they didn’t have a simple resource we often take for granted—this supply we all need in order to live: water. Israel found itself in its own terrifying dilemma. As the people camped in the dusty, barren desert, we read this alarming line: “There was no water for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:1). The people were afraid. Their throats were dry. The sand sizzled. Their children suffered thirst. Terrified, the people “quarreled with Moses,” demanding water (v. 2). But what could Moses do? He could only go to God. And God gave Moses odd instructions: “Take . . . the staff [and] strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink” (vv. 5–6). So Moses hit the rock, and out gushed a river, plenty for the people and their cattle. That day, Israel knew that their God loved them. Their God provided abundant water. If you’re experiencing a drought or wilderness in life, know that God is aware of it and He’s with you. Whatever your need, whatever your lack, may you find hope and refreshment in His abundant waters.
May
11
2021
After a painful minor surgery on my left eye, my doctor recommended a vision test. With confidence, I covered my right eye and read each line on the chart with ease. Covering my left eye, I gasped. How could I not realize I’d been so blind? While adjusting to new glasses and renewed vision, I thought of how daily trials often caused me to be spiritually nearsighted. Focusing only on what I could see up-close—my pain and ever-changing circumstances—I became blind to the faithfulness of my eternal and unchanging God. With such a limited perspective, hope became an unattainable blur. First Samuel 1 tells the story of another woman who failed to recognize God’s trustworthiness while focusing on her current anguish, uncertainty, and loss. For years, Hannah had endured childlessness and endless torment from Peninnah, another wife of her husband Elkanah. Hannah’s husband adored her, but contentment evaded her. One day, she prayed with bitter honesty. When Eli the priest questioned her, she explained her situation. He assured her that God would “grant her request” (1 Samuel 1:17). Though Hannah’s situation didn’t change immediately, she walked away with confident hope (v. 18). Her prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-2 reveals a shift in Hannah’s focus. Even before her circumstances improved, Hannah’s renewed vision changed her perspective and her attitude. She rejoiced in the ongoing presence of God—her Rock and everlasting hope.
May
10
2021
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln once found himself wanting to please a politician, so he issued a command to transfer certain Union Army regiments. When the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, received the order, he refused to carry it out. He said that the president was a fool. Lincoln was told what Stanton had said, and he replied: “If Stanton said I’m a fool, then I must be, for he is nearly always right. I’ll see for myself.” As the two men talked, the president quickly realized that his decision was a serious mistake, and without hesitation he withdrew it. Though Stanton had called Lincoln a fool, the president proved himself wise by not digging in his heels when Stanton disagreed with him. Instead, Lincoln listened to advice, considered it, and changed his mind. Have you ever encountered someone who simply wouldn’t listen to wise advice? (See 1 Kings 12:1–8.) It can be infuriating, can’t it? Or, even more personal, have you ever refused to listen to advice? As Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” People may not always be right, but the same goes for us! Knowing that everyone makes mistakes, only fools assume they’re the exception. Instead, let’s exercise godly wisdom and listen to the wise advice of others—even if we initially disagree. Sometimes that’s exactly how God works for our good (v. 2).
May
9
2021
A young father held his baby boy in his arms, singing to him and rocking him in soothing rhythm. Music played in the background while the father sang out the lyrics to his son. The baby was hearing-impaired, unable to hear the melody or the words. Yet the father sang anyway, in a beautiful, tender act of love toward his son. And his efforts were rewarded with a delightful smile from the baby boy.   The imagery of the father-son exchange bears a striking resemblance to the words of Zephaniah. The Old Testament prophet says that God will joyfully sing over His daughter, the people of Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:17). God enjoys doing good things for His beloved people: taking away their punishment and turning back their enemies (v. 15). Zephaniah says they no longer have any reason for fear and instead have cause for rejoicing.   We, as God’s children redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, sometimes are hard of hearing—unable, or perhaps unwilling, to tune our ears to the exuberant love God sings over us. His adoration of us is like that of the young father, who lovingly sang to his son despite his inability to hear. He has taken away our punishment too, giving us further reason to rejoice. Perhaps we might try to listen more closely to hear the joy ringing loudly in His voice. Lord, help us to hear Your loving melody and savor being held safely in Your arms.
May
8
2021
A friend and I recently visited a favorite walking spot of mine. Climbing a windswept hill, we crossed a field of wildflowers into a forest of towering pines, then descended into a valley where we paused a moment. Clouds floated softly above us. A stream trickled nearby. The only sounds were birdsongs. Jason and I stood there silently for fifteen minutes, taking it all in. As it turns out, our actions that day were deeply therapeutic. According to research from the University of Derby, people who stop to contemplate nature experience higher levels of happiness, lower levels of anxiety, and a greater desire to care for the earth. Walking through the forest isn’t enough, though. You have to watch the clouds, listen to the birds. The key isn’t being in nature, but noticing it. Could there be a spiritual reason for nature’s benefits? Paul said that creation reveals God’s power and nature (Romans 1:20). God told Job to look at the sea, sky, and stars for evidence of His presence (Job 38–39). Jesus said that contemplating the “birds of the air” and “flowers of the field” could reveal God’s care and reduce anxiety (Matthew 6:25–30). In Scripture, noticing nature is a spiritual practice. Scientists wonder why nature affects us so positively. Maybe one reason is that by noticing nature we catch a glimpse of the God who created it and who notices us.
May
7
2021
Liz cried for joy when she and her husband received the birth certificate and passport for their child, making the adoption legally binding. Now Milena would always be their daughter, forever part of their family. As she pondered the legal process, she also thought of the “true exchange” that happens when we become part of Jesus’s family: “No longer are we held down by our birthright of sin and brokenness.” Rather, she continued, we enter into the fullness of God’s kingdom legally when we are adopted as His children. In the apostle Paul’s day, if a Roman family adopted a son, his legal status would change completely. Any debts from his old life would be canceled and he would gain all of the rights and privileges of his new family. Paul wanted the Roman Christians to understand that this new status applied to them too. No longer were they bound to sin and condemnation but now they lived “according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). And those the Spirit leads are adopted as God’s children (vv. 14–15). Their legal status changed when they became citizens of heaven. If we have received the gift of salvation, we too are God’s children, heirs of His kingdom and united with Christ. Our debts have been cancelled by the gift of Jesus’s sacrifice. We no longer need to live in fear or condemnation.
May
6
2021
In the past year or so, a number of authors have urged believers to take a fresh look at the “vocabulary” of our faith. One writer, for example, emphasized that even theologically rich words of faith can lose their impact when, through overfamiliarity and overuse, we lose touch with the depths of the gospel and our need for God. When that happens, he suggested, we may need to relearn the language of faith “from scratch,” letting go of our assumptions until we can see the good news for the first time. The invitation to learn to “speak God from scratch” reminds me of Paul, who devoted his life to “become all things to all people . . . for the sake of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:22–23). He never assumed he knew best how to communicate what Jesus had done. Instead, he relied on constant prayer and pleaded for fellow believers to pray for him as well—to help him find “the right words” (Ephesians 6:19 nlt) to share the good news. The apostle also knew the need for each believer in Christ to remain humble and receptive each day to their need for deeper roots in His love (3:16–17). For it’s only as we deepen our roots in God’s love, each day becoming more aware of our dependence on His grace, that we can begin to find the right words to share the incredible news of what He’s done for us.
May
5
2021
In a Peanuts comic strip, the very enterprising character Lucy advertised “psychiatric help” for five cents. Linus found his way to her office and acknowledged his “deep feelings of depression.” When he asked her what he could do about his condition, Lucy’s quick reply was, “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.” While such light-hearted entertainment brings a momentary smile, the sadness and gloom that can grip us when real life happens is not that easily dismissed. Feelings of hopelessness and despair are real, and sometimes professional attention is needed. Lucy’s advice wasn’t helpful in addressing real anguish. However, the writer of Psalm 88 does offer something instructive and hopeful. A truckload of trouble had arrived at his doorstep. And so with raw honesty he poured out his heart to God. “I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death” (v. 3). “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths” (v. 6). “Darkness is my closest friend” (v. 18). We hear, feel and perhaps identify with the psalmist’s pain. Yet, that’s not all. His lament is laced with hope. “Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry” (vv. 1–2; see vv. 9, 13). Heavy things do come and practical steps such as counsel and medical care may be needed. But never abandon hope in God.
May
4
2021
In early 2019, Charlie VanderMeer died at the age of 84. For many decades, he was known to thousands and thousands of people as Uncle Charlie, the host of a national radio broadcast called Children’s Bible Hour. The day before Uncle Charlie slipped into eternity, he told a good friend, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Of course, I’m talking about Jesus Christ.” Even as he faced the end of his life, Uncle Charlie couldn’t help but talk about Jesus and the necessity for people to receive Him as their Savior. The apostle Paul considered knowing Jesus his most important task: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8–9). And how do we know Jesus? “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). We may know facts about Jesus, we may know all about the church, and we may even be familiar with the Bible. But the only way to know Jesus as Savior is to accept His free gift of salvation. He’s the Who we need to know.
May
3
2021
When two firefighters, weary and sooty, stopped at a restaurant for breakfast, the waitress recognized the men from the news and realized they’d spent the night battling a warehouse fire. To show her appreciation, she wrote a note on their bill, “Your breakfast is on me today. Thank you . . . for serving others and for running into the places everyone else runs away from. . . . Fueled by fire and driven by courage, what an example you are.”  In the Old Testament, we see an example of courage in the actions of three young men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3). Instead of obeying the mandate to bow down to a statue of the Babylonian king, these young men courageously showed their love for God through their refusal. Their penalty was to be thrown into a blazing furnace. Yet the men did not back down: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold” (3:17–18).  God did rescue them and even walked with them in the fire (vv. 25–27). In our fiery trials and troubles today, we too have the assurance that God is with us. He is able.
May
2
2021
For fifteen years, Mike Burden held hate-filled meetings in the memorabilia shop he ran in his small town. But in 2012 when his wife began to question his involvement, his heart softened. He realized how wrong his racist views were and didn’t want to be that person any longer. The militant group retaliated by kicking his family out of the apartment they’d been renting from a member. Where did he turn for help? Surprisingly, he went to a local black pastor, with whom he’d clashed. The pastor and his church provided housing and groceries for Mike’s family for some time. When asked why he agreed to help, Pastor Kennedy explained, “Jesus Christ did some very unpopular things. When it’s time to help, you do what God wants you to do.” Later Mike spoke at Kennedy’s church and apologized to the black community for his part in spreading hatred.  Jesus taught some unpopular ideas in the Sermon on the Mount: “Give to the one who asks you . . . . Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:42, 44). That’s the upside-down way of thinking God calls us to follow. Though it looks like weakness, it’s actually acting out of God’s strength.  The One who teaches us is the One who gives the power to live out this upside-down life in whatever way He asks of us.
May
1
2021
Historians say the Atomic Age began on July 16, 1945, when the first nuclear weapon was detonated in a remote desert of New Mexico. But long before the invention of anything that could even see these tiny building blocks of the universe, the Greek philosopher Democritus (c. 460 bc–370 bc) was exploring the existence and power of the atom. Democritus comprehended more than he could see, and atomic theory was the result. The Scriptures tell us that the essence of faith is embracing what can’t be seen. Hebrews 11:1 affirms, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This assurance is not the result of wishful or positive thinking. It is confidence in the God we cannot see but whose existence is the most real reality in the universe. His reality is displayed in His creative works (Psalm 19:1) and made visible by revealing His invisible character and ways in His Son, Jesus, who came to show the Father’s love to us (John 1:18). This is the God in whom “we live and move and have our being,” as the apostle Paul put it (Acts 17:28). As such, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Yet we do not walk alone. The unseen God walks with us every step of the way.
Apr
30
2021
Sometimes the words of children can jolt us into a deeper understanding of God’s truth. When my daughter was young, I was telling her about one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith—that God through His Son and Spirit dwells in His children. As I tucked her into bed, I said that Jesus was with her and in her. “He’s in my tummy?” she asked. “Well, you haven’t swallowed Him,” I replied. “But He’s right there with you.” My daughter’s literal translation of Jesus being “in her tummy” made me stop and consider how when I asked Jesus to be my Savior, He came and took residence within me. The apostle Paul referred to this mystery when he prayed that the Holy Spirit would strengthen the believers in Ephesus so that Christ would “dwell in [their] hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). With Jesus living within, they could grasp how deeply He loved them. Fueled by this love, they would mature in their faith and love others with humility and gentleness (4:2–3) while speaking the truth in love (4:25). Jesus dwelling inside His followers means that His love never leaves those who’ve welcomed Him into their lives. His love that surpasses knowledge (3:19) roots us to Him, helping us to understand how deeply He loves us. Words written for children can say it best: “Yes, Jesus loves me!”
Apr
29
2021
In the seventh century, what is now called the United Kingdom was many kingdoms often at war. When one king, Oswald of Northumbria, became a Christian, he called for a missionary to bring the gospel to his region. A man named Corman was sent, but things didn’t go well. Finding the English “stubborn,” “barbarous,” and uninterested in his preaching, he frustratedly returned home. “I am of the opinion,” a monk named Aidan told Corman, “that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been.” Instead of giving the Northumbrians “the milk of more easy doctrine,” Corman had given them teaching they couldn’t yet grasp. Aidan went to Northumbria, adapted his preaching to the people’s understanding, and thousands became believers in Jesus. Aidan got this sensitive approach to mission from Scripture. “I gave you milk, not solid food,” Paul told the Corinthians, “for you were not yet ready for it” (1 Corinthians 3:2). Before right living can be expected from people, Hebrews says, basic teaching about Jesus, repentance, and baptism must be grasped (Hebrews 5:13–6:2). While maturity should follow (5:14), let’s not miss the order. Milk comes before meat. People can’t obey teaching they don’t understand. The faith of the Northumbrians ultimately spread to the rest of the country and beyond. Like Aidan, when sharing the gospel with others, we meet people where they are.
Apr
28
2021
Joe worked over twelve hours a day, often without taking breaks. Starting a charitable business demanded so much time and energy that he had little left to offer his wife and children when he got home. After the toll of chronic stress landed Joe in the hospital, a friend offered to organize a team to help him. Though he dreaded giving up control, Joe knew he couldn’t keep up his current pace. He agreed to trust his friend—and God—as he delegated responsibilities to the group of people they chose together. A year later, Joe admitted the charity and his family could never have prospered if he’d refused the help God had sent him. God didn’t design people to thrive without the support of a loving community. In Exodus 18, Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness. He tried serving God’s people as a teacher, a counselor, and a judge all on his own. When his father-in-law visited, he offered Moses advice: “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out,” said Jethro. “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:18). He encouraged Moses to share the workload with faithful people. Moses accepted help and the whole community benefited. When we trust that God works in and through all His people as we work together, we can find true rest.
Apr
27
2021
“Daddy, will you read to me?” my daughter asked. It’s not an unusual question for a child to make of a parent. But my daughter is eleven now. These days, such requests are fewer than they were when she was younger. “Yes,” I said happily, and she curled up next to me on the couch. As I read to her (from The Fellowship of the Ring), she practically melted into me. It was one of those glorious moments as a parent, when we feel perhaps just an inkling of the perfect love our Father has for us and His deep desire for us to “cuddle in” to His presence and love for us. I realized in that moment that I’m a lot like my eleven-year-old. Much of the time, I’m focused on being independent. It’s so easy to lose touch with God’s love for us, a tender and protective love that Psalm 116 describes as “gracious and righteous . . . full of compassion” (v. 5). It’s a love where, like my daughter, I can curl up in God’s lap, at home in His delight for me. Psalm 116:7 suggests that we might need to regularly remind ourselves of God’s good love, and then crawl up into His waiting arms: “Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” And indeed He has been.
Apr
26
2021
A man walked into a convenience store in Wollongong, Australia, put a $20 bill on the counter and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer? Fifteen dollars. We all act foolishly at times—even if, unlike this would-be thief, we’re trying to do the right thing. The key is how we learn from our foolish behavior. Without correction, our poor choices can become habits, which will negatively shape our character. We’ll become “fools [who] lack sense” (Ecclesiastes 10:3).  Sometimes it’s hard to admit our foolishness because of the extra work it requires. Perhaps we need to reflect on a particular character flaw, and that’s painful. Or maybe we need to admit that a decision was made hastily and next time we should take more care. Whatever the reason, it never pays off to ignore our foolish ways. Thankfully, God can use our foolishness to discipline and shape us. Discipline isn’t “pleasant at the time” but its training yields good fruit in the long run (Hebrews 12:11). Let’s accept our Father’s discipline for our foolish behavior and ask Him to make us more like the sons and daughters He intends us to be.
Apr
25
2021
“She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” This sentence, pronounced by Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is the reason I will never forget that novel and its impact on me. Because after reading that one sentence, I firmly decided I would never like Mr. Darcy. But I was wrong. Like Austen’s character Elizabeth Bennet, I had the humbling experience of slowly—and quite reluctantly—changing my mind. Like her, I’d been unwilling to get to know Darcy’s character as a whole; I preferred to hang onto my reaction to one of his worst moments. After finishing the novel, I wondered who I’d made that same mistake with in the real world. What friendships had I missed because I wouldn’t let go of a snap judgment? At the heart of faith in Jesus is the experience of being seen, loved, and embraced by our Savior—at our worst (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:19). It’s the wonder of realizing we can surrender our old, false selves for who we truly are in Christ (Ephesians 4:23–24). And it’s the joy of understanding that we are no longer alone but part of a family, a “body” of those learning to walk the “way of love”—real, unconditional love (5:2). When we remember what Christ has done for us (v. 2), how can we not long to see others the way He sees us?
Apr
24
2021
For $300,000, you can buy a new McLaren 720S sports car. The vehicle comes with a V8 engine pumping 710 horsepower—considerably more than you’ll need for your morning commute. Of course, you might be tempted to use all that power. One Virginia driver learned his McLaren was so “fast” it could go from an upscale showroom to the scrap heap in just twenty-four hours! One day after buying the car, he slammed it into a tree. (Thankfully, he survived.) Just three chapters into the story of the Bible, we learn how a different bad choice and a tree marred God’s good creation. Adam and Eve ate from the one tree they were to leave alone (Genesis 3:11). The story has barely begun, and paradise is cursed (vv. 14–19). Another tree would play a role in undoing this curse—the cross Jesus endured on our behalf. His death purchased our future with Him (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). The story comes full circle in the Bible’s last chapter. There we read of “the tree of life” growing beside the “river of the water of life” (Revelations 22:1–2). As John describes it, this tree will be “for the healing of the nations” (v. 2). John assures us, “No longer will there be any curse” (v. 3). God’s story comes with the happily-ever-after we all long for.
Apr
23
2021
On her college volleyball team, my granddaughter learned a winning principle. When the ball came her way, no matter what, she could “better the ball.” She could make a play that left her teammates in a better situation—without throwing tantrums, blaming, or making excuses. Always make the situation better. That was Daniel’s response when he and three Hebrew friends were taken into captivity by Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar. Although they were given pagan names and ordered to three years of “training” in the enemy’s palace, Daniel didn’t rage. Instead, he asked permission not to defile himself in God’s sight by eating the king’s rich food and wine. As this intriguing Bible story shows, after consuming nothing but vegetables and water for ten days (Daniel 1:12), Daniel and his friends “looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (v. 15). Another time, Nebuchadnezzar threatened to kill Daniel and all palace wise men if they couldn’t repeat the king’s disturbing dream and interpret it. Again, Daniel didn’t panic, but sought mercy “from the God of heaven,” and the mystery was revealed to him in a vision (2:18–19). As Daniel declared of God, “wisdom and power are his” (v. 20). Throughout his captivity, Daniel sought God’s best despite the conflicts he faced. In our own troubles, may we follow that example, making the situation better by taking it to God.
Apr
22
2021
A video game, one that’s become a cultural phenomenon, places 100 players on a virtual island to compete until one player remains. Whenever a player eliminates you from the contest, you can continue to watch through that player’s vantage point. As one journalist notes, “When you step into another player’s shoes and inhabit their point of view, the emotional register . . . shifts from self-preservation to . . . communal solidarity. . . . You begin to feel invested in the stranger who, not too long ago, did you in.” Transformation happens whenever we open ourselves to see another’s experience, looking beyond our own vision and encountering another’s pain, fear or hopes. When we follow Jesus’ example and “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” and instead “in humility value others above [our]selves,” then we notice things we would have missed otherwise (Philippians 2:3). Our concerns broaden. We ask different questions. Rather than being preoccupied with only our own needs or angst, we become invested in others’ well-being. Rather than looking to “[our] own interests,” we become committed “to the interests of . . . others” (v. 4). Rather than protecting what we assume we need to thrive, we joyfully pursue whatever helps others flourish. With this transformed vision, we gain compassion for others. We discover new ways to love our family. We may even make a friend out of an enemy!
Apr
21
2021
Radamenes was just a kitten when his owner dropped him off at an animal shelter, thinking he was too ill to recover. The kitten was nursed back to health and adopted by the vet. He then became a fulltime resident at the shelter and now spends his days “comforting” cats and dogs—just out of surgery or recovering from an illness—through his warm presence and gentle purr. That story is a small picture of what our loving God does for us—and what we can do for others in return. He cares for us in our sickness and struggles, and He soothes us with His presence. The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians calls our Lord, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (1:3). When we are discouraged, depressed, or mistreated, God is there for us. When we turn to Him in prayer, He “comforts us in all our troubles” (v. 4). But verse 4 doesn’t end there. Paul, who had experienced intense suffering, continues, “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Our Father comforts us; and when we have experienced His comfort, we are enabled to comfort others. Our compassionate Savior, who suffered for us, is more than able to comfort us in our suffering and distress (v. 5). He helps us through our pain and equips us to do the same for others. 
Apr
20
2021
Lucy Worsley is a British historian and TV presenter. Like most people in the public eye, she sometimes receives nasty mail—in her case, over a mild speech impediment that makes her R’s sound like W’s. One person wrote this: “Lucy, I’ll be blunt: Please try harder to correct your lazy speech or remove R’s from your scripts—I couldn’t sit through your TV series because it made me so annoyed. Regards, Darren.” For some people, an insensitive comment like this might trigger an equally rude reply. But here’s how Lucy responded: “Oh Darren, I think you’ve used the anonymity of the internet to say something you probably wouldn’t say to my face. Please reconsider your unkind words! Lucy.” Lucy’s measured response worked. Darren apologized and vowed not to send anyone such an email again. “A gentle answer turns away wrath,” Proverbs says, “but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1). While the hot-tempered person stirs things up, the patient person calms them down (v. 18). When we get a critical comment from a colleague, a snide remark from a family member, or a nasty reply from a stranger, we have a choice: to speak angry words that fuel the flames or gentle words that douse them. May God help us to speak words that turn away wrath—and perhaps even help difficult people to change.
Apr
19
2021
Jason wailed as his parents handed him over to Amy. It was the two-year-old’s first time in the nursery while Mom and Dad attended the service—and he was not happy. Amy assured them he’d be fine. She tried to soothe him with toys and books, by rocking in a chair, walking around, standing still, and talking about what fun he could have. But everything was met with bigger tears and louder cries. Then she whispered five simple words in his ear: “I will stay with you.” Peace and comfort quickly came. Jesus offered His friends similar words of comfort during the week of His crucifixion: “The Father . . . will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). After His resurrection He gave them this promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus was soon to ascend to heaven, but He would send the Spirit to “stay” and live within His people. We experience the Spirit’s comfort and peace when our tears flow. We receive His guidance when we’re wondering what to do (John 14:26). He opens our eyes to understand more of God (Ephesians 1:17–20), and He helps us in our weakness and prays for us (Romans 8:26–27). He stays with us forever.
Apr
18
2021
In 2020 an outbreak of the coronavirus left the world in fear. People were quarantined, countries were put under lockdown, flights and large events were canceled. Those living in areas with no known cases still feared they might get the virus. Graham Davey, an expert on anxiety, believes that negative news broadcasts are “likely to make you sadder and more anxious.” A meme that’s been circulating on social media shows a man watching the news on TV and asking how to stop worrying. In response, another person in the room reached over and flipped off the TV, suggesting that the answer might be a shift in focus! Luke 12 gives us some advice to help us stop worrying: “Seek His kingdom” (v. 31). We seek God’s kingdom when we focus on the promise that His followers have an inheritance in heaven. When we face difficulty, we can shift our focus and remember that God sees us and knows what our needs are (vv. 24–30). Jesus encourages His disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (v. 32). God enjoys blessing us! Let’s worship Him, knowing He cares for us more than the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (vv. 22–29). Even in these difficult times, we can read the Scriptures, pray for God’s peace, and trust in our good and faithful God.
Apr
17
2021
When James was just six years old, his older brother David died tragically in an ice-skating accident. It was the day before David’s fourteenth birthday. In the years that followed, James tried his best to console his mother, Margaret, who in her deep grief sometimes reminded herself that her elder son would never have to face the challenges of growing up. In James Barrie’s fertile imagination, decades later that same idea would burgeon into inspiration for a much-loved children’s story character who never aged: Peter Pan. Like a flower pushing its way through pavement, good emerged even from the hard ground of unthinkable heartache. How comforting is the thought that God, in an infinitely more creative way, is able to bring good out of our most difficult circumstances. A beautiful illustration of this occurs in the Old Testament story of Ruth. Naomi lost her two sons, leaving her without means or support. Her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth chose to remain with Naomi to help provide for her and to serve her God (Ruth 1:16). In the end, God’s provision brought them unexpected joy. Ruth remarried and had a child, “and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17). He would also be listed among the ancestors of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). God’s tender mercy reaches beyond our ability to fathom and meets us in surprising places. Keep looking! Perhaps you will see it today.
Apr
16
2021
Near the foothills of the Himalayas, a visitor noticed a row of houses without windows. His guide explained that some of the villagers feared that demons might sneak into their homes while they slept, so they built impermeable walls. You could tell when a homeowner began to follow Jesus, because he put in windows to let in the light. A similar dynamic may take place in us, though we might not see it quite that way. We live in scary, polarizing times. Satan and his demons instigate angry divisions that split families and friends. I often feel like hiding behind my walls. Jesus wants me to cut in a window. Israel sought refuge in higher walls, but God said their security lay with Him. He reigns from heaven, and His word governs all (Isaiah 55:10–11). If Israel would return to Him, God would “have mercy on them” (v. 7) and restore them as His people to bless the world (Genesis 12:1–3). He would lift them up, ultimately leading them in triumphal parade as all creation breaks into applause. Their celebration “will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever” (Isaiah 55:13). Sometimes walls are necessary. Walls with windows are best. They show the world that we trust God for the future. Our fears are real. Our God is greater. Windows open us to Jesus—“the light of the world” (John 8:12)—and to others who need Him.
Apr
15
2021
Reflecting on how she forgave Manasseh, the man who killed her husband and some of her children in the Rwandan genocide, Beata said, “My forgiving is based on what Jesus did. He took the punishment for every evil act throughout all time. His cross is the place we find victory—the only place!” Manasseh had written to Beata from prison more than once, begging her—and God—for forgiveness as he detailed the regular nightmares that plagued him. At first she could extend no mercy, saying she hated him for killing her family. But then “Jesus intruded into her thoughts,” and with God’s help, some two years later, she forgave him. In this, Beata followed Jesus’ instruction to His disciples to forgive those who repent. He said that even if they “sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:4). But to forgive can be extremely difficult, as we see by the disciples’ reaction: “Increase our faith!” (v. 5). Beata’s faith increased as she wrestled in prayer over her inability to forgive. If like her we’re struggling to forgive, we can ask God through His Holy Spirit to help us to do so when someone truly repents. As our faith increases, He helps us to forgive.
Apr
14
2021
Karen, a middle school teacher, created an activity to teach her students how to better understand one another. In “The Baggage Activity” students wrote down some of the emotional weights they were carrying. The notes were shared anonymously, giving the students insight into each other’s hardships, often with tearful response from their peers. The classroom has since been filled with a deeper sense of mutual respect amongst the teens, who now have a greater sense of empathy for one another. Throughout the Bible, God has nudged His people to treat one another with dignity and show empathy in their interaction with others (Romans 12:15). As early in the history of Israel as the book of Leviticus, God pointed the Israelites toward empathy—especially in their dealings with foreigners. He said to “love them as [themselves]” because they too had been foreigners in Egypt and knew that hardship intimately (Leviticus 19:34).  Sometimes the burdens we carry make us feel like foreigners—alone and misunderstood—even among our peers. We don’t always have a similar experience to draw on as the Israelites did with the foreigners among them. Yet we can always treat those God puts in our paths with the respect and understanding that we, ourselves, desire. Whether a modern-day middle schooler, an Israelite, or anything in between, we honor God when we do.
Apr
13
2021
When I have to travel across time zones by air, I try various remedies to avoid jet lag. I think I’ve tried them all! On one occasion, I decided to adjust my in-flight eating to the time zone where I was heading. Instead of eating dinner with the rest of the passengers, I kept watching a movie and tried to fall asleep. The hours of elective fasting were difficult and the breakfast that came right before we landed left much to be desired. But living “out of sorts” with those around me worked. It jolted my body clock into a new time zone. Paul knew that if believers in Jesus were to truly reflect Him in their lives, they would need to live out of step with the world around them. They “were once darkness” but now they were to live as “children of light” (Ephesians 5: 8). And what might that look like? Paul goes on to fill out the picture: “The fruit of the light consists in all goodness, justice, and truth” (v. 9). Sleeping through dinner may have seemed foolish to the people on my flight, but even as it’s midnight in the world, as believers, we’re called to live like it’s morning. This may provoke scorn and opposition, but in Jesus we can “walk in the way of love,” following the example of the One who “love[s] us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (v. 2).
Apr
12
2021
Hand in hand, my grandson and I skipped across the parking lot to find a special back-to-school outfit. A preschooler now, he was excited about everything, and I was determined to ignite his happiness into joy. I’d just seen a coffee mug with the inscription, “Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting.” Frosting equals fun, glitter, joy! My job description as his grandma, right? That . . . and more. In his second letter to his spiritual son Timothy, Paul calls out his sincere faith—and then credits its lineage both to Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). These women lived out their faith in such a way that Timothy also came to believe in Jesus. Surely, Lois and Eunice loved Timothy and provided for his needs but clearly, they did more. Paul points to the faith living in them as the source of the faith later living in Timothy.  My job as a grandmother includes the “frosting” moment of a back-to-school outfit. But even more, I’m called to the frosting moments when I share my faith. Bowing our heads over chicken nuggets. Noticing angelic cloud formations in the sky as God’s works of art. Chirping along with a song about Jesus on the radio. Let’s be wooed by the example of moms and grandmas like Lois and Eunice to let our faith become the frosting in life so others will want what we have.
Apr
11
2021
His name is Spencer. But everybody calls him “Spence.” He was a state track champion in high school; then he went on to attend a prestigious university on a full academic scholarship. He lives now in one of America’s largest cities and is highly respected in the field of chemical engineering. But if you were to ask Spence his greatest achievements to date, he wouldn’t mention any of those things. He would excitedly tell you about the trips he makes to Nicaragua every few months to check in on the kids and teachers in the tutoring program he helped establish in one of the poorest areas of the country. And he’d tell you how enriched his life has been by serving them. “The least of these.” It is a phrase people use in a variety of ways, yet Jesus used it to describe those who, according to the world’s standards, have little or nothing to offer you in return for our service. They are the men and women and children the world often overlooks—if not forgets completely. Yet it is exactly those people Jesus elevates to such a beautiful status by saying “whatever you did” for them, “you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) You don’t have to have a degree from a prestigious university to understand Jesus’s meaning: Serving “the least” is the same as serving Him. All it really takes is a willing heart.
Apr
10
2021
I was exploring a library on the bottom floor of a new community center when an overhead crash suddenly shook the room. A few minutes later it happened again, and then again. An agitated librarian finally explained that a weight-lifting area was positioned directly above the library, and the noise occurred every time someone dropped a weight. Architects and designers had carefully planned many aspects of this state-of-the-art facility, yet someone had forgotten to locate the library away from all the action. In life as well, our plans are often flawed. We overlook important considerations. Our plans don’t always account for accidents or surprises. Although planning helps us avoid financial shortfalls, time crunches, and health issues, even the most thorough strategies can’t eliminate all problems from our lives. We live in a post-Eden world. With God’s help, we can find the balance between prudently considering the future (Proverbs 6:6–8) and responding to difficulties. God often has a purpose for the trouble He allows into our lives. He may use it to develop patience in us, to increase our faith, or simply to bring us closer to Him. The Bible reminds us, “Many are the plans of a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). As we submit our goals and hopes for the future to Jesus, He’ll show us what He wants to accomplish in us and through us.
Apr
9
2021
When the famous British writer C. S. Lewis first gave his life to Christ, he initially resisted praising God. In fact, he called it “a stumbling block.” His struggle was “in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.” Yet Lewis finally realized “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence” to His people. Then we, “in perfect love with God,” find joy in Him no more separable “than the brightness a mirror receives” from the “brightness it sheds.” The prophet Habakkuk arrived at this conclusion centuries earlier. After complaining to God about evils aimed at the people of Judah, Habakkuk came to see that praising God leads to joy—not in what God does, but in who He is. Thus, even in a national or world crisis, God is still great. As the prophet declared:  “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17–18). “I will be joyful in God my Savior,” he added.  As C. S. Lewis also realized, “The whole world rings with praise.” Habakkuk, likewise, surrendered to praising God always, finding rich joy in the One who “marches on forever” (v. 6).  
Apr
8
2021
George Whitefield (1714–1770) was one of the most gifted and effective preachers in history, leading thousands to faith in Jesus. But his life wasn’t without controversy. His practice of preaching outdoors (to accommodate large crowds) was sometimes criticized by those who questioned his motives and felt he should speak only within the four walls of a church building. Whitefield’s epitaph sheds light on his response to others’ harsh words: “I am content to wait till the Day of Judgment for the clearing up of my character; and after I am dead, I desire no other epitaph than this, ‘Here lies George Whitefield—what sort of a man he was, the great day will discover.’” In the Old Testament, when David faced harsh criticism from others, he too entrusted himself to God. When Saul falsely accused David of leading a rebellion and he was forced to hide from Saul’s approaching army in a cave, David described being “in the midst of lions,” among “men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” (Psalm 57:4). But even in that difficult place, he turned to the Lord and found comfort in Him: “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (v. 10). When others misunderstand or reject us, God is our “refuge” (v. 1). May He be forever praised for His unfailing and merciful love!
Apr
7
2021
Most young Samoan boys receive a tattoo signaling their responsibility to their people and their chief. Naturally, then, the marks cover the arms of the Samoan men’s rugby team members. Traveling to Japan where tattoos can carry negative connotations, the teammates realized their symbols presented a problem for their hosts. In a generous act of friendship, the Samoans wore skin-colored sleeves covering the designs. “We’re respectful and mindful to . . . the Japanese way,” the team captain explained. “We’ll be making sure that what we’re showing will be okay.” In an age emphasizing individual expression, it’s remarkable to encounter self-limitation—a concept Paul wrote about in the book of Romans. He told us that love sometimes requires us to lay down our rights for others. Rather than pushing our freedom to the boundaries, sometimes love reins us in. The apostle explained how some in the church believed they were free “to eat anything,” but others ate “only vegetables” (Romans 14:2) While this might seem like a minor issue, in the first century, adherence to Old Testament dietary laws was controversial. Paul instructed everyone to “stop passing judgment on one another” (v. 13), before concluding with particular words for those who ate freely. “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (v. 21). At times, loving another means limiting our own freedoms. We don’t have to always do everything we’re free to do. Sometimes love reins us in.
Apr
6
2021
On January 28, 1986, the US Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart seventy-three seconds after takeoff. In a speech of comfort to the nation, President Reagan quoted from the poem “High Flight” in which John Gillespie Magee, a World War II pilot, had written of “the high untrespassed sanctity of space” and the sense of putting out his hand to touch “the face of God.”  Although we can’t literally touch God’s face, we sometimes experience a stunning sunset or a place of meditation in nature that gives us an overwhelming sense that He’s near. Some people call these moments “thin places.” The barrier separating heaven and earth seems to grow a little thinner. God feels a little closer.  The Israelites may have experienced a “thin place” as they sensed the nearness of God in the desert wilderness. God provided a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to lead them through the desert (Exodus 40:34–38). When they were staying in the camp, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (v. 35). Throughout all their travels, they knew God was with them.  As we enjoy the incredible beauty of God’s creation, we grow conscious that God is present everywhere. As we talk with Him in prayer, listen to Him, and read the Scriptures, we can enjoy fellowship with Him anytime and anywhere.
Apr
5
2021
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is a decades-long project that’s resulted in a greater understanding of the importance of healthy relationships. The research began with a group of 268 sophomores at Harvard University in the 1930s and later expanded to, among others, 456 Boston inner-city residents. Researchers have conducted interviews with the participants and pored over their medical records every few years. What they’ve discovered is that close relationships are the biggest factor in predicting happiness and health. It turns out that if we surround ourselves with the right people, we’ll likely experience a deeper sense of joy. This appears to reflect what the apostle Paul is describing in Philippians 1. Writing from prison, Paul can’t help but tell his friends that he thanks God for them every time he remembers them, praying “with joy” (v. 4). But these aren’t just any friends; these are brothers and sisters in Jesus who “share in God’s grace,” partners in the gospel with Paul (v. 7). Their relationship was one of sharing and mutuality—a true fellowship shaped by God’s love and the gospel itself. Yes, friends are important, but fellow companions in Christ are catalysts of a true and deep joy. The grace of God can bind us together like nothing else. And even through the darkest seasons of life, the joy that comes from that bond will last.
Apr
4
2021
My family lives in a nearly century-old house with a lot of character, including wonderfully textured plaster walls. A builder cautioned me that with these walls, to hang a picture up I’d have to either drill the nail into a wood support or use a plaster anchor for support. Otherwise, I’d risk the picture crashing to the ground, leaving an ugly hole behind. The prophet Isaiah used the imagery of a nail driven firmly into a wall to describe a minor biblical character named Eliakim. Unlike the corrupt official Shebna (vv. 15–19), as well as the people of Israel—who looked to themselves for strength (vv. 8–11)—Eliakim trusted in God (v. 20). Prophesying Eliakim’s promotion to palace administrator for King Hezekiah, Isaiah wrote that Eliakim would be driven like a “peg into a firm place” (v. 23). Being securely anchored in God’s truth and grace would also allow Eliakim to be a support for his family and his people (vv. 22–24).  Yet Isaiah concluded this prophecy with a sobering reminder that no person can be the ultimate security for friends or family—we all fail (v. 25). The only completely trustworthy anchor for our lives is Christ (Psalm 62:5–6, Matthew 7:24). As we care for others and share their burdens, may we also point them to Jesus, the anchor who will never fail.
Apr
3
2021
My dad loved to sing the old hymns. One of his favorites was “In the Garden.” A few years back, we sang it at his funeral. The chorus is simple: “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.” That song brought joy to my dad—as it does to me. Hymn writer author C. Austin Miles says he wrote this song in spring 1912 after reading chapter 20 of the gospel of John. “As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life when she knelt before her Lord and cried, ‘Rabboni [Teacher].’ ” In John 20, we find Mary Magdalene weeping near Jesus’ empty tomb. There she met a man who asked why she was crying. Thinking it was the gardener, she spoke with the risen Savior—Jesus! Her sorrow turned to joy, and she ran to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” (v. 18). We too have the assurance that Jesus is risen! He’s now in heaven with the Father— but He hasn’t left us on our own. Believers in Christ have His Spirit inside us, and through Him we have the assurance and joy of knowing He’s with us, and we are “His own.”
Apr
2
2021
As my husband strolled down the rocky beach taking photos of the Hawaiian horizon, I sat on a large rock fretting over another medical setback. Though my problems would be waiting for me when I returned home, I needed peace in that moment. I stared at the incoming waves crashing against the black, jagged rocks. A dark shadow in the curve of the wave caught my eye. Using the zoom option on my camera, I identified the shape as a sea turtle riding the waves peacefully. Its flippers spread wide and still. Turning my face into the salty breeze, I smiled. The “heavens praise [God’s] wonders” (Psalm 89:5). Our incomparable Lord rules “over the surging sea.” When “its waves mount up, [God] stills them” (v. 9). He “founded the world and all that is in it” (v. 11). He made it all, owns it all, manages it all, and purposes it all for His glory and our enjoyment.. Standing on the foundation of our faith—the love of our unchanging Father—we can “walk in the light of [His] presence” (v. 15). God remains mighty in power and merciful in His dealings with us. We can rejoice in His name all day long (v. 16). No matter what obstacles we face or how many setbacks we have to endure, God holds us as the waves rise and fall.          
Apr
1
2021
Michelangelo’s works explored many facets of the life of Jesus, yet one of the most poignant was also one of the most simple. In the 1540s he sketched a pieta (a picture of Jesus’ mother holding the body of the dead Christ) for his friend Vittoria Colonna. Done in chalk, the drawing depicts Mary looking to the heavens as she cradles her Son’s still form. Rising behind Mary, the upright beam of the cross carries these words from Dante’s Paradise, “There they don’t think of how much blood it costs.” Michelangelo’s point was profound: when we contemplate the death of Jesus, we must consider the price He paid. The price paid by Christ is captured in His dying declaration, “It is finished” (John 19:30). That term for “it is finished” (tetelestai) was used in several ways—to show a bill had been paid, a task finished, a sacrifice offered, a masterpiece completed. Each of them applies to what Jesus did on our behalf on the cross! Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Jesus’ willingness to take our place is the eternal evidence of how much God loves us. As we contemplate the price He paid, may we also celebrate His love—and give thanks for the cross.
Mar
31
2021
The caller to the Christian radio station said that his wife was coming home from the hospital following surgery. Then he shared something that spoke deeply to my heart: “Everyone in our church family has been so helpful in taking care of us during this time.” When I heard this simple statement, it reminded me of the value and necessity of Christian hospitality and care. I began to think that the love and support of fellow believers for one another is one of the greatest ways to demonstrate the life-changing power of the gospel. In 1 Peter, the apostle was writing a letter to be circulated among the first-century churches in what’s now the country of Turkey. In that letter, he compelled his readers to do something that his friend Paul wrote about in Romans 12:13: “Offer hospitality.” Peter said, “Love each other deeply . . . offer hospitality,” and he told them to use the gifts God has given to “serve others” (1 Peter 4:8–10). These are clear directions to all believers in Jesus for how we’re to treat fellow believers. All of us know people like that caller’s wife—those who need someone to come alongside and show concern and Christ-like love. In God’s strength, may we be among the ones who are noted for being “so helpful.”
Mar
30
2021
My grandchildren are running around my backyard. Playing games? No, pulling weeds. “Pulling them up by the roots!” the youngest says, showing me a hefty prize. Her delight as we tackled weeds that day was how much we enjoyed plucking the weedy roots—clearing away each pesky menace. Before the joy, however, came the choice to go after them. Intentional weeding is also the first step in removing personal sin. Thus, David asked the Lord: “Search me, God, and know my heart . . . . See if there is any offensive way in me (Psalm 139:23–24). What a wise approach, to go after our sin by asking God to show it to us. He above all knows everything about us. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me,” wrote the psalmist. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar” (vv. 1–2). Such knowledge, David added, “is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (v. 6). Even before a sin takes root, therefore, the Lord can alert us to the danger. He knows our “landscape.” So, when a sneaky sinful attitude tries to take root, He is first to know and point it out.   “You hem me in behind and before,” wrote David. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” (vv. 5–6). May we closely follow our Savior to higher ground!
Mar
29
2021
“Why are the statues’ noses broken?” That’s the number one question visitors ask Edward Bleiberg, curator of Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum.         Bleiberg can’t blame it on normal wear and tear; even two-dimensional painted figures are missing noses. He surmises that such destruction must have been intentional. Enemies meant to kill Egypt’s gods. It’s as if they were playing a game of “got your nose” with them. Invading armies broke off the noses of these idols so they couldn’t breathe. Really? That’s all it took? With gods like this, Pharaoh should have known he was in trouble. Yes, he had an army and the allegiance of a whole nation. The Hebrews were weary slaves led by a timid fugitive named Moses. But Israel had the living God, and Pharaoh’s gods were pretenders. Ten plagues later, their imaginary lives were snuffed out. Israel celebrated their victory with the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when they ate bread without yeast for a week (Exodus 12:17; 13:7–9). Yeast symbolizes sin, and God wanted his people to remember their rescued lives belong entirely to Him. Our Father says to idols, “Got your nose,” and to His children, “Got your life.” Serve the God who gives you breath, and rest in His loving arms.
Mar
28
2021
The heroic deeds of US Army soldier Desmond Doss are featured in the 2016 movie Hacksaw Ridge. While Doss’ convictions wouldn’t allow him to take human life, as an army medic he committed himself to preserving life even at the risk of his own. The citation read at Doss’ Medal of Honor ceremony on October 12, 1945, included these words: “Private First Class Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the escarpment. . . . He unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer.” In Psalm 11, David’s conviction that his refuge was in God compelled him to resist suggestions to flee rather than face his foes (vv. 2–3). Six simple words comprised his statement of faith: “In the Lord I take refuge” (v. 1). That well-rooted conviction would guide his conduct. David’s words in verses 4–7 amplified God’s greatness. Yes, life can sometimes be like a battlefield, and hostile fire can send us scattering for cover when we’re bombarded with health challenges or financial, relational, and spiritual stresses. So, what should we do? Acknowledge that God is the king of the universe (v. 4); take delight in His amazing capacity to judge with precision (vv. 5–6); and rest in His delight in what’s right, fair, and equitable (v. 7). We can run swiftly to God for shelter!
Mar
27
2021
“Watch my fairy princess dance, Grandma!” my three-year-old granddaughter gleefully called as she raced around the yard of our cabin, a big grin on her face. Her “dancing” brought a smile; and her big brother’s glum, “She’s not dancing, just running,” didn’t staunch her joy at being on vacation with family. The first Palm Sunday was a day of highs and lows. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowds enthusiastically shouted, “Hosanna . . . blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:6–9). Yet many in the crowd were expecting a Messiah to free them from Rome, not a Savior who would die for their sins that same week. Later that day, despite the anger of the chief priests who questioned Jesus’s authority, children in the temple expressed their joy by shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (vv. 14–15), perhaps leaping and waving palm branches as they ran around the courtyard. They couldn’t help but worship Him, Jesus told the indignant leaders, for “from the lips of children and infants [God has] called forth [His] praise” (vv. 15–16). They were in the presence of the Savior! Jesus invites us to also see Him for who He is. When we do, like a child overflowing with joy, we cannot help but revel in His presence.
Mar
25
2021
Cateura is a small slum in Paraguay, South America. Desperately poor, its villagers survive by recycling items from its rubbish dump. But from these unpromising conditions something beautiful has emerged—an orchestra. With a violin costing more than a house in Cateura, the orchestra had to get creative, crafting its own instruments from their garbage supply. Violins are made from oil cans with bent forks as tailpieces. Saxophones have come from drainpipes with bottle tops for keys. Cellos are made from tin drums with gnocchi rollers for tuning pegs. Hearing Mozart played on these contraptions is a beautiful thing. The orchestra has gone on tour in many countries, lifting the sights of its young members. Violins from landfills. Music from slums. That’s symbolic of what God does. For when the prophet Isaiah envisions God’s new creation, a similar picture of beauty-from-poverty emerges, with barren lands bursting into flower (Isaiah 35:1–2), deserts flowing with streams (vv. 6–7), castaway war tools crafted into garden instruments (2:4), and impoverished people becoming whole to the sounds of joyful songs (35:5–6, 10). “The world sends us garbage,” Cateura’s orchestra director says. “We send back music.” And as they do, they give the world a glimpse of the future, when God will wipe away the tears of every eye, and poverty will be more.
Mar
24
2021
One year for vacation Bible school, Ken’s church decided to bring in live animals to illustrate the Bible story. When Ken arrived to help, he was asked to bring a sheep inside. He had to practically drag the sheep by rope into the church gymnasium. But as the week went on, it became less reluctant to follow him. By the end of the week, Ken didn’t have to hold the rope anymore; he just called the sheep and it followed, knowing it could trust him. In the New Testament, Jesus compares Himself to a shepherd, stating that His people, the sheep, will follow Him because they know His voice (John 10:4). But those same sheep will run from a stranger or thief (vv. 5, 10). Like sheep, we (God’s children) get to know the voice of our Shepherd through our relationship with Him. And as we do, we see His character and learn to trust Him. As we grow to know and love God, we will be discerning of His voice and better able to run from the “the thief [who] comes only to steal and destroy” (v. 10)—from those who try to deceive and draw us away from Him. Unlike those false teachers, we can trust the voice of our Shepherd to lead us to safety.
Mar
23
2021
More than two hundred volunteers assisted October Books, a bookstore in Southampton, England, move its entire inventory to an address down the street. Helpers lined the sidewalk between the two buildings and passed books down a “human conveyor belt.” Having witnessed the volunteers in action, a store employee said, “It was . . . a really moving experience to see people [helping]. . . . They wanted to be part of something bigger.” We can also be part of something much bigger than ourselves. God uses us to reach the world with the message of His love. Because someone shared the message with us, we can turn to another person and pass it on. Paul compared this—the building of God’s kingdom—to growing a garden. Some of us plant seeds while some of us water the seeds. We are, as Paul said, “co-workers in God’s service” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Each job is important, yet all are done in the power of God’s Spirit. By His Spirit, God enables people to thrive spiritually when they hear that He loves them and sent His Son to die in their place so that they can be free from their sin (John 3:16). God does much of His work on earth through “volunteers” like you and me. Although we are a part of a community that is much bigger than any contribution we may make, we can help it grow by working together to share His love with the world.
Mar
22
2021
If you want to live longer, take a vacation! Forty years after a study of middle-aged, male executives who each had a risk of heart disease, researchers in Helsinki, Finland, followed up with their study participants. The scientists discovered something they hadn’t been looking for in their original findings: the death rate was lower among those who had taken time off for vacation. Work is a necessary part of life—a part God appointed to us even before our relationship with Him was fractured in Genesis 3. Solomon wrote of the seeming meaninglessness of work experienced by those not working for God’s honor—recognizing its “anxious striving” and “grief and pain” (Ecclesiastes 2:22–23). Even when they’re not actively working, he says their “minds do not rest” because they’re thinking about what still needs to be done (v. 23). We too might at times feel like we’re “chasing after the wind” (v. 17) and grow frustrated by our inability to “finish” our work. But when we remember that God is part of our labor—our purpose—we can both work hard and take time to rest. We can trust Him to be our Provider, for He’s the giver of all things. Solomon acknowledges that “without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (v. 25). Perhaps by reminding ourselves of that truth we can work diligently for Him (Colossians 3:23) and also allow ourselves times of rest.
Mar
21
2021
During “Chicago Day” in October 1893, the city’s theatres shut down because the owners figured everyone would be attending the World’s Fair. Some four hundred thousand people went, but Dwight Moody (1837–99) wanted to fill a music hall at the other end of Chicago with preaching and teaching. His friend R.A. Torrey (1856–1928) was skeptical that Moody could draw a crowd on the same day as the fair. But by God’s grace, he did. As Torrey later concluded, the crowds came because Moody knew “the one Book that this old world most longs to know—the Bible.” Torrey longed for others to love the Bible as Moody did, reading it regularly with dedication and passion. God through His Spirit brought people back to Himself at the end of the nineteenth century in Chicago, and He continues to speak today. We can echo the psalmist’s love for God and His Scriptures as he exclaims, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). For the psalmist, God messages of grace and truth acted as a light for his path, a lamp for his feet (v. 105). How can you grow more in love with the Savior and His message? As we immerse ourselves in Scripture, God will increase our devotion to Him and guide us, shining His light along the paths we walk.
Mar
20
2021
“God is crying.” Those were the words whispered by Bill Haley’s ten-year-old daughter as she stood in the rain with a group of multiethnic believers in Jesus. They had come to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to seek God and make sense of the legacy of racial discord in America. As they stood on the grounds where former slaves were buried, they joined hands in prayer. Then suddenly the wind began to blow, and it started to rain. As the leader called out for racial healing, the rain began to fall even harder. Those gathered believed that God was at work to bring reconciliation and forgiveness. And so was it at Calvary—God was at work. After the crucified Jesus breathed His last, “The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open” (Matthew 27:51–52). Though some had denied who Jesus was, a centurion assigned to guard Him had come to a different conclusion: “When the centurion and those with him . . . saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’ ” (v. 54). In the death of Jesus, God was at work providing forgiveness of sin for all who believe in Him. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). And what better way to demonstrate that we’ve been forgiven by God than to extend forgiveness to each other.
Mar
19
2021
For more than fifty years, my dad strove for excellence in his editing. His passion wasn’t to just look for mistakes but also to make the copy better in terms of clarity, logic, flow, and grammar. Dad used a green pen for his corrections, rather than a red one. A green pen he felt was “friendlier,” while slashes of red might be jarring to a novice or less confident writer. His objective was to gently point out a better way. When Jesus corrected people, He did so in love. In some circumstances—such as when He was confronted with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matthew 23)—He rebuked them harshly, yet still for their benefit. But in the case of his friend Martha, a gentle correction was all that was needed (Luke 10:38–41). While the Pharisees responded poorly to His rebuke, Martha remained one of His dearest friends (John 11:5). Correction can be uncomfortable and few of us like it. Sometimes, because of our pride, it’s hard to receive graciously. The book of Proverbs talks much about wisdom and indicates that “heeding correction” is a sign of wisdom and understanding (15:31–32). God’s loving correction helps us to adjust our direction and to follow Him more closely. Those who refuse it are sternly warned, but those who respond to it through the power of the Holy Spirit will gain wisdom and understanding (v. 10).
Mar
18
2021
While serving as my mom’s live-in caregiver at a cancer center hundreds of miles away from my home, I asked people to pray for us. As the months passed, isolation and loneliness sapped my strength. How could I care for my mom if I gave in to my physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion? One day, a friend sent me an unexpected care package. Jodi had crocheted a purple prayer shawl, a warm reminder that we had people praying for us daily. Whenever I wrapped the soft yarn around my shoulders, I felt God hugging me with the prayers of His people. Years later, He still uses that purple shawl to comfort me and strengthen my resolve. The apostle Paul affirmed the importance and spirit-refreshing power of praying for others (Romans 15:23–29). Through his passionate request for prayerful support and encouragement during his travels, Paul demonstrated how those who pray for others become partners in ministry (v. 30). Offering specific requests, the apostle not only showed his dependence on the support of fellow believers but his trust that God powerfully answers prayer (vv. 31–33). We’ll all experience days when we feel alone. But Paul shows us how to ask for prayer as we pray for others. When we’re wrapped in the intercessory prayers of God’s people, we can experience God’s strength and comfort no matter where life takes us.
Mar
17
2021
There are times, late at night in North America’s harsh Sonoran Desert, where one can hear a faint, high-pitched howl. But you probably wouldn’t suspect the source of the sound—the small yet mighty grasshopper mouse, howling at the moon to establish its territory. This unique rodent (dubbed the “werewolf mouse”) is also carnivorous. In fact, it preys on creatures few would dare mess with, such as the scorpion. But the werewolf mouse is uniquely equipped for that particular battle. It not only has a resistance to scorpion venom, but can even convert the toxins into a painkiller! There’s something inspiring about the way this resilient little mouse seems custom-made to survive and even thrive in its harsh environment. As Paul explains in Ephesians 2:10, that kind of marvelous craftsmanship characterizes God’s designs for His people as well. Each of us is “God’s handiwork” in Jesus, uniquely equipped to contribute to His kingdom. That means that however God has gifted you, you have much to offer. As you embrace with confidence who He’s made you to be, you’ll be a living witness to the hope and joy of life in Him. So as you face whatever feels most menacing in your own life, take courage. You may feel small, but through the gifting and empowerment of the Spirit, God can use you to do mighty things.
Mar
16
2021
During an episode of the popular US television talent competition “America’s Got Talent,” a five-year-old girl sang with such exuberance that a judge compared her to a famous child singer and dancer in the 1930s. He remarked, “I think Shirley Temple is living somewhere inside of you.” Her unexpected response: “Not Shirley Temple. Jesus!” I marveled at the young girl’s deep awareness that her joy came from Jesus living in her. Scripture assures us of the amazing reality that all who trust in Jesus not only receive the promise of eternal life with God but also Jesus’ presence living in them through His Spirit—our hearts become Jesus’ home (Colossians 1:27, Ephesians 3:17). Jesus’ presence in our hearts fills us with countless reasons for gratitude (Colossians 2:6–7). Jesus brings the ability to live with purpose and energy (1:28–29). He cultivates joy in our hearts in the midst of all circumstances, in both times of celebration and times of struggle (Philippians 4:12–13). Christ’s Spirit provides hope to our hearts that God is working all things together for good, even when we can’t see it (Romans 8:28). And the Spirit in our hearts gives a peace that persists regardless of the chaos swirling around us (Colossians 3:15). With the confidence that comes from Jesus living in our hearts, we can allow His presence to shine through so that others can’t help but notice.
Mar
15
2021
In his book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, co-authored with Philip Yancey, Dr. Paul Brand observed, “A hummingbird heart weighs a fraction of an ounce and beats eight hundred times a minute; a blue whale’s heart weighs half a ton, beats only ten times per minute, and can be heard two miles away. In contrast to either, the human heart seems dully functional, yet it does its job, beating 100,000 times a day [65–70 times a minute] with no time off for rest, to get most of us through seventy years or more.” The amazing heart so thoroughly powers us through life that it has become a metaphor for our overall inner well-being. Yet, both our literal and metaphorical hearts are prone to failure. What can we do? The psalmist Asaph, a worship leader of Israel, acknowledged in Psalm 73 that true strength comes from somewhere—Someone—else. He wrote, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (v. 26). Asaph was right. The living God is our ultimate and eternal strength. As the Maker of heaven and earth, He knows no such limitations to His perfect power. In our times of difficulty and challenge, may we discover what Asaph learned through his own struggles: the Lord is the true strength of our hearts. We can rest in that strength every day.
Mar
14
2021
Decades ago, Dr. Jerry Motto discovered the power of a “caring letter.” His research found that simply sending a letter expressing care to discharged patients who had previously attempted suicide reduced the rate of recurrence by half. Recently, health care providers have rediscovered this power when sending “caring” texts, postcards, and even social media memes as follow-up treatment for the severely depressed.  Twenty-one “books” in the Bible are actually letters—epistles—caringly written to first-century believers who struggled for a variety of reasons. Paul, James, and John wrote letters to explain the basics of faith and worship, and how to resolve conflict and build unity.  The apostle Peter, however, specifically wrote to believers who were being persecuted by the Roman emperor, Nero. Peter reminded them of their intrinsic value to God, describing them this way in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,” and lifts their gaze to God’s great purpose for them in their world, “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  Our great God Himself wrote a book filled with caring letters to us—inspired Scripture—that we might always have a record of the value He assigns us as His own. May we read His letters daily and share them with others who need the hope Jesus offers.  
Mar
13
2021
In a TV commercial I saw recently, a woman casually asks someone in a group watching TV, “What are you searching for, Mark?” “A version of myself that doesn’t make decisions based on fear,” he responds soberly—not realizing that she was just asking what he liked to watch on TV!  Whoa, I thought. I wasn’t expecting a TV commercial to hit me so profoundly! But I related to poor Mark: sometimes I too feel embarrassed by the way fear sometimes seems to direct my life.  Jesus’ disciples also experienced the profound power of fear. Once, as they headed across the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35), “a furious squall came up” (v. 37). Terror gripped them, and they suggested that Jesus (who’d been sleeping!) might not care about them: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38).  Fear distorted the disciples’ vision, blinding them to Jesus’ good intentions for them. After Jesus rebuked the wind and waves (v. 39), He confronted the disciples with two penetrating questions: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Storms rage in our lives as well, don’t they? But Jesus’ questions can help us put our fears in perspective. His first question invites us to name our fears. The second invites us to entrust those distorted feelings to Him—asking Him for eyes to see how He guides us even through life’s most raging storms.
Mar
12
2021
Wanting to enjoy the beautiful day, I headed out for a walk and soon met a new neighbor. He stopped me and introduced himself: “My name is Genesis, and I’m six and a half years old.”  “Genesis is a great name! It’s a book in the Bible,” I replied.  “What’s the Bible?” he asked.  “It’s God’s storybook about how He made the world and people and how He loves us.”  His inquisitive response made me smile: “Why did He make the world and people and cars and houses? And is my picture in His book?”  While there isn’t a literal picture of my new friend Genesis or the rest of us in the Scriptures, we are a big part of God’s storybook. We see in Genesis 1 that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God He created them” (v. 27). God walked with them in the garden, and then warned about giving in to the temptation to be their own god (ch. 3). Later in His book, God told about how, in love, His Son, Jesus, came to walk with us again and brought about a plan for our forgiveness and the restoration of His creation. As we look at the Bible, we learn that our Creator wants us to know Him, talk with Him, and even ask Him our questions. He cares for us more than we can imagine.
Mar
11
2021
When Tee Unn came down with a rare autoimmune disease that weakened all his muscles and nearly killed him, he realized that being able to breathe was a gift. For more than a week, a machine had to pump air into his lungs every few seconds, which was a painful part of his treatment.  Tee Unn made a miraculous recovery, and today he reminds himself not to complain about life’s challenges. “I’ll just take a deep breath,” he says, “and thank God I can.”  How easy it is to focus on things we need or want, and forget that sometimes the smallest things in life can be the greatest miracles of life. In Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 37:1–14), God showed the prophet that only He could give life to dry bones. Even after tendons, flesh, and skin had appeared, “there was no breath in them” (v. 8). It was only when God gave them breath that they could live again (v. 10).  This vision illustrated God’s promise to restore Israel from devastation. It also reminds me that anything else I have, big or small, is useless unless God gives me breath.  How about thanking God for the simplest blessings in life today? Amid the daily struggle, let’s stop occasionally to take a deep breath, and “let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).
Mar
10
2021
Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates made history when they launched the Giving Pledge, promising to donate half of their money. As of 2018, this meant giving away 92 billion dollars. The pledge made psychologist Paul Piff curious to study giving patterns. Through a research test, he discovered that the poor were inclined to give 44% more of what they had than wealthy people. Those who’ve felt their own poverty are often moved to greater generosity.  Jesus knew this. Visiting the temple, He watched the crowds drop gifts into the treasury (Mark 12:41). The rich tossed in wads of cash, but a poor widow pulled her last two copper coins, worth maybe a penny, and placed them into the basket. I picture Jesus standing up, delighted and astounded. Immediately, He gathered His disciples, making sure they didn’t miss this dazzling act. “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others,” Jesus exclaimed (v. 43). The disciples looked at each other, bewildered, hoping someone could explain what Jesus was talking about. So, He made it plain: those bringing huge gifts “gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything” (v. 44). We may have little to give, but Jesus invites us to give out of our poverty. Though it may seem meager to others, we give what we have, and God finds great joy in our lavish gifts.
Mar
9
2021
As I helped my son with his math homework it began apparent he was less then enthusiastic about doing multiple problems related to the same concept. “I’ve got it, Dad!,” he insisted, hoping I would let him out doing all the problems. I then gently explained to him that a concept is just a concept until we learn how to work it out in practice. At the end of Paul’s letter to his friends in Philippi, he wrote about practice. “Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us” (Philippians 4:9). Here are five things he mentions: reconciliation—as he urged Euodia and Syntyche to do (vv, 1–3); joy—as he reminded his readers to cultivate (v. 4); gentleness—as he urged them to employ in their relation to the world (v. 5); prayer—as he had modeled for them in person and in writing (vv. 6–7); and focus—as he had shown even in prison (v. 8). Reconciliation, joy, gentleness, prayer, and focus—things we’re called to live out as believers in Jesus. Like any habit, these virtues must be intentionally done in order to be cultivated. But the good news of the gospel, as Paul had already told the Philippians, is that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13). We’re never practicing in our own power. God will provide what we need (4:19).
Mar
8
2021
Named for a tough blue-collar neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, the grassroots musical group Over the Rhine sings about a transformation that takes place each year in the city. “Whenever we’d get our first real snowfall of the year, it felt like something sacred was happening,” explains band co-founder Linford Detweiler. “Like a little bit of a fresh start. The city would slow down and grow quiet.” If you’ve experienced a heavy snowfall, you understand how it can inspire a song. A magical quietness drapes the world as snow conceals grime and grayness. For a few moments, winter’s bleakness brightens, inviting our reflection and delight.  Elihu, the one friend of Job’s who may have had a helpful view of God, noted how creation commands our attention. “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways,” he said (37:5). “He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’” Such splendor can interrupt our lives, demanding a sacred pause. “So that everyone he has made may know his work, he stops all people from their labor,” Elihu observed (vv. 6–7). Nature sometimes seizes our attention in ways we don’t like. Regardless of what happens to us or what we observe around us, each moment magnificent, menacing, or mundane can inspire our worship. The poet’s heart within us craves the holy hush.  
Mar
7
2021
“The Lord is my high tower . . . . We left the camp singing.” On September 7, 1943, Etty Hillesum wrote those words on a postcard, then threw it from a train. Those were the final recorded words we would hear from her. On November 30, 1943, she was murdered at Auschwitz. Later, Hillesum’s diaries of her experiences in concentration camps were translated and published. They chronicled her perspectives on the horrors of Nazi occupation side by side with the beauty of God’s world. Her diaries have been translated into sixty-seven languages—a gift to future generations who would read and believe the good as well as the bad. The apostle John did not sidestep the harsh realities of Jesus’ life on earth; he wrote of both the good Jesus did and the challenges He faced. The final words from his gospel give insight into the purpose behind the book that bears his name. Jesus performed “many other signs . . . which are not recorded” (20:30) by John. But these, he says, were “written that you may believe” (v. 31). John’s “diary” ends on the note of triumph: “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” The gift of those gospel words allows us the opportunity to believe, and “have life in his name.”          The gospels are diary accounts of God’s love for us. They’re words to read and believe and share, for they lead us to life. They lead us to Christ.
Mar
6
2021
A family’s prayer time ended with a surprising announcement one morning. As soon as Dad said, “Amen,” five-year-old Kaitlyn proclaimed, “And I prayed for Logan, because he had his eyes open during prayer.” I’m pretty sure praying for your 10-year-old brother’s prayer protocol isn’t what Scripture has in mind when it calls us to intercessory prayer, but at least Kaitlyn realized that we can pray for others. Bible teacher Oswald Chambers emphasized the importance of praying for someone else. He said that “intercession is putting yourself in God’s place; it is having His mind and perspective.” It’s praying for others in light of what we know about God and His love for us. We find a great example of intercessory prayer in Daniel 9. The prophet understood God’s troubling promise that the Jews would have seventy years of captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11–12). Realizing that those years were nearing their completion, Daniel went into prayer mode (Daniel 9:4). He referenced God’s commands (vv. 5–6), he humbled himself (v. 8), he confessed sin (v. 15), he honored God’s character (v. 9), and he depended on His mercy as he prayed for his people (v. 18). And he got an immediate answer from God (v. 21). Not all prayer ends with such a dramatic response, but be encouraged that we can to go to God on behalf of others with an attitude of trust and dependence on Him.
Mar
5
2021
Years ago my son Josh and I were making our way up a mountain trail when we spied a cloud of dust rising in the air. We crept forward and discovered a badger busy making a den in a dirt bank. He had his head and shoulders in the hole and was vigorously digging with his front paws and kicking the dirt out of the hole with his hind feet. He was so invested in his work he didn’t hear us.   I couldn’t resist and prodded him from behind with a long stick lying nearby. I didn’t hurt the badger, but he leaped straight up in the air and turned toward us. Josh and I set new world records for the hundred-yard dash.   I learned something from my brashness: Sometimes it’s best not to poke around in other people’s business.  That’s especially true in relationships with fellow believers in Jesus. The apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). We pray for others and seek by God’s grace to share the Scriptures and occasionally we may be called on to offer a gentle word of correction. But learning to live a quiet life and not meddling into others’ is important. It becomes an example to those who are now outside God’s family (v. 12).  Our calling is to “love each other” (v. 9).
Mar
4
2021
According to Chinese legend, when Sai Weng lost one of his prized horses, his neighbor expressed sorrow for his loss. But Sai Weng was unconcerned. He said, “Who knows if it may be a good thing for me?” Surprisingly, the lost horse returned home with another horse. As the neighbor congratulated him, Sai Weng said, “Who knows if it may be a bad thing for me?” As it turned out, his son broke his leg when he rode on the new horse. This seemed like a misfortune, until the army arrived at the village to recruit all able-bodied men to fight in the war. Because the son’s injury, he wasn’t recruited which ultimately could have spared him from death. This is the story behind the Chinese proverb which teaches that a difficulty can be a blessing in disguise and vice versa. This ancient wisdom has a close parallel in Ecclesiastes 6:12, where the author observes: “For who knows what is good for a person in life?” Indeed, none of us know what the future holds. An adversity might have positive benefits and prosperity might have ill effects. Each day offers new opportunities, joys, struggles, and suffering. As God’s beloved children, we can rest in His sovereignty and trust Him through the good and bad times alike. God has “made the one as well as the other” (7:14). He’s with us in all the events in our lives and promises His loving care.
Mar
3
2021
According to legend, British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once saw a distinguished-looking woman in a hotel foyer. Believing he knew her but unable to remember her name, he paused to talk with her. As the two chatted, he vaguely recollected that she had a brother. Hoping for a clue, he asked how her brother was doing and whether he was still working at the same job. “Oh, he’s very well,” she said, “And still king.”  A case of mistaken identity can be embarrassing, as it was for Sir Beecham. But at other times it may be more serious, as it was for Jesus’ disciple Philip. The disciple knew Jesus, of course, but he hadn’t fully appreciated who He was. He wanted Jesus to “show [them] the Father,” and Jesus responded that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8–9). As God’s unique Son, Jesus reveals the Father so perfectly that to know one is to know the other (vv. 10–11).  If we ever wonder what God’s like in His character, personality, or concern for others, we only need to look to Jesus to find out. He reveals who the Father is—Jesus’ character, kindness, love, and mercy reveal God’s character. And although our amazing, awesome God is beyond our complete comprehension and understanding, we have a tremendous gift in what He’s revealed of Himself in Jesus.
Mar
2
2021
While I was clearing out the garden in preparation for spring planting, I pulled up a large clump of winter weeds . . . and leapt into the air! A venomous copperhead snake lay hidden in the undergrowth just below my hand—an inch lower and I would have grabbed it by mistake. I saw its colorful markings as soon as I lifted the clump; the rest of it was coiled in the weeds between my feet. When my feet hit the ground a few feet away, I thanked God I hadn’t been bitten. And I wondered how many other times He had kept me from dangers I never knew were there. God watches over His people. Moses told the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). They couldn’t see God, but He was with them nonetheless. Sometimes difficult things happen that we may not understand, but can we also not wonder about the number of times God has preserved us without our ever being aware? God’s Word reminds us that His perfect, providential care remains over His people every day. He is “always” with us (Matthew 28:20).
Mar
1
2021
As a full-of-energy preschooler, my son Xavier avoided afternoon quiet time. Being still often resulted in an unwanted, though much needed, nap. So, he’d wiggle in his seat, slide off the sofa, scoot across the hardwood floor, and even roll across the room to evade the quiet. “Mom, I’m hungry . . . I’m thirsty . . . I have to go to the bathroom . . . I want a hug.” Understanding the benefits of stillness, I’d help Xavier settle down by inviting him to snuggle. Leaning into my side, he’d give in to sleep. Early in my spiritual life, I mirrored my son’s desire to remain active. Busyness made me feel accepted, important, and in control, while noise distracted me from fretting over my shortcomings and trials. Surrendering to rest only affirmed my frail humanity. So I avoided stillness and silence, doubting the Lord could handle things without my help. But God is our refuge, no matter how many troubles or uncertainties surround us. The path ahead may seem long, scary, or overwhelming, but His love envelops us. He hears us, answers us, and stays with us . . . now and forever into eternity (Psalm 91:1–16). We can embrace the quiet and lean into God’s unfailing love and constant presence. We can be still and rest in Him, because we’re safe under the shelter of His unchanging faithfulness (v. 4).  
Feb
28
2021
“Time went by. War came in.” That’s how Bishop Semi Nigo of the Keliko people of South Sudan described delays in his church’s long struggle to get the Bible in their own language. Not one word, in fact, had ever been printed in the Keliko language. Decades earlier, Bishop Nigo’s grandfather had courageously started a Bible translation project, but war and unrest kept halting the effort. Yet, despite repeated attacks on their refugee camps in northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the bishop and fellow believers kept the project alive. Their persistence paid off.  After nearly three decades, the New Testament Bible in Keliko was delivered to the refugees in a rousing celebration. “The motivation of the Keliko is beyond words,” said one project consultant. The commitment of the Keliko reflects the perseverance God asked of Joshua. As the Lord told him, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8). With equal persistence, the Keliko pursued translating Scripture. Now, “when you see them in the camps, they are smiling,” said one translator. Hearing and understanding the Bible “gives them hope.” Like the Keliko people, may we never give up seeking the power and wisdom of Scripture.
Feb
27
2021
My brother grew up battling severe epilepsy, and when he entered his teenage years it became even worse. Nighttime became excruciating for him and my parents, as he’d experience continuous seizures for often more than six hours at a time. Doctors couldn’t find a treatment that would alleviate the symptoms while also keeping him conscious for at least part of the day. My parents cried out in prayer: “God, oh God, help us!” Although their emotions were battered and their bodies exhausted, Paul and my parents received enough strength from God for each new day. In addition, my parents found comfort in the words of the Bible, including the book of Lamentations. Here Jeremiah voiced his grief over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, remembering “the bitterness and the gall” (3:19). Yet Jeremiah didn’t lose hope. He called to mind the mercies of God, that His compassions “are new every morning” (v. 23). So too did my parents. Whatever you’re facing, know that God is faithful every morning. He renews our strength day by day and gives us hope. And sometimes, as with my family, He brings relief. After several years, a new medication became available that stopped Paul’s continuous nighttime seizures, giving my family restorative sleep and hope for the future. When our souls are downcast within us (v. 20), may we call to mind the promises of God that His mercies are new every morning.
Feb
26
2021
In the summer of 1859, Monsieur Charles Blondin became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope—something he would go on to do hundreds of times. Once he did it with his manager Harry Colcord on his back. Blondin gave Colcord these instructions: “Look up, Harry . . . you are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. . . . If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we will both go to our death.” Paul, in essence, said to the Galatian believers: You can’t walk the line of living a life that is pleasing to God apart from faith in Christ. But here’s the good news—you don’t have to! No amount of attempting to earn our way to God will ever cut it. So are we passive in our salvation? No! Our invitation is to cling to Christ. Clinging to Jesus means putting to death an old, independent way of living; it’s as if we ourselves have died. Yet, we go on living. But “the life [we] now live in the body, [we] live by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20). Where are we trying to walk the tightrope today? God hasn’t called us to walk out on the rope to Him; He’s called us to cling to Him and walk this life with Him.
Feb
25
2021
Warren moved to a small town to pastor a church. After his ministry had some initial success, one of the locals took a dislike to him. Concocting a story accusing Warren of horrendous acts, the man took the story to the local newspaper and even printed his accusations on pamphlets to distribute to local residents by mail. Warren and his wife started praying hard. If the lie was believed, their lives would be upended. King David once experienced something similar. He faced an attack of slander by an enemy. “All day long they twist my words,” he said, “all their schemes are for my ruin” (Psalm 56:5). This sustained assault left him fearful and tearful (v. 8). But in the midst of the battle, he prayed this powerful prayer: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. . . . What can mere mortals do to me?” (vv. 3–4). David’s prayer can be a model for us today. When I am afraid—in times of fear or accusation, we turn to God. I put my trust in you—we place our battle in God’s powerful hands. What can mere mortals do to me?—facing the situation with Him, we remember how limited the powers against us really are. The newspaper ignored the story about Warren. For some reason, the pamphlets were never distributed. What battle are you fearing today? Talk to God. He is willing to fight it with you.
Feb
24
2021
“Mr. Singerman, why are you crying?” asked twelve-year-old Albert as he watched the master craftsman construct a wooden box. “I cry,” said Isaac, “because my father cried, and because my grandfather cried.” The woodworker’s answer to his young apprentice provides a tender moment in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. “Tears,” explained Mr. Singerman, “come with the making of a coffin.” “Some men don’t cry because they fear it is a sign of weakness,” he said. “I was taught that a man is a man because he can cry.” Emotion must have welled up in the eyes of Jesus as he compared His concern for Jerusalem to the care of a mother hen for her chicks (Matthew 23:37). His disciples were often confused by what they saw in His eyes or heard in his stories. His idea of what it meant to be strong was different. It happened again as they walked with Him from the temple. Calling His attention to the massive stone walls and magnificent décor of their place of worship (24:1), the disciples noted the strength of human accomplishment. Jesus saw a temple that would be leveled in 70 ad. Jesus shows us that healthy people know when to cry and why. He cried because His Father cares and His Spirit groans for children who couldn’t yet see what breaks His heart.
Feb
23
2021
“It can be an affliction more harrowing than homelessness, hunger or disease,” wrote Maggie Fergusson in The Economist’s 1843 magazine. Her subject? Loneliness. Fergusson chronicled the increasing rates of loneliness, irrespective of one’s social or economic status, using heart-wrenching examples of what it feels like to be lonely. The hurt of feeling alone is not new to our day. Indeed, the pain of isolation echoes off the pages of the ancient book of Ecclesiastes. Often attributed to King Solomon, the book captures the sorrow of those who seem to lack any meaningful relationships (4:7–8). The speaker lamented that it is possible to acquire significant wealth, and yet experience no value from it, because there is no one to share it with. But the speaker also recognized the beauty of companionship, writing that friends help you accomplish more than you could achieve on your own (v. 9); companions help in times of need (v. 10); partners bring comfort (v. 11); and friends can provide protection in difficult situations (v. 12). Loneliness is a significant struggle, because God created us to offer, and receive, the benefits of friendship and community. If you’re feeling alone, pray that God would help you form meaningful connections with others. In the meantime, find encouragement in the reality that the believer is never truly alone, because Christ’s Spirit is always with us (Matthew 28:20).
Feb
22
2021
As my husband and I prepared for a cross-country move, I wanted to ensure that we kept in touch with our grown sons. I found a unique gift, friendship lamps connected by wireless internet, which can be turned on remotely. When I gave the lamps to my sons, I explained that their lamps will turn on when I touch my lamp—to provide a shining reminder of my love and ongoing prayers. No matter how great the distance between us, a tap on their lamps would trigger a light in our home too. Though we knew nothing could replace our more personal moments of connection, we could be encouraged by knowing we’re loved and prayed for every time we turned on those lights. All God’s children have the privilege of being light-sharers powered by the Holy Spirit. We’re designed to live as radiant beacons of the Lord’s everlasting hope and unconditional love. When we’re sharing the gospel and serving others in the name of Jesus, we become brilliant spotlights and living testimonies. Every good deed, kind smile, gentle word of encouragement, and heartfelt prayer produces a beaming reminder of God’s faithfulness and His unconditional and life-transforming love (Matthew 5:14–16). Wherever God leads us, and however we serve Him, we can be used by Him to help others shine His light. As God, by His Spirit, provides the true illumination, we can reflect the light and love of His presence.
Feb
21
2021
As a boy, theologian Bruce Ware was frustrated that 1 Peter 2:21–23 calls us to be like Jesus. Ware wrote of his youthful exasperation in his book The Man Christ Jesus. “Not fair, I determined. Especially when the passage says to follow in the steps of one ‘who did no sin.’ This was totally outlandish . . . . I just couldn’t see how God could really mean for us to take it seriously.” I understand why Ware would find such a biblical challenge so daunting! An old chorus says, “To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus. My desire, to be like Him.” But as Ware rightly noted, we are not capable of doing that. Left to ourselves, we could never become like Jesus. However, we are not left to ourselves. The Holy Spirit has been given to the child of God, in part so that Christ can be formed in us (Galatians 4:9). So it should come as no surprise that in Paul’s great chapter on the Spirit we read, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). God will see His work completed in us. And He does it through the Spirit of Christ living in us.  As we allow the Spirit to work in us, we truly become more like Jesus. How comforting to know that is God’s great desire for us!
Feb
20
2021
In our moments of greatest failure, it can be easy to believe it’s too late for us, that we’ve lost our chance at a life of purpose and worth. That’s how Elias, a former inmate at a maximum-security prison in New York, described feeling as a prisoner. “I had broken . . . promises, the promise of my own future, the promise of what I could be.” It was Bard College’s “Prison Initiative” college degree program that began to transform Elias’ life. While in the program, Elias participated in a debate team, which in 2015 debated a team from Harvard—and won. For Elias, being “part of the team . . . [was] a way of proving that these promises weren’t completely lost.” A similar transformation happens in our hearts when we begin to understand that the good news of God’s love in Jesus is good news for us too. It’s not too late, we begin to realize with wonder. God still has a future for me. And it’s a future that can neither be earned nor forfeited, dependent only on God’s extravagant grace and power (2 Peter 1:3). A future where we’re set free from the despair in the world and in our hearts into one filled with His “glory and goodness” (v. 3). A future secure in Christ’s unimaginable promises (v. 4)—of a future transformed into the “freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Feb
19
2021
During the American Civil War, the penalty for desertion was execution. But the Union armies rarely executed deserters because their commander-in-chief Abraham Lincoln pardoned nearly all of them. This infuriated Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, who believed that Lincoln’s leniency only enticed would-be deserters. But Lincoln empathized with soldiers who had lost their nerve and who had given in to their fear in the heat of battle. And his empathy endeared him to his soldiers. They loved their “Father Abraham,” and their affection led the soldiers to want to serve Lincoln all the more. When Paul calls Timothy to join him in “suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3), he calls him to a tough job description. A soldier is to be completely dedicated, hard-working, and selfless. He’s to serve his commanding officer, Jesus, whole-heartedly. But in reality, we sometimes fail to be His good soldiers. We don’t always serve Him faithfully. And so Paul’s opening phrase is important: “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). Christ, our commanding officer, is full of grace. He empathizes with our weaknesses and forgives our failures (Hebrews 4:15). And just as the Union soldiers were encouraged by Lincoln’s compassion, so believers are strengthened by the grace of Jesus. We want to serve Him all the more because we know He loves us.
Feb
18
2021
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis recommended asking ourselves some questions to find out if we’re proud: “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, . . . or patronize me, or show off?” Lewis saw pride as a vice of the “utmost evil” and the chief cause of misery in homes and nations. He called it a “spiritual cancer” that eats up the very possibility of love, contentment, and even common sense. Pride has been a problem throughout the ages. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned the leader of Tyre, a powerful coastal city, against his pride. He said the king’s pride would result in his downfall: “Because you think you are . . . as wise as a god, I am going to bring foreigners against you” (Ezekiel 28:6–7). Then he would know he wasn’t a god, but a mortal (v. 9). In contrast to pride is humility, which Lewis named as a virtue we receive through knowing God. Lewis said that as we get in touch with God, we become “delightedly humble,” feeling relieved to be rid of the silly nonsense about our own dignity that previously made us restless and unhappy. The more we worship God, the more we will know Him and the more we can humble ourselves before Him. May we be those who love and serve with joy and humility.
Feb
17
2021
Nancy Gustafson, a retired opera singer, was devastated when she visited her mother and saw her decline from dementia. Her mom no longer recognized her and barely spoke. After several monthly visits, Nancy had an idea. She started singing Christmas carols. Her mother’s eyes lit up at the musical sounds, and she began singing too—for twenty minutes! Then Nancy’s mom laughed, joking they were “The Gustafson Family Singers!” The dramatic turnaround suggested the power of music, as some therapists conclude, to evoke lost memories. Singing “old favorites” has also been shown to boost mood, reduce falls, lessen visits to the emergency room, and decrease the need for sedative drugs. More research is underway on a music-memory link. Yet as the Bible reveals, the joy that comes from singing is a gift from God—and it’s real. “How good it is to sing praises to our God; how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Psalm 147:1). Throughout the Scriptures, in fact, God’s people are urged to lift their voices in songs of praise to Him. “Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things” (Isaiah 12:5). “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him” (Psalm 40:3). Our singing inspires us, but also those who hear it. May we all remember: Our God is great and worthy of praise.
Feb
16
2021
In the late 17th century, William of Orange intentionally flooded much of his nation’s land. The Dutch monarch resorted to such a drastic measure in an attempt to drive out the invading Spaniards. It didn’t work, and a vast swath of prime farmland was lost to the sea. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” they say. In Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem turned to desperate measures when the Assyrian army threatened them. Creating a water storage system to endure the siege, the people also tore down houses to shore up the city walls. Such tactics may have been prudent, but they neglected the most important step. “You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool,” God said, “but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11). We aren’t likely to encounter a literal army outside our homes today. “The batterings always come in commonplace ways and through commonplace people,” said Oswald Chambers. Yet, such “batterings” are genuine threats. Thankfully, they also bring with them God’s invitation to turn to Him first for what we need. When life’s irritations and interruptions come, will we see them as opportunities to turn to God? Or will we seek our own desperate solutions?
Feb
15
2021
During college, I spent a good chunk of a summer in Venezuela. The food was astounding, the people delightful, the weather and hospitality beautiful. Within the first day or two, however, I recognized that my views on time management weren’t shared by my new friends. If we planned to have lunch at noon, this meant anywhere between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. The same for meetings or travel: timeframes were approximations without rigid punctuality. I learned that my idea of “being on time” was far more culturally formed than I’d realized. All of us are shaped by the cultural values that surround us, usually without us ever noticing. Paul calls this cultural force “the world” (Romans 12:2). Here, “world” doesn’t mean the physical universe, but rather refers to the ways of thinking pervading our existence. The world refers to the unquestioned assumptions and guiding ideals handed to us simply because we live in a particular place and time. Paul warns us to be vigilant to not “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). Instead, we must be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (v. 2). Rather than passively taking on whatever ways of thinking and believing that engulf us, we’re called to actively pursue God’s way of thinking and to learn how to understand His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (v. 2). May we learn to follow God rather than every other voice.             
Feb
14
2021
During an outing, we met a woman who had known my husband’s family since he was a child. She looked from Alan to our son, Xavier. “He’s the spitting image of his daddy,” she said. “Those eyes. That smile. Yep. Looks just like him.” As the woman delighted in acknowledging such a strong resemblance between father and son, she even noted similarities in their personalities. Still, though they are alike in many ways, my son doesn’t reflect his father perfectly. There is only one Son—Jesus—who reflects His Father completely. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). In Him and through Him and for Him all things were created (v. 16). “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (v. 17). We can spend time in prayer and Bible study, discovering the Father’s character by looking at Jesus—God in the flesh. He invites us to witness His love in action by examining how He interacts with others in Scripture and in our day-to-day living. After surrendering our lives to Christ and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can grow in knowing and trusting our loving Father. He transforms us to reflect His character, so we can live for Him. What a joy it would be if others could say we look like just like Jesus!
Feb
13
2021
When the hut of a settler in a mountainous region of Alaska caught fire, the settler was left without adequate shelter and with few provisions in the coldest state in the United States—in the middle of a frigid winter. Three weeks later, an aircraft flew over and spied the large SOS the man had stamped out in the snow and darkened with soot, and he was finally rescued.  The psalmist David was certainly in dire straits. He was being pursued by jealous King Saul who sought to kill him. And so he fled to the city of Gath, where he pretended to be insane in order to preserve his life (see 1 Samuel 20–21). Out of those events emerged Psalm 34, where David cried out in prayer to God and found peace (vv. 4, 6). God heard his pleas and delivered him.  Are you in a desperate situation and crying out for help? Be assured that God still hears and responds to our desperate prayers today. As with David, He’s attentive to our distress calls and takes away our fears (v. 4)—and sometimes even saves us “out of [our] troubles” (v. 6).  Scripture invites us to “cast [our] cares on the Lord and he will sustain [us]” (Psalm 55:22). When we turn our difficult circumstances over to God, we can trust that He will provide the help we need. We are secure in His capable hands. 
Feb
12
2021
Farming is difficult in areas that lack freshwater. To help solve this problem, The Seawater Greenhouse Company has created something new—“cooling houses” in Somaliland, Africa, and other countries with similar climates. Cooling houses use solar pumps to drizzle saltwater over walls made of corrugated cardboard. As the water moves down each panel, it leaves its salt behind. Much of the remaining fresh water evaporates inside the structure, which becomes a humid place where fruit and vegetable crops can flourish. Through the prophet Isaiah, God promised to do a “new thing” as He provided “streams in the wasteland” for ancient Israel (Isaiah 43:19). This new thing contrasted with the old thing He had done to rescue His people from the Egyptian army. Remember the Red Sea account? God wanted His people to recall the past but not let it overshadow His current involvement in their lives (v. 18). He said, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness” (v. 19). While looking to the past can bolster our faith in God’s provision, living in the past can blind us to all the fresh work of God’s Spirit today. We can ask God to show us how He’s currently moving—helping, remaking, and sustaining His people. May this awareness prompt us to partner with Him to meet the needs of others, both near and far.