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Date Show Title
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. 
Feb
11
2021
My friend Sharon passed away one year prior to the death of my friend Dave’s teenage daughter Melissa. They both had been tragically killed in car accidents. One night both Sharon and Melissa were in my dream. They giggled and talked as they hung streamers in a large banquet hall and ignored me when I stepped into the room. A long table with white tablecloths had been set with golden plates and goblets. I asked if I could help decorate, but they didn’t seem to hear me and kept working.  But then Sharon said, “This party is Melissa’s wedding reception.”  “Who’s the groom?” I asked.  Neither responded but smiled and looked at each other knowingly. Finally, it dawned on me—it’s Jesus!  “Jesus is the groom,” I whispered as I woke up.  My dream brings to mind the joyful celebration believers in Jesus will share together when Christ returns. It’s portrayed in Revelation as a lavish feast and is called “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9). John the Baptist, who prepared people for the first coming of Jesus, had called Him “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He also referred to Jesus as “the bridegroom” and himself as the “friend” (like the best man) who waited for Him (3:29).  On that banquet day and for all eternity we will enjoy unbroken fellowship with Jesus, our groom, and with Sharon and Melissa and all of God’s people.
Feb
10
2021
A group of workers were cutting ice out of a frozen lake and storing it in an icehouse when one of them realized he’d lost his watch in the windowless building. He and his friends searched for it in vain.  After they gave up, a young boy who’d seen them exit went into the building. Soon, he emerged with the watch. Asked how he’d found it, he replied: “I just sat down and kept quiet, and soon I could hear it ticking.”  The Bible talks much about the value of being still. And no wonder, for God sometimes speaks in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12). In the busyness of life, it can be hard to hear Him. But if we stop rushing about and spend some quiet time with Him and the Scripture, we may hear His gentle voice in our thoughts.  Psalm 37:1–7 assures us that we can trust God to rescue us from the “wicked schemes” of evil people, give us refuge, and help us stay faithful. But how can we do this when turmoil is all around us?  Verse 7 suggests: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” We could start by learning to keep silent for a few minutes after a prayer. Or by quietly reading the Bible and letting the words soak into our hearts. And then, perhaps, we will hear His wisdom speaking to us, quiet and steady as a ticking clock.
Feb
9
2021
In the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, a college professor befriended a stray Akita puppy named Hachi. The dog expressed his loyalty by waiting at the train station each day for the professor to return from work. One day, the professor suffered a fatal stroke. Hachi waited hours at the train station, and for the next ten years he returned each day—awaiting His loving master. Luke tells the story of a man named Simeon who patiently waited for the coming of his Master (Luke 2:25). The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah (v. 26). As a result, Simeon kept waiting for the One that would provide “salvation” for God’s people (v. 30). When Mary and Joseph entered the temple with Jesus, the Holy Spirit whispered to Simeon, “Yes! This is the One!” The wait was finally over! Simeon held Christ in his arms—the hope, salvation, and comfort for all people (vv. 28–32). If we find ourselves in a season of waiting, may we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah with fresh ears: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31). As we await Jesus’ return, He provides the hope and strength we need for each new day.
Feb
8
2021
The cockeyed squid lives in the ocean’s “twilight zone” where sunlight barely filters through the increasingly deep waters. The squid’s nickname is a reference to its two extremely different eyes: the left eye develops over time to become considerably larger than the right—almost twice as big. Scientists studying the mollusk have deduced that the squid uses its right eye, the smaller one, to look down into the darker depths. The larger, left eye, gazes upward, toward the sunlight.  The squid is an unlikely depiction of what it means to live in our present world and also in the future certainty we await as people who “have been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he insists we ought to “set [our] minds on things above” because our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (vv. 2–3).  As earth-dwellers awaiting our lives in heaven, we keep an eye trained on what’s happening around us in our present reality. But just as the squid’s left eye develops over time into one that’s larger and more sensitive to what’s happening overhead, we, too, can grow in our awareness of the ways God’s at work in the spiritual realm. We may not have yet fully grasped what it means to be alive in Christ, but as we look “up,” our eyes will begin to see it more and more. 
Feb
7
2021
The weather forecast said bomb cyclone. That’s what happens when a winter storm rapidly intensifies as the atmospheric pressure drops. By the time night fell the blizzard conditions made the highway to the Denver airport almost impossible to see. Almost. But when it’s your daughter who’s flying home to visit, you do what you have to do. You pack extra clothes and water (just in case you get stranded on the highway), drive very slowly, pray without ceasing, and last but not least trust your headlights. And sometimes you can achieve the almost impossible.  Jesus foretold of a storm on the horizon, one that would involve His death (John 12:32–33), and one that would challenge His followers to stay faithful and serve (v. 26). It was going to get dark and be almost impossible to see. Almost. So what did Jesus tell them to do? Believe, or trust, the light (v. 36). That was the only way they could keep going forward and stay faithful. Jesus would only be with them a little while longer. But believers have His Spirit as our constant guide to light the way. We too will face dark times when it’s almost impossible to see the way ahead. Almost. But by believing, or trusting in the Light, we can press on.     
Feb
6
2021
At the phone store, the young pastor steeled himself for bad news. His smart phone, accidentally dropped during our Bible class, was a total loss, right? Actually, no. The store clerk recovered all of the pastor’s data, including his Bible videos and photos. She also recovered “every photo I’d ever deleted,” he said. The store also “replaced my broken phone with a brand new phone.” As he said, “I recovered all I had lost and more.” David once led his own recovery mission after an attack by the vicious Amalekites. Spurned by Philistine rulers, David and his army discovered the Amalekites had raided and burned down their town of Ziklag—taking captive “the women and everyone else in it,” including all their wives and children (1 Samuel 30:2). “So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (v. 4). The soldiers were so bitter with their leader David that they talked of stoning him (v. 6). But David “found strength in the Lord his God” (v. 6).  As the Lord promised, David pursued the Amalekites and “recovered everything the Amalekites had taken . . . nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back” (vv. 1819). As we face spiritual attacks that “rob” us even of hope, may we find renewed strength in God. He will be with us in every challenge of life.
Feb
5
2021
At local high school sporting events, Ted was the largest and loudest cheerleader in the stands. Before a degenerative condition took its toll on him, he stood six feet six inches tall and weighed 290 pounds. Ted’s crowd-stirring chants of “Blue!” (blue was the school color) and candy-tossing at school events were legendary, earning him the name “Big Blue.” But Ted’s reputation in his community wasn’t just for cheerleading. Neither was it for the alcohol addiction he experienced as a younger man. No, he will be remembered for his love for God and family, for his generosity and kindness. At a four-hour “home-going service” that celebrated his life, person after person came forward to testify about the vibrant Christ-like ways of a man who’d been rescued from darkness by the power of Jesus through the gospel. In Ephesians 5:8, Paul reminded believers that they “were once darkness” but quickly noted, “but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Such is the call for every believer in Jesus. Children of light, like Ted, have much to offer those engulfed in this world’s darkness. Fruitless deeds of darkness (see vv. 3–4) are to be avoided (v. 11). Those in our communities and other places need the brilliant, distinctive witness of those upon whom Jesus has shined (v. 14). How distinctive? As different as light is from darkness.
Feb
4
2021
Harriet Tubman was one of the great American heroes of the nineteenth century. Showing remarkable courage, she guided more than three hundred fellow slaves to freedom after she first escaped slavery by crossing into free territory in the United States north. Not content to simply enjoy her own freedom, she ventured back into slave states nineteen times to lead friends, family, and strangers to freedom, sometimes guiding people on foot all the way to Canada. What drove Miss Tubman to such brave action? A woman of deep faith, she at one time said this: “I always told God, I’m going to hold steady on you, and you’ve got to see me through.” Her dependence on God’s guidance as she led people out of slavery was a hallmark of her success. What does it mean to “hold steady” to God? A verse in the prophecy of Isaiah might help us see that in reality it’s He who holds us as we grab His hand. Isaiah quotes God, who said, “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (41:13). Harriet held tightly to God, and He saw her through. What challenges are you facing? Hold steady to God as He “takes hold” of your hand and your life. “Do not fear.” He will help you.
Feb
3
2021
On his twelfth Christmas, the boy eagerly awaited the opening of the gifts under the tree. He was yearning for a new bike, but his hopes were dashed—the last present he received was a dictionary. On the first page, he read: “To Charles from Mother and Daddy, 1958. With love and high hopes for your best work in school.” In the next decade, Chuck did do well in school. He graduated from college and later, aviation training, and became a pilot working overseas, fulfilling his passion to help people in need and to share Jesus with them. Now some sixty years later, he shared the well-worn dictionary with his grandchildren. It had become for him a symbol of his parents’ loving investment in his future, and Chuck still treasures it. But he’s even more grateful for the daily investment his parents made in building his faith by teaching him about God and about His Word. Deuteronomy 11 talks about the importance of taking every opportunity to share the words of Scripture with children: “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (v. 19). For Chuck, the eternal values planted when he was a boy bloomed into a lifetime of service for his Savior. With God’s enablement, who knows how much our investment in someone’s spiritual growth will yield?
Feb
2
2021
A popular restaurant in Bangkok serves soup from a broth that has been cooking for forty-five years and is replenished a bit each day. The practice, called “perpetual stew,” dates back to medieval times. Just as some “leftovers” taste better a few days later, the extended cooking time blends and creates unique flavors. The restaurant has won multiple awards for the most delicious broth in Thailand. Good things often take time, but our human nature struggles with patience. The question “How long?” occurs throughout the Bible. One poignant example is from the prophet Habakkuk, who begins his book by asking “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Habakkuk (whose name means “grappler”) prophesied God’s judgment on his country (Judah) through the invasion of the ruthless Babylonian Empire, and he wrestled with how God could allow corrupt people to prosper as they exploited others. But God promised hope and restoration in His own time: “For the revelation [of God’s help] awaits an appointed time . . . . Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (2:3). The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years. By human reckoning that’s a long time, but God is always faithful and true to His Word. Some of God’s best blessings may be long in coming. Though they linger, keep looking to Him! He prepares every blessing with perfect wisdom and care— and He is always worth waiting for.  
Feb
1
2021
As I watched a bumblebee land lightly on the Russian sage, I marveled at its lush branches. The bush exploded with color, its brilliant blue blossoms attracting eyes and bees alike.        Yet only last fall, I’d wondered if it would ever blossom again. When my wife’s parents trimmed the periwinkle plant down to a stub, I’d assumed they’d decided to get rid of it. But now I was witnessing the radiant result of pruning that had seemed brutal to me.  The surprising beauty that results from harsh cuts may be one of the reasons Jesus chose pruning imagery to describe God’s work among believers in John 15, saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. . . . every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (vv. 1–2).  Jesus’s words remind us that in the good times and bad, God is always working in us toward spiritual renewal and fruitfulness (v. 5). During “pruning” seasons of suffering or emotional barrenness, we may wonder if we’ll ever thrive again. But Jesus encourages us to continue to stick close to Him: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v. 4).  And as we continually draw spiritual nourishment from Christ, the resulting beauty and fruitfulness in our lives (v. 8) will witness to the world of God’s goodness.
Jan
31
2021
As many as 34,000 homes in one US state are at risk of collapsing due to faulty foundations. Without realizing it, a concrete company pulled stone from a quarry laced with a mineral that, over time, causes concrete to crack and disintegrate. The foundations of nearly 600 homes have already crumbled, and that number will likely skyrocket over time.  Jesus used the image of building a home atop a faulty foundation to explain the far riskier danger of building our lives on unsteady ground. He explained how some of us construct our life on sturdy rock, ensuring that we hold solid when fierce storms assault us. Others of us, however, erect our lives on sand; and when the tempests rage, our lives tumble “with a great crash” (Matthew 7:27). The one distinction between building on an unshakable foundation or a crumbling one is whether or not we “put [Christ’s words] into practice (v. 26). The question isn’t whether or not we hear His words, but whether we practice them as He enables us. There’s much wisdom offered to us in this world—and lots of advice and help—and much of it is good and beneficial. If we base our life on any foundation other than humble obedience to God’s truth, however, we invite trouble. In His strength, doing what God says is the only way to have a house, a life, built on rock.
Jan
30
2021
In 1994, when South Africa made the transition from government by apartheid (imposed racial segregation) to a democracy, it faced the difficult question of how to address the crimes committed under apartheid. The country’s leaders couldn’t ignore the past, but merely imposing harsh punishments on the guilty risked deepening the country’s wounds. As Desmond Tutu, the first black Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, explained in his book  No Future Without Forgiveness, “We could very well have had justice, retributive justice, and had a South Africa lying in ashes.” Through establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the new democracy chose the difficult path of pursuing truth, justice, and mercy. Those guilty of crimes were offered a path to restoration—if they were willing to confess their crimes and seek to make restitution. Only by courageously facing the truth could the country begin to find healing. In a way, South Africa’s dilemma mirrors the struggle we all face. We’re called to pursue both justice and mercy (Micah 6:8), but mercy is often misunderstood to be a lack of accountability, while pursuing justice can become distorted into pursuing revenge. Our only path forward is a love that not only hates what’s evil (Romans 12:9) but also longs for the transformation and good of our “neighbor” (13:10). Through the power of Christ’s Spirit, we can learn what it means to have a future of overcoming evil with good (12:21).
Jan
29
2021
Andrew lives in a country that is closed to the gospel. When I asked him how he keeps his faith a secret, he said he doesn’t. He boldly wears a button that advertises his church, and whenever he’s arrested he tells the police that “they need Jesus too.” Andrew has courage because he knows who’s on his side. Elijah refused to be intimidated, even when the king of Israel sent fifty soldiers to arrest him (2 Kings 1:9). The prophet knew God was with him, and he called down fire that consumed the platoon. The king sent fifty more, and Elijah did it again (v. 12). The king sent fifty more, but the third platoon had heard about the others. The captain begged Elijah to spare his soldiers’ lives. They were more afraid of him than he’d ever been of them, so the angel of the Lord told Elijah it was safe to go with them (vv. 13–15). Jesus doesn’t want us to call down fire on our enemies. When the disciples asked if they could go full Elijah (call down fire) on a Samaritan village, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:51–55). We’re living in a different time. But Jesus does want us to have the boldness of Elijah—to be ready to tell everyone about the Savior who died for them. It may seem like one person taking on fifty, but it’s actually One on fifty. Jesus provides what we need to courageously love and reach out to others.
Jan
28
2021
There’s a home improvement store near me that has a big green button in one of its departments. If no assistant is present, you push the button, which starts a timer. If you’re not served within a minute, you get a discount on your purchase. We like being the customer in this scenario who enjoys the speedy service. But the demand for fast service often takes a toll when we’re the one expected to deliver it. So many of us today feel rushed doing our jobs, working long hours, checking email multiple times a day, and feeling pressured to meet tighter and tighter deadlines. The customer service tactics of the home improvement store have seeped into all our lives, creating a culture of rush. When God told the Israelites to keep a Sabbath, He added an important reason: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 5:15). There they’d been forced to work ceaselessly under Pharaoh’s excessive time constraints (Exodus 5:6–9). Now freed, they were to give themselves a whole day each week to ensure they and those who served them could rest (Deuteronomy 5:14). Under God’s rule, there were to be no flush-faced, out-of-breath people. How often do you work to the point of exhaustion or get impatient with people who keep you waiting? Let’s give ourselves and each other a break. A culture of rush is Pharaoh’s doing, not God’s.
Jan
27
2021
Among the many exhibits and artifacts exploring the harsh reality of slavery and its aftermath in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, I was grateful to discover the Contemplative Court. This tranquil room features translucent walls of bronze glass, and water appears to rain down from the ceiling into a pool. As I sat in that peaceful space, a quote on the wall from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. caught my eye: “We are determined . . . to work and fight until justice rains down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” These powerful words are drawn from the Old Testament book of Amos. Amos was a prophet living among a people who were involved in religious activities, such as celebrating festivals and offering sacrifices, but whose hearts were far from God (Amos 5:21–23). God rejected their activities because they’d turned away from His commands, including those regarding justice toward the needy and oppressed. Instead of religious ceremonies devoid of love for God and others, Amos wrote that God longed for His people to demonstrate genuine concern for the welfare of all people, a generous way of living that would be a mighty river bringing life wherever it flowed. Jesus taught the same truth that loving God is connected with loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:37–39). As we seek to love God, may it come from hearts that also treasure justice.
Jan
26
2021
Twenty long years passed before British journalist John McCarthy—a five-year hostage during Lebanon’s grueling civil war—met the man who negotiated his release. When McCarthy finally met U.N. envoy Giandomenico Picco, McCarthy simply said, “Thank you for my freedom!” His heartfelt words carried great weight because Picco had risked his own life during dangerous negotiations to secure freedom for McCarthy and others. We as believers can relate to such hard-won freedom. Jesus gave up His life—enduring death on a Roman cross—to secure spiritual freedom for all people, including each of us. Now as His followers, b we know “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle Paul boldly declared (Galatians 5:1). The gospel of John also teaches of freedom in Christ, noting, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). But free in what ways? In Christ, we experience freedom not only from sin and its hold on us but also from guilt, shame, worry, Satan’s lies, superstitions, false teaching, and eternal death. No longer hostages, we have freedom to show love to enemies, walk in kindness, live with hope, and love our neighbors. As we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can forgive as we have been forgiven. For all of this, let us thank God today. Then let us love so others will know the power of His freedom too.
Jan
25
2021
A few years ago, a woodpecker began tapping on the siding of our home. We thought the problem was only external. Then one day, my son and I climbed up a ladder into the attic only to have a bird fly past our startled faces. The problem was worse than we’d suspected: it was inside our house. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the crowd was hoping He would be the one to fix their external problem—their oppression by the Romans. They went wild, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9). This was the moment they’d been waiting for; God’s appointed King had come. If God’s chosen Deliverer was going to begin reforming things, wouldn’t He start with all the wrong out there? But in most gospel accounts, the “triumphal entry” is followed by Jesus driving out exploitative moneychangers . . . from the temple (vv. 12–13). He was cleaning house, and from the inside out. That’s what happens when we welcome Jesus as king; He comes to set things right—and He starts with us. He makes us confront the evil inside. Jesus on the donkey is like the warriors in the Trojan Horse. The Horse was welcomed as a symbol of peace, but its ultimate aim was unconditional surrender. Jesus our King requires the same from us.
Jan
24
2021
The little Bible college in northern Ghana didn’t look impressive—just a tin-roofed cinder-block building and a handful of students. Yet Bob Hayes poured his life into those students. He gave them leadership roles and encouraged them to preach and teach, despite their occasional reluctance. Bob passed away years ago, but dozens of thriving churches, schools, and two additional Bible institutes have sprung up across Ghana—all started by graduates of that humble school. During the reign of King Artaxerxes (465–424 bc), Ezra the scribe assembled a band of Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem. But Ezra found no Levites among them (Ezra 8:15). He needed Levites to serve as priests. So he commissioned leaders to “bring attendants to us for the house of our God” (v. 17). They did so (vv. 18–20), and Ezra led them all in fasting and prayer (v. 21). Ezra’s name means “helper,” a characteristic that resides at the heart of good leadership. Under Ezra’s prayerful guidance, he and his protégés would lead a spiritual awakening in Jerusalem (see chapters 9–10). All they had needed was a little encouragement and wise direction. That’s how God’s church works too. As good mentors encourage and build us up, we learn to do the same for others. Such an influence will reach far beyond our lifetime. Work done faithfully for God stretches into eternity.
Jan
23
2021
Two men remembered for serving others for Jesus left careers in the arts to commit themselves to where they believed God had called them. James O. Fraser (1886–1938) decided not to pursue being a concert pianist in England to serve the Lisu people in China, while the American Judson Van DeVenter (1855–1939) chose to become an evangelist instead of pursuing a career in art. He later wrote the hymn, “I Surrender All.” While having a vocation in the arts is the perfect calling for many, these men believed God called them to relinquish one career for another. Perhaps they found inspiration from Jesus counseling the rich, young ruler to give up his possessions to follow Him (Mark 10:17–25). Witnessing the exchange, Peter exclaimed, “We have left everything to follow you!” (v. 28). Jesus assured him that God would give those who follow Him “a hundred times as much in this present age” and eternal life (v. 30). But He would give according to His wisdom: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 31). No matter where God has placed us, we’re called to daily surrender our lives to Christ, obeying His gentle call to follow Him and serve Him with our talents and resources—whether in the home, office, community, or far from home. As we do, He’ll inspire us to love others, putting their needs above our own.
Jan
22
2021
Victor Hugo (1802–1885), a poet and novelist during the social and political upheavals of nineteenth-century France, is perhaps best known for his classic Les Miserables. Over a century later, a musical adaption of his novel has become one of our generation’s most popular productions. This shouldn’t surprise us. As Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” The psalmists would have agreed. Their songs and prayers provide us with honest reflections on life and its inevitable pain. They touch us in places we find difficult to access. For example, in Psalm 6:6, David cries out, “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” The fact that such raw honesty is included in the inspired songs of the Scriptures gives us great encouragement. It invites us to bring our fears to God, who welcomes us into His presence for comfort and help. He embraces us in our heartfelt honesty. Music can give us the ability to express our feelings when words are hard to come by, but whether that expression is sung, prayed, or silently cried, our God reaches into the deepest places in our hearts and gives us His peace.
Jan
21
2021
The modern-day marathon is based on the story of a Greek messenger, Pheidippides. According to legend, in 490 bc he ran approximately twenty-five miles (forty kilometers) from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greeks’ victory against their formidable foe, the invading Persians. Today, people run marathons for the personal satisfaction of an athletic achievement, but Pheidippides had a greater purpose behind his effort: each of his steps was run for the sheer joy of delivering such good news to his kinsmen! Some 500 years later, two women also ran to deliver good news—the most pivotal news in all of history. When Mary and Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb where Jesus had been placed after His crucifixion, they found it empty. An angel told them that Jesus had “risen from the dead” and to “go quickly and tell his disciples” (Matthew 28:7). The women, “afraid yet filled with joy,” ran to tell the disciples what they’d discovered (v. 8). May we have the same joyful exuberance at the resurrection of Jesus, and may it invigorate us to share the good news with others. We may not even need to “run” farther than next door to find someone who needs to know about our Savior. He won the battle against death so we might live victoriously with Him forever!
Jan
20
2021
Over several years, a British couple living in West Africa developed a strong friendship with a man in their town and many times shared the love of Jesus and the story of salvation with him. Their friend, however, was reluctant to relinquish the lifetime of allegiance he had to another religion, even though he came to recognize that faith in Christ was “the greater truth.” His concern was partly financial, since he was a leader in his faith and depended on the compensation he received. He also feared losing his reputation among the people in his community. With sadness, he explained, “I’m like a man fishing with my hands in a stream. I have caught a small fish in one, but a bigger fish is swimming by. To catch the bigger fish, I have to let go of the smaller one!” The rich young ruler Matthew wrote about in Matthew 19 had a similar problem. When he approached Jesus, he asked, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (v. 16). He seemed sincere, but he didn’t want to fully surrender his life to Christ. He was rich, not only in money, but also in his pride of being a rule-follower. Although he desired eternal life, he loved something else more and rejected Jesus’ words. When we humbly surrender our life to Jesus and accept His free gift of salvation, He invites us, “Come, follow me” (v. 21).
Jan
19
2021
“I know where God lives,” our four-year-old grandson told my wife, Cari. “Where is that?” she asked, her curiosity piqued. “He lives in the woods beside your house,” he answered. When Cari told me about their conversation, she wondered what prompted his thinking. “I know,” I responded. “When we went for a walk in the woods during his last visit, I told him that even though we can’t see God, we can see the things He’s done.” “Do you see the footprints I’m making?” I had asked my grandson as we stepped through a sandy place by a river. “The animals and the trees and the river are like God’s footprints. We know that He’s been here because we can see the things He’s made.” The writer of Psalm 104 also pointed to the evidence for God in creation, exclaiming “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24). The Hebrew word for wisdom found here is often used in the Bible to describe skillful craftsmanship. God’s handiwork in nature proclaims His presence and makes us want to praise Him. Psalm 104 begins and ends with the words: “Praise the Lord” (v.1, 35). From a baby’s hand to an eagle’s eye, our Creator’s artistry all around us speaks of His consummate skill. May we take it all in with wonder today—and praise Him for it!
Jan
18
2021
After doctors diagnosed their first-born son with autism, Diane Dokko Kim and her husband grieved facing a lifetime of caring for a cognitively disabled child. In her book Unbroken Faith, she admits to struggling with adjusting their dreams and expectations for their beloved son’s future. Yet through this painful process, they learned that God can handle their anger, doubts, and fears. Now, with their son reaching adulthood, Diane uses her experiences to encourage parents of children with special needs. She tells others about God’s unbreakable promises, limitless power, and loving faithfulness. She assures people that He gives us permission to grieve when we experience the death of a dream, an expectation, a way or a season of life. In Isaiah 26, the prophet declares that God’s people can trust in the Lord forever, “for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (v. 4). He’s able to sustain us with supernatural peace in every situation (v. 12). Focusing on His unchanging character and crying out to Him during troublesome times revitalizes our hope (v. 15). When we face any loss, disappointment, or difficult circumstance, God invites us to be honest with Him. He can handle our ever-changing emotions and our questions. He remains with us and refreshes our spirits with enduring hope. Even when we feel like our lives are falling apart, God can make our faith unbreakable.
Jan
17
2021
In his book Breaking Down Walls, Glen Kehrein writes about climbing to the roof of his college dorm in Chicago after the assassination of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. “The sound of gunfire bounced eerily back and forth off the large buildings, and soon my rooftop perch provided a near panoramic, yet horrific, view. . . . How in the world did I get from a Wisconsin cornfield to a war zone in the inner city of Chicago in less than two years?” Compelled by his love for Jesus and people whose backgrounds were different from his, Glen lived on Chicago’s West Side and led a ministry there that provided food, clothing, shelter, and other services until his death in 2011. Glen’s life mirrors the efforts of followers of Christ who’ve come to grips with the need to embrace those who are different from themselves. Paul’s teaching and example helped Roman believers see that God’s plan to rescue wayward humanity included Jews and gentiles (Romans 15:8–12). Believers in Jesus are called to follow His example of acceptance of others (v. 7); prejudice and discord have no place among those called to glorify God with “one mind and one voice” (v. 6). Ask God to help you cross barriers and break down walls and to warmly embrace everyone, regardless of their differences. Let’s strive to leave behind a legacy of acceptance.
Jan
16
2021
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion return to Oz with the broomstick that empowered the Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard had promised, in return for the broomstick, that he would give the four friends their deepest desires: a ride home for Dorothy, a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, and courage for the Cowardly Lion. But the Wizard stalls and tells them to come back the next day. While they plead with the Wizard not to send them away, Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls back the curtain, behind which the Wizard spoke, to reveal that the Wizard isn’t a wizard at all, He’s just a fearful, fidgety man from Nebraska. It is said that the author, L. Frank Baum, had a serious problem with God, so he wanted to send the message that only we have the power to solve our problems. The apostle John in contrast pulls back the veil to reveal the truly Wonderful One behind the “curtain.” Words fail John (note the repeated use of the preposition like in the passage), but the point is well made: God is seated on His throne, surrounded by a sea of glass (Revelation 4:2, 6). Despite the troubles that plague us here on earth (Revelation 2–3), God is not pacing the floor and biting His nails. He is actively at work for our good, so we can experience His peace.
Jan
15
2021
Baby Saybie, born as a “micro-preemie” at 23 weeks, weighed only 8.6 ounces. Doctors doubted Saybie would live and told her parents they’d likely have only an hour with their daughter. However, Saybie kept fighting. A pink card near her crib declared “Tiny but Mighty.” After five months in the hospital, Saybie miraculously went home as a healthy five-pound baby. And she took a world record with her: the world’s tiniest surviving baby. It’s powerful to hear stories of those who beat the odds. The Bible tells one of these stories. David, a shepherd boy, volunteered to fight Goliath—a mammoth warrior who defamed God and threatened Israel. King Saul thought David was ridiculous: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). And when the boy David stepped onto the battlefield, Goliath “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy” (v. 42). However, David didn’t step into battle alone. He came “in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (v. 45). And when the day was done, a victorious David stood above a dead Goliath. No matter how enormous the problem, when God’s with us there’s nothing that we need to fear. With His strength, we’re also mighty.
Jan
14
2021
“Don’t get on the expressway!” That text came from my daughter one day as I was leaving work. The highway home had become a virtual parking lot. I began trying alternate routes, but after experiencing gridlock on other roads, I gave up. The trip home would have to wait till later in the day, so I drove in the opposite direction to an athletic event my granddaughter was involved in. Discovering that no roads would lead me home made me think about people who say that all roads lead to an eternal relationship with God. Some believe the road of kindness and good behavior will get you there. Others choose the road of doing religious things. Relying on those roads, however, leads to a dead end. There’s only one road to take to God’s eternal presence.  Jesus clarified this when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He was revealing that He was going to die to open the way for us to enter His Father’s house—to His presence and the real life He provides for today and eternity. Skip the blocked highways that don’t lead to God’s presence. Instead, trust Jesus as Savior, “for whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). And for those who already believe in Him, rest in the way He’s provided.  
Jan
13
2021
The winter night was cold when someone threw a large stone through a Jewish child’s bedroom window. A star of David had been displayed in the window, along with a menorah to celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. In the child’s town of Billings, Montana, thousands of people—many of them believers in Jesus—responded to the hateful act with compassion. Choosing to identify with the hurt and fear of their Jewish neighbors, they pasted pictures of menorahs in their own windows. As believers in Jesus, we too receive great compassion. Our Savior humbled Himself to live among us (John 1:14), identifying with us. He, “being in very nature God . . . made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” on our behalf (Philippians 2:6–7). Then, feeling as we feel and weeping as we weep, He died on a cross, sacrificing His live to save ours. Nothing we struggle with is beyond our Savior’s concern. If someone “throws rocks” at our lives, He comforts us. If life brings disappointments, He walks with us through despair. “Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar” (Psalm 138:6). In our troubles, He preserves us, stretching out His hand against both “the anger of [our] foes” (v. 7) and our own deepest fears. Thank You, God, for Your compassionate love.
Jan
12
2021
Most Americans knew little about Alexander Hamilton. Until 2015, when Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote his hit musical Hamilton. Now schoolchildren know Hamilton’s story by heart. They sing it to each other on the bus and at recess. He’s their favorite founding father. God knows the power of music, and He told Moses to “write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it” (Deuteronomy 31:19). God knew that long after Moses was gone, when He had brought Israel into the Promised Land, they would rebel and worship other gods. So He told Moses, “This song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants” (v. 21). Songs are nearly impossible to forget, so it’s wise to be selective about what we sing. Some songs are just for fun, and that’s fine, but we benefit from songs that boast in Jesus and encourage our faith. One of the ways we “[make] the most of every opportunity” is when we speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” So “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (see Ephesians 5:15–19). Songs can be an indicator of the direction of our heart. Do the words make much of Jesus? Do we sing them whole-heartedly? What we sing will influence what we believe, so choose wisely and sing loudly. What’s your song?
Jan
11
2021
David’s first beating came at the hands of his father on his seventh birthday, after he accidentally broke a window. “He kicked me and punched me,” David said. “Afterward, he apologized. He was an abusive alcoholic, and it’s a cycle I’m doing my best to end now.”  But it took a long time for David to get to this point. Most of his teen years and twenties were spent in jail or on probation, and in and out of addiction treatment centers. When it felt like his dreams were entirely dashed, he found hope in a Christ-centered treatment center through a relationship with Him.  “I used to be filled with nothing but despair,” David says. “Now I’m pushing myself in the other direction. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I tell God is that I’m surrendering my will over to Him.”  When we come to God with lives shattered, whether by others’ wrongdoing or by our own, God takes our broken hearts and makes us new: “If anyone is in Christ, . . . the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ’s love and life breaks into the cycles of our past, giving us a new future (vv. 14–15). And it doesn’t end there! Throughout our lives, we can find hope and strength in what God has done and continues to do in us—each and every moment.  
Jan
10
2021
The clouds hung low, blocking the horizon and limiting visibility to only a few hundred yards. The minutes dragged on. The effect on my mood was noticeable. But then, as afternoon approached, the clouds began to break, and I saw it: beautiful Pikes Peak, the most recognizable landmark of my city, flanked on each side by the mountain range. A smile broke over my face. I considered that even our physical perspective—our literal line of sight—can affect our spiritual vision. And I was reminded of the psalmist singing, “I lift my eyes to the mountains” (Psalm 121:1). Sometimes we simply need to lift our eyes a bit higher! The psalmist pondered where his help came from, maybe because the hilltops around Israel were dotted with altars to pagan gods and often contained robbers. Or it could have been because the psalmist looked up beyond the hills to Mount Zion where the Temple stood, and remembered that the Maker of Heaven and Earth was his covenant God (v. 2). Either way, to worship we must look up. We have to lift our eyes higher than our circumstances, higher than our troubles and trials, higher than the empty promises of the false gods of our day. Then we can see the Creator and Redeemer, the One who calls us by name. He’s the one who will “watch over your coming and going” today and forevermore (v. 8).
Jan
9
2021
After a holiday meal at my house, everyone opened party favors filled with candy, small toys, and confetti. But there was something else in the favors—a paper crown for each of us. We couldn’t resist trying them on, and we smiled at each other as we sat around the table. For just a moment, we were kings and queens, even if our kingdom was a dining room littered with the remnants of our dinner. This sparked a memory of a Bible promise I don’t often think about. In the next life, all believers will share ruling authority with Christ. Paul mentions this in 1 Corinthians 6 where He asks, “Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?” (v. 2). Paul referenced this future privilege because he wanted to inspire believers to settle disputes peacefully on earth. They had been suing each and consequently harming the reputation of other believers in their community. We become better at resolving conflict as the Holy Spirit produces self-control, gentleness, and patience within us. By the time Jesus returns to the earth and completes the Spirit’s work in our lives (1 John 3:2–3), we’ll be ready for our eventual role as “a kingdom and priests to serve our God and . . . reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). Let’s hold on to this promise that glitters in Scripture like a diamond set in a crown of gold.  
Jan
8
2021
When Rebecca’s brother and sister-in-law started having marriage problems, Rebecca prayed earnestly for their reconciliation. But they divorced. Then her sister-in-law took the children out of state and their dad didn’t protest. Rebecca never again saw the nieces she dearly loved. Years later she said, “Because of trying to handle this sadness on my own, I let a root of bitterness start in my heart, and it began to spread to my family and friends.” The book of Ruth tells about a woman named Naomi who struggled with a heart of grief that grew into bitterness. Her husband died in a foreign land, and ten years later both her sons died. She was left destitute with her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah  (1:3–5). When Naomi and Ruth returned to Naomi’s home country, the whole town was excited to see them. But Naomi told her friends: “The Almighty has made my life very bitter. . . . The Lord has afflicted me” (vv.  20–21). She even asked them to call her “Mara,” meaning bitter.  Who hasn’t faced disappointment and been tempted toward bitterness? Maybe even on a daily basis! Someone says something hurtful, an expectation isn’t met, or demands from others make us resentful. When we acknowledge to ourselves and God what’s happening deep in our hearts, our tender Gardener can help us dig up any roots of bitterness—whether they’re still small or have been growing for years—and can replace them with a sweet, joyful spirit.
Jan
7
2021
“Sometimes I feel as if I’m invisible. But I so want God to use me.”  Ann was tidying up the exercise room at the hotel I was visiting when we struck up a conversation. As we talked, I discovered she had an amazing story.  “I used to be a crack addict and prostitute living on the streets,” she said. “But I knew God wanted me to put down my pipe and walk with Him. One day years ago I knelt at Jesus’s feet, and He set me free.”  I thanked Ann for sharing what the Lord had done for her and assured her she wasn’t invisible—God had used her in our conversation in a beautiful way to remind me of His power to transform lives. God loves to use people others might overlook. The apostle Andrew isn’t as well-known as his brother Peter, but the Bible recounts that “the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon [Peter] and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’. . . . And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41–42). Peter met Jesus through Andrew. When Andrew, one of John the Baptist’s disciples, learned about Jesus from John, he followed Jesus and believed—and immediately told his brother. Andrew’s quiet faithfulness had an impact that would shake the world. God values faithful service over fame. He can use us powerfully wherever we are—even when no one is looking.
Jan
6
2021
“Taps” is a trumpet call played by the US military at the end of the day as well as at funerals. I was amazed when I read the unofficial lyrics and discovered that many of the verses end with the phrase “God is nigh” (God is near). Both before the dark of each night settles in or while mourning the loss of a loved one, the lyrics offer soldiers the beautiful assurance that God is near. In the Old Testament, sounding trumpets was also a reminder, to the Israelites, that God was near. In the middle of celebrating the feasts and festivals that were part of the covenant agreement between God and the nation of Israel, the Jews were to “sound the trumpets” (Numbers 10:10). And blowing a trumpet was a reminder, not only that God was near but that He was also available when they needed Him most and longed to help them. Today, we still need reminders that God is near. And in our own style of worship, we too can call out to God in prayer and song. Perhaps our prayers can be thought of as trumpets asking God to help us. And the beautiful encouragement is that God always hears those calls (1 Peter 3:12). To each of our pleas, He responds with the assurance of His presence that strengthens and comforts us in the difficulties and sorrows of life.
Jan
5
2021
Three-year-old Dylan McCoy had just learned to swim when he fell through a rotted plywood covering into a forty-foot deep, stone-walled well in his grandfather’s backyard. Dylan managed to stay afloat in ten feet of water until his father climbed down the slippery rocks to rescue him. Firefighters brought ropes to raise the boy but the father was so worried about his son that he hastily climbed down to make sure he was safe. Oh, the love of a parent! Oh, the lengths (and depths) we will go for our children! When the apostle John writes to believers in the early church who were struggling to find footing for their faith as false teaching swirled about them, he extends these words like a life-preserver: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Naming the followers of Jesus as “children” of God was an intimate and legal labeling that brought validity to all who follow Jesus. Oh, the lengths and depths God will go for His children!   There are actions a parent will take only for their child—like Dylan’s dad descending into a well to save his son. And like the ultimate act of our heavenly Father, who sent His only Son to gather us close to His heart and restore us to life with Him (vv. 5–6).
Jan
4
2021
Early in his fifty-year ministry in Cambridge, England, Charles Simeon (1759–1836) met a neighboring pastor, Henry Venn, and his daughters. After the visit, the daughters remarked how harsh and self-assertive the young man seemed. In response, Venn asked his daughters to pick a peach from the trees. When they wondered why their father would want the unripe fruit, he responded, “Well, my dears, it is green now, and we must wait; but a little more sun, and a few more showers, and the peach will be ripe and sweet. So it is with Mr. Simeon.” Over the years Simeon did soften through God’s transforming grace. One reason was his commitment to read the Bible and pray every day. A friend who stayed with him for a few months witnessed this practice and remarked, “Here was the secret of his great grace and spiritual strength.” Simeon in his daily time with God followed the prophet Jeremiah, who faithfully listened for God’s words. Jeremiah depended on them so much that he said, “When your words came, I ate them.” He mulled and chewed over God’s words, which were his “joy and heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16). If we too resemble a sour green fruit, we can trust that God will help to soften us through His Spirit as we get to know Him through reading and obeying the Scriptures.
Jan
3
2021
As I waited in the breakfast buffet line at a Christian conference center, a group of women entered the dining hall. I smiled, saying hello to a woman who stepped into the line behind me. Returning my greeting, she said, “I know you.” We scooped scrambled eggs onto our plates and tried to figure out where we’d met. I was pretty sure we had a case of mistaken identity though. When we returned for lunch, the woman approached me. “Do you drive a white car?” I shrugged. “I used to. A few years ago.” She laughed. “We stopped at the same traffic light by the elementary school almost every morning,” she said. “You’d always be lifting your hands, singing joyfully. I thought you were worshiping God. That made me want to join in, even on tough days.” Praising the Lord, we prayed together, hugged, and enjoyed lunch. My new friend affirmed that people notice how Jesus’s followers behave, even when we think no one is watching. As we embrace a lifestyle of joyful worship, we can come before our Creator anytime and anywhere. Acknowledging His enduring love and faithfulness, we can enjoy intimate communion with Him and thank Him for His ongoing care (Psalm 100:1-5). Whether we’re singing praises in our cars, praying in public, or spreading God’s love through kind acts, we can inspire others to praise Him. Worshiping God is more than a Sunday morning event.  
Jan
2
2021
Recently, my car needed work. The mechanic’s shop was close, a mile from my home. So I decided to just walk home. But as I shuffled along next to a bustling thoroughfare, I noticed something: Everyone else was moving so fast.  This isn’t rocket science. Cars go faster than pedestrians. Zip, zip, zip! As I ambled home, I had a realization: We’re so used to moving fast. All the time. Then, another realization: I often expect God to move just as quickly. I want His plans to fit my speedy timetable.  When Jesus lived on Earth, His seemingly slow pace sometimes disappointed His friends. In John 11, Mary and Martha sent word that their brother, Lazarus, was sick. They knew Jesus could help (vv. 1­–3). He arrived some four days later (v. 17), after Lazarus had died. “Lord, ” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Translation: Jesus didn’t move fast enough. But Jesus had bigger plans: raising Lazarus from the dead (vv. 38–44).  Can you relate to Martha’s desperation? I can. Sometimes, I long for Jesus to move more quickly to answer a prayer. Sometimes, it seems like He’s late. But Jesus’ sovereign schedule is different from ours. Jesus accomplishes His saving work on His timetable, not ours. And the ultimate outcome displays His glory and goodness in ways that are so much greater than our plans.  
Jan
1
2021
I live in Colorado, a state in the western US known for the Rocky Mountains and our annual snowfall. But the worst natural disaster in my state had nothing to do with snow, but rain. The Big Thompson flood occurred on July 31, 1976, around the resort town of Estes Park. When the water finally receded, the death toll was 144 lives, not including livestock. In the wake of that disaster significant studies were done in the area, especially in regard to the foundation of roads and highways. The walls of the roads that withstood the storm were those filled with concrete. In other words, they had a sure and strong foundation.  In our lives the question is not if the floods will come, but when. Sometimes we have advance notice, but usually not. Jesus stresses a strong foundation for such times—one built by not just hearing His words but also by living out the gospel (Luke 6:47). That practice is almost like pouring concrete into your life. When the floods come, and they will, we can withstand them because we’ve been “well built” (v. 48). The absence of practice leaves our lives vulnerable to collapse and destruction (v. 49). It’s the difference between being wise and foolish. It’s good to pause occasionally and do a little foundation assessment. The Lord will help us to fortify the weak places that we might stand strong in His power when the floods come.
Dec
31
2020
The ball drops in New York’s Times Square. The crowd counts down to Big Ben chiming. Sydney Harbor erupts in fireworks. However your city marks it, there’s something exciting about welcoming in a new year and the fresh start it brings. On New Year’s Day we push out into new waters. What friendships and opportunities might we find? For all its excitement, though, a new year can be unsettling. None of us knows the future or what storms it may hold. Many New Year’s traditions reflect this. Fireworks were invented in China to supposedly ward off evil spirits and make a new season prosperous. New Year’s resolutions date back to the Babylonians who made vows to appease their gods. Such acts were an attempt to make an unknown future secure. When they weren’t making vows, the Babylonians were busy conquering people—including Israel. In time, God sent the enslaved Jews this message: “Do not fear . . . .When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:1–2). Later, Jesus said something similar when He and the disciples were caught sailing in a violent storm. “Why are you afraid?” He said as they panicked, before He commanded the waters to be still (Matthew 8:23–27). Today we push out from the shore into new, uncharted waters. Whatever we face, He’s with us—and He has the power to calm the waves.
Dec
30
2020
On New Year’s Eve, when high-powered fireworks detonate across cities and towns worldwide, the noise is loud on purpose. By their nature, say manufacturers, flashy fireworks are meant to split the atmosphere, literally. “Repeater” blasts can sound the loudest, especially when exploded near the ground. Troubles, too, can boom through our hearts, minds, and homes. The “fireworks” of life—family struggles, relationship problems, work challenges, financial strain, even church division—can feel like explosions, rattling our emotional atmosphere. Yet we know the One who lifts us over this uproar. Christ Himself “is our peace,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:14. When we abide in His presence, His peace is greater than any disruption, quieting the noise of any worry, hurt, or disunity. This would have been powerful assurance to Jews and Gentiles alike. They had once lived “without hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). Now they faced threats of persecution and internal threats of division. But in Christ, they’d been brought near to Him, and consequently to each other, by His blood. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14). As we start a New Year, with threats of unrest and division ever rumbling on the horizon, let’s turn from life’s noisy trials to seek our ever present Peace. He quiets the booms, healing us.
Dec
29
2020
My interview guest politely answered my questions. I had a feeling, though, that something lurked beneath our interaction. A passing comment brought it out. “You’re inspiring thousands of people,” I said. “Not thousands,” he muttered. “Millions.” And as if pitying my ignorance, my guest reminded me of his credentials—the titles he held, the things he’d achieved, the magazine covers he’d graced, the millions of lives he’d touched. It was an awkward moment. Ever since that experience, I’ve been struck by how God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:5–7). Here was the Creator of the cosmos and Judge of humanity, but God didn’t use His titles. Here was the Maker of 100-billion galaxies, but such feats weren’t mentioned either. Instead, God introduced Himself as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (v. 6). When God reveals who He is, it isn’t His titles or achievements He lists but the kind of character He has. As people made in God’s image and called to follow His example (Genesis 1:27; Ephesians 5:1–2), this is profound. Achievement is good, titles have their place, but what really matters is how compassionate, gracious, and loving we’re becoming. Like that interview guest, we too can base our significance on our achievements. I have. But our God has modeled what true success is—not what’s written on our business cards and resumés, but how we’re becoming like Him.
Dec
28
2020
In 1876, men drilling for coal in central Indiana thought they had found the gates of hell. Historian John Barlow Martin reports that at six hundred feet, “foul fumes issued forth amid awesome noises.” Afraid they had “bitten into the roof of the devil’s cave,” the miners plugged the well and scurried back to their homes. The miners, of course, were mistaken — and some years later, they would drill again and be rich in natural gas. Even though they were mistaken, I find myself a little jealous of them. These miners lived with an awareness of the spiritual world that is often missing from my own life. It’s easy for me to live as if the supernatural and the natural rarely intersect and to forget that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). When we see evil winning in our world, we shouldn’t give in or try to fight it in our own strength. Instead, we are to resist evil by putting on “the full armor of God” (vv. 13-18). Studying Scripture, meeting regularly with other Christians for encouragement, and making choices with the good of others in mind can help us “stand against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11). Equipped by the Holy Spirit, we can able to stand firm in the face of anything (v. 13).
Dec
27
2020
At seventeen, Dowayne had to leave his family’s home in Manenberg, a part of Cape Town, South Africa, because of his stealing and addiction to heroin. He didn’t go far, building a shack of corrugated metal in his mother’s backyard, which soon became known as the Casino, a place to use drugs. When he was nineteen, however, Dowayne came to saving faith in Jesus. His journey off drugs was long and exhausting, but he got clean with God’s help and with the support of his Christian friends. And ten years after Dowayne built the Casino, he and others turned the hut into a house church. What was once a dark and foreboding place now is a place of worship and prayer. The leaders of this church look to Jeremiah 33 for how God can bring healing and restoration to people and places, as He’s done with Dowayne and the former Casino. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to God’s people in captivity, saying that although the city would not be spared, yet God would heal His people and would “rebuild them,” cleansing them from their sin (Jeremiah 33:7–8). Then the city would bring Him joy, renown, and honor (v. 9). When we’re tempted to despair over the sin that brings heartbreak and brokenness, let’s continue to pray that God will bring healing and hope, even as He’s done in a backyard in Manenberg.
Dec
26
2020
The sun had long set when our electrical power suddenly went out. I was at home with our two younger children, and this was their first time experiencing a power outage. After verifying that the utility company knew about the outage, I located some candles, and the kids and I huddled together in the kitchen around the flickering flames. They seemed nervous and unsettled, so we began to sing. Soon the concerned looks on their faces were replaced with smiles. Sometimes in our darkest moments we need a song.         Psalm 103 was prayed or sung after the people of God had returned from exile to a homeland that had been laid waste. In a moment of crisis, they needed to sing. But not just any song, they needed to sing about who God is and what He does. Psalm 103 also helps us remember that He’s compassionate, merciful, patient, and full of faithful love (v. 8). And in case we wonder if the judgment for our sin still hangs over our heads, the psalm announces that God isn’t angry, has forgiven, and feels compassion. These are good things to sing during the dark nights of our lives. Maybe that’s where you find yourself: In a dark and difficult place, wondering if God really is good, questioning His love for you. If so, pray and sing to the One who abounds in love!
Dec
25
2020
While on a red-eye flight to Washington, DC, opinion writer Arthur Brooks overheard an elderly woman whisper to her husband, “It’s not true that no one needs you anymore.” The man murmured something about wishing he were dead, and his wife replied, “Oh, stop saying that.” When the flight ended, Brooks turned around and immediately recognized the man. He was a world-famous hero. Other passengers shook his hand, and the pilot thanked him for the courage he displayed decades ago. How had this giant sunk into despair? Elijah bravely and single-handedly defeated 450 prophets of Baal. That was the problem. He hadn’t really done it alone; God was there all along! But later, feeling all alone, he asked God to take his life. God lifted Elijah’s spirits by bringing him into His presence and giving him new people to serve. He must go and “anoint Hazael king over Aram,” Jehu “king over Israel,” and Elisha “to succeed you as prophet” (1 Kings 19:15–16). Invigorated with renewed purpose, Elijah found and mentored his successor. Your great victories may lie in the rearview mirror. You may feel your life has peaked, or that it never did. No matter. Look around. The battles may seem smaller, the stakes less profound, but there are still others who need you. Serve them well for Jesus’ sake, and it will count. They are your purpose—the reason you’re still here.
Dec
24
2020
Every Christmas we decorate our home with nativity scenes from around the world. We have a German nativity pyramid, a manager scene fashioned out of olive wood from Bethlehem, and a brightly colored Mexican folk version. Our family favorite is a whimsical entry from Africa. Instead of the more traditional sheep and camels, a hippopotamus gazes contently at the baby Jesus. The unique cultural perspective brought to life in these nativity scenes warms my heart as I ponder each beautiful reminder that Jesus’s birth was not just for one nation or culture. It is good news for the whole earth, a reason for people from every country and ethnicity to rejoice. The little baby depicted in each of our nativity scenes revealed this truth of God’s heart for the entire world. As John wrote in relation to Christ’s conversation with an inquisitive Pharisee named Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  The gift of Jesus is good news for everyone. No matter where on earth you call home, Jesus’s birth is God’s offer of love and peace to you. And all who find new life in Christ, “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) will one day celebrate God’s glory forever and ever.
Dec
23
2020
On a cold Christmas Eve in Belgium in 1914, the sound of singing floated from the trenches where soldiers were dug in. Strains of the carol “Silent Night” rang out in German and then in English. Soldiers who earlier in the day had been shooting at each other laid down their weapons and emerged from their trenches to shake hands in the “no man’s land” between them, exchanging Christmas greetings and spontaneous gifts from their rations. The ceasefire continued through the next day as the soldiers talked and laughed and even organized soccer matches together. The Christmas Truce of 1914 that occurred along World War I’s western front offered a brief glimpse of the peace the angels proclaimed on the first Christmas Eve long ago. An angel spoke to terrified shepherds with these reassuring words: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:10–11). Then a multitude of angels appeared, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (vv. 13–14). Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” who saves us from our sins (Isaiah 9:6). Through His sacrifice on the cross He offers forgiveness and peace with God to all who trust in Him.  
Dec
22
2020
Looking at the handmade Christmas ornaments my son, Xavier, crafted over the years and the annual mismatched baubles Grandma had sent him, I couldn’t figure out why I was not content with our decorations. I’d always valued the creativity and memories each ornament represented. So, why did the allure of the retail stores’ holiday displays tempt me to desire a tree adorned with perfectly-matched bulbs, shimmering orbs, and satin ribbons? As I began to turn away from our humble decor, I glimpsed a red heart-shaped ornament with a simple phrase scripted on it−Jesus, My Savior. How could I have forgotten my family and my hope in Christ are the reasons I love celebrating Christmas? Our simple tree looked nothing like the trees in the storefronts, but the love behind every decoration made it beautiful. Like our modest tree, the Messiah didn’t meet the world’s expectations in any way (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus “was despised and rejected” (v. 3). Yet, in an amazing display of love, He still chose to be “pierced for our transgressions” (vv. 4–5). He endured punishment, so we could enjoy peace (v. 5). Nothing is more beautiful than that. With renewed gratitude for our perfect decorations and our perfect Savior, I stopped longing for glitz and praised God for His glorious love. Sparkling adornments could never match the beauty of His sacrificial gift−Jesus.
Dec
21
2020
The small country of Iceland is a nation of readers. In fact, it’s reported that each year it publishes and reads more books per person than any other country. On Christmas Eve, it’s a tradition for Icelanders to give books to family and friends and then read long into the night. This tradition dates back to World War II, when imports were restricted but paper was cheap. Icelandic publishers began flooding the market with new titles in late fall. Now a catalog of the country’s new releases is sent to every Icelandic home in mid-November. This tradition is known as the Christmas Book Flood. We can be thankful God blessed so many with the ability to craft a good story and to educate, inspire, or motivate others through their words. There’s nothing like a good book! The best-selling book of all, the Bible, was composed by many authors who wrote in poetry and prose— some great stories, some not so—but all of it inspired. As the apostle Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” and equipping God’s people “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Reading the Bible convicts, inspires, and helps us to live for Him—and guides us into the truth (2:15). In our reading, let’s not forget to find time to curl up with the greatest book of all, the Bible.
Dec
20
2020
Here’s one conversation Mary didn’t have to have with Joseph as they awaited the birth of the baby she was carrying: “Joseph, what should we name the baby?” Unlike most people awaiting a birth, they had no question about what they would call this child. The angels who visited both Mary and Joseph told them each that the baby’s name would be Jesus (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31). Joseph’s angel explained that this name indicated that the baby would “save his people from their sins.” He would also be called “Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14) which means “God is with us,” because He would be God in human form—deity wrapped in swaddling clothes. The prophet Isaiah revealed additional titles of “Wonderful Counselor” or “Mighty God” or “Everlasting Father” or Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), because He would be all of those things. It’s always exciting to name a new baby. But no other baby had such a powerful, exciting, world-changing name as the one who was “Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16). What a thrill for us to be able to “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2)! There is no other name that saves (Acts 4:12). Let’s praise Jesus and contemplate everything He means to us this Christmas season!
Dec
19
2020
The gravelly-voiced captain announced yet another delay. Crammed in my window seat aboard a plane that had already sat unmoving for two hours, I chafed in frustration. After a long workweek away, I longed for the comfort and rest of home. How much longer? As I gazed out the raindrop-covered window, I noticed a lonely triangle of green grass growing in the gap of cement where runways met. Such an odd sight in the middle of all that concrete. As an experienced shepherd, David knew well the need to provide the rest of green pastures for his sheep. In Psalm 23, he penned an important lesson that would carry him forward in the exhausting days of leading as king of Israel. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, . . . he refreshes my soul” (vv. 1–3). On the concrete jungle of an airport tarmac, delayed from my destination and feeling the lack of comfort and rest, God, my good Shepherd, directed my eyes to a patch of green. In relationship with Him, I can discover His ongoing provision of rest wherever I am—if I notice and enter it. The lesson has lingered over the years: look for the green. It’s there. With God in our lives, we lack nothing. He makes us lie down in green pastures. He refreshes our souls.
Dec
18
2020
Argentina’s women’s basketball team came to their tournament game wearing the wrong uniforms. Their navy blue jerseys were too similar to Columbia’s dark blue jerseys, and as the visiting team they should have worn white. With no time to find replacement uniforms and change, they had to forfeit the game. In the future, Argentina will surely double-check, What are we wearing? In the time of the prophet Zechariah, God showed him a vision in which the high priest Joshua came before God wearing smelly, filthy clothes. Satan sneered and pointed. He’s disqualified! Game over! But there was time to change. God rebuked Satan and told His angel to remove Joshua’s grubby garments. He turned to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you” (Zechariah 3:4). We came into this world wearing the stench of Adam’s sin, which we layer over with sin of our own. If we stay in our filthy clothes, we’ll lose the game of life. If we become disgusted with our sin and turn to Jesus, He will dress us from head to toe with Himself and His righteousness. It’s time to check, Who are we wearing? The final stanza of the hymn “The Solid Rock” explains how we win. “When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found; Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.”
Dec
17
2020
Pastor Tim Keller said, “Nobody ever learns who they are by being told. They must be shown.” In a sense, it is one application of the adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” Spouses show their mates that they are appreciated by listening to them and loving them. Parents show their children they are valued by lovingly caring for them. Coaches show athletes they have potential by investing in their development. And on it goes. By the same token, a different kind of action can show people painful things that communicate much darker messages. Of all the action-based messages in the universe, there is one that matters most. When we want to be shown who we are in God’s eyes, we need look no further than His actions on the cross. In Romans 5:8, Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The cross shows us who we are—those whom God so loved that He gave His one and only Son for us (John 3:16). Against the mixed messages and confusing actions of broken people in a broken culture, the message of God’s heart rings clear. Who are you? You are the one so beloved by God that He gave His Son for Your rescue. Consider the price He paid for you and the wonderful reality that, to God, you were always worth it.
Dec
16
2020
Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and occasionally a half-dollar. That’s what you’d find on the nightstand beside his bed. He’d empty his pockets each evening and leave the contents there for he knew eventually they’d come to visit—they being his grandchildren. Over the years they learned to visit his nightstand as soon as they arrived. He could have put all that spare change in a coin bank or even stored it away in a savings account. But he didn’t. He delighted in leaving it there for the little ones, the precious guests in his home. A similar mindset is what is expressed in Leviticus 23 when it comes to bringing in “the harvest of your land” (v. 22). God, via Moses, told the people something quite counterintuitive: not to “reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest” (v. 22). Essentially, He said, “Leave a little behind.” Such instruction held the value of reminding the people who was behind the harvest in the first place (God), as well as a means of His provision, via His people, for those of little account who were strangers in the land. Such thinking is definitely not the norm in our world. But it’s exactly the kind of mindset to characterize the grateful sons and daughters of God. He delights in a generous heart. And that often comes through you and me.
Dec
15
2020
I was in London one night for a meeting. It was pouring rain, and I was late. I rushed through the streets, turned a corner, and then stopped still. Dozens of angels hovered above Regent Street, their giant shimmering wings stretching across the traffic. Made of thousands of pulsing lights, it was the most amazing Christmas display I’d seen. I wasn’t the only one captivated. Hundreds lined the street, gazing up in awe. Awe is central to the Christmas story. When the angel appeared to Mary explaining she would miraculously conceive (Luke 1:26–38), and to the shepherds announcing Jesus’s birth (2:8–20), each reacted with fear, wonder—awe. Looking around at that Regent Street crowd, I wondered if we were experiencing in part what those first angelic encounters felt like. A moment later, I noticed something else. Some of the angels had their arms raised, as if they too were gazing up at something. Like the angelic choir that burst into song at the mention of Jesus (vv. 13–14), it seems angels too can be caught up in awe—as they gaze on Him. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). Bright and luminous, Jesus is the focus of every angel’s gaze (v. 6). If an angel-themed Christmas display can stop busy Londoners in their tracks, just imagine the moment when we see Him face-to-face.
Dec
14
2020
I was on Facebook, arguing. Bad move. What made me think I was obligated to “correct” a stranger on a hot topic—especially a divisive one? The results were heated words, hurt feelings (on my part anyway), and a broken chance to witness well for Jesus. That’s the sum outcome of “internet anger.” It’s the term for the harsh words flung daily across the blogosphere. As one ethics expert explained, people wrongly conclude that rage “is how public ideas are talked about.” Paul’s wise advice to Timothy made the same caution. “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone” (2 Timothy 2:23–24). Paul’s good counsel, written to Timothy from a Roman prison, was sent to prepare the young pastor for teaching God’s truth. Paul’s advice is just as timely to us today, especially when the conversation turns to our faith. “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 25). Speaking kindly to others is part of this challenge, but not just for pastors. For all who love the Lord and seek to tell others about Him, may we speak His truth in love. With every word, the Holy Spirit will help us.
Dec
13
2020
His name is Dnyan, and he considers himself a student of the world. And “this is a very big school,” he says of all the cities and towns he’s passed through. He began a four-year journey on his bicycle in 2016 to meet and learn from people. When there’s a language barrier, he finds that sometimes people can understand just by looking at each other. He also depends on a translation app on his phone to communicate. He doesn’t measure his journey in the miles he’s traveled or the sights he’s seen. Instead, he measures it in the people who’ve left an imprint on his heart: “Maybe I do not know your language, but I would like to find out who you are.”  It’s a very big world, yet God knows everything about it and the people in it—fully and completely. The psalmist David was in awe of God when he considered all the works of His hands: the making of the heavens, the moon, and the stars (Psalm 8:3). He wondered, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (v. 4).  God knows you more thoroughly than anyone else possibly can and He cares for you. We can only respond, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1, 9).
Dec
12
2020
A post-surgical stroke had robbed Tom of his ability to speak, and he faced a long rehab journey. Weeks later, we were pleasantly surprised when he showed up at our church’s Thanksgiving service. We were even more surprised when he stood up to speak. Searching for what to say, he jumbled his words, repeated himself, and confused days and time. But one thing was clear: he was praising God! It’s possible to have your heart break and be blessed at the same moment. This was that kind of moment. In the “pre-Christmas story” we meet a man who lost the gift of speech. Gabriel the archangel appeared to Zechariah the priest and told him he would be the father of a great prophet (see Luke 1:11–17). Zechariah and his wife were elderly, so he doubted it. That’s when Gabriel told him he would not speak “until the day this happens” (v. 20). The day did happen. And at the ceremony to name the miracle baby, Zechariah spoke. With his first words he praised God (v. 64). Then he said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them” (v. 68). Like Zechariah, as soon as he was able, Tom’s response was to praise God. Their hearts were inclined toward the One who made their tongues and their minds. Regardless of what faces us this season, we can respond the same way.  
Dec
11
2020
Dennis’ life was transformed after someone gave him a New Testament. Reading it captivated him, and it became his constant companion. Within six months, two life-changing events occurred in his life. He placed his faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins, and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor after experiencing severe headaches. Because of the unbearable physical pain, he became bedridden and unable to work. One painful, sleepless night he found himself crying out to God. Sleep finally came at 4:30 a.m. Bodily pain and affliction can cause us to cry out to God, but other excruciating life circumstances also compel us to run to Him. Centuries before Dennis’ night of wrestling, an anxious, desperate Jacob faced off with God (Genesis 32:24–32). For Jacob, it was unfinished family business. Jacob had wronged his brother Esau (ch. 27), and he feared that payback was imminent. In seeking God’s help in this difficult situation, Jacob encountered God face to face (32:30) and emerged from it a changed man. And so did Dennis. After pleading with God in prayer, Dennis was able to stand up after being bedridden, and the doctor’s examination showed no signs of the tumor. Although God doesn’t always choose to miraculously heal us as he did Dennis, we’re confident that He always hears our prayers and will give us what we need for our situation. In our desperation we offer sincere prayers to God and leave the results to Him!
Dec
10
2020
One morning I visited a pond near my house. I sat on an overturned boat, thinking and watching a gentle west wind chase a layer of mist across the water’s surface. Wisps of fog circled and swirled. Mini “tornadoes” rose up and then exhausted themselves. Before long, the sunlight cut through the clouds and the mist disappeared.             This scene comforted me because I connected it with a verse I had just read: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist…” (Isaiah 44:22). I had visited the place hoping to distract myself from a series of sinful thoughts I had been preoccupied with for days. Although I was confessing them, I began to wonder if God would forgive me when I had repeated the same sin so consistently.             That morning, I knew the answer was yes. Through his prophet Isaiah, God showed grace to the Israelites when they struggled with the ongoing problem of idol worship. Although He told them to stop chasing false gods, God also invited them back to Himself, saying, “I have made you…you are my servant…I will not forget you” (v.21).             I don’t fully grasp forgiveness like that, but I do understand that God’s grace is the only thing that can dissolve our sin completely and heal us from it. I’m thankful His grace is endless and divine like He is, and that it available whenever we need it.
Dec
9
2020
In 27 BC, the Roman ruler Octavian came before the Senate to lay down his powers. He’d won a civil war, become the sole ruler of that region of the world, and was functioning like an emperor. Yet he knew such power was viewed suspiciously. So Octavian renounced his powers before the Senate, vowing to simply be an appointed official. Their response? The Roman Senate honored the ruler by crowning him with a civic crown and naming him the servant of the Roman people. He was also given the name Augustus—the “great one.” Paul wrote of Jesus emptying Himself and taking on the form of a servant, Augustus appeared to do the same. Or had he? Augustus only acted like he was surrendering his power for his own gain. Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). Death on a Roman cross was the worst form of humiliation and shame. Today, a primary reason people today praise “servant leadership” as a virtue is because of Jesus. Humility wasn’t a Greek or Roman virtue. Because Jesus died on the cross for us, He is the true Servant. He’s the true Savior. Christ became a servant in order to save us. He “made himself nothing” so that we could receive something truly great—the gift of salvation and eternal life.
Dec
8
2020
When their bank accidentally deposited $120,000 into their account, a couple went on a shopping spree. They purchased an SUV, camper, and two four-wheelers in addition to paying off bills. Discovering the deposit error, the bank told the couple to return the money. Unfortunately, the husband and wife had already spent it. They were then charged with felony theft. When the couple arrived at the local court, the husband said to a reporter, “We took some bad legal advice.” The two learned that following bad advice (and spending what wasn’t theirs) could lead to making a mess of their lives. In contrast, the psalmist shared wise advice that can help us avoid messing up in life. He wrote that those who find genuine fulfillment—who are “blessed”—refuse to be influenced by the advice of those who don’t serve God (Psalm 1:1). They know that unwise, ungodly counsel can lead to unseen dangers and costly consequences. Also, they’re motivated by (find “delight” in) and preoccupied with (“meditate on”) the timeless and unshakeable truths of Scripture (v. 2). They’ve found that submitting to God’s guidance leads to stability and fruitfulness (v. 3).   When we’re making decisions, big or small, about our careers, money, relationships, and more, may we seek God’s wisdom found in the Bible, godly counsel, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. His guidance is essential and trustworthy for living a fulfilling life and not creating messes.  
Dec
7
2020
When Philadelphia Eagle’s quarterback Carson Wentz returned to the field after healing from a severe injury, the NFL team’s backup quarterback, Nick Foles, graciously returned to the bench. Although competing for the same position, the two men chose to support each other and remained confident in their roles. One reporter observed that the two athletes have a “unique relationship rooted in their faith in Christ” shown through their ongoing prayers for each other. As others watched, they brought honor to God by remembering they were on the same team—not just as Eagle quarterbacks, but as believers in Jesus—representing Him. The apostle Paul reminds believers to live as “children of light” awaiting “the Lord’s return” (1 Thessalonians 5:5–6, NLT). With our hope secure in the salvation Christ has provided, we can shrug off any temptations to compete out of jealousy, insecurity, fear, or envy. Instead, we can “encourage one another and build each other up” (vv. 6-10). We can respect spiritual leaders who honor God and “be at peace” as we serve together to accomplish our shared goal—telling people about the gospel and encouraging others to live for Jesus (vv. 11-15). As we serve on the same team, we can heed Paul’s command: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (vv. 16-18).  
Dec
6
2020
“Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there, and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope.” That prayer is whispered by a broken-down George Bailey, the character played by Jimmy Stewart in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the now iconic scene, Bailey’s eyes fill with tears. They weren’t part of the script, but as he spoke that prayer Stewart said he “felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn.” It broke him. Bailey’s prayer, boiled down, is simply “Help me.” And this is exactly what’s voiced in Psalm 109. David was at the end of his rope: “poor and needy,” his “heart . . . wounded” (v. 22), and his body “thin and gaunt” (v. 24). He was fading “like an evening shadow” (v. 23), and sensed himself to be an “object of scorn” in the eyes of his accusers (v. 25). In his extreme brokenness, he had nowhere else to turn. He cried out for the Sovereign Lord to show him the way: “Help me, Lord my God!” (v. 26). There are seasons in our lives when “broken down” says it all. In such times it can be hard to know what to pray. Our loving God will respond to our simple prayer for help.
Dec
5
2020
When I was young, whenever my doting Aunt Betty visited, it felt like Christmas. She’d bring Star Wars toys and slip me cash on her way out the door. Whenever I stayed with her, she filled the freezer with ice cream and never cooked vegetables. She had few rules and let me stay up late. My aunt was marvelous, reflecting God’s generosity. However, to grow up healthy, I needed more than only Aunt Betty’s way. I also needed my parents to place expectations on me and my behavior, and hold me to them. God asks more of me than Aunt Betty. While He floods us with relentless love, a love that never wavers even when we resist or run away, He does expect something of us. When God instructed Israel how to live, He provided Ten Commandments, not ten suggestions (Exodus 20:1-17). Aware of our self-deception, God offers clear expectations: we’re to “[love] God and [carry] out his commands” (1 John 5:2). Thankfully, “God’s commands are not burdensome” (v. 3). By the Holy Spirit’s power, we can live them out as we experience God’s love and joy. His love for us is unceasing, but the Scriptures offer a question to help us know if we love God in return: Are we obeying His commands as the Spirit guides us? We can say we love God, but what we do in His strength tells the real story. Winn Collier
Dec
4
2020
A mom felt she’d been overspending on family Christmas gifts so one year she decided to try something different. For a couple months before the holiday, she scrounged through yard sales for inexpensive, used items. She bought more than usual but for far less money. Christmas Eve, her children excitedly opened gift after gift after gift. The next day there were more! Mom had felt guilty about not getting new gifts so she had bought even more for Christmas morning. The kids began opening them but quickly complained, “We’re too tired to open anymore! You’ve given us so much!” That’s not a typical response from children on a Christmas morning!  God has blessed us with so much, but it seems we’re always looking for more: a bigger house, a better car, a larger bank account, or [fill in the blank]. Paul encouraged Timothy to remind people in his congregation that “we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:7–8).  God has given us our very breath and life—besides providing for our needs. How refreshing it might be to enjoy and be content with God’s gifts and to say, You’ve given us so much! We don’t need more. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (v. 6).
Dec
3
2020
Heidi and Jeff came home from an overseas work assignment and settled for several months near family in the state of Michigan—just in time for winter. They were coming from a hot climate and this would be the first time many of their ten children had seen the natural beauty of snow. But winter weather requires a lot of warm outerwear, including coats, mittens, and boots. For a large family, it was quite an undertaking just to outfit them for the bitterly cold months ahead. But God provided. First, a neighbor brought over footwear, then snow pants, then hats and gloves. Then, a friend urged others at her church to collect a variety of warm clothes in all twelve sizes for each member of the family. By the time the snow arrived, the family had exactly what they needed. One of the ways we serve God is by serving those in need. First John 3:16–18 encourages us to help others from the abundance of our own possessions (v. 17). Serving helps us to be more like Jesus as we begin to love and see people as He does. God often uses His children to fulfill needs and to answer prayers. And serving others will encourage our own hearts as we encourage those we serve. As a result, as we move into action, our own faith will grow as God equips us in new ways (v. 18).
Dec
2
2020
Country artist Chris Stapleton’s deeply personal song, “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” was inspired by his own father’s prayers for him. The poignant lyrics reveal the reason his father’s prayers ended: not disillusionment or weariness, but his own death. Stapleton imagines that now, instead of speaking with Jesus in prayer, his dad is walking and talking face-to-face with Jesus.  Stapleton’s recollection of his father’s prayers for him brings to mind a biblical father’s prayer for his son. As King David’s life ebbed away, David was making preparations for his son Solomon to take over as the next king of Israel.  After assembling the nation together to anoint Solomon, David led the people in prayer, as he’d done many times before. As David recounted God’s faithfulness to Israel, he prayed for the people to remain loyal to God. Then he included a personal prayer specifically for his son, asking God to “give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees” (1 Chronicles 29:19).W We too have the remarkable privilege to faithfully pray for the people God has placed in our life. Our example of faithfulness can make an indelible impact that will remain even after we’re gone. Just as God continued to work out the answers to David’s prayers for Solomon and Israel after he was gone, so too the impact of our prayers outlive us.
Dec
1
2020
“No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” Those words from Phillips Brooks’ much-loved hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” point to the very heart of Christmas. Jesus came into our broken world to rescue us from our sin and give all who would put their faith in Him a new and vital relationship with God. In a letter to a friend decades after he wrote the hymn, Brooks poignantly described the outcome of this relationship in his own life: “I cannot tell you how personal this grows to me. He is here. He knows me and I know Him. It is no figure of speech. It is the realest thing in the world, and every day makes it realer. And one wonders with delight what it will grow to as the years go on.” Brooks’ calm assurance of God’s presence in his life reflects one of the names of Jesus prophesied by Isaiah: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The gospel of Matthew gives us the meaning of the Hebrew name Immanuel: “God with us” (1:23). God drew near to us through Jesus so we could know Him personally and be with Him forever. His loving presence with us is the greatest gift of all.
Nov
30
2020
When Jen, a theme park employee, saw Ralph collapse in tears on the ground, she rushed to help. Ralph, a young boy with autism, was sobbing because the ride he’d waited all day to enjoy had broken down. Instead of hurrying him to his feet or simply urging him to feel better, Jen got down onto the ground with Ralph, validating his feelings and allowing him the time to cry.  Jen’s actions are a beautiful example of how we can come alongside those who are grieving or suffering. The Bible tells of Job’s crippling grief after the loss of his home, his herds (his income), his health, and the simultaneous deaths of all his ten children. When his friends learned of his pain, they “set out from their homes . . . [to go] comfort him” (Job 2:11). Job sat on the ground in mourning. When they arrived, his friends sat down with him—for seven days—saying nothing because they saw the depth of his suffering.  In their humanness, Job’s friends later offered Job insensitive advice. But for the first seven days, they gave him the wordless and tender gift of presence. We may not understand someone’s grief, but we don’t need to understand in order to love them well by simply being with them.
Nov
29
2020
We stared at the piles of donated shoes as we entered a local homeless shelter. The director had invited our youth group to help sort through the heaps of used footwear. We spent the morning searching for matches and lining them up in rows across the concrete floor. At the end of the day, we threw away more than half of the shoes because they were too damaged to give to people. Though the shelter couldn’t stop people from giving poor quality items, they refused to distribute shoes that were in bad condition. The Israelites struggled with giving God their damaged goods too. When the Lord spoke through the prophet Malachi, He rebuked the Israelites for sacrificing blind, lame, or diseased animals when they had strong animals to offer (Malachi 1:6–8). He announced His displeasure (v. 10), affirmed His worthiness, and reprimanded the Israelites for keeping the best for themselves (v. 14). But He also promised to send the Messiah, whose love and grace would transform their hearts and ignite their desire to bring offerings that would be pleasing to the Lord (3:1–4). Oftentimes, it’s tempting to give God our leftovers. We praise Him and expect Him to give us His all, yet we offer Him our crumbs. When we consider all God has done, we can rejoice in celebrating His worthiness and giving Him our very best.
Nov
28
2020
Russian wedding customs are filled with beauty and significance. One such custom takes place during the reception as the toastmaster proposes a toast in honor of the couple. Everyone takes a sip of raised glasses and then begin shouting “Gor’ko! Gor’ko!,” meaning “Bitter! Bitter!” When the guests shout that word, the newlyweds must rise and kiss each other in order to make the drink sweet again. Isaiah prophesies that the bitter drink of desolation, ruin, and the curse upon the earth (ch. 24) will give way to the sweet hope of a new heaven and new earth (ch. 25). God will prepare a feast of rich foods and the finest and sweetest of drinks. It will be a banquet of continual blessing, fruitfulness, and provision for all people (25:6). There’s more. Under the sovereign reign of the righteous King, death is swallowed up, bitter tears are wiped away, and the shroud of disgrace is removed (vv. 7–8). And His people will rejoice because the One they trusted in and waited for will bring salvation and turn the bitter cup of life sweet again (v. 9). One day, we’ll be together with Jesus at the wedding supper of the Lamb. When He welcomes His bride home (the Church), the promise of Isaiah 25 will be fulfilled. The life once bitter will be made sweet again.
Nov
27
2020
Mom, my sisters, and I waited by Dad’s bed as his breaths became shallower and less and less frequent—until they were no more. Dad was a few days shy of eighty-nine when he slipped quietly into the life beyond where God awaited him. His departure left us with a void where he once resided and only memories and mementos to remind us of him. Yet we have the hope that one day we’ll be reunited. We have that hope because we believe Dad is with God, who knows and loves him. When Dad breathed his first breath, God was there breathing breath into his lungs (Isaiah 42:5). Yet even before his first and with every breath in between, God was intimately involved in each detail of Dad’s life, just as he is in yours and mine. It was the Lord who wonderfully designed and “knit” him together in the womb (Psalm 139:13–14). And when Dad breathed his last breath, God’s Spirit was there, holding him in love and carrying him to be with Him (vv. 7–10) The same is true for all of God’s children. Every moment of our brief life on Earth is known by God (vv. 1–4). We are precious to Him! With each day remaining and in anticipation of the life beyond, let’s join with “everything that has breath” to praise Him. “Praise the Lord”! (150:6).
Nov
26
2020
Not long ago I met up with a group of friends. As I listened to the conversation, it seemed like everyone in the room was facing some significant battle. Two of us had parents fighting cancer, one had a child with an eating disorder, another friend was experiencing chronic pain, and another was facing major surgery. It seemed a lot for a bunch of people in their thirties and forties. First Chronicles 16 recounts a key moment in Israel’s history when the ark of the covenant was brought into the City of David (Jerusalem). Samuel tells us it happened in a moment of peace between battles (2 Samuel 7:1). When the ark was in place, symbolizing God’s presence, David led the people in a song (1 Chronicles 16:8–36). Together the nation sang of God’s wonder-working power (vv. 12–14), His promise-keeping ways (vv. 15–18), and His past protection (vv. 19–22). “Look to the LORD and his strength,” they cried out, “seek his face always” (v. 11). They’d need to, because more battles were coming. Look to the Lord and His strength. Seek His face. That’s not bad advice to follow when illness, family concerns, and other battles confront us, because we haven’t been left to fight in our own waning energies. God is present; God is strong; He’s looked after us in the past and will do so again. Our God will get us through.
Nov
25
2020
In the seventeenth century, Martin Rinkart served as a clergyman in Saxony, Germany, for more than thirty years during times of war and plague. One year he conducted over 4,000 funerals, including for his wife, and at times food was so scarce that his family went hungry. Although he could have despaired, his faith in God remained strong and he gave thanks continually. In fact, he poured his gratitude into “Nun danket alle Gott,” the song that became the well-loved English hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” Rinkart followed the example of the prophet Isaiah, who instructed God’s people to give thanks at all times, including when they had disappointed God (Isaiah 12:1) or when enemies oppressed them. Even then they were to exalt God’s name, making “known among the nations what he has done” (v. 4). We might give thanks easily during harvest celebrations such as Thanksgiving, when we’re enjoying an abundant feast with friends and family. But can we express our gratitude to God in difficult times, such as when we’re missing someone from our table or when we’re struggling with our finances or when we’re locked in conflict with one close to us? Let’s echo Pastor Rinkart, joining hearts and voices as we give praise and thanks to “the eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore.” We can “sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things” (v. 5).
Nov
24
2020
The country of El Salvador has honored Jesus by placing a sculpture of Him in the center of its capital city. Although the monument resides in the middle of a busy traffic circle, its height makes it easy to see, and its name—The Divine Savior of the World—communicates reverence for His supernatural status. The monument’s name affirms what the Bible says about Jesus (1 John 4:14). He is the one who offers salvation to everyone. Jesus crosses cultural boundaries and accepts any sincere person who wants to know Him, regardless of age, education, race, past sin, or social status. The apostle Paul traveled the ancient world telling people about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. He shared this good news with political and religious authorities, soldiers, Jews, Gentiles, men, women, and children. Paul explained that a person could begin a relationship with Christ by declaring Jesus to be the ruler of his or her life, and believing that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9). He said, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. . . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:11, 13). Jesus isn’t a distant image to be honored; we must a person-to-person connection with Him through faith. May we see the value of the salvation He offers and move forward into a spiritual relationship with Him today.
Nov
23
2020
Do you know what a group of turkeys is called? I didn’t. Had to look it up. It’s called a rafter. Why am I writing about turkeys? Because I’ve just returned from a weekend at a mountain cabin. Each day, I marveled at the train of turkeys parading past our porch. I’d never been turkey-watching before. They scratched fiercely with spectacular talons. Then they hunted and pecked at the ground. Eating, I assume. (This was my first turkey-observation time, so I’m not 100% positive.) The scrawny scrubs in the area didn’t look like they could sustain anything. Yet here were these turkeys, a dozen of ’em, all of which looked delectably plump. Watching those well-fed turkeys brought to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Jesus uses God’s provision for seemingly worthless birds to remind us of His care for us. If a bird’s life matters, how much more does ours? Jesus then contrasts fretting about our daily needs (vv. 27–31) with a life in which we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” (v. 33), a life in which we’re confident of His rich provision for our needs. Because if God can care for that rafter of wild turkeys, He can certainly look after you and me.
Nov
22
2020
He was an aging military veteran, rough-edged and given to even rougher language. One day a friend cared enough about him to inquire about his spiritual beliefs. The man’s dismissive response came quickly: “God doesn’t have space for someone like me.” Perhaps that was just part of his “tough-guy” act, but his words couldn’t be further from the truth! God creates space especially for the rough, the guilt-ridden, and the excluded to belong and thrive in His community. This was obvious from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, when He made some surprising choices for His disciples. First, He chose several fishermen from Galilee—the “wrong side of the tracks” from the perspective of those in Jerusalem. He also selected a tax collector, Matthew, whose profession included extorting from his oppressed countrymen. Then, for good measure, Jesus invited the “other” Simon—“the Zealot” (Mark 3:18). We don’t know much about this Simon (he isn’t Simon Peter), but we do know about the Zealots. They hated traitors like Matthew, who got rich by collaborating with the despised Romans. Yet with divine irony, Jesus chose Simon along with Matthew, brought them together, and blended them into His team. Don’t write anyone off as too “bad” for Jesus. After all, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). He has plenty of space for the tough cases—people like you and me.
Nov
21
2020
After Vicki’s old car broke down with no option for repair, she started scraping together money for another vehicle. Chris, a frequent customer of the restaurant where Vicki works at the drive-thru window, one day heard her mention she needed a car. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Chris said. “I [had] to do something.” So he bought his son’s used car (his son had just put it up for sale), shined it up, and handed Vicki the keys. Vicki was shocked. “Who . . . does that?” she said in amazement and gratitude. The Scriptures call us to live with open hands, giving freely as we can—providing what’s truly best for those in need. As Timothy says: “Command [those who are rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds” (1 Timothy 6:18). We don’t merely perform a benevolent act here or there, but rather live out a cheerful spirit of giving. Big-heartedness is our normal way of life. “Be generous and willing to share,” we’re told (v. 18). As we live with an open, generous heart, we don’t need to fear running out of what we need. Rather, the Bible tells us that in our compassionate generosity, we’re taking “hold of [true] life” (v. 19). With God, genuine living means loosening our grip on what we have and giving to others freely.
Nov
20
2020
When World War I erupted in 1914, British statesman Sir Edward Grey declared, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Grey was right. When the “war to end all wars” finally ended, some 20 million had been killed (10 million of them civilians) and another 21 million injured. While not on the same scale or magnitude, devastation can also occur in our personal lives. The home, workplace, church, or neighborhood can also be shrouded by the dark specter of conflict. This is one of the reasons our God calls us to be difference-makers in the world. But to do so we must rely on His wisdom. The apostle James wrote, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17–18). The role of peacemaker is significant because of its harvest. The word righteousness means “right standing” or “right relationship.” Peacemakers can help restore relationships. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). His children, relying on His wisdom, become instruments of His peace where it is needed most.
Nov
19
2020
In his graveside tribute to a famous Dutch scientist, Albert Einstein didn’t mention their scientific disputes. Instead, he recalled the “never-failing kindness” of Hendrik A. Lorentz, a beloved physicist known for his easy manner and fair treatment of others. “Everyone followed him gladly,” Einstein said, “for they felt he never set out to dominate but always simply to be of use.” Lorentz inspired scientists to put aside political prejudice and work together, especially after World War I. “Even before the war was over,” Einstein said of his fellow Nobel Prize winner, “[Lorentz] devoted himself to the work of reconciliation.” Working for reconciliation should be the goal of everyone in the church. True, some conflict is inevitable. Yet we must do our part to work for peaceful resolutions. Paul wrote, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). To grow together, Paul advised, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (v. 29). Finally, said Paul, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (vv. 31–32). Turning from conflict whenever we are able helps build God’s church. In this, indeed, we honor God.
Nov
18
2020
John Harper had no idea what was about to unfold as he and his six-year-old daughter embarked on the Titanic. But one thing he knew: he loved Jesus and he was passionate that others know Him too. As soon as the ship hit an iceberg and water started pouring in, Harper, a widower, put his little girl on a lifeboat and headed into the chaos to save as many people as possible. As he distributed life jackets he reportedly shouted, “Let the women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats.” Until his last breath, Harper shared about Jesus with anyone who was around him. John willingly gave his life away so others could live. There was One who laid down His life freely two thousand years ago so you and I can live not only in this life but for all eternity. Jesus didn’t just wake up one day and decide He would pay the penalty of death for humanity’s sin. This was His life mission. At one point when He was talking with the Jewish religious leaders He repeatedly acknowledged “I lay down my life” (John 10:11, 15, 17, 18). He didn’t just say these words but lived them by actually dying a horrific death on the cross. He came so that the Pharisees, John Harper, and we “may have life, and have it to the full” (v. 10).
Nov
17
2020
A few years ago, my doctor gave me a stern talk about my health. I took his words to heart and began going to the gym and adjusting my diet. Over time, both my cholesterol and my weight went down, and my self-esteem went up. But then something not so good happened: I began noticing other people’s dietary choices and judging them. Isn’t it funny that often when we find a scoring system that grades us well, we use it to lift ourselves up and put others down. It seems to be an innate human tendency to cling to self-made standards in an attempt to justify ourselves—systems of self-justification and guilt-management. Paul warned the Philippians about doing such things. There were those were putting their confidence in religious performance or cultural conformity, and Paul wanted them to know that he had more reason to boast of such things: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (v. 4). Yet Paul knew his pedigree and performance was “garbage” compared to “knowing Christ” (v. 8). Only Jesus loves us as we are, rescues us, and gives us the power to become more like Him. No earning required; no score-keeping possible. Boasting is bad in itself, but a boast based on false confidence is tragic. The gospel calls us away from misplaced confidence and into communion with a Savior who loves us and gave Himself for us.
Nov
16
2020
The Weeping Alaskan Cedar tree whipped from side to side in the storm’s strong winds. Regie loved the tree that had not only provided shelter from the summer sun but also protected her family from the neighbors’ gaze. Now the fierce storm was tearing the roots from the ground. Quickly, Regie, with her 15-year-old son in tow, ran to try to rescue the tree. With her hands and 90-pound frame firmly planted against it, she hoped with her son’s help to keep it from falling over. But they weren’t strong enough. God was King David’s strength when he called out to Him in another kind of storm (Psalm 28:8). Some commentators say he wrote this during a time when his world was falling apart. His own son rose in rebellion against him and tried to take the throne (2 Samuel 15). He felt so vulnerable and weak that he feared God might remain silent, and he would die (Psalm 28:1). “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help,” he said to God (v. 2). God gave David strength to go on, even though his relationship with his son never mended. How we long to prevent bad things from happening! If only we could. But in our weakness, God promises we can always call to Him to be our Rock (vv. 1–2). When we don’t have the strength, He is our shepherd and will carry us forever (vv. 8–9).
Nov
15
2020
In the chaos of fleeing his home during the California wildfires of 2018, Gabe, a high school senior, missed the state-qualifying cross-country race for which he’d been training. Missing this meet meant he wouldn’t have the chance to compete at the state meet—the culminating event of his four-year running career. In light of the circumstances, the state athletics board gave Gabe another chance: he’d have to run a qualifying time by himself, on a rival high school’s track, in “street shoes” because his running shoes were in the charred rubble of his home. When he showed up to “race,” Gabe was surprised by his competitors who had come to supply him with proper shoes and to run alongside him to ensure he kept the pace necessary to be entered in the state meet. Gabe’s opponents had no obligation to help him. They could have given into their natural desires to look out for themselves (Galatians 5:13); doing so might have improved their own odds of winning. But Paul urges us to display the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—to “serve one another in love, with humility” and to demonstrate kindness and goodness (vv. 13, 22). When we lean on the Spirit to help us not act on our natural instincts, we’re better able to love those around us.
Nov
14
2020
As an adult leader, I arranged a student fieldtrip to an obstacle course. We instructed students to slip into safety gear and scale an eight-foot wall. Those who volunteered to go first encouraged each climber to trust the harness and keep moving forward without looking down. One of our students stared at the barrier as we secured belts and buckles around her waist. “There’s no way I can do this,” she said. Affirming the strength of her harness, we encouraged her and cheered when she climbed up the wall and stepped onto the high platform. When we face problems that seem impossible to conquer, fears and insecurities can cause doubts. The assurance of God’s unchanging might, goodness, and faithfulness creates a strong harness of trust. This confident assurance fueled the courage of the Old Testament saints, who demonstrated that faith trumps our need to know every detail of God’s plan (Hebrews 11:1–13, 39). With conviction, we seek God earnestly, often standing alone when we trust Him. We can adjust the way we approach our challenges by viewing our circumstances with an eternal perspective‒knowing our trials are only temporary (vv. 13–16). Focusing on the inevitable tough roads and steep climbs in life can prevent us from believing that God will bring us through. But knowing He’s with us, we can harness our uncertainties by faith as we trust God to help us overcome obstacles that once seemed impossible.
Nov
13
2020
A wildfire in Andilla, Spain, scorched nearly 50,000 acres of woodland. When scientists entered the area they expected total devastation; and they did indeed see miles of blackened oaks, pines, and junipers. However, in the middle of the wreckage, a group of nearly 1,000 bright green cypress trees remained standing. The trees’ unusual ability to retain water had allowed them to safely endure the fire. In the days of King Nebuchanezzar’s reign in Babylon, a small cluster of friends survived the flames of the king’s wrath. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship a statue Nebuchadnezzar had created, and they told him, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it” (Daniel 3:17). Infuriated, the monarch cranked up the heat seven times hotter than normal (v. 19). The soldiers who carried out the king’s orders and tossed the friends into the blaze burned up and died, yet onlookers watched Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walk around inside the flames “unbound and unharmed.” Someone else was in the furnace as well—a fourth man who looked “like a son of the gods” (v. 25). Many scholars say this was a preincarnate appearance of Jesus.  Jesus is with us when we face intimidation and trials. In the moments when we are urged to give in to pressure, we don’t have to be afraid. We may not always know how or when God will help us, but we know He’s with us. He will give us the strength to stay faithful to Him through every “fire” we endure.
Nov
12
2020
Lily, a Bible translator, was flying home to her country when she was detained at the airport. Her mobile phone was searched, and when the officials found an audio copy of the New Testament on it, they confiscated the phone and questioned her for two hours. At one point they asked her to play the Scripture app, which happened to be set at Matthew 7:1–2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Hearing these words in his own language, one of the officers turned pale. Later, she was released and no further action was taken. We don’t know what happened in that official’s heart at the airport, but we know that God’s word accomplishes what He desires (see Isaiah 55:11). Isaiah prophesied these words of hope to God’s people in exile, assuring them that even as the rain and snow make the earth bud and grow, so too does God’s word achieve His purposes (vv. 10–11).    As those who follow Christ, we can read this passage to bolster our confidence in God. We may feel that we’re facing unyielding circumstances, such as Lily with the airport officials, but we can trust that God is working through His word, even when we don’t see the final outcome.
Nov
11
2020
As his peers were promoted one by one, Benjamin couldn’t help but feel a little envious. “How come you’re not a manager yet? You deserve it,” friends told him. But Ben decided to leave his career to God. “If this is God’s plan for me, I’ll just do my job well,” he replied.  Several years later, Ben was finally promoted. By then, his added experience enabled him to do his job confidently and won him the respect of subordinates. Some of his peers, meanwhile, were still struggling with their supervisory responsibilities, as they had been promoted before they were ready. Ben realized God had taken him the “long way around” so that he would be better prepared for his role.  When God led the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 13:17–18), He chose a longer way because the “shortcut” to Canaan was fraught with risk. The longer journey, note Bible commentators, also gave them more time to strengthen themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually for subsequent battles.  The shortest way isn’t always the best. Sometimes God lets us take the longer route in life, whether it’s in our career or other endeavors, so that we will be better prepared for the journey ahead. When things don’t seem to happen quickly enough, we can trust in God—the one who leads and guides us.
Nov
10
2020
Walter Dixon had five days to honeymoon before he shipped off to the Korean War. Within a year, troops found Dixon’s jacket on the battlefield, with letters from his wife stuffed in the pockets. Military officials informed his young wife that her husband had been killed in action. Actually, Dixon was alive and spent the next 2.5 years as a POW. Every waking hour, he plotted to get home. Dixon escaped five times but was always recaptured. Finally, he was set free. You can imagine the shock when he returned home! God’s people knew what it was to be captured, moved far away, and to long for home. Due to their rebellion against God, they were exiles. They woke each morning yearning to return, but they had no way to rescue themselves. Thankfully, God promised He’d not forgotten them. “I will restore them because I have compassion on them” (10:6). He would meet the people’s relentless ache for home, not because of their perseverance, but because of His mercy: “I will signal for them . . . and they will return” (vv. 8–9). Our sense of exile may come because of our bad decisions or because of hardships beyond our control. Either way, God hasn’t forgotten us. He knows our desire and will call to us. And if we’ll only answer, we’ll find ourselves returning to Him—returning home.
Nov
9
2020
Mack, having struggled with drug abuse and sexual sin, was desperate. Relationships that he valued were in disarray and his conscience was beating him up. In his misery, he found himself unannounced at a church asking to speak with a pastor. There he found relief in sharing his complicated story and in hearing about God’s mercy and forgiveness. Psalm 32 is believed to have been composed by David after his sexual sin. He compounded his wrongdoing by devising a sinister strategy that resulted in the death of the woman’s husband (see 2 Samuel 11–12). While these ugly incidents were behind him, the effects of his actions remained. Psalm 32:3–4 describes the deep struggles he experienced before he acknowledged the ugliness of his deeds; the gnawing effects of unconfessed sin were undeniable. What brought relief? Relief began with confession to God and accepting the forgiveness He offers (v. 5). What a great place for us to start—at the place of God’s mercy—when we say or do things that cause hurt and harm to ourselves and others. The guilt of our sin need not be permanent. There’s One whose arms are open wide to receive us when we acknowledge our wrongs and seek His forgiveness. We can join the chorus of those who sing, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (v. 1).
Nov
8
2020
When two of my grandchildren tried out for the musical Alice in Wonderland Jr., their hearts were set on getting leading roles. Maggie wanted to be young Alice, and Katie thought Mathilda would be a good role. But they were chosen to be flowers. Not exactly a ticket to Broadway. Yet my daughter said the girls were “excited for their friends who got the [leading roles]. Their joy seemed greater cheering for their friends and sharing in their excitement.” What a picture of how our interactions with each other in the Body of Christ should look! Every local church has what might be considered key roles. But it also needs the flowers—the ones who do vital but not-so-high-profile work. If others get roles we desire, may we choose to encourage them even as we passionately fulfill the roles God has given us. In fact, helping and encouraging others is a way to show love for Him. Hebrews 6:10 says, “[God] will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people.” And no gift from His hand is unimportant: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Just imagine a church of encouragers “diligently” using their God-given gifts to His glory (Hebrews 6:11). Now that makes for joy and excitement!
Nov
7
2020
A woman complained to her pastor that she’d noticed a lot of repetition in his sermons. “Why do you do that?” she queried. The preacher replied, “People forget.” There are lots of reasons we forget—the passage of time, growing older, or just being too busy. We forget passwords, names of people we’ve known for years, or even where we parked our car. My husband says, “There’s only so much I can fit in my brain. I have to delete something before I can remember something new.” The preacher was right. People forget. So we often need reminders to help us remember what God has done for us. The Israelites had a similar tendency. Even with the many miracles they’d seen, they still needed to be reminded of His care for them. In Deuteronomy 8, God reminded the Israelites that He’d allowed them to experience hunger in the wilderness, but then provided an amazing superfood for them every day—manna. He supplied clothing that never wore out. He led them through a wilderness of snakes and scorpions and provided water from a rock. They’d learned humility, as they realized how totally dependent they were on God’s care and provision (vv. 2–4, 15–18). God’s faithfulness “continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5). Whenever we find ourselves forgetting, we can think about the ways He’s answered our prayers, and that reminds us of His goodness and faithful promises.
Nov
6
2020
Years ago, I was invited to speak to the residents of a university’s fraternity house. They had a reputation for rowdiness so I brought along a friend for support. They were in a celebratory mood, having just won a football championship. At dinner, chaos reigned! Eventually, the president of the house announced: “There are two guys here that want to talk about God.”  I rose on rubbery legs and began to tell them of God’s love, and the room grew still. There was rapt attention. A vigorous and honest Q & A followed. Later, we started a Bible study there and in subsequent years many found the Savior.  I recall many days like that when I “saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning,” but there were other days when it was I who fell—flat on my face.  Luke 10 tells of Jesus’s disciples returning from a mission to report great success. Many had been brought into the kingdom, demons were put to flight, and people were healed. The disciples were pumped! Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v. 18). But then He issued a caveat: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20). We delight in success. But we may despair when we seem to fail. Keep doing what God has called you to do—and leave the results to Him. He has your name in His book!
Nov
5
2020
When we purchased our home, we also inherited an established grapevine. As gardening novices, my family invested considerable time learning how to prune, water, and care for it. When our first harvest came, I popped a grape from the vine into my mouth—only to be disappointed with an unpleasant, sour taste.  The frustration I felt about painstakingly tending a grapevine, only to have a bitter harvest, echoes the tone of Isaiah 5. There we read an allegory of God’s relationship to the nation of Israel. God, pictured as a farmer, had cleared the hillside of debris, planted good vines, built a watchtower for protection, and crafted a press to enjoy the results of his expected harvest (Isaiah 5:1–2). To the farmer’s dismay, the vineyard, representing Israel, produced sour-tasting grapes of selfishness, injustice, and oppression (v. 7). Eventually, God reluctantly destroyed the vineyard while saving a remnant of vines that someday would produce a good harvest.  In the gospel of John, Jesus revisits the vineyard illustration, saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). In this parallel imagery Jesus pictures us, His followers, as grapevine branches connected to Him, the main vine. Now, as we remain connected to Jesus through prayerful reliance on His Spirit, we have direct access to the spiritual nourishment that will produce the sweetest fruit of all, love.
Nov
4
2020
In Pontiac, Michigan, a demolition company bulldozed the wrong building. Investigators believe that the owner of a house scheduled to be demolished nailed the numbers of his own address to a neighbor’s house to avoid demolition.  Jesus did the opposite. He was on a mission to let his own “house” be torn down for the sake of others. Imagine the scene and how confused everyone must have been, including Jesus’ own disciples. Picture them eyeing one another as Jesus challenged the religious leaders. “Destroy this temple,” Christ said, “and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). The leaders retorted indignantly, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (v. 20). He knew He was referring to the temple of His own body (v. 21). They didn’t. They didn’t understand He had come to show that the harm we do to ourselves and to one another would ultimately fall on Him. He would atone for it. God has always known our hearts far better than we do. So He didn’t entrust the fullness of his plans even to those who saw His miracles and believed in Him (vv. 23–25). Then as now He was slowly revealing the love and goodness in Jesus’ words that we couldn’t understand even if He told us.
Nov
3
2020
Ramesh loves to tell others about Jesus. He boldly speaks with coworkers, and one weekend each month returns to his village to evangelize from house to house. His enthusiasm is contagious—especially since he’s learned the value of taking time to rest and relax. Ramesh used to spend every weekend and most evenings proclaiming the gospel. His wife and children missed him when he was out, and they found him exhausting when he was around. He needed to make every minute and conversation count. He couldn’t enjoy games or small talk. Ramesh was wound too tight. He was awakened to his imbalance by the honest words of his wife, the counsel of friends, and seemingly unimportant passages of Scripture. Proverbs 30 mentions trivial things, such as ants, roosters, and locusts. It marvels how “a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces” (v. 28). Ramesh wondered how something so mundane made it into the Bible. Observing lizards required significant down time. Someone saw a lizard darting around the palace and thought that’s interesting, and paused to watch some more. Perhaps God included it in His Word to remind us to balance work with rest. We need hours to daydream about lizards, catch one with our kids, and simply relax with family and friends. May God give us wisdom to know when to work, serve, and relax!
Nov
2
2020
Some call him the “tree whisperer.” Tony Rinaudo is, in fact, World Vision Australia’s tree maker. He’s a missionary and agronomist engaged in a 30-year effort to share Jesus by combating deforestation across Africa’s Sahel, south of the Sahara. Realizing stunted “shrubs” were actually dormant trees, Rinaudo started pruning, tending, and watering them. His work inspired hundreds of thousands of farmers to save their failing farms by restoring nearby forests, reversing soil erosion. Farmers in Niger, for example, have doubled their crops and their income, providing food for an additional 2.5 million people per year. In John 15, Jesus the creator of agriculture, referred to similar farming tactics when He said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in my that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (vv. 1–2). Without the daily tending of God, our souls grow barren and dry. When we delight in the law of the Lord, however, meditating on it day and night, we are “like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3). Our leaves will “not wither” and “whatever [we] do will prosper” (v. 3). Pruned and planted in Him, we’re evergreen—revived and thriving.
Nov
1
2020
One of the longest-recorded postal delays in history lasted eighty-nine years. In 2008 a homeowner in the UK received an invitation to a party originally mailed in 1919 to a former resident of her address. The note was placed in her mailbox via the Royal Mail, but the reason behind its long delay remains a mystery. Even the best human efforts at communication sometimes let us down, but Scripture makes clear that God never fails to hear His faithful people. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah demonstrated the striking contrast between Baal, the fertility pagan god worshiped by many in ancient Israel, and Jehovah God. In a showdown to demonstrate who the true God was, after Baal’s prophets had prayed for hours, Elijah taunted them: “Shout louder! . . . Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Then Elijah prayed for Jehovah to answer so that His people might return to faith; and God’s power was clearly displayed. While our prayers may not always be answered as immediately as Elijah’s was that day, we can be assured that God hears them (Psalm 34:17). The Bible reminds us that He treasures our prayers so much that He keeps them before Him in “golden bowls,” like precious incense (Revelation 5:8). God will answer every prayer in His own perfect wisdom and way. There are no lost letters in heaven.
Oct
31
2020
Ashton and Austin Samuelson graduated from a Christian college with a strong desire to serve Jesus. However, neither felt called to a traditional ministry in the church. But what about ministry in the world? Absolutely. They blended their burden to end childhood hunger with their God-given entrepreneurial skills, and in 2014 launched a restaurant that serves tacos. But this is not just any restaurant. The Samuelsons operate from a buy-one-give-one philosophy. For every meal bought, they donate money to provide a meal specifically designed to meet the nutritional needs of malnourished children. So far, they have made contributions in over sixty countries. Their goal is to be a part of ending childhood hunger—one taco at a time. Christ’s words in Matthew 10 are not cryptic. They are astoundingly clear: devotion is evidenced by actions, not words (vv. 37–42). One of those actions is giving to the “little ones.” Now, for the Samuelsons, that focus is giving to children. But take note, the “little ones” is not a phrase limited to chronological age. Christ is calling us to give to any who are of “little account” in the eyes of this world: the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the refugee, those disadvantaged in any way. And give what? Well, Jesus says “even a cup of cold water” (v. 42). If something as small and simple as a cup of cold water classifies, then a taco surely fits right in line too.
Oct
30
2020
After praying about what God was calling them to do in the next phase of their lives, Mark and Nina determined that moving to the urban core of the city was what they needed to do. They purchased a vacant house and renovation was well underway—then came the storm. Mark wrote in a text message to me: “We had a surprise this morning. The tornado that came through Jeff[erson] City, took out our renovation—down to sticks and bricks. God is up to something.” Uncontrollable storms are not the only things that surprise us and create confusion in our lives. Not losing sight of God in the midst of misfortune, however, is one of the keys of survival. The weather catastrophe in Job’s life that resulted in his loss of property and the death of his children (Job 1:19) was but one of the surprises he faced. Prior to that, three messengers had come bearing bad news (vv. 13–17). On any given day, we can go from feasting to mourning, from celebrating life to processing death, or some other life challenge. Our lives can swiftly be reduced to “sticks and bricks”—financially, relationally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. But God is mightier than any storm. Surviving life’s trials requires faith that’s focused on Him—faith that enables us to say with Job and others, “May the name of the Lord be praised” (v. 21).
Oct
29
2020
As I walked into my new supervisor’s office, I was feeling wary and emotionally raw. What would he be like? My old supervisor had run our department with harshness and condescension, often leaving me (and others) in tears. Now I wondered, What would my new boss be like? Soon after I stepped into my new boss’ office, I felt my fears dissipate as he welcomed me warmly and asked me to share about myself and my frustrations. He listened intently, and I knew by his kind expression and gentle words that he truly cared. A believer in Jesus, he became my work mentor, encourager, and friend. The apostle Paul was a spiritual mentor to Titus, his “true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4). In his letter to Titus, Paul offered him helpful instructions and guidelines for his role in the church. He not only taught but modeled how to “teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine” (2:1), set “an example by doing good,” and “show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech” (vv. 7–8). As a result, Titus became his partner, brother, and coworker (2 Corinthians 2:13; 8:23)—and mentor of others. Many of us have benefited from a mentor: a teacher, coach, grandparent, youth leader, or pastor who guided us with their knowledge, wisdom, encouragement—and faith in God. Who could benefit from the spiritual lessons you’ve learned in your journey with Jesus?
Oct
28
2020
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.
Oct
27
2020
The picture made me laugh out loud. Crowds had lined a Mexican avenue, waving flags and throwing confetti as they waited for the pope. Down the middle of the street strolled a stray puppy, appearing to grin as if the cheering was entirely for him. Yes! Every dog should have its day, and it should look like this. It’s cute when a puppy “steals the show,” but hijacking another’s praise can destroy us. David knew this, and he refused to drink the water his mighty warriors had risked their lives to get. He had wistfully said it would be great if someone would fetch a drink from the well in Bethlehem. Three of his soldiers took him literally. They broke through enemy lines, drew the water, and carried it back. David was overwhelmed by their devotion, and he had to pass it on. He refused to drink the water, but “poured it out before the Lord” as a drink offering (v. 16). How we respond to praise and honor says a lot about us. When praise is directed toward others, especially God, stay out of the way. The parade is not for us. When the honor is directed toward us, thank the person and then amplify that praise by giving all the glory to Jesus. The “water” is not for us either. Give thanks, then pour it out before the Lord.
Oct
26
2020
I am one of millions of people worldwide who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression common in places with limited sunlight due to short winter days. When I begin to fear winter’s frozen curse will never end, I’m eager for any evidence that longer days and warmer temperatures are coming. The first signs of spring—flowers successfully braving their way through the lingering snow—also powerfully remind me of the way God’s hope can break through even our darkest seasons. The prophet Micah confessed this even while enduring a heart-rending “winter” as the Israelites turned away from God. As Micah assessed the bleak situation, he lamented that “not one upright person” seemed to remain (Micah 7:2). Yet, even though the situation appeared dire, the prophet refused to give up hope. He trusted that God was at work (v. 7)—even if, amid the devastation, he couldn’t yet see the evidence. In our dark and sometimes seemingly endless “winters,” when spring doesn’t appear to be breaking through, we face the same struggle as Micah. Will we give into despair? Or will we “watch in hope for the Lord”? (v. 7). Our hope in God is never wasted (Romans 5:5). He is bringing a time with no more “winter”: a time with no more mourning or pain (Revelation 21:4). Until then, may we rest in Him, confessing, “My hope is in you” (Psalm 39:7).
Oct
25
2020
During a trip to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, my husband and I read our Bibles on the beach. As vendors passed and called out the prices of their wares, we thanked each one but didn’t buy anything. One vendor, Fernando, smiled wide at my rejection and insisted we consider buying gifts for friends. After I declined his invitation, Fernando packed up and began walking away . . . still grinning. “I pray God will bless your day,” I said. Fernando turned toward me and said, “He has! Jesus changed my life.” Fernando knelt between our chairs. “I feel His presence here.” He then shared how God had delivered him from drug and alcohol abuse over fourteen years earlier. My tears flowed as he recited entire poems from the book of Psalms and prayed for us. Together, we praised God and rejoiced in His presence . . . on la playa. Psalm 148 is a prayer of praise. The psalmist encourages all of creation to “praise the name of the Lord, for at his command [everything was] created” (v. 5), “for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (v. 13). Though God invites us to bring our needs before Him and trust He hears and cares for us, He also delights in prayers of grateful praise wherever we are. Even on the beach.
Oct
24
2020
Each night, as young Caleb closed his eyes, he felt the darkness envelop him. The silence of his room was regularly suspended by the creaking of the wooden house in Costa Rica. Then the bats in the attic became more active. His mother had put a nightlight in his room, but the young boy still feared the dark. One night Caleb’s dad posted a Bible verse on the footboard of his bed. It read: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; . . . for the Lord your God will be with you” (Joshua 1:9). Caleb began to read those words each night—and he left that promise from God on his footboard until he went away to college. In Joshua 1, we read of the transition of leadership to Joshua after Moses died. The command to “be strong and courageous” was repeated several times to Joshua and the Israelites to emphasize its importance (vv. 6–7, 9). Surely, they felt trepidation as they faced an uncertain future, but the Lord reassuringly said, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v. 5). It’s natural to have fears, but it’s detrimental to our physical and spiritual health to live in a state of constant fear. Just as God encouraged His servants of old, we too can be strong and courageous because of the One who promises to always be with us.
Oct
23
2020
In April 2019, a suburban neighborhood in Victorville, California, became buried in tumbleweeds. High winds pushed the rolling thistles into the development from the adjacent Mojave Desert where the plant grows. At maturity, the pesky weed can grow to up to six feet in height—a formidable size when it releases itself from its roots to “tumble” with the wind to scatter its seeds. Tumbleweeds are what I picture when I read Jeremiah’s description of a person “whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5). He says that those who draw their strength from “mere flesh” will be like “a bush in the wastelands” and be unable to “see prosperity when it comes” (vv. 5–6). In sharp contrast are those who put their trust in God instead of people. Like trees, their strong, deep roots draw strength from Him, enabling them to remain full of life, even if the midst of drought-like circumstances. Tumbleweeds and trees both have roots. Tumbleweeds, however, don’t stay connected to their life-source, causing them to dry out and die. Trees, on the other hand, remain connected to their roots, enabling them to flourish and thrive, anchored to that which will sustain them in times of difficulty. When we hold fast to God, drawing strength and encouragement from the wisdom found in the Bible and talking to Him in prayer, we too can experience the life-giving, life-sustaining nourishment He provides.
Oct
22
2020
When Walt Disney’s Bambi was re-released, moms and dads relived childhood memories with their sons and daughters. A young mother, whose husband was an avid outdoorsman with an impressive trophy room, was one of those parents. With her little ones at her side, she experienced with them the gasp and groan of the moment when Bambi lost his mother to a hunter. To this day she’s reminded at family gatherings of her embarrassment when, in all innocence, her little boy shouted out in the theater, “Nice shot!” In time, we laugh at the embarrassing things our children say. But what are we to say when the people of Psalm 136 do something similar? Israel, God’s chosen and rescued people, celebrate a love that endures for all creation and for themselves—but not for their enemies. The psalm sings the praises of “him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt” (v. 10; see also Exodus 12:29–30). Doesn’t that sound a bit like a shout of “nice shot” at the expense of someone else’s mother, sister, father, brother? That’s why we need the rest of the story. Only when the lights come up in the resurrection of Jesus can the whole world be invited into the joy of one family’s stories, tears, and laughter. Only when we receive Jesus as our Savior and are made alive in Him, can we share the wonder of a God who loves everyone—at His own expense.
Oct
21
2020
Driving through a low-income area near his church, Colorado pastor Chad Graham started praying for “our neighbors.” When he noticed a small laundromat, he stopped to take a look inside and found it filled with customers. One asked Graham for a spare coin to operate the clothes dryer. That small request inspired a weekly “Laundry Day” sponsored by Graham’s church. Members donate coins and soap to the laundromat, pray with customers, and support the owner of the laundry. Their neighborhood outreach, which dares to include a laundromat, reflects Jesus’s Great Commission to His disciples. As He said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18–19 gnt). His Holy Spirit’s powerful presence enables “everywhere” outreach, including even a laundromat. Indeed, we don’t go alone. As Jesus promised, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 20 gnt). Pastor Chad experienced that truth after praying at the laundromat for a customer named Jeff who is battling cancer. As Chad reported, “When we opened our eyes, every customer in the room was praying with us, hands stretched out toward Jeff. It was one of the most sacred moments I have experienced as a pastor.” The lesson? Let’s go everywhere to proclaim Christ.
Oct
20
2020
There is an oft-heard story that The London Times posed a question to readers at the turn of the twentieth century. What’s wrong with the world? That’s quite the question, isn’t it? Someone might quickly respond, “Well, how much time do you have for me to tell you?” And that would be fair, as there seems to be so much that’s wrong with our world. As the story goes, The Times received a number of responses, but one in particular has endured in its brief brilliance. The English writer, poet, and philosopher G.K. Chesterton penned this four-word response, a refreshing surprise to the usual passing-of-the-buck: “Dear Sirs, I am.” Whether the story is factual or not is up for debate. But that response? It’s nothing but true. Long before Chesterton came along, there was an apostle named Paul. Far from a life-long model citizen, Paul confessed his past shortcomings: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (v.13). After naming who Christ came to save (“sinners”), he goes on to make a very Chesterton-like qualification: “of whom I am the worst.” (v.15). Paul knew exactly what was and is wrong with the world. And he further knew the only hope of making things right – “the grace of our Lord” (v.14). What an amazing reality! This enduring truth lifts our eyes to the light of Christ’s saving love.  
Oct
19
2020
In the Netherlands, a group of fashion designers offer a “Golden Joinery” workshop. Inspired by the Japanese technique Kintsugi, where broken porcelain is visibly repaired with gold, participants collaborate in mending clothes in ways that highlight the mending work rather than trying to mask it. Those who are invited bring “a dear but broken garment and mend it with gold.” As they remake their clothes, the repair becomes ornament, a “golden scar.” Articles of clothing are transformed in ways that highlight the places where they were torn or frayed. Perhaps this is something like what Paul meant when he said that he would “boast” in the things that showed his weakness. Although he’d experienced “surpassingly great revelations,” he doesn’t brag about them (2 Corinthians 12:6). He is kept from getting proud and overconfident, he says, by a “thorn” in his flesh (v. 7). No one knows exactly what he was referring to—perhaps depression, a form of malaria, persecution from enemies, or something else. Whatever it was, he begged God to take it away. But God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). Just as the rips and tears in old clothes can become sites of beauty as they are remade by designers, the broken and weak places in our lives can become places where God’s power and glory may shine. God holds us together, transforms us, and makes our weaknesses beautiful.
Oct
18
2020
Within twenty-four hours of his mother Sharonda’s tragic death, Chris found himself uttering these powerful, grace-filled words: “Love is stronger than hate.” His mother, along with eight others, had been killed at a Wednesday night Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. What was it that had so shaped this teenager’s life that these words could flow from his lips and his heart? Chris is a believer in Jesus whose mother had “loved everybody with all her heart.”   In Luke 23:26–49 we get a front row seat to an execution scene that included two criminals and the innocent Jesus (v. 32). All three were crucified (v. 33). Amid the hushes and sighs and the likely groans from those hanging on the crosses, the following words of Jesus could be heard: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (v. 34). The hate-filled initiative of the religious leaders had resulted in the crucifixion of the very One who championed love. Though in agony, Jesus’ love continued to triumph. How have you or someone you love been the target of hate, ill-will, bitterness, or ugliness? May your pain prompt your prayers, and may the example of Jesus and people like Chris encourage you by the power of the Spirit to choose love over hate.
Oct
17
2020
Imagine life without mobile phones, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth devices, or microwave ovens. That’s the way it is in the little town of Green Bank, West Virginia, known as “the quietest town in America.” It’s also the location of the Green Bank Observatory, the world’s largest steerable radio telescope. The telescope needs “quiet” to “listen” to naturally occurring radio waves emitted by the movement of pulsars and galaxies in deep space. It has a surface area larger than a football field and stands in the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area established to prevent electronic interference to the telescope’s extreme sensitivity. This intentional quiet enables scientists to hear “the music of the spheres.” It also reminds me of our need to quiet ourselves enough to listen to the One who created the universe. God communicated to a wayward and distracted people through the prophet Isaiah, “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you” (Isaiah 55:3). God promises His faithful love to all who will seek Him and turn to Him for forgiveness. We listen intentionally to God by turning from our distractions long enough to meet Him in Scripture and in prayer. God isn’t distant. He longs for us to make time for Him so He can be the priority of our daily lives and then for eternity.
Oct
16
2020
The praise song drifted downstairs . . . at 6:33 on a Saturday morning. I didn’t think anyone was awake, but my youngest daughter’s scratchy voice proved me wrong. She was barely conscious, but there was already a song on her lips. My youngest is a singer. In fact, she can’t not sing. She sings when she wakes up. When she goes to the school. When she goes to bed. She was born with a song in her heart—and most of the time, her songs focus on Jesus. She’ll praise God anytime, anywhere. I love the simplicity, devotion, and earnestness of my daughter’s voice. Her spontaneous and joyful songs echo invitations to praise God found throughout Scripture. In Psalm 95, we read, “Come let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (v. 1). Reading further, we learn that this praise flows from an understanding of who He is (“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods,” v. 3)—and whose we are (“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture,” v. 7). For my daughter, those truths are her first thought in the morning. By God’s grace, this little worshipper offers us a profound reminder of the joy of singing to the Lord.
Oct
15
2020
I ran into an old friend who told me what he’d been up to, but I confess it seemed too good to be true. Within a few months of that conversation, however, his band was everywhere—from charting top singles on the radio to having a hit song pulsing under TV ads. His rise to fame was meteoric. We can be obsessed with significance and success—the big and the dramatic, the quick and the meteoric. But the parables of the mustard seed and yeast compare the way of the Kingdom (God’s reign on earth) to small, hidden, and seemingly insignificant things whose work is slow and gradual. The Kingdom is like its King. Christ’s mission culminated in His life, like a seed, being buried in the ground; like yeast, being hidden in the dough. Yet He rose. Like a tree breaking through the dirt, like bread when the heat is turned up. Jesus rose. We’re invited to live according to His way, the way that’s persisting and permeating. To resist the temptation to take matters into our own hands, to grasp for power and to justify our dealings in the world by the outcomes they may produce. The outcome—“a tree . . . that the birds come and perch in its branches” (v. 32) and the bread that provides a feast—will be Christ’s doing, not ours.
Oct
14
2020
According to the family legend, two brothers, one named Billy and the other Melvin, were standing on the family’s dairy farm one day when they saw an airplane doing some skywriting. The boys watched as the plane sketched out the letters “GP” overhead. Both brothers decided that what they saw had meaning for them. One thought it meant “Go preach.” The other read it as “Go plow.” Later, one of the boys, Billy Graham, dedicated himself to preaching the gospel, becoming an icon of evangelism. His brother Melvin went on to faithfully run the family dairy farm for many years. Skywriting signs aside, if God did call Billy to preach and Melvin to plow, as seems to be the case, they both honored God through their vocations. While Billy achieved greatness and fame during his long preaching career, his success doesn’t mean that his brother’s obedient calling to plow was any less important. While God does assign some to be in what we call full-time ministry (Ephesians 4:11–12), that doesn’t mean those in other jobs and roles aren’t doing something just as important. In either case, as Paul said, “each part [should do] its work” (v.16). That means honoring Jesus by faithfully using the gifts He’s given us. When we do, whether we “go preach” or “go plow,” we can make a difference for Jesus wherever we serve or work.
Oct
13
2020
My husband Alan stood below the towering lights illuminating the athletic field, as a member of the opposing team hit a ball into the air. With his eyes fixed on the ball, Alan ran full speed toward the darkest corner of the field—and slammed into the chain link fence. Later that night, I handed him an ice pack. “Are you feeling okay?” I asked. He rubbed his shoulder. “I’d feel better if my buddies would have warned me that I was getting near the fence,” he said. Teams function best when they work together. Alan’s injury could have been avoided, if only one of his teammates would have yelled out a warning as he approached the fence. Scripture reminds us that members of the church are designed to work together and watch out for each other, like a team. The apostle Paul tells us that God cares about how we interact with each other, because the actions of one person can impact the whole community of believers (Col. 3:13–14). When we all embrace our opportunities to serve each other, fully devoted to unity and peace, the church flourishes (v. 15). Paul instructed his readers to “let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (v. 16). In this way we can inspire and protect one another through loving and honest relationships, obeying and praising God with grateful hearts—thriving together.
Oct
12
2020
South African Fredie Blom turned 114 in 2018, widely recognized as the oldest living man. Born in 1904, the year the Wright Brothers built their Flyer II, he’s lived through both World Wars, apartheid, and the Great Depression. When asked for the secret for his longevity, Blom only shrugs. Like many of us, he hasn’t always chosen the foods and practices that promote wellness. However, Blom does offer one reason for his remarkable health: “There’s only one thing, it’s [God]. He’s got all the power . . . He holds me.” Blom echoes words similar to what God spoke to Israel, as the nation wilted under the oppression of fierce enemies. “I will strengthen you and help you,” God promised. “I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (v. 10). No matter how desperate their situation, how impossible the odds that they would ever find relief, God assured His people that they were held in His tender care. “Do not fear, for I am with you,” God insisted. “Do not be dismayed, for I am your God” (v. 10). No matter how many years we’re given, life’s hardships will come knocking at our door. A troubled marriage. A child abandoning the family. Terrifying news from the doctor. Even persecution. However, our God reaches out to us and holds us firm. He gathers us and holds us in His strong, tender hand.
Oct
11
2020
When I moved to a new country, one of my first experiences left me feeling unwelcome. After finding a seat in the little church where my husband was preaching that day, a gruff older gentleman startled me when he said, “Move along down.” His wife apologized as she explained that I was sitting in the pew they always occupied. Years later I learned that congregations used to rent out pews, which raised money for the church and also ensured no one could take another person’s seat. Apparently some of that mentality carried on through the decades. Later, I reflected on how the Lord instructed the Israelites to welcome foreigners, in contrast to cultural practices such as I encountered. In setting out the laws that would allow His people to flourish, the Lord reminded them to welcome foreigners because they themselves were once foreigners (Leviticus 19:34). Not only were they to treat strangers with kindness (v. 33) but they were also to “love them as [themselves]” (v. 34). God had rescued them from oppression in Egypt, giving them a home in a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). He expected His people to love others who also made their home there. How could you welcome a stranger in your midst? As you consider this, ask God to reveal any cultural practices that might keep you from sharing His love to those you don’t yet know.
Oct
10
2020
Two-year-old Kenneth went missing. Yet within three minutes of his mom’s 9-1-1 call, an emergency worker found him just two blocks from home at the county fair. His mom had promised he could go later that day with his grandpa. But he’d driven his toy tractor there, and parked it at his favorite ride. When the boy was safely home, his dad wisely removed the toy’s battery.  Kenneth was actually rather smart to get where he wanted to go, but two-year-olds are missing another key quality: wisdom. And as adults we sometimes lack it too. Solomon, who’d been appointed king by his father David (1 Kings 2), admitted he felt like a child. God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (3:5). He replied, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. . . . So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (vv. 7–9). God gave Solomon “a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore” (4:29).  Where can we get the wisdom we need? Solomon said the beginning of wisdom is a “fear” or awe of God (Proverbs 9:10). So we can start by asking Him to teach us about Himself and to give us wisdom beyond our own.
Oct
9
2020
Have you ever fought a dragon? If you answered, “No,” author Eugene Peterson disagrees with you. In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, he wrote, “Dragons are projections of our fears, horrible constructions of all that might hurt us. . . . A peasant confronted by a magnificent dragon is completely outclassed.” Peterson’s point? Life is filled with dragons. The life-threatening health crisis, the sudden job loss, the failed marriage, the estranged prodigal child. These “dragons” are the supersized dangers and frailties of life that we are inadequate to fight. But in those battles, we have a Champion. Not a fairy tale champion—the ultimate Champion who has fought on our behalf and conquered the dragons that seek to destroy us. Whether they are dragons of our own failures or the spiritual enemy who desires our destruction, our Champion is greater, allowing Paul to write of Christ, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). The destructive forces of this broken world are no match for Jesus.  The moment we realize that the dragons of life are too big for us is the moment we can begin to rest in Christ’s rescue. We can confidently say, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Oct
8
2020
Tough words hurt. So my friend—an award-winning author—struggled with how to respond to the criticism. His new book had earned 5-star reviews plus a major award. Then a respected magazine reviewer gave him a backhanded compliment, describing his book as well-written yet still criticizing it harshly. Turning to friends, he asked, “How should I reply?” One friend advised, “Let it go.” I shared advice from writing magazines, including tips to ignore such criticism, or learn from it even while continuing to work and write. Finally, however, I decided to seek the best advice of all. What does Scripture say about how to react to strong criticism? The book of James advises, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). The apostle Paul counsels us to “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16). An entire chapter of Proverbs, however, offers extended wisdom on reacting to disputes. “A gentle answer turns away wrath,” says Proverbs 15:1. “The one who is patient calms a quarrel” (v. 18). Also, “The one who heeds correction gains understanding” (v. 32). Considering such wisdom, may God help us hold our tongues, as my friend did. More than all, however, wisdom instructs “fear the Lord” (v. 33) because “humility comes before honor.” 
Oct
7
2020
In one of Dr. Seuss’s whimsical stories, he tells of a “North-Going Zax and a South-Going Zax” crossing the Prairie of Prax. Upon meeting nose to nose, neither Zax will step aside. The first Zax angrily vows to stay put—even if it makes “the whole world stand still.” (Unfazed, the world moves on and builds a highway around them.) The tale offers an uncomfortably accurate picture of human nature. We possess a reflexive “need” to be right, and we’re prone to stubbornly cling to that instinct in rather destructive ways! Happily for us, God lovingly chooses to soften stubborn human hearts. The apostle Paul knew this, so when two members of the Philippian church were squabbling, he loved them enough to call them out (Philippians 4:2). Then, having earlier instructed the believers to have “the same mindset” of self-giving love as Christ (2:5–8), Paul asked them to “help these women,” valued coworkers with him in sharing the gospel (4:3). It seems peacemaking and wise compromise call for team effort. Of course there are times to take a firm stand, but a Christ-like approach will look a lot different than an unyielding Zax! So many things in life are not worth fighting over. We can bicker with each other over every trivial concern until we destroy ourselves (Galatians 5:15). Or we can swallow our pride, graciously receive wise counsel, and seek unity with our brothers and sisters.
Oct
6
2020
For some months now I’ve been corresponding with a young man who is thinking deeply about faith. On one occasion he wrote, “We’re no more than teeny, tiny, infinitesimal blips on the timeline of history. Do we matter?”  Moses, Israel’s prophet, would agree: “Our days . . . quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). The brevity of life can worry us and cause us to wonder if we matter.  We do. We matter because we are deeply, eternally loved by the God who made us. In this poem Moses prays, “Satisfy us . . . with your unfailing love” (v. 14). We matter because we matter to God.  We also matter because we can show God’s love to others. Though our lives are short they’re not meaningless if we leave God’s love behind. We’re not here on earth to make money and retire in style, but to “show God” to others by showing them His love.  And finally, though life here on earth is transient, we are creatures of eternity. Because Jesus rose from the dead we will live forever. That’s what Moses meant when he assured us that God will “satisfy us in the morning with [His] unfailing love.” That “morning” we will rise to live and love and be loved forever. And if that doesn’t create meaning I don’t know what does.
Oct
5
2020
The room was dim and silent as I pulled a chair close to Jacquie’s bed. Before a three-year battle with cancer, my friend had been a vibrant person. I could still picture her laughing—eyes full of life, her face lit with a smile. Now she was quiet and still, and I was visiting her in a special care facility. Not knowing what to say, I decided to read some Scripture. I pulled my Bible out of my purse and turned to a reference in 1 Corinthians and began to read. After the visit and an emotional time in the seclusion of my parked car, a thought came to mind that slowed my tears: You’ll see her again. Caught up in sadness, I had forgotten that death is only temporary for believers (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). I knew I’d see Jacquie again because both of us had trusted in Jesus’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sin (vv.3-4). When Jesus came back to life after his crucifixion, death lost its ultimate power to separate believers from each other and from God. After we die, we’ll live again in heaven with God and all of our spiritual brothers and sisters—forever. Because Jesus is alive today, Christians have hope in times of loss and sorrow. Death has been swallowed up in the victory of the cross (v. 54).
Oct
4
2020
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was often asked that question as a child. And the answers changed like the wind. A doctor. A firefighter. A missionary. A worship leader. A physicist—or actually, MacGyver!  (a favorite TV character.) .Now, as a dad of four kids, I think of how difficult that question must be for them. There are times when I want to say, “I know what you’ll be great at!” Parents can sometimes see more in their children than the children can see in themselves. This resonates with what Paul saw in the Philippian believers—those he loved and prayed for (Philippians 1:3). He could see the end; he knew what they’d be when all was said and done. The Bible gives us a grand vision of the end of the story—resurrection and the renewal of all things (see 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21). But it also tells us who’s writing the story. Paul, in the opening lines of a letter he wrote from prison, reminded the Philippian church that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Jesus started the work and He’ll complete it. The word completion is particularly important—the story doesn’t just end, for God leaves nothing unfinished.
Oct
3
2020
The verse on the card Lisa received didn’t seem to match her situation: “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). I have cancer! she thought in confusion. I’ve just lost a baby! A verse about angel soldiers does not apply. Then the “angels” began to show up. Cancer survivors gave her their time and a listening ear. Her husband got released early from an overseas military assignment. Friends prayed with her. But the moment she most felt God’s love was when her friend Patty walked in with two boxes of tissues. Placing them on the table, she started crying. Patty knew. She’d endured miscarriages too. “That meant more than anything,” Lisa says. “The card made sense now. My ‘angel soldiers’ had been there all along.” When an army besieged Israel, a host of literal angels protected Elisha. But Elisha’s servant couldn’t see them. “What shall we do?” he cried to the prophet (v. 15). Elisha simply prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see” (v. 17). When we look to God, our crisis will show us what truly matters and that we’re not alone. We learn that God’s comforting presence never leaves us. He shows us His love in infinitely surprising ways.
Oct
2
2020
It wasn’t quite dawn when my husband rose from bed and went into the kitchen. I saw the light flip on and off and wondered at his action. Then I recalled that the previous morning I’d yelped at the sight of an “intruder” on our kitchen counter. Translated: an undesirable creature of the six-legged variety. My husband knew my paranoia and immediately arrived to remove it. This morning he’d risen early to ensure our kitchen was bug-free so I could enter without concern. What a guy! My husband awoke with me on his mind, putting my need before his own. To me, his action illustrates the love Paul describes in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Paul goes on, “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (v. 28). Paul’s comparison of a husband’s love to the love of Christ pivots on how Jesus put our needs before His own. My husband is not afraid of such intruders. But he knows I am. And so he made my concern his own. That principle doesn’t apply to husbands only. After the example of Jesus, each of us can lovingly sacrifice to help remove an intruder of stress, fear, shame, or anxiety so that someone can move more freely in the world.
Oct
1
2020
Julio was biking across the George Washington Bridge—that  busy, double-decked thoroughfare connecting New York City and New Jersey—when he encountered a life-or-death situation. A man was standing on a ledge over the Hudson River preparing to jump. Knowing that the police wouldn’t arrive in time, Julio acted quickly. He recalls getting off his bike and spreading out his arms, saying something like: “Don’t do it. We love you.” Then, like a shepherd with a crook, he grabbed the distraught man, and with the help of another passerby, brought him to safety. According to reports, Julio wouldn’t let go of the man, even after he was safe.   Two millennia earlier, in a life-or-death situation, Jesus, the Good Shepherd said He would lay down His life to save and never let go of those who believed in Him. He summarized how He would bless His sheep: they would know Him personally, have the gift of eternal life, would never perish, and were secure in His care (John 10:28). This security didn’t depend on the ability of the frail and feeble sheep, but the sufficiency of the Shepherd who will never let one be snatched “out of [His] hand” (vv. 28–29).   When we were distraught and feeling hopeless, Jesus rescued us. So we can feel safe and secure in our relationship with Him. He loves us, pursues us, finds us, saves us, and promises to never let us go. 
Sep
30
2020
Thérèse of Lisieux was a joyful and carefree child—until her mother died when she was just four years old. She became timid and easily agitated. But many years later on Christmas Eve, all of that changed. After celebrating the birth of Jesus with her church community, she experienced God releasing her from her fear and giving her joy. She attributed the change to the power of God leaving heaven and becoming a man, Jesus, and through His dwelling in her. What does it mean for Christ to dwell within us? It’s a mystery, said Paul to the Colossian church. It’s one that God “kept hidden for ages and generations” (Colossians 1:26), but which He disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God revealed “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (v. 27). Because Christ now dwelled in the Colossians, they experienced the joy of new life. No longer were they enslaved to the old self of sin. If we’ve asked Jesus to be our Savior, we too live out this mystery of His dwelling in us. Through His Spirit, He can release us from fear, as He did Thérèse, and grow within us the fruit of His Spirit, such as joy, peace, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). As we celebrate His birth, let’s give thanks for the wonderful mystery of Christ within us.
Sep
29
2020
“That’s all it takes!” Megan said. She had clipped a stem from her geranium plant, dipped the cut end into honey, and stuck it into a pot filled with compost. Megan was teaching me how to propagate geraniums: how to turn one healthy plant into many plants, so she would have flowers to share with others. The honey, she said, was to help the young plant establish roots. Watching her work, I wondered what kinds of things help us establish spiritual roots. What helps us mature into strong, flourishing people of faith? What keeps us from withering up or failing to grow? Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says that we are “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17). This love comes from God, who strengthens us by giving us the Holy Spirit. Christ dwells in our hearts, and as we begin to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (v. 18), we can have a rich experience of God’s presence, being “completely filled and flooded with God himself” (v. 19 amp).  Growing spiritually requires rooting into the love of God—meditating on the truth that we are beloved by the God who is able to do “immeasurably more that we can ask or imagine” (3:20). What a glorious basis for our faith!  
Sep
28
2020
I recently discovered the wonder of anamorphic art. Appearing at first as an assortment of random parts, an anamorphic sculpture only makes sense when viewed from the correct angle. In one piece, a series of vertical poles align to reveal a famous leader’s face. In another, a mass of cable becomes the outline of an elephant. Another artwork, made of hundreds of black dots suspended by wire, becomes a woman’s eye when seen correctly. The key to anamorphic art is viewing it from different angles until its meaning is revealed. With thousands of verses of history, poetry, and more, the Bible can sometimes be hard to understand. But Scripture itself tells us how to unlock its meaning. Treat it like an anamorphic sculpture: view it from different angles and meditate on it deeply. Christ’s parables work this way. Those who care enough to ponder them gain “eyes to see” their meaning (Matthew 13:10–16). Paul told Timothy to “reflect” on his words so God would give him insight (2 Timothy 2:7). And the repeated refrain of Psalm 119 is how meditating on Scripture brings wisdom and insight, opening our eyes to see its meaning (119:18, 97–99). How about pondering a single parable for a week or reading a gospel in one sitting? Spend some time viewing a verse from all angles. Go deep. Biblical insight comes from meditating on Scripture, not just reading it. Oh, Lord, give us eyes to see.
Sep
27
2020
Frank Borman commanded the first space mission that circled the moon. He wasn’t impressed. The trip took two days both ways. Frank got motion sickness and threw up. He said being weightless was cool—for thirty seconds. Then he got used to it. Up close he found the moon drab and pockmarked with craters. His crew took pictures of the gray wasteland, then became bored. Frank went where no one had gone before. It wasn’t enough. If he quickly tired of an experience that was out of this world, perhaps we should lower our expectations for what lies in this one. The teacher of Ecclesiastes observed that no earthly experience delivers ultimate joy. “The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing” (1:8). We may feel moments of ecstasy, but our elation soon wears off and we seek the next thrill. Frank had one exhilarating moment, when he saw the earth rise from the darkness behind the moon. Like a blue and white swirled marble, our world sparkled in the sun’s light. Similarly, our truest joy comes from the Son shining on us. Jesus is our life, the only ultimate source of meaning, love, and beauty. Our deepest satisfaction comes from out of this world. Our problem? We can go all the way to the moon, yet still not go far enough.  
Sep
26
2020
Living near cattle ranches as he did, humorist Michael Yaconelli noticed how cows were prone to wander while grazing. A cow would keep moving, always looking for the fabled “greener pastures.” Near the edge of the property, the cow might discover some cool fresh grass under a shade tree. Just beyond a broken-down part of the fence was a tasty clump of foliage. Then the cow might push far beyond the fence and out to the road. It had slowly “nibbled” its way into being lost. Cows aren’t alone in their roaming problem. It’s likely that people have the biggest tendency of all to stray. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons God compares us to sheep in the Bible. It can be easy to meander and “nibble our way” through reckless compromises and foolish decisions, never noticing how far away from the truth we’ve strayed. Jesus told the Pharisees the story of a lost sheep. The sheep was of such value to the shepherd that he left his other sheep behind, while he searched for the wandering one. And when he found the one that had strayed, He celebrated! (Luke 15:1–7). Such is the happiness of God over those who turn back to Him. Jesus said, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep” (v. 6). God has sent us a Savior to rescue us and bring us home.
Sep
25
2020
Gripped by the gravity of the promises he was making to LaShonne, Jonathan found himself stumbling as he repeated his wedding vows. He thought, How can I make these promises and not believe they’re possible to keep? He made it through the ceremony, but the weight of his commitments remained. After the reception, Jonathan led his wife to the chapel where he prayed—for more than two hours—that God would help him keep his promise to love and care for LaShonne. Jonathan’s wedding-day fears were based on the recognition of his human frailties. But God, who promised to bless the nations through Abraham’s offspring (Galatians 3:16), has no such limitations. To challenge his Jewish Christian audience to perseverance and patience to continue in the Christian faith, the writer of Hebrews recalled God’s promises to Abraham, Abraham’s patient waiting, and the fulfillment of the what had been promised (Hebrews 6:13–15). Abraham and Sarah’s status as senior citizens was no barrier to the fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham “many descendants” (v. 14). Are you challenged to trust God despite being weak, frail, and human? Are you struggling to keep your commitments; to fulfill your pledges and vows? In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God promises to help us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” For over thirty-six years God has helped Jonathan and LaShonne. Why not trust Him to help you?
Sep
24
2020
I stood amazed at the hundreds of thousands of padlocks, many engraved with the initials of sweethearts, attached to every imaginable part of the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. The pedestrian bridge across the Seine River was inundated with these symbols of love, a couple’s declaration of “forever” commitment. In 2014, the love locks were estimated to weigh a staggering fifty tons and even caused a portion of the bridge to collapse, necessitating the locks’ removal. The presence of so many love locks points to the deep longing we have as human beings for assurance that love is secure. In Song of Songs, an Old Testament book that depicts a dialogue between two lovers, the woman expresses her desire for secure love by asking her beloved to “place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm” (Song of Songs 8:6). Her longing was to be as safe and secure in his love as a seal impressed on his heart or a ring on his finger. The longing for enduring romantic love expressed in Song of Songs points us to the New Testament truth in Ephesians that we are marked with the “seal” of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). While human love can be fickle, and locks can be removed from a bridge, Christ’s Spirit, living in us, is a permanent seal demonstrating God’s never-ending, committed love for each of His children.
Sep
23
2020
“If I touched a Bible, it would catch fire in my hands,” my English professor at a community college said. My heart sank. The novel we’d been reading that morning referenced a Bible verse; and when I pulled out my Bible to look it up, she noticed and commented. My professor seemed to think she was too sinful to be forgiven. Yet I wasn’t bold enough to tell her about God’s love—and that the Bible tells us we can always seek God’s forgiveness. There’s an example of repentance and forgiveness in Nehemiah. The Israelites had been exiled because of their sin, but now they were allowed to return to Jerusalem. When they’d “settled in,” Ezra the scribe read the law to them (Nehemiah 7:73–8:1). They confessed their sins remembering that, despite their sin, God “did not desert” or “abandon them” (9:17, 19). He “heard them” when they cried out; and in compassion and mercy, He was patient with them (vv. 19, 27–31). In a similar way, God is patient with us. He won’t abandon us if we choose to confess our sin and turn to Him. I wish I could go back and tell my professor that, no matter her past, Jesus loves her and wants her to be part of His family. He feels the same way about you and me. We can approach Him seeking forgiveness—and He will give it!
Sep
22
2020
When my grown son faced a difficult situation, I reminded him about God’s constant care and provision during his dad’s year of unemployment. I recounted the times God strengthened our family and gave us peace while my mom fought and lost her battle with leukemia. Highlighting the stories of God’s faithfulness stitched into Scripture, I affirmed He was good at keeping His word. I led my son down our family’s God-paved memory lane, reminding him about the ways He remained reliable through our valley and mountaintop moments. Whether we were struggling or celebrating, God’s presence, love, and grace proved sufficient. Although I’d like to claim this faith-strengthening strategy as my own, the Lord designed the habit of sharing stories to inspire the future generations’ belief in God. As the Israelites remembered all they’d seen the Lord do in the past, He placed cobblestones of confidence down their God-paved memory lanes. The Israelites had witnessed God holding true to His promises as they followed Him (Deuteronomy 4:3-6). He’d always heard and answered their prayers (v. 7). Rejoicing and reminiscing with the younger generations (v. 9), the Israelites shared the holy words breathed and preserved by the one true God (v. 10). As we tell of our Lord’s majesty, mercy, and intimate love, our convictions and the faith of others can be strengthened by the confirmation of His enduring trustworthiness. Who has invested in your spiritual growth by sharing what God had done in their lives? What creative ways can you share God’s faithfulness and love across generational lines?  
Sep
21
2020
What a waste of time! thought Harley. Her insurance agent was insisting they meet again. Harley knew it would be yet another boring sales pitch, but she decided to make the most of it by looking for an opportunity to talk about her faith. Noticing that the agent’s eyebrows were tattooed, she hesitantly asked why and discovered that the woman did it because she felt it would bring her luck. Harley’s question was a risky detour from a routine chat about finances, but it opened the door to a conversation about luck and faith, which gave her an opportunity to talk about why she relied on Jesus. That “wasted” hour turned out to be a divine appointment. Jesus also took a risky detour. While traveling from Judea to Galilee, He went out of His way to speak to a Samaritan, something unthinkable for a Jew. Worse, she was an adulterous woman avoided even by other Samaritans. Yet He ended up having a conversation that led to the salvation of many (John 4:1–4, 39–42). Are you meeting someone you don’t really want to see? Do you keep bumping into a neighbor you normally avoid? The Bible reminds us to be always ready—“in season and out of season”—to share the good news (2 Timothy 4:2). Consider taking a “risky detour.” Who knows, God may be giving you a divine opportunity to talk to someone about Him today!
Sep
20
2020
We were almost home when I noticed it: the needle of our car’s temperature gauge was rocketing up. As we pulled in, I killed the engine and hopped out. Smoke wafted from the hood. The engine sizzled like bacon. I backed the car up a few feet to find a puddle beneath: oil. Instantly, I knew: The head gasket had just blown. I groaned. We’d just sunk money into other expensive repairs. Why can’t things just work?! I grumbled bitterly. Why can’t things just stop breaking?! Can you relate? Sometimes we avert one crisis, solve one problem, pay off one big bill, only to face another. Sometimes, those troubles are much bigger than an engine self-destructing: an unexpected diagnosis, an untimely death, a terrible loss. In those moments, we yearn for a world less broken, less full of trouble. That world, Jesus promised, is coming. But not yet: “In this world you will have trouble,” he reminded His disciples in John 16. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). Jesus spoke in that chapter about grave troubles, such as persecution for the faith. But such trouble, He taught, would never have the last word for those who hope in Him. Troubles small and large may dog our days. But Jesus’ promise of a better tomorrow with Him encourages us not to let our troubles define our lives today.
Sep
19
2020
After Charles Simeon (1759–1836) was named the minister of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England, he faced years of opposition. As most in the congregation had wanted the associate minister to be appointed rather than Simeon, they spread rumors about him and rejected his ministry—even at times locking him out of the church. But Simeon, who desired to be filled by God’s Spirit, sought to cope with the gossip by creating some principles to live by. One was never to believe rumors unless they were absolutely true and another was “Always to believe, that if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter.” In this practice, Simeon followed God’s instructions to His people to cease the gossip and malicious talk He knew would erode their love for each other. One of God’s Ten Commandments reflects His desire for them to live truthfully: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). A law that follows the ninth commandment in Exodus reinforces this instruction: “Do not spread false reports” (23:1). Think of how different the world would be if each of us never spread rumors and false reports and if we stopped them the moment we heard them. May we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us speak the truth in love as we use our words to bring glory to God.
Sep
18
2020
Author Mark Twain suggested that whatever we look at in life—and how we see it—can influence our next steps, even our destiny. As Twain said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Peter, too, spoke of vision when he replied to a lame beggar, a man whom he and John encountered at the busy temple gate called Beautiful (Acts 3:2). As the man asked them for money, Peter and John looked directly at the man. “Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ ” (v. 4). Why did he say that? As Christ’s ambassador, Peter likely wanted the beggar to stop looking at his own limitations—yes, even to stop looking at his need for money. As he looked at the apostles, he would see the reality of having faith in God. As Peter told him, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). Then Peter “helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk” and give praise (vv. 7–8). What happened? Faith in God, indeed, Peter said (v. 16). As evangelist Charles Spurgeon urged, “Keep your eye simply on Him.” When we do, we don’t see obstacles. We see God, the One who makes our way clear.
Sep
17
2020
Sarah has a rare condition that causes her joints to dislocate, making her reliant on an electric wheelchair to get around. On her way to a meeting recently, Sarah rode her wheelchair to the train station but found the elevator broken. Again. With no way of getting to the platform, she was told to take a taxi to another station forty minutes away. The taxi was called but never arrived. Sarah gave up and went home. Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence for Sarah. Broken elevators stop her boarding trains, forgotten ramps leave her unable to get off them. Sometimes Sarah is treated as a nuisance by railway staff for needing assistance. She’s often close to tears. Out of the many biblical laws governing human relationships, “love your neighbor as yourself” is key (Leviticus 19:18; Romans 13:8–10). And while this love stops us lying, stealing, and abusing others (Leviticus 19:11, 14), it also changes how we work. Employees must be treated fairly (v. 13), and we should all be generous to the poor (vv. 9–10). In Sarah’s case, those who fix elevators and drag out ramps aren’t doing inconsequential tasks but offering important service to others. If we treat work as a means to a wage or other personal benefit, we will soon treat others as annoyances. But if we treat our jobs as opportunities to love, then the most everyday task becomes a holy enterprise.
Sep
16
2020
The spotted lanternfly is a pretty insect with speckled outer wings and a splotch of bright red on its inner wings that flashes when it flies. But its beauty is a bit deceptive. This insect, first spotted in Pennsylvania in 2014, is considered invasive to North America, which means it has the potential to harm the environment and economy. The lanternfly will “eat the innards of practically any woody plant,” which includes cherry and other fruit trees, and leaves a sticky goo that leads to mold—killing trees outright or leaving them with little energy to grow fruit. In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn of a different kind of menace. The serpent, Satan, deceived the couple into disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit so they would “be like God” (Genesis 3:1–7). But why listen to a serpent? Did his words alone entice Eve, or was there also something attractive about him? Scripture hints at Satan being created beautiful (Ezekiel 28:12). Yet Satan fell by the same temptation he used to entice Eve: “I will make myself like [God]” (Isaiah 12:14; Ezekiel 28:14). Any beauty Satan now has is used to deceive (Genesis 3:1; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:14). Just as he fell, he seeks to pull others down—or keep them from growing. But we have someone far more powerful on our side! We can run to Jesus, our beautiful Savior.
Sep
15
2020
Scaling. It’s a term used in the world of fitness that allows room for anyone to participate. If the specific exercise is a push-up, for example, then maybe you can do ten in a row but I can only do four. The instructor’s encouragement to me would be to scale back the push-up according to my fitness level at the time. We’re not all at the same level but we can all move in the same direction. In other words, she would say, “Do your four push-ups with all the strength you have. Don’t compare yourself with anyone else. Scale the movement for now, keep doing what you can do, and you may be amazed in time you’re doing seven, and even one day, ten.” When it comes to giving, the apostle Paul was clear: “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But his encouragement to the believers in Corinth, and to us, is a variation of scaling. “Each of you should give what you decide in your heart” (v.7). We each find ourselves at differing giving levels, and sometimes those levels change over time. Comparison is not beneficial, but attitude is. Based on where you are, give “generously” (v. 6). Our God has promised that the disciplined practice of such cheerful giving brings enrichment in every way with a blessed life that results in “thanksgiving to God” (v. 11).
Sep
14
2020
My friend Ellen calculates payroll for an accounting firm. This may sound like a straightforward job, but there are times when employers submit their information later than requested. Ellen often makes up for this by working long hours so employees can receive their money without delay. She does this out of consideration for the families that depend on those funds to buy groceries, purchase medicine, and pay for housing. Ellen’s compassionate approach to her job points me to Jesus. On earth, He sometimes ministered to people when it was inconvenient for Him. For instance, Jesus wanted some alone time after He heard that John the Baptist had been killed, so He boarded a boat in search of an isolated place (Matthew 14:13). Perhaps He needed to grieve for His relative and pray through His sorrow. There was just one problem. Crowds of people tagged along behind Him. This group had various physical needs. It would have been much easier to send the people away, but “When Jesus landed and saw [them], he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (v. 14). Although it was part of Jesus’s calling to teach people and cure their diseases as He ministered on earth, His empathy affected the way in which He carried out His responsibilities. May God help us to recognize His compassion in our lives and give us the strength to pass it on to others.
Sep
13
2020
When my brother David suddenly died of cardiac failure, my perspectives on life changed dramatically. Dave was the fourth of seven children, but he was the first of us to pass—and the unexpected nature of that passing gave me much to ponder. It became apparent that as age began to catch up with us our family’s future was going to be marked more by loss than by gain. It was going to be characterized as much by goodbyes as hellos. None of this was a surprise intellectually—that is just how life works. But this realization was an emotional lightning bolt to the brain. It gave a fresh, new significance to every moment life gives us and every opportunity time allows. And it placed a huge new value on the reality of a future reunion, where no goodbyes will ever be needed. This ultimate reality is at the heart of what we find in Revelation 21:3–4: “God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Though today we may find ourselves experiencing seasons of long goodbyes, our trust in Christ’s death and resurrection promises an eternity of hellos.
Sep
12
2020
A marine biologist was swimming near the Cook Islands in the South Pacific when a 50,000-pound humpback whale suddenly appeared and tucked her under its fin. The woman thought her life was over. But after swimming slowly in circles, the whale let her go. It’s then that the biologist saw a tiger shark leaving the area. The woman believes the whale had been protecting her—keeping her from danger. In a world of danger, we’re called to watch out for others. But you might ask yourself, Should I really be expected to be responsible for someone else? Or in Cain’s words: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). The rest of the Old Testament resounds with the thunderous response: Yes! Just as Adam was to care for the garden, so Cain was to care for Abel. Israel was to keep watch over the vulnerable and care for the needy. Yet they did the opposite—exploiting the people, oppressing the poor, and abdicating the calling to love their neighbors as themselves (Isaiah 3:14–15). Yet, in the Cain and Abel story, God continued to watch over Cain, even after he was sent away (Genesis 4:15–16). God did for Cain what Cain should have done for Abel. It’s a beautiful foreshadowing of what God in Jesus would come to do for us. Jesus keeps us in His care, and He empowers us to go and do likewise for others.
Sep
11
2020
First responders show dedication and courage daily by being on the front lines when disasters occur. In the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001 when thousands of people were killed or injured, more than 400 emergency workers also lost their lives. In honor of first responders, the US Senate designated September 12 as the National Day of Encouragement. While it may seem unique that a government would declare a national day of encouragement, the apostle Paul certainly thought this was needed for the growth of a church. He commended the young church in Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia, to “encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Although they were going through persecution, Paul encouraged the believers to “always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (v. 15). He knew that as humans, they would be prone to despair, selfishness, and conflict. But he also knew that they would not be able to encourage one another without God’s help and strength. Things are no different today. We all need to be uplifted and we need to do the same for those around us. Yet we cannot do it in our own strength. That’s why Paul’s encouragement that “the one who calls you [Jesus] is faithful, and he will do it” is so reassuring (v. 24). With His help, we can encourage one another every day.   
Sep
10
2020
While riding in the Chihuahuan Desert in the late 1800s, Jim White spotted a strange cloud of smoke spiraling skyward. Suspecting a wildfire, the young cowboy rode toward the source, only to learn that the “smoke” was a vast swarm of bats spilling from a hole in the ground. White had come across New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns, an immense and spectacular system of caves. As Moses was tending sheep in a Middle Eastern desert, he too saw an odd sight that grabbed his attention—a flaming bush that didn’t burn up (Exodus 3:2). When God Himself spoke from the bush, Moses realized he had come to something far grander than it had first appeared (v. 6). The Lord told Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham” (v. 6). God was about to lead an enslaved people to freedom and show them their true identity as His children (v. 10). More than 600 years earlier, God had made this promise to Abraham: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). The flight of the Israelites from Egypt was but one step in that blessing—God’s plan to rescue His creation through the Messiah, Abraham’s descendant. Today we can enjoy the benefits of that blessing, for God offers this rescue to everyone. Christ came to die for the sins of the whole world. By faith in Him, we too become children of the living God.
Sep
9
2020
Choral director Arianne Abela spent her childhood sitting on her hands—to hide them. Born with fingers missing or fused together on both hands, she also had no left leg and was missing toes on her right foot. A music lover and lyric soprano, she’d planned to major in government at Smith College. But one day her choir teacher asked her to conduct—which made her hands quite visible. From that moment, she found her career, going on to conduct church choirs and serving now as Director of Choirs at another university. “My teachers saw something in me,” Abela explains. Her inspiring story invites believers to ask, What does God our Holy Teacher see in us, regardless of our “limits”? More than all, He sees Himself. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 nlt). As His glorious “image bearers,” when others see us, we should reflect Him. For Abela, that meant Jesus, not her hands—or her lack of fingers—matters most. The same is true for all believers. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image,” says 2 Corinthians 3:18. Similar to Abela, we then can conduct our lives by Christ’s transforming power (v. 18), offering a life song that rings out to the glory of God.
Sep
8
2020
When Johannes Gutenberg combined the printing press with moveable type in 1450, he ushered in the era of mass communications in the West, spreading learning into new social realms. Literacy increased across the globe and new ideas produced rapid transformations in social and religious contexts. Gutenberg produced the first-ever printed version of the Bible. Prior to this, Bibles were painstakingly hand-copied, taking scribes up to a year to produce.   For centuries since, the printing press has provided people like you and me the privilege of direct access to Scripture. While we also have electronic versions available to us, many of us often hold a physical Bible in our hands because of his invention. What was once inaccessible given the sheer cost and time to have a Bible copied is readily at our fingertips today.   Having access to God’s truth is a privilege we mustn’t take for granted. The writer of Proverbs indicates we should treat His instructions to us in the Scriptures as something to be cherished, as “the apple of [our] eye” (Proverbs 7:2) and to write His words of wisdom on the tablet of our heart (v. 3). As we seek to understand the Bible and live according to its wisdom, we, like scribes, are drawing God’s truth from our “fingers” down into our hearts, to be taken with us wherever we go.
Sep
7
2020
“Are people still praying for me?” That was one of the first questions a missionary asked his wife whenever she was allowed to visit him in prison. He had been falsely accused and incarcerated for his faith for two years. His life was frequently in danger because of the conditions and hostility in the prison, and Christians around the world were earnestly praying for him. He wanted to be assured they wouldn’t stop, because he believed God was using their prayers in a powerful way. Our prayers for others—especially those who are persecuted for their faith—are a vital gift. Paul made this clear when he wrote the believers in Corinth about hardships he faced during his missionary journey. He “was under great pressure,” so much that he “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). But then he told them God had delivered him and described the tool He’d used to do it: “We have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (vv. 10–11, emphasis added). God moves through our prayers to accomplish great good in the lives of His people. One of the best ways to love others is to pray for them, because through our prayers we open the door to the help only God can provide. When we pray for others, we love them in His strength. There is none greater or more loving than He.
Sep
6
2020
I recently attended a high school graduation during which the speaker provided a needed challenge for the young adults awaiting their diplomas. He mentioned that this was a time in their lives when everyone was asking them, “What’s next?” What career would they be pursuing next? Where would they be going to school or working next? Then he said that the more important question was what were they doing now? In the context of their faith journey, what daily decisions would they be making that would guide them each day to live for Jesus and not for themselves? His words reminded me of the book of Proverbs, which makes many pointed statements about how to live—now. For instance: choosing the right friends, now (12:26); living with integrity, now (13:6); having good judgment, now (13:15); speaking wisely, now (14:3); practicing honesty, now (11:1).           Living for God now, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, makes the decisions about what is next much easier. “The Lord gives wisdom; . . . He holds success in store for the upright, . . . he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones” (2:6–8). May God supply what we need for us to live by His guidelines now, and may He guide us into what’s next for His honor.
Sep
5
2020
Back in my sermon-making days I approached some Sunday mornings feeling like a lowly worm. During the week before, I had not been the best husband, father, or friend. I felt that before God could use me again I had to establish a track record of right living. So I vowed to get through the sermon as best I could and try to live better the coming week.    That was not the right approach. In Galatians 3 it’s said that God continually supplies us with His Spirit and works powerfully through us as a free gift—not because we’ve done anything or could do anything to deserve it.   Abraham’s life demonstrates this. At times he failed as a husband. For example, he twice put Sarah’s life in jeopardy by lying to save his own skin (Genesis 12:10–20; 20:1–18). Yet his faith “was credited to him as righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). Abraham put himself in God’s hands despite his frequent failures, and God used him to bring salvation to the world through his lineage.   There’s no justification for behaving badly. Jesus has asked us to follow Him in obedience, and He supplies the means to do so. A hard, unrepentant heart will always hinder His purposes for us, but His ability to use us doesn’t depend on a lengthy pattern of good behavior. It’s based solely on God’s willingness to work through us as we are: saved and growing by grace. You don’t have to work for His grace—it’s free.
Sep
4
2020
After a recent move, Mabel’s seven-year-old son, Ryan, fussed as he prepared to attend a summer camp at his new school. Mabel encouraged him, assuring him that she understood change was hard. But one morning, Ryan’s out-of-character grumpiness seemed excessive. With compassion, Mabel asked, “What’s bothering you, Son?” Staring out of the window, Ryan shrugged. “I don’t know, Mom. I just have too many feelings.” Mabel’s heart ached as she comforted him. Desperate for a way to help him, she shared that the move was hard for her too. She assured Ryan that God would stay close, that He knows everything, even when they couldn’t understand or voice their frustrations. “Let’s set up a visit with your friends before school starts,” she said. They made plans, grateful that God understands even when His children have “too many feelings.” The writer of Psalm 147 experienced overwhelming emotions throughout his faith journey and recognized the benefits of praising the all-knowing Maker and Sustainer of all, the Healer of physical and emotional wounds (vv. 1–6). He praised God for the ways He provides and “delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (v. 11). When we’re struggling to make sense of our ever-changing emotions, we don’t have to feel alone or discouraged. We can rest in the unconditional love and unlimited understanding of our unchanging God.
Sep
3
2020
Brittany exclaimed to her coworker at the restaurant, “There’s that man! There’s that man!” She was referring to Melvin, who first encountered her under different circumstances. While he was tending to the lawn of his church, the Spirit prompted him to start a conversation with the woman who appeared to be a prostitute. Her reply when he invited her to church was: “Do you know what I do? They wouldn’t want me in there.” As Melvin told her about the love of Jesus and assured her of His power to change her life, tears streamed down her face. Now, some weeks later, Brittany was working in a new environment, living proof of the power of Jesus to change lives. In the context of encouraging believers to be devoted to prayer, the apostle Paul made a twofold request: “Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Colossians 4:3–4). Have you prayed for opportunities to speak boldly and clearly for Jesus? What a fitting prayer! Such prayers can lead followers of Jesus, like Melvin, to speak about Him in unexpected places and to unexpected people. Speaking up for Jesus can seem uncomfortable, but the rewards—changed lives—have a way of compensating for our discomforts.
Sep
2
2020
It makes no logical sense, but when my parents died within a three-month period, I feared they would forget me. Of course they were no longer on earth, but that left me with a large uncertainty. I was a young, unmarried adult and wondered how to navigate life without them. Feeling really single and alone, I sought God.   One morning I told Him about my irrational fear and the sadness it brought (even though He knew it already). The Scripture passage that came in my reading for the day was Isaiah 49: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast . . . ? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (v. 15). God reassured His people through Isaiah that He had not forgotten them and later promised to restore them to Himself through sending His Son Jesus. But the words ministered to my heart too. It’s rare for a mother or a father to forget their child, yet it’s possible. But God? No way. “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,” He said.   God’s answer to me could have brought more fear. But the peace He gave because of His own remembrance of me was exactly what I needed. It was the start of discovering that God is even closer than a parent or anyone else, and He knows the way to help us with everything—even our irrational fears.
Sep
1
2020
In the towering dome of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, visitors can climb 259 steps to access The Whispering Gallery. There you can whisper and be heard by another person anywhere along the circular walkway, even across the enormous abyss some thirty meters away. Engineers explain this anomaly as a result of the spherical shape of the dome and the low intensity sound waves of a whisper. How we long to be confident God hears our agonized whispers! The Psalms are filled with testimonies that He hears us—our cries, prayers, and whispers. David writes, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help” (Psalm 18:6). Over and over again, he and other psalmists plead, “Hear my prayers (4:1), my voice (5:3), the groans” (102:20). Sometimes the expression is more of a whispered, “Hear me” (77:1), where the “heart meditated and the spirit asked” (77:6). In answer to these pleas, psalmists—like David in Psalm 18:6—reveal that God is listening, “From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” Since the actual temple was not yet built, might David have been referring to God listening in his heavenly dwelling? From his very own “whispering gallery” in the dome of the heavens above the earth, God bends to our deepest murmurs, even our whispers . . . and listens.
Aug
31
2020
In 2013, seventy-year-old James McConnell, a British Royal Marine veteran, died. McConnell had no family, and staff from his nursing home feared no one would attend his funeral. A man tapped to officiate McConnell’s memorial service, posted a Facebook message: “In this day and age it is tragic enough that anyone has to leave this world with no one to mourn their passing, but this man was family. . . . If you can make it to the graveside . . . to pay your respects to a former brother in arms then please try to be there.” Two-hundred Royal Marines packed the pews! These British compatriots exhibited a biblical truth: we’re tied to one another. “The body is not made up of one part, but of many,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 12:14). We’re not isolated. Just the opposite: we’re bound in Jesus. Scripture reveals organic interconnection: “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with [him]” (v. 26 nasb). As believers in Jesus, members of God’s new family, we move toward one another, into the pain, into the sorrow, into those murky places where we would fear to go alone. But thankfully we do not go alone. Perhaps the worst part of suffering is when we feel we’re drowning in the dark all by ourselves. God, however, creates a new community that suffers together. A new community where no one should be left in the dark.
Aug
30
2020
Had the wireless radio been on, they would have known the Titanic was sinking. Cyril Evans, the radio operator of another ship, had tried to relay a message to Jack Phillips, the radio operator on the Titanic—letting him know they had encountered an ice field. But Phillips was busy relaying passengers’ messages and rudely told Evans to be quiet. So Evans reluctantly turned off his radio and went to be bed. Ten minutes later, the Titanic struck an iceberg. Their distress signals went unanswered because no one was listening. In 1 Samuel we read that the priests of Israel were corrupt and had lost their spiritual sight and hearing as the nation drifted into danger. “The word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1). But God wouldn’t give up on His people. He began to speak to a young boy named Samuel who was being raised in the priest’s household. Samuel’s name means the Lord hears—a memorial to God’s answering his mother’s prayer. Now he would need to learn how to hear God. “Speak, for your servant is listening” (v. 10). It’s the servant who hears. May we also choose to listen to and obey what God has revealed in the Scriptures. Let’s submit our lives to Him and take the posture of humble servants—those who have their “radios” turned on.
Aug
29
2020
Recently I read through a stack of World War II-era letters my dad sent to my mother. He was in North Africa and she was in West Virginia. Dad, a second lieutenant in the US Army, was tasked with censoring soldiers’ letters—keeping sensitive information from enemy eyes. So it was rather humorous to see—on the outside of his letters to his wife—a stamp that said, “Censored by 2nd Lt. John Branon.” Indeed, he had cut out lines from his own letters! Self-censoring is really a good idea for all of us. Several times in Scripture, the writers mention the importance of taking a good long look at ourselves to find what’s not right—not God-honoring. The psalmist, for example, prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart. . . . See if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23–24). Jeremiah put it like this: “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40). And Paul, speaking of our heart condition at the time of communion, said, “Everyone ought to examine themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:28). The Holy Spirit can help us turn from any attitudes or actions that don’t please God. So before we head out into the world today, let’s stop and seek the Spirit’s help in doing some self-checking so we can “return to the Lord” in fellowship with Him.
Aug
28
2020
People love doing “the wave.” At sporting events and concerts around the world, it begins when a few people stand and raise their hands. A moment later, those seated beside them do the same. The goal is to have one sequential flowing movement work its way around an entire stadium. Once it reaches the end, those who started it smile and cheer—and keep the movement going. The first recorded incident of “the wave” occurred at a professional baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees in 1981. I love joining in “the wave” because it’s fun. But it’s also occurred to me that the happiness and togetherness we experience while doing it is reminiscent of the gospel—the good news of salvation in Jesus that unites believers everywhere in praise and hope. This “ultimate wave” started over twenty centuries ago in Jerusalem. Writing to the members of the church in Colossae, Paul described it this way: “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it.” The natural result of this good news is “faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for [us] in heaven” (Colossians 1:5–6).  As believers in Jesus, we’re part of the greatest wave in history. Keep it going! Once it’s done, we’ll see the smile of the One who started it all.
Aug
27
2020
In the open sea, a rescuer positioned her kayak to assist panicked swimmers competing in a triathlon. “Don’t grab the middle of the boat!” she called to swimmers, knowing such a move would capsize her craft. Instead, she directed weary swimmers to the bow, or front, of the kayak. There, they could grab a loop, allowing the safety kayaker to help rescue them. Whenever life or people threaten to pull us under, as believers in Jesus, we know we have a Rescuer. “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep . . . I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered” (Ezekiel 34:11–12). This was the prophet Ezekiel’s assurance to God’s people when they were in exile. Their leaders had neglected and exploited them, plundering their lives and caring “for themselves rather than for my flock” (v. 8). As a result, the people “were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them” (v. 6). But “I will rescue my flock,” declared the Lord (v. 10), and His promise still holds. What do we need to do? Hold fast to almighty God and His promises. “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them,” he says (v. 11). That’s a saving promise worth holding tight.
Aug
26
2020
Which would you choose—a skiing holiday in Switzerland or rescuing children from danger in Prague? Nicholas Winton, just an ordinary man, chose the latter. In 1938, war between Czechoslovakia and Germany seemed on the horizon. After Nicholas visited refugee camps in Prague, where many Jewish citizens lived in horrible conditions, he felt compelled to come up with a plan to help. He raised money to transport hundreds of children safely out of Prague to Great Britain to be cared for by British families before the onset of World War II. His actions exemplified those called for in Psalm 82: “Uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (v. 3). Asaph, the writer of this psalm, wanted to stir his people to champion the cause of those in need: “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (v. 4). Like the children Nicholas worked tirelessly to rescue, the psalmist spoke for those who couldn’t speak for themselves—the poor and the widowed who needed justice and protection. Today, everywhere we look we see people in need due to war, storms, and other hardships of life. Although we can’t solve every problem, we can prayerfully consider what we can do to help in the situations God brings into our lives.
Aug
25
2020
I don’t remember many specifics about my driver’s education class. But for some reason, an acronym we learned, S-I-P-D-E, remains firmly lodged in my memory. The letters stood for Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, and Execute, a process we were taught to practice continually. We were to scan the road, identify hazards, predict what the hazards might do, decide how we’d respond, and then, if necessary, execute that plan. It was a strategy for being intentional to avoid accidents.   I wonder how that idea might translate to our spiritual lives. In Ephesians 5, Paul told Ephesian believers, “Be very careful, then, how you live, not as unwise, but as wise” (v. 15). Paul knew certain hazards could derail the Ephesians—old ways of living at odds with their new life in Christ (vv. 8,10–11). So he instructed the growing church to pay attention. The words translated “be very careful, then, how you live” literally mean “see how you walk.” In other words, look around. Notice hazards, and avoid personal pitfalls like drunkenness and wild living (v. 18). Instead, the apostle said, we can seek to learn God’s will for our lives (v. 17), while, with fellow believers, we sing to and give Him thanks (vv. 19–20). No matter what hazards we face—and even when we stumble—we can experience our new life in Christ as we grow in dependence on His boundless power and grace.
Aug
24
2020
Donelan, a teacher, had always been a reader, but one day it literally paid off. She was planning a trip and reviewing her lengthy travel insurance policy when on page 7 she discovered a wonderful reward. As part of their “It Pays to Read” contest, the company was giving $10,000 to the first person to read that far into the contract. They also donated thousands of dollars to schools in Donelan’s area for children’s literacy. She says, “I’ve always been that nerd who reads contracts. I was the most surprised of anyone!” The psalmist wanted his eyes opened to “see wonderful things” about God (Psalm 119:18). He must have had an understanding that God wants to be known, and so he longed for a deeper closeness to Him. His desire was to see more of who He is, what He had already given, and how to follow Him more closely (vv. 24, 98). He wrote, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (v. 97). We too have the privilege of taking time to ponder God, His character, and His provisions—to learn about and grow closer to Him. God longs to instruct us, guide us, and open our hearts to who He is. When we search for Him, He rewards us with greater wonder at who He is and the enjoyment of His presence!
Aug
23
2020
Tiffani awoke in the pitch-black darkness of an Air Canada jet. Still belted into her seat, she had slept while the other passengers exited and the plane was parked. Why didn’t anyone wake her? How did she get here? She shook the cobwebs from her brain and tried to remember. Have you found yourself in a place you never expected? You’re too young to have this disease, and there’s no cure. Your last review was excellent; why is your position being eliminated? You were enjoying the best years of your marriage. Now you’re starting over, as a single parent with a part-time job. How did I get here? Job asked as “he sat among the ashes” (Job 2:8). He lost his children, his wealth, and his health, in no time flat. He couldn’t have guessed how he got here; he just knew he had to remember. Job remembered his Creator and how good He had been. He told his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (v. 10). Job remembered he could count on this good God to be faithful. So he lamented. He screamed at the heavens. And he mourned in hope, “I know that my redeemer lives,” and that “in my flesh I will see God” (19:25–27). Job remembered how the story began, and how it ends, so he clung to hope.
Aug
22
2020
Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom knew the importance of forgiveness. In her book Tramp for the Lord, she says her favorite mental picture was of forgiven sins thrown into the sea. “When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. . . . I believe God then places a sign out there that says No Fishing Allowed.” She points to an important truth that Christians can sometimes fail to grasp—when God forgives our wrongdoing, we are forgiven fully! We don’t have to keep dredging up our shameful deeds, wallowing in any mucky feelings. Rather we can accept His grace and forgiveness, following Him in freedom. We see this idea of “no fishing allowed” in Psalm 130. The psalmist proclaims that although God is just, He forgives the sin of those who repent: “But with you there is forgiveness” (v. 4). As the psalmist waits for the Lord, putting his trust in Him (v. 5), he states in faith that God “himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (v. 8). Those who believe will find “full redemption” (v. 7). When we’re caught in feelings of shame and unworthiness, we can’t serve God with our whole hearts. Instead, we’re restricted by our past. If you feel stymied by the wrong you’ve done, ask God to help you fully believe in His gift of forgiveness and new life. He has cast your sins into the ocean!
Aug
21
2020
A woman I know planned an event at a local park and invited all the neighborhood children to participate. She was excited about the opportunity to share her faith with her neighbors. She recruited her three grandchildren and two high school students to help her, gave the assignments, planned a number of games and other activities, prepared food, worked on a story about Jesus to present to the children, and waited for them to gather. Not a single child showed up the first day. Or the second day. Or the third day. Yet, each day my friend went through that day’s activities with her grandchildren and helpers. On the fourth day, she noticed a family picnicking nearby and invited the children to join in the games. One little girl came, entered into the fun, ate with them, and listened to the story about Jesus. Perhaps years from now she will remember. Who knows what the outcome will be? God, through the book of Galatians, encourages us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (6:9–10). Don’t worry about numbers or other visible measures of success. Our job is to be faithful to what He wants us to do and then leave the harvest to Him. Outcomes are of the Lord.
Aug
20
2020
When my husband and I were exploring a small, rugged corner of the state of Wyoming, I spied a sunflower in a rocky, dry place where sagebrush, nettles, prickly cactus, and other scraggly plants grew. It wasn’t as tall as the domestic sunflower, but it was just as bright—and I felt cheered. This unexpected bright spot in rough terrain reminded me of how life, even for the Christian, can seem barren and cheerless. Troubles can seem insurmountable; and like the cries of the psalmist David, our prayers sometimes seem to go unheeded: “Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy” (Psalm 86:1). Like him, we too long for joy (v. 4). But David goes on to declare that we serve a faithful, “compassionate and gracious God” who abounds in love for all who call on Him (vv. 5, 11, 15). He does answer (v. 7). Sometimes in bleak places, God sends a sunflower—an encouraging word or note from a friend; a comforting verse or Bible passage; a beautiful sunrise—that helps us to move forward with a lighter step, with hope. Even as we await the day we experience God’s deliverance out of our difficulty, may we join the psalmist in proclaiming, “You are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God”! (v. 10).
Aug
19
2020
During his 1962 visit to Mexico, Bill Ashe helped fix windmill hand pumps at an orphanage. Fifteen years later, inspired by a deep desire to serve God by helping provide clean water to villages in need, he founded a nonprofit organization. He said, “God awoke me to ‘make the most of the time’ by finding others with a desire to bring safe drinking water to the rural poor.” Later, having learned about the global need for safe water through the requests of thousands of pastors and evangelists from over 100 countries, Bill invited others to join the ministry’s efforts. God welcomes us to team up to serve with Him and others in various ways. When the people of Corinth argued over which teachers they preferred, the apostle Paul affirmed his role as a servant of Christ and a teammate of Apollos, fully dependent on God for spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:1-7). He reminds us that all work has God-given value (v. 8). Acknowledging the privilege of working with others while serving the Lord, Paul encourages us to build each other up as God transforms us in love (v. 9).Though our mighty Father doesn’t need our help to accomplish His great works, He equips us and invites us to partner with Him.
Aug
18
2020
Three hundred children were dressed and seated for breakfast, and a prayer of thanks was offered for the food. But there was no food! Situations like this were not unusual for orphanage director and missionary George Mueller (1805–1898). Here was yet another opportunity to see how the Lord would provide. Within minutes of Mueller’s prayer, a baker who couldn’t sleep the night before showed up at the door. Sensing that the orphanage could use the bread, he had made three batches. Not long afterward, the town milkman appeared. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. Not wanting the milk to spoil, he offered it to Mueller. It’s normal to experience bouts of worry, anxiety, and self-pity when we lack resources essential to our well-being—food, shelter, health, finances, friendships. First Kings 17:8–16 reminds us that the Lord’s help can come through unexpected sources like a needy widow. “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug” (v. 12). Earlier it was a raven that provided for Elijah (vv. 4–6). Concerns for our needs to be met can send us searching in many directions. A clear vision of God as the Provider who has promised to supply our needs can be liberating. Before we seek solutions, may we be careful to seek Him first. Doing so can save us time, energy, and frustration.
Aug
17
2020
The city of Texarkana sits squarely on the state border between Texas and Arkansas. The city of 70,000 inhabitants has two mayors, two city councils, and two police and fire departments. The cross-town sporting rivalry between high schools draws an uncommonly high attendance, reflecting the deep allegiance each has to their own state’s school. More significant challenges arise as well, such as disputes over the shared water system, governed by two sets of state laws. Yet the town is known for its unity despite the line that divides it. Residents gather annually for a dinner held on State Line Avenue to share a meal in celebration of their oneness as a community. The believers in Corinth may not have drawn a line down their main thoroughfare, but they were divided. They’d been quarreling as a result of their allegiances to those who taught them about Christ: Paul, Apollo, or Cephas (Peter). Paul called them all to oneness “in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10), reminding them it was Christ who was crucified for them, not their spiritual leaders. We behave similarly today, don’t we? We sometimes oppose even those who share our singularly important belief—Jesus’ sacrifice for our wrongdoings—making them rivals instead of allies. Just as Christ Himself is not divided, we, as His earthly representation—His body—mustn’t allow differences over nonessentials to divide us. Instead, may we celebrate our oneness in Him.
Aug
16
2020
Twenty-four karat gold is 100 percent gold with no impurities. But that percentage is difficult to achieve. Refiners most commonly use one of two methods for the purification process. The Miller method is the quickest and least expensive, but the resulting gold is only about 99.95 percent pure. The Wohlwill process takes a little more time and costs more, but the gold produced is 99.99 percent pure. In Bible times, refiners used fire as a gold purifier. Fire caused impurities to rise to the surface for easier removal. In his first letter to Christians throughout Asia Minor (northern Turkey), the apostle Peter used the gold refining process as a metaphor for the way trials work in the life of a believer. At that time, many believers were being persecuted by the Romans for their faith in Christ. Peter knew what that was like firsthand. But persecution, Peter explained, brings out the “genuineness of [our] faith” (1 Peter 1:7). Perhaps you feel like you’re in a refiner’s fire—feeling the heat of setbacks, illness, or other challenges. But hardship is often the process by which God purifies the gold of our faith. In our pain we might beg God to quickly end the process, but He knows what’s best for us, even when life hurts. Keep connected to the Savior, seeking His comfort and peace.
Aug
15
2020
My grandson ran to the roller coaster line and stood with his back against the height-requirement sign to see if he was big enough to ride. He squealed with joy when his head exceeded the mark. So much of life is about being “big” enough, isn’t it? To move from car seat to seatbelt and from the back seat to the front. To take a driver’s test. To vote. To get married. Like my grandson, we can spend our lives longing to grow up. In New Testament times, children were loved but not highly valued in society until they “became of age” and could contribute to the home and enter the synagogue with adult privileges. Jesus shattered the standards of His day by welcoming the impoverished, the diseased, and even children. Three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell of parents bringing little children to Jesus so that He might lay hands on them and pray for them (Matthew 19:13). The disciples rebuked the adults at what they saw as inconvenience. At this, Jesus was “indignant” (Mark 10:14) and opened His arms to the little ones. He elevated their value in His kingdom and challenged all to become like children themselves—to embrace their vulnerability and need for Him in order to know Him (Luke 18:17). It’s our childlike need that makes us “big” enough to receive His love.  
Aug
14
2020
Nora was tiny, but “Bridget”—the belligerent, six-foot-tall woman glowering down at her—didn’t intimidate her. Bridget couldn’t even say why she had stopped at the crisis pregnancy center; she’d already made up her mind to “get rid of this . . . kid.” So Nora gently asked questions, and Bridget rudely deflected them with profanity-laced tirades. Soon Bridget got up to leave, defiantly declaring her intent to end her pregnancy. Slipping her small frame between Bridget and the door, Nora asked, “Before you go, may I give you a hug, and may I pray for you?” No one had ever hugged her before—not with healthy intentions, anyway. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the tears came. Nora beautifully reflects the heart of our God who loved His people Israel “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). The people had stumbled into the hard consequences of their persistent violation of His guidelines. Yet God told them, “I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again” (vv. 3–4). Bridget’s history is complex. (Many of us can relate.) Until she ran into real love that day, her belief had been that God and His followers would only condemn her. Nora showed her something different: the God who won’t ignore our sin because He loves us beyond imagination. He welcomes us with open arms. We don’t have to keep running.
Aug
13
2020
In the city of Philadelphia, when weedy vacant lots were cleaned up and brightened with beautiful flowers and trees, nearby residents also brightened—in overall mental health. This proved especially true for those who struggled economically. “There’s a growing body of evidence that green space can have an impact on mental health,” said Dr. Eugenia South, “and that’s particularly important for people living in poorer neighborhoods.” South, a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, is coauthor of a study on the subject. The downtrodden people of Israel and Judah found fresh hope in the prophet Isaiah’s vision of their beautiful restoration by God. Amid all the doom and judgment Isaiah foretold, this bright promise takes root: “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:1–2). No matter our situation today, we too can rejoice in the beautiful ways our heavenly Father restores us with fresh hope, including through His creation. When we feel down, reflecting on His glory and splendor will bolster us. “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way,” Isaiah encouraged (v. 3). A few flowers can rekindle our hope? A prophet said yes. So does our hope-giving God.
Aug
12
2020
The security guard found and removed a piece of tape that was keeping a door from clicking shut. Later, when he checked the door, he found it had been taped again. He called the police, who arrived and arrested five burglars. Working at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., the headquarters of a major political party in the US, the young guard had just uncovered the biggest political scandal of his lifetime simply by taking his job seriously—and doing it well. Nehemiah began rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem—a task he took very seriously. Toward the end of the project, neighboring rivals asked him to meet with them in a nearby village. Under the guise of a friendly invitation was an insidious trap (Nehemiah 6:1–2). Yet Nehemiah’s response shows the depth of his conviction: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” (v. 3). Although he certainly possessed some authority, Nehemiah may not have rated very high on the hero scale. He wasn’t a great warrior, not a poet or a prophet, not a king or a sage. He was a cup-bearer-turned-contractor. Yet he believed he was doing something vital for God. May we take seriously what He’s given us to do and do it well in His power and provision.
Aug
11
2020
“We’re going on vacation!” my wife enthusiastically told our three-year-old grandson Austin as we pulled out of the driveway on the first leg of our trip. Little Austin looked at her thoughtfully and responded, “I’m not going on vacation. I’m going on a mission!” We’re not sure where our grandson picked up the concept of going “on a mission,” but his comment gave me something to ponder as we drove to the airport: “As I leave on this vacation and take a break for a few days, am I keeping in mind that I’m still ‘on a mission’ to live each moment with and for God? Am I remembering to serve Him in everything I do?” The apostle Paul encouraged the believers living in Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire, to “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). His point was that the Christian faith is meant to be lived intentionally and with enthusiasm. Even the most mundane moments gain new meaning as we look expectantly to God and live for His purposes. As we settled into our seats on the plane, I prayed, “Lord, I’m yours. Whatever you have for me to do on this trip, please help me not to miss it.” Every day is a mission of eternal significance with Him!
Aug
10
2020
Riptide. Batgirl. Jumpstart. These are a few names given to counselors at Gull Lake Ministries, the summer camp our family attends every year. Created by their peers, the camp nicknames usually derive from an embarrassing incident, a funny habit, or a favorite hobby.  Nicknames are not limited to camp—we even find them used in the Bible. For example, Jesus dubs the apostles James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). It is rare in Scripture for someone to give themselves a nickname, yet it happens when a woman named Naomi asks people to call her “Mara,” which means bitterness (Ruth 1:20), because both her husband and two sons had died. She felt that God had made her life bitter (v. 21).  The new name Naomi gave herself didn’t stick, however, because her devastating losses were not the end of her story. In the midst of her sorrow, God had blessed her with a loving daughter-in-law, Ruth, who eventually remarried and had a son, creating a family for Naomi again.  Although we might sometimes be tempted to give ourselves bitter nicknames, like “failure” or “unloved,” based on difficulties we’ve experienced or mistakes we’ve made, those names are not the end of our stories, either. We can replace those labels with the name God has given each of us, “beloved child” (Romans 9:25–26), and look for the ways He is providing for us in even the most challenging of times.
Aug
9
2020
A news article in May 1970 contained one of the first uses of the idiom “on the bubble.” Referring to a state of uncertainty, the expression was used in relation to rookie race car driver Steve Krisiloff. He’d been “on the bubble,” having posted a slow qualifying lap for the Indianapolis 500. Later, it was confirmed that his time—though the slowest of those who qualified—allowed him to compete in the race. We can feel at times that we’re “on the bubble,” uncertain we have what it takes to compete in or finish the race of life. When we’re feeling that way it’s important to remember that in Jesus we’re never “on the bubble.” As children of God, our place in His kingdom is secure (John 14:3). Our confidence flows from God who chose Jesus to be the “cornerstone” on which our lives are built, and He chose us to be “living stones” filled with the Spirit of God, capable of being the people God created us to be (1 Peter 2:5–6). In Christ, our future is secure as we hope in and follow Him (v. 6). For “[we] are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (v. 9). In Jesus’ eyes we’re not “on the bubble.” We’re “precious” and loved (v. 4).
Aug
8
2020
More than a million young people take part in The International Letter Writing Competition each year. In 2018, the theme of the competition was “Imagine you are a letter traveling through time. What message do you want to convey to your readers?”   In the Bible, we have a collection of letters that — thanks to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit — have made their way through time to us. As the Christian church grew, Jesus’s disciples wrote to churches across Europe and Asia Minor to help the people understand their new life in Christ; many of those letters were collected in the Bible we read today.   What did these letter-writers want to convey to readers? John explains, in his first letter, that he’s writing about “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” — he’s writing about his encounter with the living Christ (1 John 1:1). He writes so that his readers may “have fellowship” with him, and with “the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (v. 3). When we have fellowship together, he writes, our joy will be complete (v. 4). The letters in the Bible draw us into a fellowship that is beyond time — fellowship with the eternal God.
Aug
7
2020
During her ministry to men incarcerated in South Africa’s most violent prison, Joanna Flanders-Thomas witnessed the power of Christ to transform hearts. In Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey describes her experience: “Joanna started visiting prisoners daily, bringing them a simple gospel message of forgiveness and reconciliation. She earned their trust, got them to talk about their abusive childhoods, and showed them a better way of resolving conflicts. The year before her visits began, the prison recorded 279 acts of violence against inmates and guards; the next year there were two.” The apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 nasb). While we may not always see that newness expressed as dramatically as Flanders-Thomas did, the gospel’s power to transform is the greatest hope-providing force in the universe. New creations. What an amazing thought! The death of Jesus launches us on a journey of becoming like Him—a journey that will culminate when we see Him face to face (see 1 John 3:1–3).   As believers in Jesus we celebrate our life as new creations. Yet we must never lose sight of what that cost Christ. His death brings us life. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (v. 21 nasb). 
Aug
6
2020
“Your father is actively dying,” said the hospice nurse. “Actively dying” refers to the final phase of the dying process and was a new term to me, one that felt strangely like traveling down a lonely one-way street. On my dad’s last day, not knowing if he could still hear us, my sister and I sat by his bed. We kissed the top of his beautiful bald head. We whispered God’s promises to him. We sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and quoted the 23rd Psalm. We told him we loved him and thanked him for being our dad. We knew his heart longed to be with Jesus and we told him he could go. Speaking those words was the first painful step in letting go. A few minutes later, our dad was joyously welcomed into his eternal home. The final release of a loved one is painful. Even Jesus’ tears flowed when His good friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). But because of God’s promises, we have hope beyond physical death. Psalm 116:15 says that God’s “faithful servants”—those who belong to Him—are “precious” to Him. Though they die, they’ll be alive again. Jesus promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25–26). What comfort it brings to know we’ll be in God’s presence forever.
Aug
5
2020
In the 1960s, the bustling community of North Lawndale, on Chicago’s West Side, was a pilot community for interracial living. A handful of middle-class African Americans bought homes there on “contract”—that combined the responsibilities of home ownership with the disadvantages of renting. In a contract sale, the buyer accrued no equity, and if he missed a single payment, he would immediately lose his down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself. Unscrupulous sellers sold at inflated prices, then the families were evicted when they missed a payment. Another family would buy on contract, and the cycle fueled by greed just kept going. Samuel appointed his sons judges over Israel, and they were driven by greed. His sons “did not follow in his ways” (1 Samuel 8:3). In contrast to Samuel’s integrity, his sons “turned aside after dishonest gain” and used their position to their own advantage. This unjust behavior displeased the elders of Israel and must have displeased God as well, putting in motion a cycle of kings that fills the pages of the Old Testament (vv. 4–5). To refuse to walk in God’s ways allows room for the perversion of those values, and injustice always flourishes. To walk in God’s ways means honesty and justice are clearly seen not only in words but in deeds as well. Those good deeds are never an end in themselves, but always that others may see and glorify our Father in heaven.
Aug
4
2020
Malcolm appeared confident as a teenager. But this confidence was a mask. In truth, a turbulent home left him fearful, desperate for approval, and feeling falsely responsible for his family’s problems. “For as far back as I remember,” he says, “every morning I would go into the bathroom, look in the mirror, and say out loud to myself, ‘You are stupid, you are ugly, and it’s your fault.’” Malcolm’s self-loathing continued until he was twenty-one, when he had a divine revelation of his Christian identity. “I realized that God loved me unconditionally and nothing would ever change that,” he recalls. “I could never embarrass God, and He would never reject me.” In time, Malcolm looked in the mirror and spoke to himself differently. “You are loved, you are beautiful, you are gifted,” he said, “and it’s not your fault.” Malcolm’s experience illustrates what God’s Spirit does for the believer in Jesus—He frees us from fear by revealing how profoundly loved we are (Romans 8:15, 38–39), and confirms that we are children of God with all the benefits that status brings (8:16–17; 12:6–8). As a result, we can begin seeing ourselves correctly by having our thinking renewed (12:2–3). Years later, Malcolm still whispers those words each day, reinforcing who God says he is. In the Father’s eyes he is loved, beautiful, and gifted. And so are we.
Aug
3
2020
My anger percolated when a woman mistreated, blamed, and gossiped about me. I wanted everyone to know what she’d done—wanted her to suffer as I’d suffered because of her behavior. I steamed with resentment until a headache pierced my temples. But as I began praying for my pain to go away, the Holy Spirit convicted me. How could I plot revenge while begging God for relief? If I believed the Lord would care for me, why wouldn’t I trust Him to handle this situation? Knowing that people who are hurting often hurt other people, I asked God to help me forgive the woman and work toward reconciliation. The psalmist David understood the difficulty of trusting God while enduring unfair treatment. Though David did his best to be a loving servant, King Saul succumbed to jealousy and wanted to murder him (1 Samuel 24:1-2). David suffered while God worked things out and prepared him to take the throne, but still he chose to honor God instead of seeking revenge (vv. 3-7). He did his part to reconcile with Saul and left the results in God’s hands (vv. 8-22) When it feels like people get away with wrongdoing, we struggle with the injustice. But with God’s mercy at work on our hearts and the hearts of others, we can forgive as He’s forgiven us and receive the blessings He’s prepared for us.
Aug
2
2020
For twenty-nine years after World War II ended, Hiroo Onoda hid in the jungle, refusing to believe his country had surrendered. Japanese military leaders had dispatched Onoda to a remote island in the Philippines (Lubang) with orders to spy on the Allied forces. Long after a peace treaty had been signed and hostilities ceased, Onoda remained in the wilderness. In 1974, Onoda’s commanding officer traveled to the island to find him and convince him the war was over. For three decades, Onoda lived a meager, isolated existence, because he refused to surrender—refused to believe the conflict was done. We can make a similar mistake. Paul proclaims the stunning truth that “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3). On the cross, in a powerful, mysterious way, Jesus put to death Satan’s lies, death’s terror, and sin’s tenacious grip. Though we’re “dead to sin” and “alive to God, ”(v. 11) we often live as though evil still holds the power. We yield to temptation, succumbing to sin’s seduction. We listen to lies, failing to trust Jesus. But we don’t have to yield. We don’t have to live in a false narrative. By God’s grace we can embrace the true story of Christ’s victory. While we’ll still wrestle with sin, liberation comes as we recognize that Jesus has already won the battle. May we live out that truth in His power.
Aug
1
2020
The early spring weather was refreshing and my traveling companion, my wife, couldn’t have been better. But the beauty of those moments together could have quickly morphed into tragedy if it weren’t for a red and white warning sign that prompted me I was headed in the wrong direction. Because I hadn’t turned wide enough, I momentarily saw a “Do Not Enter” sign staring me in the face. I quickly adjusted, but shudder to think of the harm I could have done to my wife, myself, and others if I’d ignored the sign that reminded me I was going the wrong way. The closing words of James emphasize the importance of correction. Who among us hasn’t needed to be “brought back” by those who care for us from paths or actions, decisions or desires that could’ve been hurtful? The harm that could have been done to ourselves or others is unthinkable had someone not courageously intervened at the right time. James stresses the value of kind correction with these words, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (v. 20). Correction is an expression of God’s mercy. May our love and concern for the well-being of others compel us to speak and act in ways that the Lord can use to “bring that person back” (v. 19).
Jul
31
2020
At a children’s music recital, I watched a teacher and student seat themselves in front of a piano. Before their duet began, the teacher leaned over and whispered some last-minute instructions. As music flowed from the instrument, I noticed that the student played a simple melody while the teacher’s accompaniment added depth and richness to the song. Near the end of the piece, the teacher nodded his approval. The Christian life is much more like a duet than a solo performance. Sometimes, though, I forget that Jesus is “sitting next to me,” and it’s only by His power and guidance that I can “play” at all. I try to hit all the right notes on my own—to obey God in my own strength, but this usually ends up seeming fake and hollow. I try to handle problems with my limited ability, but the result is often discord with others. My Teacher’s presence makes all the difference. When I rely on Jesus to help me, I find my life is more honoring to God. I serve joyfully, love freely, and I’m amazed as God blesses my relationships. It’s like Jesus told His first disciples, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Each day we play a duet with our good Teacher—it’s His grace and power that carry the melody of our spiritual lives.
Jul
30
2020
I felt nervous about a five-week prayer class I agreed to teach at a local church. Would the students like it? Would they like me? My anxiety was ill-focused, leading me to over-prepare lesson plans, video slides, and class handouts. Yet with a week to go, I still hadn’t encouraged many people to attend.In prayer, however, I was reminded that the class was a service that shined light on God. Because the Holy Spirit would use the class to point people to our heavenly Father, I could set aside my nervousness about public speaking. When Jesus taught His disciples in His Sermon on the Mount, He told them, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:14–15). Reading those words, I finally sent out a class announcement on social media. Almost immediately, people started registering—expressing gratitude and excitement. Seeing their reactions, I reflected more on Jesus’s teaching: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (v. 16).With that perspective, I taught the class with joy. I pray that my simple deed becomes a beacon and encourages others to shine their light for God too.
Jul
29
2020
It wasn’t surprising when Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize. True to form, she received the award “in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” Those were the people she ministered to for most of her life. Jesus modeled how to care for and love the marginalized, regardless of circumstances. Unlike the synagogue leaders who respected the Sabbath law more than the sick (Luke 13:14), when Jesus saw an ill woman at the Temple, He was moved with compassion. He looked beyond the physical impairment and saw God’s beautiful creation in bondage. He called her and pronounced freedom and healing. Then He “put his hands on her and immediately she straightened up and praised God” (v. 13). By touching her, He upset the leader of the synagogue because it was the Sabbath. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5), compassionately chose to heal the woman—a person who had faced discomfort and humiliation for nearly two decades. I wonder how often we see someone as underserving of our compassion. Or maybe we’ve experienced rejection because we didn’t meet somebody else’s standard. May we not be like the religious elite who care more about rules than fellow humans. Instead, let’s follow Jesus’s example and treat others with compassion, love, and dignity.
Jul
28
2020
Tom worked for a law firm that advised Bob’s company. They became friends—until Tom embezzled thousands of dollars from the company. Bob was hurt and angry when he found out, but he received wise counsel from his vice president, a believer in Christ. The VP noticed Tom was deeply ashamed and repentant, and he advised Bob to drop the charges and hire Tom. “Pay him a modest salary so he can make restitution. You’ll never have a more grateful, loyal employee.” Bob did, and Tom was. Mephibosheth, grandson of King Saul, hadn’t done anything wrong, but he was in a tough spot when David became king. Most kings killed the royal bloodline. But David loved King Saul’s son Jonathan, and treated his surviving son as his own (see 2 Samuel 9:1–13). His grace won a friend for life. Mephibosheth marveled that he “deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place” (19:28). He remained loyal to David, even when David’s son Absalom chased David from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16:1–4; 19:24–30). Do you want a loyal friend for life? Someone so extraordinary may require you to do something extraordinary. When common sense says punish, choose grace. Hold them accountable, but give the undeserving a chance to make things right. You may never find a more grateful, devoted friend. Think outside the box, with grace.
Jul
27
2020
When a man known as “Papa John” learned he had terminal cancer, he and his wife, Carol, sensed God calling them to share their illness journey online. Believing that God would minister through their vulnerability, they posted their moments of joy and their sorrow and pain for two years. When Carol wrote that her husband “went into the outstretched arms of Jesus,” hundreds of people responded, with many thanking Carol for their openness. One person remarked that hearing about dying from a Christian point of view was healthy, for “we all have to die” someday. Another said that although she’d never met the couple personally, she couldn’t express how much encouragement she’d received through their witness of trusting God. Although Papa John sometimes felt excruciating pain, he and Carol shared their story so they could demonstrate how God had upheld them. They knew their testimony would bear fruit for God, echoing what Paul wrote to Timothy when he suffered: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). God can use even the death of a loved one to strengthen our faith in Him (and the faith of others) through the grace we receive in Christ Jesus (v. 9). If you’re experiencing anguish and difficulty, know that He can bring comfort and peace.
Jul
26
2020
“Dad, why do you have to go to work?” The question from my young daughter was motivated by her desire to play with me. I would have preferred to skip work and spend time with her, but there was a growing list of things at work that required my attention. The question, nevertheless, is a good one. Why do we work? Is it simply to provide for ourselves and for the people we love? What about labor that’s unpaid—why do we do that? Genesis 2 tells us that God placed the first human in the garden to “work it and take care of it” (v. 15). My father-in-law is a farmer, and he often tells me that he farms for the sheer love of land and livestock. That’s beautiful, but it leaves lingering questions for those who don’t love their work. Why did God put us in a particular place with a particular assignment? Genesis 1 gives us the answer. We’re made in God’s image to carefully steward the world He made. Pagan stories of the way the world began reveal “gods” making humans to be their slaves. Genesis declares that the one true God made humans to be His representatives— to steward what He’d made on His behalf . May we reflect His wise and loving order into the world. Work is a call to cultivate God’s world for His glory.
Jul
25
2020
In 2019, art exhibitions worldwide commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci. While many of his drawings and scientific discoveries were showcased, there are only five finished paintings universally credited to da Vinci, including The Last Supper. This intricate mural depicts the final meal Jesus ate with his disciples, as described in the gospel of John. The painting captures the disciples’ confusion at Jesus’s statement, “One of you is going to betray me” (John 13:21). Perplexed, the disciples discussed who the betrayer might be—while Judas quietly slipped out into the night to alert the authorities of the whereabouts of his teacher and friend. Betrayed. The pain of His friend’s treachery is evident in Jesus’s words, “He who shared my bread has turned against me (v. 18). A friend close enough to share a meal used that connection to harm Jesus. Each of us has likely experienced a friend’s betrayal. How can we respond to such pain? Psalm 41:9, which Jesus quoted to indicate His betrayer was present during the shared meal (John 13:18), offers hope. After David had poured out his anguish at a close friend’s duplicity, he took solace in God’s love and presence that would “uphold me and set me in your presence forever” (Psalm 41:11–12). When friends disappoint, we can find comfort knowing God’s sustaining love and His empowering presence will be with us to help us endure even the most devastating pain.  
Jul
24
2020
God loves to use people the world might overlook. William Carey was raised in a tiny village in the 1700s and had little formal education. He had limited success in his chosen trade and lived in poverty. But God gave him a passion for sharing the good news and called him to be a missionary. Carey learned Greek, Hebrew, and Latin and eventually translated the first New Testament into the Bengali language. Today he is regarded as a “father of modern missions,” but in a letter to his nephew he offered this humble assessment of his abilities: “I can plod. I can persevere.” When God calls us to a task, He also gives us strength to accomplish it regardless of our limitations. In Judges 6:12 the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” The angel then told him to rescue Israel from the Midianites who were raiding their towns and crops. But Gideon, who hadn’t earned the title of “mighty warrior,” humbly responded, “How can I save Israel? . . . I am the least in my family” (v. 15). Still, God used Gideon to set His people free. The key to Gideon’s success was in the words, “the Lord is with you.” As we humbly walk with our Savior and rely on His strength, He will empower us to accomplish what’s only possible through Him.
Jul
23
2020
After my conversation with Grady, it occurred to me why his preferred greeting was a “fist bump” not a handshake. A handshake would’ve exposed the scars on his wrist—the result of his attempts to do himself harm. It’s not uncommon for us to hide our wounds—external or internal—caused by others or self-inflicted. After interacting with Grady, I thought about Jesus’ physical scars, the wounds caused by nails pounded into His hands and feet and a spear thrust into His side. Rather than hiding His scars, Jesus called attention to them. After Thomas initially doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead, Jesus said to him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). When Thomas saw those scars for himself and heard Christ’s amazing words, he was convinced that it was Jesus. He exclaimed in belief, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). Jesus then pronounced a special blessing for those who haven’t seen Him or His physical wounds but still believe in Him: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). The best news ever is that His scars were for our sins—our sins against others or ourselves. The death of Jesus is for the forgiveness of the sins of all who believe in Him and confess with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
Jul
22
2020
“I lay on my bed full of stale liquor and despair,” wrote journalist Malcolm Muggeridge of a particularly dismal evening during his work as a World War II spy. “Alone in the universe, in eternity, with no glimmer of light.” In such a condition, he did the only thing he thought sensible; he tried to drown himself. Driving to the nearby Madagascar coast, he began the long swim into the ocean until he grew exhausted. Looking back, he glimpsed the distant coastal lights. For no reason clear to him at the time, he started swimming back toward the lights. Despite his fatigue, he recalls “an overwhelming joy.” Muggeridge didn’t know exactly how, but he knew God had reached him in that dark moment, infusing him with a hope that could only be supernatural. The apostle Paul wrote often about such hope. In Ephesians he noted that, before knowing Christ, each of us is “dead in [our] transgressions and sins . . . . without hope and without God in the world” (2:1, 12). But “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead” (vv. 4–5). This world tries to drag us into the depths, but there’s no reason to succumb to despair. As Muggeridge said about his swim in the sea, “It became clear to me that there was no darkness, only the possibility of losing sight of a light which shone eternally.”  
Jul
21
2020
Alexa, Amazon’s voice-controlled device, has an interesting feature: it can erase everything you say. Whatever you’ve asked Alexa to do, whatever information you’ve asked Alexa to retrieve, one simple sentence (“Delete everything I said today”) sweeps it all clean, as if it never happened. It’s too bad that the rest of our life doesn’t have this capability. Every misspoken word, every disgraceful act, every moment we wish we could erase—we’d just speak the command, and the entire mess would disappear. There’s good news, though. God does offer each of us a clean start. Only, He goes far deeper than merely deleting our mistakes or bad behavior. God provides redemption, a deep healing that transforms us and makes us new. “Return to me,” He says, “I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22). Even though Israel rebelled and disobeyed, God reached out to them with lavish mercy. He “swept away [their] offenses like a cloud, [their] sins like the morning mist” (v. 22). He gathered all their shame and failures and washed them away with His wide, sweeping grace. God will do the same with our sin and blunders. There’s no mistake He can’t mend, no wound He can’t heal. God’s mercy heals and redeems the most painful places in our soul—even the ones we’ve hidden for so very long. His mercy sweeps away all our guilt, washes away every regret.
Jul
20
2020
The closer someone in a royal family is to the throne, the more the public hears about him or her. Others are almost forgotten. The British royal family has a line of succession that includes nearly sixty people. One of them is Lord Frederick Windsor, who’s forty-ninth in line for the throne. Instead of being in the limelight, he quietly goes about his life. Though he works as a financial analyst, he’s not considered a “working royal”—one of the important family members who are paid for representing the family. David’s son Nathan (2 Samuel 5:14) is another royal who lived outside the limelight. Very little is known about him. But while the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew mentions his son Solomon (tracing Joseph’s line, Matthew 1:1), Luke’s genealogy, which many scholars believe is Mary’s family line, mentions Nathan (Luke 3:31). Though Nathan didn’t hold a scepter, he still had a role in God’s forever kingdom. As believers in Christ, we’re also royalty. The apostle John wrote that God gave us “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Though we may not be in the spotlight, we’re children of the King! God considers each of us important enough to represent Him here on earth and to one day reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:11–13). Like Nathan, we may not wear an earthly crown, but we still have a part to play in God’s kingdom.
Jul
19
2020
Frustrated and disappointed with church, seventeen-year-old Trevor began a years-long quest for answers. But nothing he explored seemed to satisfy his longings or answer his questions. His journey did draw him closer to his parents. Still, he had problems with Christianity. During one discussion, he exclaimed bitterly, “The Bible is full of empty promises.” Another man faced disappointment and hardship that fueled his doubts. But as David fled from enemies who sought to kill him, his response was not to run from God but to praise Him. “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident,” he sang (Psalm 27:3). Yet David’s poem still hints at doubt. His cry, “Be merciful to me and answer me” (v. 7), sounds like a man with fears and questions. “Do not hide your face from me,” David pleaded. “Do not reject me or forsake me” (v. 9). David didn’t let his doubts paralyze him, however. Even in those doubts, he declared, “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (v. 13). Then he addressed his readers: you, me, and the Trevors of this world. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (v. 14). We won’t find fast, simple answers to our huge questions. But we will find—when we wait for Him—a God who can be trusted.
Jul
18
2020
After a young boy faced some challenges in school, his dad began to teach him a pledge to recite each morning before school: “I thank God for waking me up today. I am going to school so I can learn . . . and be the leader that God has created me to be.” The pledge is one way the father hopes to help his son apply himself and deal with life’s inevitable challenges. In a way, by helping his son to commit this pledge to memory, the father is doing something similar to what God commanded the Israelites in the desert: “These commandments . . . are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the next generation of Israelites was about to enter the Promised Land. God knew it would not be easy for them to succeed—unless they kept their focus on Him. And so, through Moses, He urged them to remember and be obedient to Him—and to help their children to know and love God by talking about His Word “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (v. 7). Each new day, we too can commit to allowing God’s Word to guide our hearts and minds as we live in gratitude to Him.
Jul
17
2020
I can never recapture the splendor that was our daughter Melissa. Fading from my memory are those wonderful times when we watched her joyfully playing high school volleyball. And it’s sometimes hard to remember the shy smile of contentment that crossed her face when we were doing family activities. Her death at age seventeen dropped a curtain on the joy of her presence. In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah’s words show he understood that the heart can be punctured. “My splendor is gone,” he said, “and all that I had hoped from the Lord” (3:18). His situation was far different from yours and mine. He had preached God’s judgment, and he saw Jerusalem defeated. The splendor was gone because he felt defeated (v. 12), isolated (v. 14), and abandoned by God (vv. 15–20). But that’s not the end of his story. Light shined through. Jeremiah, burdened and broken, stammered out “I have hope” (v. 21)—hope that comes from realizing that “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed” (v. 22). And here is just what we need to remember when the splendor is gone: God’s “compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (vv. 22–23). Even in our darkest days, God’s great faithfulness shines through.
Jul
16
2020
A severe thunderstorm passed through our town, leaving high humidity and dark skies in its wake. I took our dog, Callie, for an evening stroll. The mounting challenges of our cross-country move grew heavier on my mind. Frustrated by the countless ways things had strayed so far from our high hopes and expectations, I slowed to let Callie sniff the grass. I listened to the creek that runs beside our house. Tiny lights flashed on and off while hovering over the patches of wildflowers climbing up the creek’s bank. Fireflies. The Lord wrapped me in peace as I watched the blinking lights cutting through the darkness. I thought of the psalmist David singing, “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning” (Psalm 18:28). Proclaiming that God turns his darkness into light, David demonstrated confident faith in the Lord’s provision and protection (vv. 29–30). With God’s strength, he could handle anything that came his way (vv. 32–35). Trusting the living Lord to be with him through all circumstances, David promised to praise Him among the nations and sing the praises of His name (vv. 36–49). Whether we’re enduring the unpredictable storms in life or enjoying the stillness after the rains have passed, the peace of God’s constant presence lights our way through the darkness. Our living God will always be our strength, our refuge, our sustainer, and our deliverer.
Jul
15
2020
At the sound of the digital melody, all six of us sprang into action. Some slipped shoes on, others simply bolted for the door barefoot. Within seconds we were all sprinting down the driveway chasing the ice cream truck. It was the first warm day of summer, and there was no better way to celebrate than with a cold, sweet treat! There are things we do simply because of the joy it brings us, not out of discipline or obligation. In the pair of parables found in Matthew 13:44–46, the emphasis is selling everything to gain something else. We might think the stories are about sacrifice. But that’s not the point. In fact, the first story declares it was “joy” that led the man to sell everything and buy the field. Joy drives change—not guilt or duty. Jesus isn’t one segment of our lives; His claims on us are total. Both men in the stories “sold all” (v. 46). But here’s the best part: the result of this selling of everything is actually gain. We may not have guessed that. Isn’t the Christian life about taking up your cross? Yes. It is. But when we die, we live; when we lose our lives, we find it. When we “sell all,” we gain the greatest treasure: Jesus! Joy is the reason; surrender is the response. The treasure of knowing Jesus is the reward.
Jul
14
2020
Su Dongpo (also known as Su Shi), was one of China’s greatest poets and essayists. While in exile and gazing upon a full moon, he wrote a poem to describe how much he missed his brother. “We rejoice and grieve, gather and leave, while the moon waxes and wanes. Since times of old, nothing remains perfect,” he writes. “May our loved ones live long, beholding this beautiful scene together though thousands of miles apart.” His poem carries themes found in the book of Ecclesiastes (1:1). The author, known as the Teacher, observed that there’s “a time to weep and a time to laugh . . . a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” (3:4–5). By pairing two contrasting activities, the Teacher, like Su Dongpo, seems to suggest that all good things must inevitably come to an end.  As Su Dongpo saw the waxing and waning of the moon as another sign that nothing remains perfect, the Teacher also saw in creation God’s providential ordering of the world He’d made. God oversees the course of events, and “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 11). Life may be unpredictable and sometimes filled with painful separations, but we can take heart that everything takes place under God’s gaze. We can enjoy life and treasure the moments—the good and the bad—for our loving God is with us.    
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