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Date Show Title
Mar
3
2024
As a blizzard bore down on my state in the western USA, my widowed mother agreed to stay with my family to “ride out” the storm. After the blizzard, however, she never returned to her house. She moved in, dwelling with us for the rest of her life. Her presence changed our household in many positive ways. She was available daily to provide wisdom, advice to family members, and share ancestral stories. She and my husband became the best of friends, sharing a similar sense of humor and love of sports. No longer a visitor, she was a permanent and vital resident—forever changing our hearts even after God called her home. The experience recalls John’s description of Jesus—that He “dwelt among us” (John 1:14 kjv). It’s a compelling description because in the original Greek the word dwelt means “to pitch a tent.” Another translation says, He “made His home among us” (nlt). By faith, we also receive Jesus as the one who dwells in our hearts. As Paul wrote, “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Ephesians 3:16–17 nlt). Not a casual visitor, Jesus is an empowering permanent resident of all who follow Him. May we open wide the doors of our hearts and welcome Him.
Mar
2
2024
As long as you keep your mouth closed, I told myself, you won’t be doing anything wrong. I’d been outwardly holding back my anger toward a colleague after misinterpreting things she’d said. Since we had to see each other every day, I decided to limit communication to only what was necessary (and retaliate with my silent treatment). How could a quiet demeanor be wrong? Jesus, however, said that sin begins in the heart (Matthew 15:18−20). My silence may have fooled people into thinking all was well, but it wasn’t fooling God. He knew I was hiding a heart filled with anger. I was like the Pharisees─“who gave honor with their lips, but their hearts [were] far from [God]” (v. 8). Even though my outward appearance didn’t show my true feelings, the bitterness was festering inside me. The joy and closeness I’d always felt with my heavenly Father were gone. Nurturing and hiding sin does that. By God’s grace, I told my colleague how I was feeling and apologized. She graciously forgave me and, eventually, we became good friends. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts” (v. 19). Jesus says that the state of our heart matters because evil residing there can overflow into our lives. Both our exterior and interior matter.
Mar
1
2024
One wouldn’t normally think of butterflies as being loud creatures: after all, the flapping of a single Monarch butterfly’s wings is practically inaudible. But in the Mexican rainforest, where many of them begin their short lives, their collective flapping is surprisingly loud. When millions of Monarchs flap their wings at the same time, it sounds like a rushing waterfall. The same description is made when four very different winged creatures appear in Ezekiel’s vision. Though fewer than the number of butterflies, he likens the sound of their flapping wings to “the roar of rushing waters” (Ezekiel 1:24). When the creatures stood still and lowered their wings, Ezekiel heard the voice of God calling him to “speak [God’s] words to [the Israelites]” (2:7). Ezekiel, like the other Old Testament prophets, was charged with the task of speaking truth to God’s people. Today, God asks us all to share the truth of His good work in our lives with those He puts around us (1 Peter 3:15). Sometimes we’ll be asked a direct question—an invitation to share that is as “loud” as a waterfall. Other times, the invitation might be more of a whisper, such as seeing an unspoken need. Whether the invitation to share God’s love is as loud as a million butterflies or as quiet as just one, we must listen, as Ezekiel did, with ears tuned to hear what God wants us to say.
Feb
29
2024
“Am I an owner or a steward?” The CEO of a multibillion-dollar company asked himself that question as he weighed what was best for his family. Concerned about the temptations that can come with vast wealth, he didn’t want to burden his heirs with that challenge. So he gave up his personal stake in the company. Recognizing that everything he owns belongs to God helped him make his decision to allow his family to earn a living in exchange for work while also using future profits to fund Christian ministry. In Psalm 50:10, God tells His people, “Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” As the Creator of all things, God owes us nothing and needs nothing from us. “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens,” He says (v. 9). He generously provides everything that we have and use as well as the strength and the ability to earn a living. Because He does, as the psalm shows us, He is worthy of our heartfelt worship. God owns everything. But because of His goodness, He even chose to give Himself, entering into a relationship with any who turn to Him. Jesus “did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). When we value the Giver over the gifts and serve Him with them, we are blessed to delight in Him forever.
Feb
28
2024
The topic was Leviticus, and I had a confession to make. “I skipped a lot of the reading,” I told my Bible study group. “I’m not reading about skin diseases again.” That’s when my friend Dave spoke up. “I know a guy who believed in Jesus because of that passage,” he said. Dave explained that his friend—a doctor—had been an atheist. He decided that before he completely rejected the Bible, he’d better read it for himself. The section on skin diseases in Leviticus fascinated him. It contained surprising details about contagious and noncontagious sores (13:3–44) and how to treat them (14:8–9). He knew this far surpassed the medical knowledge of that day—yet there it was in Leviticus. There’s no way Moses could have known all this, he thought. The doctor began to consider that Moses really did receive his information from God. Eventually he put his faith in Jesus.   If parts of the Bible bore you, well, I’m with you. But everything it says is there for a reason. Leviticus was written so the Israelites would know how to live for Him. As we learn more about this relationship between God and His people, we learn about God Himself. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, wrote the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 3:16). Let’s read on. Even Leviticus.
Feb
27
2024
“Where is my faith?—even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness. . . . If there be God, please forgive me.” The author of those words might surprise you: Mother Teresa. Beloved and renowned as a tireless servant of the poor in Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa quietly waged a desperate war for her faith over five decades. After her 1997 death, that struggle came to light when portions of her journal were published in the book Come Be My Light. What do we do with our doubts or feelings of God’s absence? Those moments may plague some believers more than others. But many faithful believers in Jesus may, at some point in their lives, experience moments or seasons of such doubts. I’m thankful that Scripture has given us a beautiful, paradoxical prayer that expresses both faith and the lack thereof. In Mark 9, Jesus encounters a father whose son has been demonically tormented since childhood (v. 21). When Jesus says that the man must have faith (“Everything is possible for one who believes” v. 23), the man responds, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24). This honest, heartfelt plea invites those of us who struggle with doubt to give it to God, trusting that He can fortify our faith and hold on to us firmly amid the deepest, darkest valleys we will ever traverse.  
Feb
26
2024
For days, the sickly cat cried, huddled in a box near my workplace. Abandoned on the street, the feline went unnoticed by many who passed it by—until Jun came along. The street sweeper carried the animal home, where he lived with two dogs, which were former strays. “I care for them because they’re the creatures no one notices,” Jun said. “I see myself in them. No one notices a street sweeper, after all.” As Jesus walked toward Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, a blind man sat begging by the roadside. He felt unnoticed too. And on this day especially, when a crowd was passing through and all eyes were focused on Jesus—no one stopped to help the beggar. No one except Jesus. In the midst of the clamoring crowd, He heard the forgotten man’s cry. “What do you want me to do for you?” Christ asked, and He received the heartfelt reply, “Lord, I want to see.” Then Jesus said, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you” (Luke 18:41–42). Do we feel unnoticed at times? Are our cries drowned out by people who seem to matter more than us? Our Savior notices those the world doesn’t care to notice. Call to Him for help! While others may pass us by, He’ll stop for us.  
Feb
25
2024
Bad memories and accusing messages flooded Sal’s mind. Sleep eluded him as fear filled his heart and sweat covered his skin. It was the night before his baptism, and he couldn’t stop the onslaught of dark thoughts. Sal had received salvation in Jesus and knew that his sins had been forgiven, but the spiritual battle continued. It’s then that his wife took his hand and prayed for him. Moments later, peace replaced the fear in Sal’s heart. He got up and wrote the words he would share prior to being baptized—something he hadn’t been able to do. After that, he experienced sweet sleep. King David also knew what a restless night felt like. Fleeing from his son Absalom who wanted to steal his throne (2 Samuel 15:1–17:29), he knew that “tens of thousands [assailed him] on every side” (Psalm 3:6). David moaned, “How many are my foes!” (v. 1). Though fear and doubt could have won out, he called out to God, his “shield” (v. 3). Later, he found that he could “lie down and sleep . . . because the Lord sustains [him]” (v. 5). When fears and struggles grip our mind and rest is replaced by restlessness, hope is found as we pray to God. While we might not experience immediate sweet sleep as Sal and David did, in “peace [we can] lie down and . . . dwell in safety” (4:8). For God is with us and He’ll be our rest.
Feb
24
2024
Discover magazine suggests that there are around 700 quintillion (7 followed by 20 zeros) planets in the universe, but only one like Earth. Astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson said that one of the requirements for a planet to sustain life is to orbit in the “Goldilocks” zone, where the temperature is just right and water can exist. Out of 700 quintillion planets, Earth seems to be one planet where conditions are just right. Zackrisson concluded that Earth somehow had been dealt a “fairly lucky hand.” Paul assured the Colossian believers that the universe existed, not because of Lady Luck, but because of the work of Jesus. The apostle presents Christ as the Creator of the world (Colossians 1:16). “For in him all things were created.” Not only was Jesus the powerful creator of the world, but Paul says that “in him all things hold together” (v. 17)—a world that’s not too hot and not too cold, but one that’s just right for human existence. What Jesus created, He’s sustaining with His perfect wisdom and unceasing power. As we participate and enjoy the beauty of creation, let’s choose not to point to the random activity of Lady Luck, but to the purposeful, sovereign, powerful and loving One who possesses “all [God’s] fullness” (v. 19).
Feb
23
2024
After another health setback, I feared the unknown and uncontrollable. One day, while reading a Forbes magazine article, I learned that scientists studied the rising of the “Earth’s rotation velocity” and declared that the Earth “wobbled” and is “spinning faster.” They said we “could require the first-ever ‘drop second’—the official removal of a second from global time.” Though a second doesn’t seem like much of a loss, knowing that the earth’s rotation could change seemed like a big deal to me. Even slight instability can make my faith feel wobbly. However, knowing God helps me trust that He’s in control no matter how scary our unknowns or how shaky our circumstances may seem. In Psalm 90, Moses said, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (vv. 1–2). Acknowledging God’s unlimited power, control, and authority over all creation, Moses declared that time cannot constrain God (vv. 3–6). As we seek to know more about God and the wonderful world He made, we’ll discover how He continues perfectly managing time and all He created. God can be trusted with every unknown and newly discovered thing in our lives too. All creation remains secure in God’s loving hands. How does knowing God is in control of time and all creation help you trust Him when facing the unknown? How can you honor God with the time He’s entrusted to you today?
Feb
22
2024
In Everything Sad Is Untrue, Daniel Nayeri describes his harrowing flight with his mother and sister from persecution through a refugee camp to safety in the United States. An elderly couple agreed to sponsor them, though they didn’t know them. Years later, Daniel still can’t get over it. He writes, “Can you believe that? Totally blind, they did that. They’d never even met us. And if we turned out to be villains, they’d have to pay for it. That’s almost as brave, kind, and reckless as I can think of anybody being.” Yet God desires us to have that level of concern for others. He told Israel to be kind to foreigners. “Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). He reminds gentile believers in Jesus—that’s many of us—that once we “were separate from Christ . . . and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). So He commands all of us former foreigners, both Jew and gentile, “to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2). Now grown-up with a family of his own, Daniel praises Jim and Jean Dawson, “who were so Christian that they let a family of refugees come live with them until they could find a home.” God welcomes the stranger and urges us to welcome them too.
Feb
21
2024
What would it be like to walk in the shoes of royalty? Angela Kelly, the daughter of a dockworker and nurse, knows. She was also the official dresser for the late Queen Elizabeth for the last two decades of the monarch’s life. One of her responsibilities was to break in the aging queen’s new shoes by walking in them around the palace grounds. There was a reason for it: compassion for an elderly woman who sometimes was required to stand for extended periods at ceremonies. Because they wore the same shoe size, Kelly was able to save her some discomfort. Kelly’s personal touch in her care for Queen Elizabeth makes me think of Paul’s warm encouragement to the church in Colossae (an area in modern Turkey): “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). When our lives are “built on” Jesus (2:7 nlt), we become “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (3:12). He helps us take off our “old self” and “put on the new self”—living out the identity of those who love and forgive others because God has loved and forgiven us (vv. 9–10). All around us are those who need us to “walk in their shoes” and have compassion for them in the day-to-day challenges of life. When we do, we walk in the shoes (or the sandals) of a king—Jesus—who always has compassion for us.
Feb
20
2024
At my new school near a large city, the guidance counselor took one look at me and placed me in the lowest performing English composition class. I’d arrived from my inner-city school with outstanding test scores, excellent grades, and even a principal’s award for my writing. The door to the “best” writing class in my new school was closed to me, however, when the counselor decided I wasn’t right or ready. The church in ancient Philadelphia would’ve understood such arbitrary setbacks. A small and humble church, its city had suffered earthquakes in recent years that left lasting damage. Additionally, they faced satanic opposition (Revelation 3:9). Such a disregarded church had “little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (v. 8). Therefore, God placed before them “an open door that no one can shut” (v. 8). Indeed, “what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open” (v. 7). That’s true for our ministry efforts. Some doors don’t open. With my writing for God, however, He has indeed opened doors, allowing it to reach a global audience, regardless of one counselor’s closed attitudes. Closed doors won’t hinder you either. “I am the Door,” Jesus said (John 10:9 kjv). Let’s enter the doors He opens and follow Him.
Feb
19
2024
The United Kingdom brims with history. Everywhere you go, you see plaques honoring historic figures or commemorating sites where important events occurred. But one such sign exemplifies the droll British sense of humor. On a weathered plaque outside a bed and breakfast in Sandwich, England, a message reads, “On this site, Sept. 5, 1782 nothing happened.”   Sometimes it seems to us that nothing is happening regarding our prayers. We pray and pray, bringing our petitions to our Father with expectation that He will respond—right now. The psalmist David expressed such frustration when he prayed, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). We can easily echo those same thoughts: How long, Lord, before you respond?   However, our God is not only perfect in His wisdom but also in His timing. David was able to say, “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5). Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds us, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” The word beautiful means “appropriate” or “a source of delight.” God may not always respond to our prayers when we’d like Him to, but He is always working out His wise purposes. We can take heart that when He does answer, it will be right and good and beautiful.
Feb
18
2024
A co-worker once told me that her prayer life had improved because of our manager. I was impressed, thinking that our difficult leader had shared some spiritual nuggets with her and influenced her prayer life. I was wrong—sort of. My co-worker and friend went on to explain: “Every time I see him coming, I start praying.” Her prayer life had improved because she prayed more before each conversation with him. She knew she needed God’s help in her challenging work relationship with her manager and she called out to Him more because of it. My co-worker’s practice of praying during tough times and interactions is something I’ve adopted. It’s also a biblical practice found in 1 Thessalonians when Paul reminds the believers in Jesus to “pray continually . . . give thanks in all circumstances” (5:17–18). No matter what we face, prayer is always the best practice. It keeps us connected with God and invites His Spirit to direct us (Galatians 5:16) rather than having us rely on our human inclinations. This helps us “live in peace with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:13) even when we face conflicts. As God helps us, we can rejoice in Him, pray about everything, and give thanks often. And those things will help us live in even greater harmony with our brothers and sisters in Jesus.
Feb
17
2024
Soren Solkaer spent years photographing starlings and their breathtaking spectacle: murmurations, where hundreds of thousands of starlings move in fluid motion across the sky. Watching this marvel is like sitting underneath an orchestrated, swirling wave or a massive, dark brushstroke flowing into a kaleidoscope of patterns. In Denmark, they call this starling experience Black Sun (also the title of Solkaer’s stunning book of photographs). Most remarkable is how starlings instinctively follow their nearest companion, flying so close that if one were to miss a beat, they’d suffer mass calamity. However, starlings use murmurations to protect one another. When a hawk descends, these tiny creatures enter tight formation and move collectively, beating back a predator who’d easily pick them off if they were alone. We’re better together than we are alone. “Two are better than one,” Ecclesiastes says. “If either . . . falls down, one can help the other up. [And] if two lie down together, they will keep warm” (4:9–11). Alone, we’re isolated and easy prey. We’re exposed without others’ comfort or protection. But with companions, we give and receive help. “Though one may be overpowered,” Ecclesiastes says, “two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (v.12). We’re better together as God leads us.
Feb
16
2024
As a child, I viewed grown-ups as wise and incapable of failure. “They always know what to do,” I’d think. “One day, when I’m grown-up, I’ll always know what to do too.” Well, “one day” came many years ago, and all it has taught me is that, many times, I still don’t know what to do. Whether it’s illness in the family, problems at work, or conflict in a relationship, such times have wrested all delusions of personal control and strength, simply leaving me one option─to close my eyes and whisper, “Lord, help. I don’t know what to do.” The apostle Paul understood this feeling of helplessness. The “thorn” in his life, which may have been a physical ailment, caused him much frustration and pain. It was through this thorn, however, that Paul experienced God’s love, promises and blessings as sufficient for him to endure and overcome his difficulties (2 Corinthians 12:9). He learned that personal weakness and helplessness don’t mean defeat. When surrendered to God in trust, they become tools for Him to work in and through these circumstances. (vv. 9−10). Our being grown-up doesn’t mean we’re all-knowing. Surely, we grow wiser with age, but ultimately our weaknesses often reveal how truly powerless we are. Our true power is in Christ. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). Truly “growing up” means knowing, trusting and obeying the power that comes when we realize we need God’s help.
Feb
15
2024
He was loved by all—those were the words used to describe Don Guiseppe of Casnigo, Italy. Don was a beloved man who rode around town on an old motorbike and always led with the greeting: “peace and good.” He worked tirelessly on behalf of the good of others. But in the last years of his life, he had health problems, and in response his community purchased a respirator for him. But when his condition grew grave, he refused the breathing apparatus, choosing instead to make it available for younger patients who needed it. Hearing of his refusal surprised no one, for it was simply in his character for a man who was loved and admired for loving others. Loved for loving, this is the message the apostle John keeps sounding throughout his gospel. They’re like a chapel bell that tolls night and day, regardless of weather. And in John 15, they reach somewhat of a zenith, for John lays bare that it’s not being loved by all, but loving all that’s the greatest love: “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (v. 13). Human examples of sacrificial love always inspire us. Yet they pale in comparison to God’s great love. But don’t miss the challenge that brings, for Jesus commands: “Love each other as I have loved you.” (v. 12). Yes, love all.
Feb
14
2024
Like many teachers, Carrie devotes countless hours to her career, often grading papers and communicating with students and parents late into the evening. To sustain the effort, she relies on her community of colleagues for camaraderie and practical help; her challenging job is made easier through collaboration. A recent study of educators found that the benefit of collaboration is magnified when those we work with demonstrate humility. When colleagues are willing to admit their weaknesses, others feel safe to share their knowledge with one another, effectively helping everyone in the group. The Bible teaches the importance of humility—for much more than enhanced collaboration. “Fear[ing] the Lord”—having a right understanding of who we are in comparison to the beauty, power, and majesty of God—results in “riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). Humility leads us to living in community in a way that’s fruitful in God’s economy not just the world’s because we seek to benefit our fellow image-bearers. We don’t fear God as a way to gain “riches and honor and life” for ourselves—that wouldn’t be true humility at all. Instead, we imitate Jesus, who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) so we can become part of a body that humbly cooperates together to do His work, give Him honor, and take a message of life to the world around us.
Feb
13
2024
Jim and Laneeda were college sweethearts. They got married and life was happy for many years. Then Laneeda began to act strangely, getting lost and forgetting appointments. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at forty-seven. After a decade of serving as her primary caregiver, Jim was able to say, “Alzheimer’s has given me the opportunity to love and serve my wife in ways that were unimaginable when she said, ‘I do.’ ” While explaining the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote extensively on the virtue of love (1 Corinthians 13). He contrasted rote acts of service with those overflowing from a loving heart. Powerful speaking is good, Paul wrote, but without love it is like a meaningless noise (v. 1). “If I . . . give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (v. 3). Paul ultimately said, “the greatest [gift] is love” (v. 13). Jim’s understanding of love and service deepened as he cared for his wife. Only a deep and abiding love could give him the strength to support her every day. Ultimately, the only place we see this sacrificial love modeled perfectly is in God’s love for us, which caused Him to send Jesus to die for our sins (John 3:16). That act of sacrifice, motivated by love, has changed our world forever.
Feb
12
2024
The color red doesn’t always naturally occur in the things we make. How do you put the vibrant color of an apple into a T-shirt or lipstick? In early times, the red pigment was made from clay or red rocks. In the 1400s, the Aztecs invented a way of using cochineal insects to make red dye. Today, those same tiny insects supply the world with red. In the Bible, red denotes royalty, and it also signifies sin and shame. Further, it’s the color of blood. When soldiers “stripped [Jesus] and put a scarlet robe on him” (Matthew 27:28), these three symbolisms merged into one heart-breaking image of red: Jesus was ridiculed as would-be royalty, He was cloaked in shame, and He was robed in the color of the blood He would soon shed. But Isaiah’s words foretell the promise of this crimsoned Jesus to deliver us from the red that stains us: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:18). One other thing about those cochineal insects used for red dye—they are actually milky white on the outside. Only when they are crushed do they release their red blood. That little fact echoes for us other words from Isaiah: “[Jesus] was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Perhaps this is a good time to ponder the place of Jesus in your life. He who knew no sin is here to save us who are red with sin. You see, in His crushing death, Jesus endured a whole lot of red so you could be white as snow.
Feb
11
2024
With the American Civil War spawning many bitter feelings, Abraham Lincoln saw fit to speak a kind word about the South. A shocked bystander asked how he could do so. He replied, “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Reflecting on those words a century later, Martin Luther King, Jr., commented, “This is the power of redemptive love.” In calling disciples of Christ to love their enemies, King looked to the teachings of Jesus. He noted that although believers might struggle to love those who persecute them, this love grows out of “a consistent and total surrender to God.” When we love in this way, King continued, we’ll know God and experience the beauty of His holiness. King referenced Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45). Jesus counseled against the conventional wisdom of the day of loving only one’s neighbors and hating one’s enemies. Instead, God the Father gives His children the strength to love those who oppose them. It might feel impossible to love our enemies, but as we look to God for help, He’ll answer our prayers. He provides the courage to embrace this radical practice of His kingdom, for as Jesus said, “with God all things are possible” (19:26).
Feb
10
2024
Although she finished first in her qualifying race, US speedskater Brittany Bowe gave up her chance to compete in the 500-meter event at the 2022 Winter Olympics to teammate Erin Jackson. Jackson had an unfortunate slip in the race that left her just one place away from making the team. What motivated Bowe to relinquish the spot she’d earned? Friendship. Having trained together for years, Bowe believed Jackson deserved a spot on the team. Bowe was right. Jackson become the first US Black woman to win a Winter Olympic gold medal in an individual event. In the deep friendship between Jonathan and David in the Old Testament, there was also sacrifice. Jonathan was King Saul’s oldest son and heir to Israel’s throne. When God rejected Saul and choose David to be king (1 Samuel 16:1–12), Jonathan could have continued to claim a right for the throne. Instead, he sacrificed his own personal interests for David. Jonathan even devised a plan to protect David by sending him away when David’s life was threatened (20:18–23). As they parted, Jonathan encouraged David saying, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord” (20:42). Jonathan and David’s friendship was characterized by love even at great personal cost. It’s a beautiful reminder that God is powerfully at work when we love our friends more than ourselves (John 16:12–13).
Feb
9
2024
When Kristin wanted to buy a special book for Xio-Hu, her Chinese husband, the only one she could find in Chinese was a Bible. Although neither of them were believers in Christ, she hoped he would appreciate the gift anyway. At first sight of the Bible, he was angry, but eventually he picked it up. As he read, he became persuaded by the truth in its pages. Upset at this unforeseen development, Kristin started to read the Scriptures in order to refute Xio-Hu. To her surprise, she also came to faith in Jesus through being convinced by what she read. The apostle Paul knew the transforming nature of Scripture. Writing from prison in Rome, he urged Timothy, whom he mentored, to “continue in what you have learned . . . and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:14–15). In the original language, the Greek for “continuing” has the sense of “abiding” in what the Bible reveals. Knowing that Timothy would face opposition and persecution, Paul wanted him to be equipped for the challenges; he believed his protégé would find strength and wisdom in the Bible as he spent time pondering its truth. God through His Spirit brings Scripture alive. As we dwell in it, He changes us to be more like Him. Even as He did with Xio-Hu and Kristin.
Feb
8
2024
As a new believer in Jesus at the age of thirty, I had lots of questions after committing my life to Him. When I started reading the Scriptures, I had even more questions. I reached out to a friend. “How can I possibly obey all God’s commands? I just snapped at my husband this morning!” “Just keep reading your Bible,” she said, “and ask the Holy Spirit to help you love like Jesus loves you.” After more than twenty years of living as a child of God, that simple but profound truth still helps me embrace the three steps in His great love cycle: First, the apostle Paul affirmed that love is central in the life of a believer in Jesus. Second, by continuing to pay the “debt to love one another,” followers of Christ will walk in obedience, “for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Finally, we fulfill the law because “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (v. 10). When we experience the depth of God’s love for us, demonstrated best through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we can respond with gratitude. Our grateful devotion to Jesus leads to loving others with our words, actions, and attitudes. Genuine love flows from the one true God who is love (1 John 4:19). Loving God, help us get caught up in Your great love cycle!
Feb
7
2024
Pride precedes and often leads to humiliation—something a man in Norway found out. Not even dressed in running clothes, the individual arrogantly challenged Karsten Warholm—the world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles—to a race. Warholm, training in an indoor public facility, obliged the challenger and left him in his dust. At the finish line, the two-time world champion smiled when the man insisted that he’d had a bad start and wanted to race again! In Proverbs 29:23 we read, “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.” God’s dealings with the proud is one of Solomon’s favorite themes in the book (11:2; 16:18; 18:12). The word pride in these verses means “swelling” or “puffed up”—taking credit for what rightfully belongs to God. When we’re filled with pride, we think more highly of ourselves than we should. Jesus once said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Both He and Solomon point us to pursue humility and lowliness. This isn’t false modesty, but right-sizing oneself and acknowledging that all that we have comes from God. It’s being wise and not saying things arrogantly “in haste” (Proverbs 29:18, 20).    Let’s ask God to give us the heart and wisdom to humble ourselves to honor Him and avoid humiliation.
Feb
6
2024
When Wallace and Mary Brown moved to an impoverished part of Birmingham, England, to pastor a dying church, they didn’t know that a gang had made the grounds of their church and home its headquarters. The Browns had bricks thrown through their windows, their fences set on fire, and their children threatened. The abuse continued for months; the police were unable to stop it. The book of Nehemiah recounts how the Israelites rebuilt Jerusalem’s broken walls. When locals set out to “stir up trouble,” threatening them with violence (Nehemiah 4:2–8), the Israelites “prayed to . . . God and posted a guard” (v. 9). Feeling God used this passage to direct them, the Browns, their children, and a few others walked round their church’s walls, praying that He would install angels as guards to protect them. The gang jeered, but the next day, only half of them showed up. The day after that, only five were there, and the day after, no one came. The Browns later heard the gang had given up terrorizing people. This miraculous answer to prayer isn’t a formula for our own protection, but it’s a reminder that opposition to God’s work will come and must be fought with the weapon of prayer. “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome,” Nehemiah told the Israelites (v. 14). He can even set violent hearts free.
Feb
5
2024
Born on a farm, Judson Van DeVenter learned to paint, studied art, and became an art teacher. God, however, had a different plan for him. Friends valued his work in church and urged him to go into evangelism. Judson felt God calling him too, but it was hard for him to give up his love for teaching art. He wrestled with God, but “at last,” he wrote, “the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all.” We can’t imagine Abraham’s heartbreak when God called him to surrender his son Isaac. In the wake of God’s command to “sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2) we ask ourselves what precious thing God is calling us to sacrifice. We know that God ultimately spared Isaac (v. 12), and yet the point is made: Abraham was willing to surrender what was most precious to him. He trusted God to provide in the midst of a most difficult calling. We say we love God, but are we willing to sacrifice what’s dearest to us? Judson Van DeVenter followed God’s call into evangelism and later penned the beloved hymn “I Surrender All.” In time, God called Judson back into teaching. One of his students was a young man named Billy Graham. God’s plan for our lives has purposes we can’t imagine. He longs for us to be willing to surrender what is dearest. Seems that’s the least we can do. After all, He sacrificed for us His only begotten Son.
Feb
4
2024
Maggie’s guest showed up in church shockingly dressed. No one should have been surprised though; her young friend was a prostitute. Maggie’s visitor shifted uneasily in her seat, alternately tugging at her much-too-short skirt and folding her arms self-consciously around herself. “Oh, are you cold?” Maggie asked, deftly diverting attention away from how she was dressed. “Here! Take my shawl.” Maggie never evangelized in the traditional sense. Yet she introduced dozens of people to Jesus simply by inviting them to come to church and helping them feel comfortable. The gospel had a way of shining through her winsome methods. She treated everyone with dignity. When religious leaders dragged a woman before Jesus with the harsh (and accurate) charge of adultery, Christ kept the attention off her until He sent her accusers away. Once they were gone, He could have scolded her. Instead, He asked two simple questions: “Where are they?” and “Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10). The answer to the latter question, of course, was no. So Jesus gave her the gospel in one brief statement: “Then neither do I condemn you.” And then the invitation: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11). Never underestimate the power of genuine love for people—the kind of love that refuses to condemn, even as it extends dignity and forgiveness to everyone.  
Feb
3
2024
After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Christina Costa noticed how much of the talk around facing cancer is dominated by the language of fighting. She found that this metaphor quickly started to feel exhausting. She “didn’t want to spend over a year at war with [her] own body.” Instead, what she found most helpful were daily practices of gratitude—for the team of professionals caring for her and for the ways her brain and body were showing healing. She experienced firsthand that no matter how difficult the struggle, practices of gratitude can help resist depression and “wire our brains to help us build resilience.” Costa’s powerful story reminded me that practicing gratitude isn’t just something believers do out of duty. Although it’s true that God deserves our gratitude, it’s also profoundly good for us. When we lift up our hearts to say, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2), we’re reminded of the countless ways God’s at work—assuring us of forgiveness, working healing in our bodies and hearts, letting us experience “love and compassion” and countless “good things” in His creation (vv. 3–5). While not all suffering will find complete healing in this lifetime, our hearts can always be renewed by gratitude, for God’s love is with us “from everlasting to everlasting” (v. 17). 
Feb
2
2024
On her wedding day, Gwendolyn Stulgis wore the wedding dress of her dreams. Then she gave it away—to a stranger. Stulgis believed a dress deserved more than sitting in a closet collecting dust. Other brides agreed. Now scores of women have bonded on her social media site to donate and receive wedding dresses. As one giver said, “I hope this dress gets passed from bride to bride to bride, and it just gets worn out and is in tatters at the end of its life because of all the celebrating that’s done in it.” The spirit of giving can feel like a celebration, indeed. As it is written, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24–25). The apostle Paul taught this principle in the New Testament. As he said his goodbyes to the believers in Ephesus, he gave them a blessing (Acts 20:32) and reminded them of the importance of generosity. Paul pointed to his own work ethic as an example for them to follow. “In everything I did,” he said, “I showed you that by . . . hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (v. 35). Being generous reflects God. “For God so loved the world that He gave” (John 3:16). Let’s follow His glorious example as He guides us.
Feb
1
2024
There’s a monument in the chapel of Christ’s College, Cambridge, dedicated to two seventeenth-century physicians, John Finch and Thomas Baines. Known as the “inseparable friends,” Finch and Baines collaborated on medical research and traveled together on diplomatic trips. When Baines died in 1680, Finch lamented their “unbroken marriage of souls” that had lasted thirty-six years. Theirs had been a friendship of affection, loyalty, and commitment. King David and Jonathan had a friendship equally as close. They shared deep mutual affection (1 Samuel 20:41), and even made vows of commitment to each other (vv. 8–17, 42). Their friendship was marked by radical loyalty (1 Samuel 19:1; 20:13), Jonathan even sacrificing his right to the throne so David could become king (20:30–31). When Jonathan died, David lamented that Jonathan’s love to him had been “more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1:26). We may feel uncomfortable today likening friendship to marriage, but maybe friendships like Finch and Baines’ and David and Jonathan’s can help our own reach greater depth. Jesus welcomed His friends to lean against Him (John 13:23–25), and the affection, loyalty, and commitment He shows us can be the basis of the deep friendships we build together.
Jan
31
2024
After a game, a college basketball star stayed behind to help workers throw out empty cups and food wrappers. When a fan posted a video of him in action, more than eighty thousand people viewed it. One person commented, “[The young man] is one of the most humble guys you will ever meet in your life.” It would’ve been easier for the basketball player to leave with his teammates and celebrate his role in the team’s victory. Instead, he volunteered for a selfless job. The ultimate spirit of humility is seen in Jesus, who left His high position in heaven to take the role of a servant on earth (Philippians 2:7). Jesus didn’t have to do it, but He willingly humbled himself. His ministry on earth included teaching, healing, and loving all people—and dying and rising to save them. Although Christ’s example can inspire us to sweep a floor, pick up a hammer, or dish up food, it may be most powerful when it finds its way into our attitude toward others. True humility is an inner quality that not only changes our actions but also changes what’s important to us. It motivates us to “value others above [ourselves]” (v. 3). Author and preacher Andrew Murray said, “Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.” May our lives reflect this beauty as, through the power of His Spirit, we reflect the heart of Christ (vv. 2–5).
Jan
30
2024
In 1920, John Sung, the sixth child of a Chinese pastor, received a scholarship to study at a university in the United States. He graduated with the highest honors, completed a master’s program, and earned a PhD. But while pursuing his studies, he had walked away from God. Then, one night in 1927, he surrendered his life to Him and felt called to be a preacher. Many high-paying opportunities awaited him back in China, but on the ship home, he was convicted by the Holy Spirit to lay aside his ambitions. As a symbol of his commitment, he threw all his awards into the sea, keeping only his PhD certificate to give to his parents out of respect for them. John Sung understood what Jesus said about becoming His disciples: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). As we deny ourselves (v. 34) and leave our old life behind (v. 35) to follow Christ and His leading, it may mean sacrificing personal desires and material gain that distract us from following Him. For the next twelve years, John carried out his God-given mission wholeheartedly, preaching the gospel to thousands throughout China and Southeast Asia. How about us? We may not be called to be preachers or missionaries, but wherever God calls us to serve, by His Spirit working in us, may we fully surrender to Him.
Jan
29
2024
While drilling for oil in one of the sunniest and driest countries in the world, teams were shocked to uncover a huge underground system of water. So, in 1983 the “great man-made river” project was begun, placing a system of pipes to carry the high-quality fresh water to cities where it was sorely needed. A plaque near the project’s inception states, “From here flows the artery of life.” The prophet Isaiah used the image of water in a desert to describe a future righteous king (Isaiah 32). As kings and rulers reigned with justice and righteousness, they would be like “streams of water in the desert, and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land” (v. 2). Some rulers choose to take, instead of give. The mark of a God-honoring leader, however, is someone who brings shelter, refuge, refreshment, and protection. Isaiah said the fruit of God’s righteousness is peace for His people, “its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (v. 17). Isaiah’s words of hope would later find fullness of meaning in Jesus, who “himself will come down from heaven . . . and we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). “The great man-made river” is just that—made by human hands. Someday that water reservoir will be depleted. But our righteous King brings refreshment and water of life that will never run dry.
Jan
28
2024
The young pastor prayed every morning, asking God to use him that day to bless someone. Often, to his delight, such a situation arose. One day during a break at his second job, he sat in the sunshine with a coworker who asked him about Jesus. The pastor simply answered the other man’s questions. No rant. No arguing. The pastor commented that being guided by the Holy Spirit led him to have a casual talk that felt effective but loving. He made a new friend as well—someone hungry to learn more about God. Letting the Holy Spirit lead us is the best way to tell others about Jesus. He told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The fruit of the Spirit “is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Living under the Spirit’s control, that young pastor put into practice what Peter instructed: “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15.) Even if we suffer for following Christ, our words show the world that His Spirit leads us. Then our walk will draw others to Him.
Jan
27
2024
As I was grading another stack of papers for a college writing class I teach, I was impressed with one particular paper. It was so well-written! Soon, though, I realized it was too well-written. Sure enough, a little research revealed that the paper had been plagiarized from an online source. I sent the student an email to let her know that her ruse had been discovered. She was getting a zero on this paper, but she could write a new paper for partial credit. Her response: “I am humiliated and very sorry. I appreciate the grace you are showing me. I don’t deserve it.” I responded by telling her that we all receive Jesus’ grace every day, so how could I deny showing her grace?  There are many ways God’s grace enhances our lives and redeems us from our errors. Peter says it gives salvation. “We believe it is through the grace of the Lord that we are saved” (Acts 15:11); Paul says it helps us not to be overtaken by sin. “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14); Peter says grace allows us to serve. “Use whatever gift you have received . . . as faithful stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Grace. So freely given by God (Ephesians 4:7). May we use this gift to love and encourage others.
Jan
26
2024
Standing in the kitchen, my daughter exclaimed, “Mom, there’s a fly in the honey!” I quipped back with the familiar adage, “You will always catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” While this was the first time I’d (accidentally) caught a fly with honey, I found myself quoting this modern proverb because of its wisdom: kind requests are more likely to persuade others than a bitter attitude. The book of Proverbs gives us a collection of wise proverbs and sayings inspired by God’s Spirit. These inspired sayings help to guide us and teach us important truths about how to live in ways that honor God. Many of the proverbs focus on interpersonal relationships, including the profound effect our words can have on others. In a section of proverbs attributed to King Solomon, he warned against the harm caused by speaking falsely against a neighbor (v. 18). He counseled that a “sly tongue” results in dreary relationships (Proverbs 25:23). Solomon warned against the chilling effect of constantly using complaining words (v. 24). And the king encouraged readers that blessing comes when our words bring good news (v. 25). As we seek to apply these truths, we have God’s Spirit who helps us give a “proper answer” (16:1). Empowered by Him, our words can be sweet and refreshing
Jan
25
2024
Many years ago, Julie Landsman auditioned for principal French hornist for New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The MET held their auditions behind a screen to avoid prejudice by the judges. Landsman did well in her audition and ended up winning the competition. But when she stepped out from behind the screen, some of the all-male judges walked to the rear of the room and turned their backs on her. Apparently, they were looking for someone else. When the Israelites asked for a king, God accommodated the people and gave them a man who was physically imposing like the other nations had (1 Samuel 8:5; 9:2). But because Saul’s first years as king were marked by faithlessness and disobedience, God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king (16:1–13). When Samuel saw Eliab, the oldest son, he assumed that God had chosen him to be king because he was physically impressive. But God challenged Samuel’s thinking: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (v. 7). God had chosen David to lead His people (v. 12).  When evaluating people’s ability and suitability for His purposes, God looks at character, will, and motives. He invites us to be attuned to see the world and people as He does—focusing on peoples’ hearts and not their outward appearance or credentials.
Jan
24
2024
God, why is this happening? Is this really your plan for us? As a husband and a dad of young children, those questions and more swirled in my mind as I wrestled with a serious cancer diagnosis. What’s more, our family had just served with a missions team that had seen many children receive Jesus as their Savior. God had been bringing forth evident fruit. There was so much joy. And now this? Esther likely poured out questions and prayers to God after she was plucked from a loving home and thrust into a strange new world (Esther 2:8). Her cousin Mordecai had raised her as his own daughter after she’d been orphaned (v. 7). But then she was placed in a king’s harem and eventually elevated to serve as his queen (v. 17). Mordecai was understandably concerned about what “was happening to” Esther (v. 11). But in time, the two realized that God had called her to be in a place of great power “for such a time as this” (4:14)—a place that allowed for her people to be saved from destruction (chs. 7–8). It’s evident that God providentially placed Esther in a strange place as part of His perfect plan. He did the same with me. As I endured a lengthy battle with cancer, I was privileged to share my faith with many, many patients and caregivers. What strange place has He led you to? Trust Him. He’s good, and so are His plans (Romans 11:33–36).
Jan
23
2024
I felt my heartrate increase as I opened my mouth to refute the charges a dear friend was leveling against me. What I had posted online had nothing to do with her as she implied. But before I replied, I whispered a prayer. I then calmed down and heard what she was saying and the hurt behind her words. It was clear that this went further than the surface. My friend was hurting and my need to defend myself dissolved as I chose to help her address her pain. During this conversation, I learned what James meant in today’s Scripture when he urged us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). Listening can help us hear what may be behind the words and to avoid anger that “does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (v. 20). It allows us to hear the heart of the speaker. I think stopping and praying helped me greatly with my friend. I became much more sensitive to her words versus my own offense. Perhaps if I hadn’t stopped to pray, I would have fired back my thoughts and shared how offended I was. And while I haven’t always gotten the instruction James outlines right, that day, I think I did. Stopping to whisper a prayer before allowing anger and offense to take a hold of me was the key to listening quickly and speaking slowly (Proverbs 19:11). I pray that God will give me the wisdom to do this more often.
Jan
22
2024
My wife, Miska, has a necklace and hoop earrings from Ethiopia. Their elegant simplicity reveals genuine artistry. What’s most astounding about these pieces, however, is their story. Due to decades of fierce conflict and a civil war that rages on, Ethiopia’s geography is littered with spent artillery shells and cartridges. As an act of hope, Ethiopians scour the torched earth cleaning up the scraps. And artisans craft jewelry out of what remains of the shells and cartridges. When I heard this story, I heard echoes of Micah boldly declaring God’s promise. One day, the prophet announced, the people would “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (4:3). Tools meant to kill and maim would, because of God’s powerful action, be transformed into tools meant to nurture life. In God’s coming day, the prophet insisted, “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (v. 4). Micah’s pronouncement was no harder to imagine in his day than ours. Like Israel of old, we face violence and war, and it seems impossible that the world could ever change. But God promises us that by His mercy and healing, this astounding day is coming. The thing for us, then, is to begin to live this truth now. God helps us to take on His work even now, turning scraps into beautiful things.
Jan
21
2024
We’d known Kha for more than a year. He was part of our small group from church who met weekly to discuss what we’d been learning about God. One evening during our regular meeting, he made a reference to having competed at the Olympics. The mention was so casual that it almost escaped my notice. Almost. Lo and behold, I learned I knew an Olympian who had competed in the bronze medal match! I couldn’t fathom that he’d not mentioned it before, but, for Kha, while his athletic achievement was a special part of his story, more important things were central to his identity: his family, his community, and his faith. wThe story in Luke 10:1–23 describes what should be central to our identity. When the seventy-two people Jesus sent out to tell others about the kingdom of God returned from their journeys, they reported to Him that “even the demons submit to us in your name” (v. 17). While Jesus acknowledged that He’d equipped them with tremendous power and protection, He said they were focused on the wrong thing. He insisted that their cause for rejoicing should be because their “names are written in heaven” (v. 20). Whatever achievements or abilities God has granted us, our greatest cause for rejoicing is that if we’ve entrusted ourselves to Jesus our names are written in heaven and we enjoy His daily presence in our lives.
Jan
20
2024
“In everything / we look for pleasant ways of serving God,” writes sixteenth-century believer Teresa of Avila. She poignantly reflects on the many ways we seek to stay in control through easier, more “pleasant” methods than total surrender to God. We tend to slowly, tentatively, and even reluctantly grow to trust Him with all of ourselves. And so, Teresa confesses, “even as we measure out our lives to you / a bit at a time, / we must be content / to receive your gifts drop by drop, / until we have surrendered our lives wholly to you.” As human beings, trust doesn’t come naturally to many of us. So if experiencing God’s grace and love were dependent on our ability to trust and receive it, we’d be in trouble! But, as we read in 1 John 4, God’s love for us comes first (v. 19). He loved us long before we could love Him, so much that He was willing to sacrifice His Son for us (v. 10). “This is love,” John writes in wonder and gratitude. Gradually, gently, little by little, God heals our hearts to receive His love—drop by drop, His grace helps us surrender our fears (v. 18). Drop by drop, His grace reaches our hearts until we find ourselves experiencing showers of His abundant beauty and love.
Jan
19
2024
In his book Adopted for Life, Dr. Russell Moore describes his family’s trip to an orphanage to adopt a child. As they entered the nursery, the silence was startling. The babies in the cribs never cried, and it wasn’t because they never needed anything but because they had learned that no one cared enough to answer. My heart ached as I read those words. I remember countless nights when our children were small. My wife and I would be sound asleep only to be startled awake by their cries: Daddy, I’m sick! or Mommy, I’m scared! One of us would spring into action and make our way to their bedroom to do our best to comfort and care for them. Our love for our children gave them reason to call for our help. An overwhelming number of the psalms are cries, or laments to God. Israel brought their laments to Him on the basis of His personal relationship with them. These were a people God had called His “firstborn,” and they were asking their Father to act accordingly. Such honest trust is seen in Psalm 25: “Turn to me and be gracious . . . free me from my anguish” (vv. 16–17). Children who are confident of the love of a caregiver do cry. As believers in Jesus—children of God—He has given us reason to call on Him. He hears and cares because of His great love.
Jan
18
2024
One summer night, the birds near our home suddenly erupted into chaotic cawing. The squawking intensified as the songbirds sent piercing calls from the trees. We finally realized why. As the sun set, a large hawk swooped from a treetop, sending the birds scattering in a screeching frenzy, sounding the alarm as they flew from danger. In our lives, spiritual warnings can be heard throughout Scripture—cautions against false teachings, for example. We may doubt that’s what we’re hearing. Because of His love for us, however, our heavenly Father provides the clarity of Scripture to make such spiritual dangers plain to us. Jesus taught, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). He continued, “By their fruit you will recognize them. . . . Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Then He warned us, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (vv. 16–17; 20). “The prudent see danger and take refuge,” Proverbs 22:3 reminds us, “but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” Embedded in such warnings is God’s protective love, revealed in His words to us. As the birds warned each other of physical danger, may we heed the Bible’s warnings to fly from spiritual danger and into His arms of refuge.
Jan
17
2024
On Charley and Jan’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, they shared breakfast at a café with their son Jon. That day, the restaurant was understaffed with just a manager, cook, and one teenage girl who was working as hostess, waitress, and busser. As they finished their breakfast, Charley turned to his wife and son and said, “Do you have anything important going on in the next few hours?” They didn’t. So, with permission from the manager, Charley and Jan began washing dishes in the back of the restaurant while Jon started clearing the cluttered tables. According to Jon, what happened that day wasn’t really that unusual. His parents had always set an example of Jesus who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). In John 13 we read about the last meal Christ shared with His disciples. That night, the Teacher taught them the principle of humble service by washing their dirty feet (vv. 14–15). If He was willing to do the lowly job of washing a dozen men’s feet, they too should joyfully serve others. Every avenue of service we encounter may look different, but one thing’s the same: there’s great joy in serving. The purpose behind acts of service isn’t to bring praise to the ones performing them, but to lovingly serve others while directing all praise to our humble, self-sacrificing God.
Jan
16
2024
“The average person will make 773,618 decisions over a lifetime,” claims the Daily Mirror. The British newspaper goes on to assert that we “will come to regret 143,262 of them.” I have no idea how the paper arrived at these numbers, but it’s clear that we face countless decisions throughout our lifetime. The sheer quantity of them might become paralyzing, especially when we consider that all our choices have consequences, some far more momentous than others. After forty years wandering in the wilderness, the children of Israel stood at the threshold of their new homeland. Later, after entering the land, Joshua, their leader, issued to them a challenging choice. “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness,” he said. “Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped” (Joshua 24:14). Joshua told them, “If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). As we begin each new day, possibilities stretch before us, leading to scores of decisions. Taking the time to ask God to guide us each day will influence the choices we make. By the power of the Spirit, we can choose to follow Him each and every day.
Jan
15
2024
To help avoid future financial mistakes, such as those in 1929 and 2008 that brought down the world’s economy, The Library of Mistakes was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland. It features a collection of more than two thousand books that can help educate the next generation of economists. And it serves as a perfect example of how, according to the library’s curators, “smart people keep doing stupid things.” The curators believe that the only way to build a strong economy is to learn from prior mistakes. Paul reminded the Corinthians that one way to avoid yielding to temptation and to have a strong spiritual life is to learn from the mistakes of God’s people in the past. So to make sure they wouldn’t become overconfident with their spiritual privilege, the apostle used ancient Israel’s failures as an example from which to gain wisdom. The Israelites chose to “commit sexual immorality,” engaged in “idolatry,” grumbled about the plans and purposes of God, and rebelled against His leaders (1 Corinthians 10:7–10). Due to their sin, they experienced His discipline (vv. 8–10). Paul presented these historical “examples” from Scripture to help believers in Jesus avoid repeating Israel’s mistakes (v. 11). As God helps us, let’s learn from our mistakes and those made by others so that we might gain a heart of obedience for Him.
Jan
14
2024
Actress Nichelle Nichols is best remembered for playing Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek series. Landing the role was a personal win for Nichols, making her one of the first African American women on a major TV show. But a greater win was to come of it. Nichols had actually resigned from Star Trek after its first season, to return to her theater work. But then she met Martin Luther King Jr., who urged her not to leave. For the first time, he said, African Americans were being seen on TV as intelligent people who could do anything, even go to space. By playing Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols was achieving a greater win—showing Black women and children what they could become. It reminds me of the time James and John asked Jesus for the two best positions in His kingdom (Mark 10:37). What personal wins such positions would be! Jesus not only explained the painful realities of their request (vv. 38–40) but called them to higher goals, saying, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 43). His followers weren’t to seek personal wins alone but, like Him, use their positions to serve others (v. 45). Nichelle Nichols stayed with Star Trek for the greater win it provided for African Americans. May we too never be content with a personal win alone but use whatever position we gain to serve others in His name.
Jan
13
2024
Nineteenth-century Scottish pastor, Thomas Chalmers, once told the story of riding in a horse-drawn carriage in the Highlands region as it hugged a narrow mountain ledge, along a harrowing precipice. One of the horses startled, and the driver, fearing they would plummet to their death, repeatedly flicked his whip. After they made it past the danger, Chalmers asked the driver why he used the whip with such force. “I needed to give the horses something else to think about,” he said. “I needed to get their attention.” In a world overflowing with threats and dangers all around us, we all need something else to arrest our attention. However, we need more than merely mental distraction—a kind of psychological trick. What we most need is to fasten our minds upon a reality more powerful than all our fears. As Isaiah told God’s people in Judah, what we truly need is to fix our minds on God. “You will keep in perfect peace,” Isaiah promises, “all who trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). And we can “trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock” (v. 4). Peace—this is the gift for all who fix their gaze on God. And His peace provides far more than only a technique for holding our worst thoughts at bay. For those who will surrender their future, their hopes, and their worries, the Spirit makes an entirely new way of life possible.
Jan
12
2024
When I was studying in seminary years ago, we had a weekly chapel service. At one service, while we students were singing “Great is the Lord,” I spotted three of our well-loved professors singing with fervor. Their faces radiated joy, made possible only by their faith in God. Years later, as each went through terminal illness, it was this faith that enabled them to endure and encourage others. Today, the memory of my teachers singing continues to encourage me to keep going in my trials. To me, they’re a few of the many inspiring stories of people who lived by faith. They’re a reminder of how we can follow the author’s call in Hebrews 12:2−3 to fix our eyes on Jesus who “For the joy set before him . . . endured the cross” (v. 2).   When trials—from persecution or life’s challenges—make it hard to keep going, we have the example of those who took God at His word and trusted in His promises. We can “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v. 1), remembering that Jesus—and those who have gone before us—was able to endure. The writer urges us to “Consider him . . . so that [we] will not grow weary and lose heart” (v. 3). My teachers, now happy in heaven, would likely say: “The life of faith is worth it. Keep going.”
Jan
11
2024
In a refugee camp in the Middle East, when Reza received a Bible, he came to know and believe in Jesus. His first prayer in Christ’s name was, “Use me as your worker.” Later, after he left the camp, God answered that prayer when he unexpectedly secured a job with a relief agency, returning to the camp to serve the people he knew and loved. He set up sports clubs, language classes, and legal advice—“anything that can give people hope.” He sees these programs as a way to serve others and to share God’s wisdom and love. When reading his Bible, Reza felt an instant connection with the story of Joseph from Genesis. He noticed how God used Joseph to further His work while he was in prison. Because God was with Joseph, He showed him kindness and granted him favor. The prison warden put Joseph in charge and didn’t have to pay attention to matters there because God gave Joseph “success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:23). God promises to be with us too. Whether we’re facing imprisonment—literal or figurative—hardship, displacement, heartache, or sorrow, we can trust that God will never leave us. Just as He enabled Reza to serve those in the camp and Joseph to run the prison, He will stay close to us always.
Jan
10
2024
“Please clean the front room before you go to bed,” I said to one of my daughters. Instantly came the reply, “Why doesn’t she have to do it?”  Such mild resistance was frequent in our home when our girls were young. My response was always the same: “Don’t worry about your sisters; I asked you.” In John 21, we see this human tendency illustrated among the disciples. Jesus had just restored Peter after he had denied Him three times (see John 18:15–18, 25–27). Now Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me!” (21:19)—a simple but painful command. Jesus explained that Peter would follow him to the death (vv. 18–19). Peter barely had time to comprehend Jesus’ words before he asked about the disciple behind them: “What about him?” (v. 21). Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” Then He said, “You must follow me” (v. 22). How often we’re like Peter! We wonder about the faith journeys of others and not what God is doing with us. Late in his life, when the death Jesus foretold in John 21 was much closer, Peter elaborated on Jesus’ simple command: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:14–15). That’s enough to keep each of us focused on Jesus and not on those around us.
Jan
9
2024
Abraham Lincoln confided to a friend, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” In the horrific years of the American Civil War, President Lincoln not only spent time in fervent prayer but also called the country to join him. In 1861, he proclaimed a “day of humiliation, prayer and fasting.” And he did so again in 1863, stating, “It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God: to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.” After the Israelites had been captives in Babylon for seventy years, King Cyrus permitted the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, and a remnant did. When Nehemiah, an Israelite and cupbearer to the king of Babylon (Nehemiah 1:11), learned that those who had returned were “in great trouble and disgrace” (v. 3), he “sat down and wept” and spent days fasting and praying (v. 4). He wrestled in prayer for his nation (vv. 5–11). And later, he too called his people to fast and pray (9:4–37). Centuries later, in the days of the Roman Empire, the apostle Paul gave his readers reason to also pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Our God still hears our prayers about matters that affect the lives of others.
Jan
8
2024
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Those words from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese are among the best-known poetry in the English language. She wrote them to Robert Browning before they were married, and he was so moved he encouraged her to publish her entire collection of poems. But because the language of the sonnets was very tender, out of a desire for personal privacy Barrett published them as if they were translations from a Portuguese writer. Sometimes we can feel awkward when we openly express affection for others. But the Bible, by contrast, doesn’t hold back on its presentation of God’s love. Jeremiah recounted God’s affection for His people with these tender words: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). Even though His people had turned from Him, God promised to restore them and personally draw them near. “I will come to give rest to Israel,” He told them (v. 2). Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s restorative love, giving peace and rest to any who turn to Him.  From the manger to the cross to the empty tomb, He’s the personification of God’s desire to call a wayward world to Himself. Read the Bible cover to cover and you’ll “count the ways” of God’s love over and over; but eternal as they are, you’ll never come to their end.
Jan
7
2024
While driving late at night, Nicholas saw a house on fire. He parked in the driveway, rushed into the burning home, and led four children to safety. When the teenage babysitter realized one of the siblings was still inside, she told Nicholas. Without hesitation, he reentered the inferno. Trapped on the second floor with the six-year-old girl, Nicholas broke a window. He jumped to safety with the child in his arms, just as emergency teams arrived at the scene. Choosing concern for others over himself, he rescued all the children. Nicholas demonstrated heroism by his willingness to sacrifice his safety for the sake of others. This powerful act of love reflects the kind of sacrificial love shown by another willing rescuer who gave His life to deliver us from sin and death—Jesus. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). The apostle Paul emphasized that Jesus—fully God in the flesh and fully man—chose to lay His life down and pay the price for our sins, a price we could never pay on our own. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). As we thank and trust Jesus—our willing Savior—He can empower us to love others sacrificially, with our words and our actions.
Jan
6
2024
The pictures coming from a friend’s text stream were stunning! Photos of a surprise gift for his wife revealed a restored 1965 Ford Mustang: brilliant, dark blue exterior; sparkling chrome rims; reupholstered black interior; and a motor to match the other upgrades. There were also “before” pictures of the same vehicle—a dull, worn, unimpressive yellow version. While it may be difficult to envision, it’s likely that when the vehicle rolled off the assembly line in 1964, it was also an eye-catcher. But time, wear and tear, and other factors had made it ripe for restoration. Ripe for restoration! Such was the condition of God’s people in Psalm 80 and thus the repeated prayer: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (vv. 3, 7, 19). Though their history had included rescue from Egypt and being planted in a land of plenty (vv. 8–11), the good times had come and gone. Because of rebellion, they were experiencing the hand of God’s judgment (vv. 12–13). Thus, their plea: “Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see!” (v. 14). Do you ever feel dull, distant, disconnected from God? Is joyful soul-satisfaction missing? Is it because alignment with Jesus and His purposes is missing? God hears our prayers for restoration (v. 1). What’s keeping you from asking?
Jan
5
2024
Today is Epiphany—the event described by the carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” It’s the time when Gentile wisemen visited the child Jesus. Yet they weren’t kings, they weren’t from the Far East (as Orient formerly meant), and it’s unlikely there were three of them. There were, however, three gifts, and the carol considers each. When the magi arrived in Bethlehem, “They opened their treasures and presented [Jesus] with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). The gifts symbolize Jesus’ mission. Gold represents His role as King. Frankincense, mixed with the incense burned in the sanctuary, speaks of His deity. Myrrh, used to embalm dead bodies, gives us pause. The fourth verse of the carol says, “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume / breathes a life of gathering gloom; / sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, / sealed in the stone-cold tomb.” We wouldn’t write such a scene into the story, but God did. Jesus’ death is central to our salvation. Herod even attempted to kill Jesus while He was yet a child (v. 13). The carol’s last verse weaves the three themes together: “Glorious now behold him arise; / King and God and sacrifice.” This completes the story of Christmas, inspiring our response: “Alleluia, Alleluia, / sounds through the earth and skies.”
Jan
4
2024
After days of illness and then spiking a high temperature, it was clear my husband needed emergency care. The hospital admitted him immediately. One day folded into the next. He improved, but not enough to be released. I faced the difficult choice to stay with my husband or fulfill an important work trip where many people and projects were involved. My husband assured me he’d be fine. But my heart was torn between him and my work. God’s people needed His help at the crossroads of life’s decisions. Far too often, they hadn’t adhered to His revealed instructions. So Moses implored the people to “choose life” by following His commands (Deuteronomy 30:19). Later, the prophet Jeremiah offered words of direction to God’s wayward people, wooing them to follow His ways. “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16). The ancient paths of Scripture and God’s past provision can direct us.  I imagined myself at a physical crossroads and applied Jeremiah’s template of wisdom. My husband needed me. So did my work. Just then, my supervisor called and encouraged me to remain home. I drew a breath and thanked God for His provision at the crossroads. God’s direction doesn’t always come so clearly, but it does come. When we stand at the crossroads, let’s make sure to look for Him.
Jan
3
2024
I didn’t notice him at first. I’d come down for breakfast at my hotel. Everything in the dining room was clean. The buffet table was filled. The refrigerator was stocked, the utensil container packed tight. Everything was perfect. Then I saw him. An unassuming man refilled this, wiped that. He didn’t draw attention to himself. But the longer I sat, the more I was amazed. The man was working very fast, noticing everything, and refilling everything before anyone might need something. As a food service veteran, I noticed his constant attention to detail. Everything was perfect because this man was working faithfully—even if few noticed. Watching this man work so meticulously, I recalled Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands . . . so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders” (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).  Paul understood how a faithful worker might win others’ respect—offering a quiet testimony to how the gospel can infuse even seemingly small acts of service for others with dignity and purpose. I don’t know if the man I saw that day was a believer in Jesus. But I’m grateful his quiet diligence reminded me to rely on God to live out a quiet faithfulness that reflects His faithful ways.
Jan
2
2024
Oceanographer Sylvia Earle has seen the deterioration of coral reefs firsthand. She founded Mission Blue, an organization devoted to the development of global Hope Spots. These special places around the world are “critical to the health of the ocean,” which impacts our lives on earth. Through the intentional care for these areas, scientists have seen the relationships of underwater communities restored and lives of endangered species saved.  In Psalm 33, the psalmist acknowledges that God spoke everything into existence and ensured that all He made would stand firm (vv. 6–9). As God reigns over generations and nations (vv. 11–19), He alone restores relationships, saves lives, and revitalizes hope. However, God invites us to join Him in caring for the world and the people He created.  Each time we praise God for the whisper of a rainbow splashed across a clouded, gray sky or the glistening waves of the ocean crashing against a rocky shore, we can proclaim His “unfailing love” and presence as we “put our hope” in Him (v. 22).  When we’re tempted toward discouragement or fear as we consider the current state of the world, we may begin to believe we can’t make a difference. When we do our part as members of God’s care team, however, we can honor Him as the Creator and help others spot hope as they place their trust in Jesus.
Jan
1
2024
Ernest Hemingway’s first full-length novel features hard-drinking friends who have recently endured World War I. They bear the scars, literal and figurative, of the war’s devastation and try to cope with it via parties, grand adventures, and sleeping around. Always, there is alcohol to numb the pain. No one is happy. Hemingway’s title for his book, The Sun Also Rises, comes straight from the pages of Ecclesiastes (1:5 nkjv). In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon refers to himself as “the Teacher.” He observes, “Everything is meaningless” (v. 1) and asks, “What do people gain from all their labors?” (v. 3). Solomon saw how the sun rises and sets, the wind blows to and fro, the rivers flow endlessly into a never satisfied sea (vv. 5–7). Ultimately, all is forgotten (v. 11). Both Hemingway and Ecclesiastes confront us with the stark futility of living for this life only. Solomon, however, weaves bright hints of the divine into his book. There is permanence—and real hope. Ecclesiastes shows us as we truly are, but it also shows God as He is. “Everything God does will endure forever,” said Solomon (3:14), and therein lies our great hope. For God has given us the gift of us His Son Jesus. Apart from God, we’re adrift in an endless, never satisfied sea. Through His risen Son Jesus, we’re reconciled to Him. We discover our meaning, value, and purpose.
Dec
31
2023
“I’m not who I once was. I’m a new person.” Those simple words from my son, spoken to students at a school assembly, describe the change God made in his life. Once addicted to heroin, Geoffrey previously saw himself through his sins and mistakes. But now he sees himself as a child of God. The Bible encourages us with this promise: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). No matter who we’ve been or what we’ve done in our past, when we trust Jesus for our salvation and receive the forgiveness offered through His cross, we become someone new. Since the Garden of Eden, the guilt of our sins separated us from God, but He has now “reconciled us to Himself through Christ,” “not counting” our sins against us (vv. 18–19). We are His dearly loved children (1 John 3:1–2), washed clean and made new in the likeness of His Son. Jesus is innocence found. He liberates us from sin and its dominating power and restores us to a new relationship with God—where we’re free to no longer live for ourselves but “for him who died for [us] and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). On this New Year’s Day, let’s remember that His transforming love compels us to live with new identity and purpose. It helps us point others to our Savior, the One who can make them new people too!
Dec
30
2023
On New Year’s Eve 2000, officials in Detroit carefully opened a hundred-year-old time capsule. Nestled inside the copper box were hopeful predictions from some city leaders who expressed visions of prosperity and technology. The mayor’s message, however, offered a different approach. He wrote, “May we be permitted to express one hope superior to all others . . . [that] you may realize as a nation, people, and city, you have grown in righteousness, for it is this that exalts a nation.” More than success, happiness, or peace, the mayor wished that future citizens would grow in what it means to be truly just and upright. Perhaps he took his cue from Jesus, who blessed those who long for God’s righteousness (Matthew 5:6). But it’s easy to get discouraged when we consider God’s perfect standard. Even with a century of striving, we would still fall short. Praise God that we don’t have to rely solely on our own effort to grow. The author of Hebrews said it this way: “May the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:20–21). We who are in Christ are made holy by his blood the moment we believe in Him (v. 12), but He actively grows the fruit of righteousness in our hearts throughout a lifetime. We will often stumble on the journey, yet still we look forward to “the city that is to come” where God’s righteousness will reign (v. 14).
Dec
29
2023
Three days before a bomb blast rocked his home in January 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had an encounter that marked him for the rest of his life. After receiving a threatening phone call, King found himself pondering an exit strategy from the civil rights movement. Then prayers emerged from his soul. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can't face it alone.” After his prayer, there came quiet assurance. King noted, “Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.” In John 12, Jesus acknowledged, “My soul is troubled” (v. 27). He was transparently honest about His internal disposition; still He was God-centered in His prayer. “Father, glorify your name!” (v. 28). Jesus’ prayer was one of surrender to God’s will. How human it is for us to feel the pangs of fear and discomfort when we find ourselves with the option of honoring God or not; when wisdom requires making hard decisions about relationships, habits, or other patterns (good or bad). No matter what we’re faced with, as we pray boldly to God, He’ll give us the strength to overcome our fear and discomfort and do what brings glory to Him—for our good and the good of others.
Dec
28
2023
A twelve-year-old named LeeAdianez Rodriguez-Espada was worried that she’d be late for a 5K run (just over 3 miles). Her anxiousness led her to take off with a group of runners fifteen minutes earlier than her start time with participants of the half marathon (more than 13 miles!). LeeAdianez fell in pace with other runners and put one foot in front of the other. At mile four, with the finish line nowhere in sight, she realized that she was in a longer and more difficult race. Instead of dropping out, she simply kept running. The accidental half-marathoner completed her 13.1-mile race and placed 1,885th out of 2,111 finishers. Now that’s perseverance! While undergoing persecution, many first-century believers in Jesus wanted to drop out of the race for Christ, but James encouraged them to keep running. If they patiently endured testing, God promised a double reward (James 1:1, 12). First, “perseverance [would] finish its work” so they could be “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4). Second, God would give them the “crown of life”—life in Jesus on earth and the promise of being in His presence in the life to come (v. 12).  Some days the Christian race feels like it’s not the one we signed up for—it’s something longer and more difficult than we expected. But as God provides what we need, we can persevere and keep on running.
Dec
27
2023
Phillip’s father suffered from severe mental illness and had left home to live on the streets. After Cyndi and her young son Phillip spent a day searching for him, Phillip was rightly concerned for his well-being. He asked his mother whether his father and other people without homes were warm. In response, they launched an effort to collect and distribute blankets and cold-weather gear to homeless people in the area. For more than a decade, Cyndi has considered it her life’s work, crediting her son and her deep faith in God for awakening her to the hardship of being without a warm place to sleep. The Bible has long taught us to respond to the needs of others. In the book of Exodus, Moses records a set of principles to guide our interaction with those who lack plentiful resources. When we’re moved to supply the needs of another, we’re to “not treat it like a business deal” and should make no gain or profit from it (Exodus 22:25). If a person’s cloak was taken as collateral, it was to be returned by sunset “because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in?” (v. 27). Let’s ask God to open our eyes and hearts to see how we can ease the pain of those who are suffering. Whether we seek to meet the needs of many—as Cyndi and Phillip have—or those of a single person, we honor Him by treating them with dignity and care.  
Dec
26
2023
A mail carrier became concerned after seeing one of her customers’ mail pile up. The postal worker knew the elderly woman lived alone and usually picked up her mail every day. Making a wise choice, the worker mentioned her concern to one of the woman’s neighbors. This neighbor alerted yet another neighbor, who had a spare key to the woman’s home. Together they entered their friend’s home and found her lying on the floor. She had fallen four days earlier and couldn’t get up or call for help. The postal worker’s wisdom, concern, and decision to act likely saved this woman’s life. Proverbs says “the one who is wise saves lives” (11:30). The discernment that comes from doing right and living according to God’s wisdom can bless not only ourselves but those we encounter too. The fruit of living out what honors Him and His ways can produce a good and refreshing life. And our fruit also prompts us to care about others and to look out for their well-being. As the writer of Proverbs asserts throughout the book, wisdom is found in reliance on God. Wisdom is considered “more precious than rubies and nothing else you desire can compare with her” (8:11.) The wisdom God provides is there to guide us throughout our lives. It just might save a life for eternity.
Dec
25
2023
After all the joy of Christmas Day, the following day felt like a letdown. We’d stayed overnight with friends but hadn’t slept well. Then our car broke down as we were driving home. Then it started to snow. We had abandoned the car and taxied home in the snow and sleet feeling blah. We’re not the only ones who’ve felt low after Christmas Day. Whether it’s from excessive eating, the way carols suddenly disappear from the radio, or the fact that the gifts we bought last week are now on sale half price, the magic of Christmas Day can quickly dissipate! The Bible never tells us about the day after Jesus’ birth. But we can imagine that after walking to Bethlehem, scrambling for accommodation, enduring the pain of giving birth, and having shepherds drop by unannounced (Luke 2:4–18), Mary and Joseph were exhausted. Yet as Mary cradled her newborn, I can imagine her reflecting on her angelic visitation (1:30–33), Elizabeth’s blessing (vv. 42–45), and her own realization of her baby’s destiny (vv. 46–55). Mary “pondered” such things in her heart (2:19), which must’ve lightened the tiredness and physical pain of that day. We’ll all have “blah” days, perhaps even the day after Christmas. Like Mary, let’s face them by pondering the One who came into our world, forever brightening it with His presence.
Dec
24
2023
In November 1962, physicist John W. Mauchly said, “There is no reason to suppose the average boy or girl cannot be master of a personal computer.” Mauchly’s prediction seemed remarkable at the time, but it proved astonishingly accurate. Today, using a computer or handheld device is one of the earliest skills a child learns. While Mauchly’s prediction has come true, so have much more important predictions—those made in Scripture about the coming of Christ. For example, Micah 5:2 declared, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” God sent Jesus, who arrived in tiny Bethlehem—marking him as from the royal line of David (see Luke 2:4–7). The same Bible that accurately predicted the first coming of Jesus also promises His return (Acts 1:11). Jesus promised His first followers that He would come back for them (John 14:1–4). This Christmas, as we ponder the accurately predicted facts surrounding the birth of Jesus, may we also consider His promised return, and allow Him to prepare us for that majestic moment when we see Jesus face to face!
Dec
23
2023
“If you find that star, you can always find your way home.” Those were my father’s words when he taught me how to locate the North Star as a child. Dad had served in the armed forces during wartime, and there were moments when his life depended on being able to navigate by the night sky. So he made sure I knew the names and locations of several constellations, but it was being able to find Polaris that mattered most of all. Knowing that star’s location meant I could gain a sense of direction wherever I was and find where I was supposed to be. Scripture tells of another star of vital importance. “Magi from the east,” learned men (from an area encompassed by Iran and Iraq today) had been watching for signs in the sky of the birth of the One who was to be God’s king for His people. They came to Jerusalem asking “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and came to worship him” (Matthew 2:1–2). Astronomers don’t know what caused the star of Bethlehem to appear, but the Bible reveals that God created it to point the world to Jesus—“the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). Christ came to save us from our sins and guide us back to God. Follow Him, and you’ll find your way home.
Dec
22
2023
I’m not sure who’s responsible for turning out the lights and locking up the church after our Sunday morning service, but I know one thing about that person: Sunday dinner is going to be delayed. That’s because so many people love to hang around after church and talk about life decisions, heart issues and struggles, and more. It’s a joy to look around twenty minutes after the service and see so many people still enjoying each other’s company. Fellowship is a key component of the Christlike life. Without the connectivity that comes from spending time with fellow believers, we’d miss out on many benefits of being a believer. For instance, Paul says we can “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). The author of Hebrews agrees, telling us not to neglect getting together, because we need to be “encouraging one another” (10:25). And the writer also says that when we’re together, we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v. 24). As people dedicated to living for Jesus, we prepare ourselves for faithfulness and service as we “encourage the disheartened” and are “patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Living that way, as He helps us, allows us to enjoy true fellowship and “to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (v. 15).
Dec
21
2023
Since 1961, families and friends had been separated by the Berlin Wall. Erected that year by the East German government, the barrier kept its citizens from fleeing to West Germany. In fact, from 1949 to the day the structure was built, it’s estimated that more than 2.5 million East Germans had bolted to the West. US President Ronald Reagan stood at the wall in 1987 and famously said, “Tear down this wall.” His words reflected a groundswell of change in the region that culminated with the wall being torn down in 1989—leading to Germany’s joyous reunification. Paul wrote of a “wall of hostility” torn down by Jesus (Ephesians 2:14). The wall had existed between Jews (God’s chosen people) and gentiles (all other people). And it was symbolized by the dividing wall (the soreg) in the ancient temple erected by Herod the Great in Jerusalem. It kept gentiles from entering beyond the outer courts of the temple, though they could see the inner courts. But Jesus brought “peace” and reconciliation between the Jews and gentiles and between God and all people. He did so by “[breaking] down the wall . . . that separated us” by “his death on the cross” (vv. 14, 16 nlt). The “Good News of peace” made it possible for all to be united by faith in Christ (vv. 17–18 nlt). Today, there are many things that can divide us. As God provides what we need, let’s strive to live out and declare the peace and unity found in Jesus (vv. 19–22).
Dec
20
2023
My mother’s shiny red cross should have been hanging next to her bed at the cancer care center. And I should have been preparing for holiday visits between her scheduled treatments. All I wanted for Christmas was another day with my mom. Instead, I was home . . . hanging her cross on a fake tree. When my son Xavier plugged in the lights, I whispered, “Thank You.” He said, “You’re welcome.” My son didn’t know I was thanking God for using the flickering bulbs to turn my eyes toward the ever-enduring Light of Hope—Jesus. The writer of Psalm 42 expressed his raw emotions to God (vv. 1–4). He acknowledged his “downcast” and “disturbed” soul before encouraging readers: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 5). Though he was overcome with waves of sorrow and suffering, the psalmist’s hope shone through the remembrance of God’s past faithfulness (vv. 6–10). He ended by questioning his doubts and affirming the resilience of his refined faith: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 11). For many of us, the Christmas season stirs up both joy and sorrow. Thankfully, even these mixed emotions can be reconciled and redeemed through the promises of the true Light of Hope—Jesus.
Dec
19
2023
Jill Price was born with the condition of hyperthymesia: the ability to remember in extraordinary detail everything that ever happened to her. She can replay in her mind the exact occurrence of any event she’s experienced in her lifetime. A TV show, Unforgettable, was premised on a female police officer with hyperthymesia—to her a great advantage in trivia games and in solving crimes. For Jill Price however, the condition isn’t so much fun. She can’t forget the moments of life when she was criticized, experienced loss, or did something she deeply regretted. She replays those scenes in her head over and over again. Our God is omniscient (perhaps a kind of divine hyperthymesia): the Bible tells us that His understanding has no limit. And yet we discover in Isaiah a most reassuring thing: “I am he who blots out your transgressions . . . and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). The book of Hebrews reinforces this: “We have been made holy through . . . Jesus Christ [and our] sins and lawless acts [God] will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:10, 17). As we confess our sins to God, we can stop playing them over and over in our minds. We need to let them go, just as God does: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18). In His great love, God chooses to not remember our sins against us. Let’s remember that.
Dec
18
2023
Faye touched the scars on her abdomen. She had endured another surgery to remove esophageal-stomach cancer. This time doctors had taken part of her stomach and left a jagged scar that revealed the extent of their work. She told her husband, “Scars represent either the pain of cancer or the start of healing. I choose my scars to be symbols of healing.” Jacob faced a similar choice after his all-night wrestling match with God. The divine assailant wrenched Jacob’s hip out of socket, so that he left their tussle exhausted and with a noticeable limp. Months later, when Jacob massaged his tender hip, I wonder what he reflected on? Was he filled with regret for his years of deceit that forced this fateful match? The divine messenger had wrestled the truth out of him, refusing to bless him until Jacob owned up to who he was. He confessed he was Jacob, the “heel grabber” (see Genesis 25:26). He’d played tricks on his brother Esau and father-in-law Laban, tripping them to gain advantage. The divine wrestler said Jacob’s new name would be “Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (v. 28). Jacob’s limp represented the death of his old life of deceit and the beginning of his new life with God. The end of Jacob and the start of Israel. His limp led him to lean on God, who now moved powerfully in and through him.
Dec
17
2023
For over thirty years, Lourdes, a voice teacher in Manila, had taught students face to face. When she was asked to conduct classes online, she was anxious. “I’m not good with computers,” she recounted. “My laptop is old, and I’m not familiar with video conferencing platforms.” While it may seem a small thing to some, it was a real stressor for her. “I live alone, so there is no one to help,” she said. “I’m concerned that my students will quit, and I need the income.” Before each class, Lourdes would pray for her laptop to work properly. “Philippians 4:5–6 was the wallpaper on my screen,” she said. “How I clung to those words.” Paul exhorts us to not be anxious about anything, because “the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). God’s promise of His presence is ours to hold on to. As we rest in His nearness and commit everything to Him in prayer—both big and small—His peace “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). “God led me to websites about fixing computer glitches,” Lourdes said. “He also gave me patient students who understood my technological limitations.” God’s presence, help, and peace are ours to enjoy as we follow Him all the days of our life. We can say with confidence: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (v. 4). 
Dec
16
2023
David and Angie had felt called to move overseas, and the fruitful ministry that followed seemed to confirm it. But there was one downside to their move. David’s elderly parents would now spend Christmases alone. David and Angie tried to mitigate his parents’ Christmas Day loneliness by posting gifts early and calling on Christmas morning. But what his parents really wanted was them. With David’s income only permitting an occasional trip home, what else could they do? David needed wisdom. Proverbs 3 is a crash course in wisdom-seeking, showing us how to receive it by taking our situations to God (vv. 5–6), describing its qualities as love and faithfulness (vv. 3–4, 7–12), and its benefits as peace and longevity (vv. 13–18). In a touching note, it adds that God gives such wisdom by taking us “into His confidence” (v. 32). God whispers His solutions to those who are close to Him. Praying about his problem one night, David had an idea. Next Christmas Day, he and Angie put on their best clothes, decorated the table with tinsel, and brought in the roast dinner. David’s parents did the same. Then, placing a laptop on each table, they ate together via video link. It almost felt like they were in the same room. It’s become a family tradition ever since. God took David into His confidence and gave him wisdom. He loves to whisper creative solutions to our problems.
Dec
15
2023
In the southern Bahamas lies a small piece of land called Ragged Island. In the nineteenth century it had an active salt industry, but because of a decline in that industry, many people emigrated to nearby islands. As of 2016, fewer than eighty people lived there. The island featured three denominations, yet the people all gathered together in one place for worship and fellowship each week. With so few residents, a sense of community was especially vital for them. The people of the early church, written about in Acts, felt a crucial need and desire for community as well. They were excited about their newfound faith that was made possible by His death and resurrection. But they also knew He was no longer physically with them, so they knew they needed each other. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, to fellowship, and to sharing communion together (Acts 2:42). They gathered in homes for worship and meals and cared for the needs among them. The apostle Paul described the church in this way: “All the believers were one in heart and mind” (4:32). Filled with the Holy Spirit, they praised God continually and brought the church’s needs to Him in prayer. Have you made fellowship with God and His people a priority? Community is essential for our growth and support. Don’t try to go it alone. God will develop that sense of community as you share your struggles and joys with others and draw near to Him together.
Dec
14
2023
While on vacation, my wife and I enjoyed some early morning bike rides. One route took us through a neighborhood of multi-million-dollar homes. We saw a variety of people—residents walking their dogs, fellow bike riders, and numerous workers building new homes or tending well-kept landscapes. It was a mixture of people from all walks of life, and I was reminded of a valuable reality. There was no true distinction among us. Rich or poor. Wealthy or working-class. Known or unknown. All of us on that street that morning were the same. “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2). Regardless of differences, we were all made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). But there’s more. Being equal before God also means that no matter our economic, societal, or ethnic situation, we’re all born with a sin condition: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We’re all disobedient and equally guilty before Him, and we need Jesus. We often divide people into groups for a variety of reasons. But in reality, we’re all part of the human race. And though we’re all in the same situation—sinners in need of a Savior— we can be “justified freely” (made right with God) by His grace (Romans 3:24).
Dec
13
2023
I set my phone down, weary of the constant bombardment of images, ideas, and notifications that the little screen broadcasted. Then, I picked it up and turned it on again. Why? In his 2013 book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr describes how the internet has shaped our relationship with stillness: “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” Living life on a mental jet ski doesn’t sound healthy. But how do we begin to slow down, to dive deeply into still spiritual waters?   In Psalm 131, David writes, “I have calmed and quieted myself” (v. 2). David’s words remind me that I have responsibility. Changing habits starts with my choice to be still—even if I must make that choice over and over again. Slowly, though, we experience God’s satisfying goodness. Like a little child, we rest in contentment, remembering that He alone offers hope (v. 3), soul-satisfaction that no smartphone app can touch and no social media site can deliver.    
Dec
12
2023
Anne grew up in poverty and pain. Two of her siblings died in infancy. At five, an eye disease left her partially blind and unable to read or write. When Anne was eight, her mother died from tuberculosis. Shortly after, her abusive father abandoned his three surviving children. The youngest was sent to live with relatives, but Anne and her brother, Jimmie, went to Tewksbury Almshouse, a dilapidated, overcrowded poorhouse. A few months later, Jimmie died. At age fourteen, Anne’s circumstances brightened. She was sent to a school for the blind, where she underwent surgery to improve her vision and learned to read and write. Though she struggled to fit in, she excelled academically and graduated valedictorian. Today we know her best as Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher and companion. Through effort, patience, and love, Anne taught blind and deaf Helen to speak, to read Braille, and to graduate from college. Joseph too had to overcome extreme trials: at seventeen, he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and was later wrongly imprisoned (Genesis 37; 39–41). Yet God used him to save Egypt and his family from famine (50:20). We all face trials and troubles. But just as God helped Joseph and Anne to overcome and to deeply impact the lives of others, He can help and use us. Seek Him for help and guidance. He sees and hears.
Dec
11
2023
While at a water park with some friends, we attempted to navigate a floating obstacle course made of inflatable platforms. The bouncy, slippery platforms made walking straight almost impossible. As we wobbled our way across ramps, cliffs, and bridges, we found ourselves yelping as we fell unceremoniously into the water. After completing one course, my friend, completely exhausted, leaned on one of the “towers” to catch her breath. Almost immediately, it buckled under her weight, sending her hurtling into the water. Unlike the flimsy towers at the water park, in Bible times, a tower was a stronghold for defense and protection. Judges 9:51 describes how the people of Thebez fled to “a strong tower” to hide from Abimelek’s attack on their city. In Proverbs 18:10 (nkjv), the writer used the image of a strong tower to describe who God is—the One who saves those who trust Him. Sometimes, however, rather than lean on the strong tower of God when we're tired or beaten down, we seek other things for safety and support—a career, relationships, or physical comforts. We’re no different from the rich man who looked for strength in his wealth (v. 11). But just as the inflatable tower couldn't support my friend, these things can't give us what we really need. God—who's all-powerful and in control of all situations—provides true comfort and security.
Dec
10
2023
Ellen was on a tight budget, so she was glad to receive a Christmas bonus. That would have been enough. When she deposited the money, however, she received another surprise. The teller said that as a Christmas present the bank had deposited her January mortgage payment into her checking account. Now she and Trey could pay other bills and bless someone else with a Christmas surprise! God has a way of blessing us beyond what we expect. Naomi was bitter and broken by the death of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:20). Her desperate situation was rescued by Boaz, a relative who married her daughter-in-law and provided a home for her and Naomi (4:10). That might have been all Naomi could hope for. But then God blessed Ruth and Boaz with a son. Now Naomi had a grandson to “renew your life and sustain you in your old age” (v. 15). That would have been enough. As the women of Bethlehem put it, “Naomi has a son!” (v. 17). Then little Obed grew—and became the father of Jesse, the father of David (v. 17). Naomi’s family belonged to Israel’s royal line, the most important dynasty in history! That would have been enough. David, however, became the ancestor of . . . Jesus. If we believe in Christ, we’re in a similar position to Naomi. We had nothing until He redeemed us. Now we’re fully accepted by our Father, who blesses us to bless others. That is so much more than enough.
Dec
9
2023
As a child, I collected postage stamps. When my angkong (Fukienese for “grandfather”) heard of my hobby, he started saving stamps from his office mail every day. Whenever I visited my grandparents, Angkong would give me an envelope filled with a variety of beautiful stamps. “Even though I’m always busy,” he told me once, “I won’t forget you.” Angkong wasn’t given to overt displays of affection, but I felt his love deeply. In an infinitely deeper way, God demonstrated His love toward Israel when He declared, “I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). Suffering in Babylon for idolatry and disobedience in days past, His people lamented, “The Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14). But God’s love for His people hadn’t changed. He promised them forgiveness and restoration (vv. 8–13). “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,” God told Israel, as He says to us today in Scripture (v. 16). As I ponder His words of reassurance, it reminds me so deeply of Jesus’ nail-scarred hands—stretched out in love for us and for our salvation (John 20:24–27). Like my grandfather’s stamps and his tender words, God holds out His forgiving hand as an eternal token of His love. Let’s thank Him for His love—an unchanging love. He will never forget us.
Dec
8
2023
During the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dave and Carla spent months looking for a church home. Following health guidelines, which limited various in-person experiences, made it even more difficult. They longed for connection to a body of believers. “It’s a hard time to find a church,” Carla emailed me. Within me rose a realization from my own longing to be reunited with my church family, “It’s a hard time to be the church,” I responded. In that season, our church had “pivoted,” offering food in surrounding neighborhoods, creating online services, and phoning every member with support and prayer. My husband and I participated and yet wondered what else we could do to “be the church” in our changed world. In Hebrews 10:25, the writer exhorts readers not to neglect “meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but [encourage] one another.” Perhaps due to persecution (vv. 32–34) or maybe as a result of simply growing weary (12:3), the struggling early believers needed a nudge to keep being the church. And today, I need a nudge too. Do you? When circumstances change how we experience church, will we continue to be the church? Let’s creatively encourage one another and build each other up as God guides us. Share our resources. Send a text of support. Gather as we’re able. Pray for one another. Let’s be the church.
Dec
7
2023
“You’re not what I expected. I thought I’d hate you, but I don’t.” The young man’s words seemed harsh, but they were actually an effort to be kind. I was studying abroad in his country, a land that decades earlier had been at war with my own. We were participating in a group discussion in class together, and I noticed he seemed distant. When I asked if I had offended him somehow, he responded “Not at all . . . . And that’s the thing. My grandfather was killed in that war, and I hated your people and your country for it. But now I see how much we have in common, and that surprises me. I don’t see why we can’t be friends.” Prejudice is as old as the human race. Two millennia ago, when Nathaniel first heard about Jesus living in Nazareth, his bias was evident: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” he asked (John 1:46). Nathaniel lived in the region of Galilee, like Jesus. He probably thought God’s Messiah would come from another place; even other Galileans looked down on Nazareth because it seemed to be an unremarkable little village. This much is clear. Nathaniel’s response didn’t stop Jesus from loving him, and he was transformed as he became His disciple. “You are the Son of God!” Nathaniel later declared (John 1:49). There is no bias that can stand against God’s transforming love.
Dec
6
2023
When American author O. Henry wrote his beloved 1905 Christmas story “The Gift of the Magi,” he was struggling to rebound from personal troubles. Still, he penned an inspiring story that highlights a beautiful, Christ-like character trait—sacrifice. In the story, an impoverished wife sells her beautiful long hair on Christmas Eve to buy a gold pocket watch chain for her husband. As she learns later, however, her husband had sold his pocket watch to buy a set of combs for her beautiful hair. Their greatest gift to each other? Sacrifice. From each, the gesture showed great love. In that way, the story represents the loving gifts the magi (wise men) gave to the Christ child after His holy birth (see Matthew 2:1,11). More than those gifts, however, the Holy Child would one day give His life for the whole world. In our daily lives, believers in Jesus can highlight His great gift by offering to others the sacrifice of our time, treasures, and a temperament that all speak of love. As the apostle Paul wrote, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). There’s no better gift than sacrificing for others through Christ’s love.
Dec
5
2023
The person we know as St. Nicholas (St. Nick) was born around ad 270 to a wealthy Grecian family. Tragically, his parents died when he was a boy, and he lived with his uncle who loved him and taught him to follow God. When Nicholas was a young man, legend says that he heard of three sisters who didn’t have a dowry for marriage and would soon be destitute. Wanting to follow Jesus’ teaching about giving to those in need, he took his inheritance and gave each sister a bag of gold coins. Over the years, Nicholas gave the rest of his money away feeding the poor and caring for others. In the following centuries, Nicholas was honored for his lavish generosity, and he inspired the character we know as Santa Claus—a person who generously gives gifts every Christmas.  While the glitz and advertising of the season may threaten our celebrations, the gift-giving tradition connects to Nicholas. And his generosity was based on his devotion to Jesus. Nicholas knew that Christ enacted unimagined generosity, bringing the most profound gift: God. Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And He brought us the gift of life. In a world of death, He “save[s] his people from their sins” (v. 21) When we believe in Jesus, sacrificial generosity unfolds. We tend to others’ needs, and we joyfully provide for them as God provides for us. This is St. Nick’s story; but far more, this is God’s story.
Dec
4
2023
Years ago, our family visited Four Corners, the only place in the United States where four states meet at one location. My husband stood in the section marked Arizona. Our oldest son, A.J., hopped into Utah. Our youngest son, Xavier, held my hand as we stepped into Colorado. When I scooted into New Mexico, Xavier said, “Mom, I can’t believe you left me in Colorado!” We were together and apart as our laughter was heard in four different states. Now that our grown sons have left home, I have a deeper appreciation of God’s promise to be near all His people wherever they go. After Moses died, God called Joshua into leadership and guaranteed His presence as He expanded the Israelite’s territory (Joshua 1:1–4). God said, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v. 5). Knowing His people would struggle with doubt and fear, God built a foundation of hope on these words: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (v. 9). No matter where God leads us or our loved ones, even through difficult times, His most comforting commitment assures us that He’s always present.
Dec
3
2023
When Elaine was diagnosed with advanced cancer, she and her husband, Chuck, knew it wouldn’t be long until she’d be with Jesus. Both of them treasured the promise of Psalm 23 that God would be with them as they journeyed through the deepest and most difficult valley of their fifty-four years together. They took hope in the fact that Elaine was ready to meet Jesus, having placed her faith in Him decades before. At his wife’s memorial service, Chuck shared that he was still traveling “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4 nkjv). His wife’s life in heaven had already begun. But the “shadow of death” was still with him and with others who had greatly loved Elaine. As we travel through the valley of shadows, where can we find our source of light? The apostle John declares that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). And in John 8:12, Jesus proclaimed: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As believers in Jesus, we “walk in the light of [His] presence” (Psalm 89:15). Our God has promised to be with us and to be our source of light even when we travel through the darkest of shadows.
Dec
2
2023
In 1951, Joseph Stalin’s doctor advised him to reduce his workload in order to preserve his health. The ruler of the Soviet Union accused the physician of spying and had him arrested. The tyrant who had oppressed so many with lies could not abide the truth, and—as he had done so many times—Stalin removed the one who told him the facts. Truth won anyway. Stalin died in 1953. The prophet Jeremiah, arrested for his dire prophecies (Jeremiah 38:1–6), told the king of Judah exactly what would happen to Jerusalem. “Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you,” he said to King Zedekiah (v. 20). Failure to surrender to the army surrounding the city would only make matters worse. “All your wives and children will be brought out to the Babylonians,” Jeremiah warned. “You yourself will not escape from their hands” (v. 23). Zedekiah failed to act on that truth, and he left God’s prophet in chains (see 40:1). Eventually the Babylonians caught the king, killed all his sons, and burned the city (ch. 39). In a sense, every human being faces Zedekiah’s dilemma. We’re trapped inside the walls of our own life of sin and poor choices. Often, we make things worse by avoiding those who tell us the truth about ourselves. All we need to do is surrender to the will of the One who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to [God] the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Dec
1
2023
When we think of best business practices, what first comes to mind probably aren’t qualities like kindness and generosity. But according to entrepreneur James Rhee, they should. In Rhee’s experience as CEO at a company on the brink of financial ruin, prioritizing what he calls “goodwill”—a “culture of kindness” and a spirit of giving—saved the company and led to its flourishing. Putting these qualities central gave people the hope and motivation they needed to unify, innovate, and problem-solve. Rhee explains that “goodwill . . . is a real asset that can compound and be amplified.” In daily life too, it’s easy to think of qualities like kindness as vague and intangible, afterthoughts to our other priorities. But, as the apostle Paul taught, such qualities matter most of all. Writing to new believers, Paul emphasized that the purpose of believers’ lives is transformation through the Spirit into mature members of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:15). To that end, every word and every action has value only if it builds up and benefits others (v. 29). Transformation in Jesus can only happen through daily prioritizing kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (v. 32). As we grow closer together through Christ’s Spirit, we daily learn anew the true, priceless value of God’s goodwill living in us.
Nov
30
2023
Nine-year-old Dan Gill arrived with his best friend Archie at their classmate’s birthday party. When the mother of the birthday boy saw Archie, however, she refused him entry. “There aren’t enough chairs,” she insisted. Dan offered to sit on the floor to make room for his friend, who was Black, but the mother said no. Dejected, Dan left their presents with her and returned home with Archie, the sting of his friend’s rejection searing his heart. Now, decades later, Dan is a schoolteacher who keeps one empty chair in his classroom. When students ask why, he explains it’s his reminder to “always have room in the classroom for anyone.” A heart for all people can be seen in Jesus’ welcoming life: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This invitation may seem to contradict the “first to the Jew” scope of Jesus’ ministry (Romans 1:16). But the gift of salvation is for all people who place their faith in Jesus. “This is true for everyone who believes,” Paul wrote, “no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22 nlt). We rejoice then at Jesus’ invitation to all: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). For all seeking His rest, His open heart awaits.
Nov
29
2023
I needed two medications urgently. One was for my mom’s allergies and the other for my niece’s eczema. Their discomfort was worsening, but the medicines were no longer available in pharmacies. Desperate and helpless, I prayed repeatedly, Lord, please help them. Weeks later, their conditions became manageable. God seemed to be saying: “There are times when I use medicines to heal. But medicines don’t have the final say; I do. Don’t place your trust in them, but in Me.”    In Psalm 20, King David took comfort in God’s trustworthiness. The Israelites had a powerful army, but they knew that their biggest strength came from “the name of the Lord” (v. 7). They placed their trust in God’s name—in who He is, His unchanging character, and unfailing promises. They held on to the truth that He who is sovereign and powerful over all situations would hear their prayers and deliver them from their enemies (v. 6).   While God may use the resources of this world to help us, ultimately, victory over our problems comes from Him. Whether He gives us a resolution or the grace to endure, we can trust that He’ll be to us all that He says He is. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by our troubles, but we can face them with His hope and peace.     
Nov
28
2023
The whispering wall in New York City’s Grand Central Station is an acoustic oasis from the clamor of the area. This unique spot allows people to communicate quiet messages from a distance of thirty feet apart. When one person stands at the base of a granite archway and speaks softly into the wall, soundwaves travel up and over the curved stone to the listener on the other side. Job heard the whisper of a message when his life was filled with noise and the tragedy of losing nearly everything (see Job 1:13–19; 2:7). His friends blabbered their opinions, his own thoughts tumbled endlessly, and trouble had invaded every aspect of his existence. Still, the majesty of nature spoke softly to him about God’s divine power. The splendor of the skies, the mystery of the earth suspended in space, and the stability of the horizon reminded Job that the world was in the palm of God’s hand (26:7–11). Even a churning sea and a rumbling atmosphere led him to say, “these are but the outer fringe of [God’s] works; how faint the whisper we hear of him” (v. 14). If the world’s wonders represent just a tiny fragment of God’s capabilities, it’s clear that His power exceeds our ability to understand it. In times of brokenness and disappointment, this gives us hope. God can do anything, including what He did for Job as He sustained him during suffering.
Nov
27
2023
“A thorn has entered your foot—that is why you weep at times at night,” wrote Catherine of Sienna in the fourteenth century. She continued, “There are some in this world who can pull it out. The skill that takes they have learned from [God].” Catherine devoted her life to cultivating that “skill,” and is still remembered today for her remarkable capacity for empathy and compassion for others in their pain.  That image of pain as a deeply embedded thorn that requires tenderness and skill to remove lingers with me. It’s a vivid reminder of how complex and wounded we are, and of our need to dig deeper to develop true compassion for ourselves and others. Or, as the apostle Paul describes it, it’s an image that reminds me that loving others like Jesus does requires more than good intentions and well-wishes—it requires being “devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10), “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (v. 12). It requires being willing to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice” but to “mourn with those who mourn” (v. 15). It requires all of us. In a broken world, none of us escape unwounded—hurt and scars are deeply embedded in each of us. But deeper still is the love we find in Christ; love tender enough to draw out those thorns with the balm of compassion, willing to embrace both friend and enemy (v. 14) to find healing together.
Nov
26
2023
When England’s Queen Elizabeth passed away in September 2022, thousands of soldiers were deployed to march in the funeral procession. Their individual roles must have been almost unnoticeable in the large crowd, but many saw it as the greatest honor. One soldier said it was “an opportunity to do our last duty for Her Majesty.” For him, it was not what he did, but whom he was doing it for that made it an important job. The Levites assigned to take care of the tabernacle furnishings had a similar aim. Unlike the priests, the Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites were assigned seemingly mundane tasks: cleaning the furniture, lampstands, curtains, posts, tent pegs, and ropes (Numbers 3:25–26, 31, 36–37). Yet their jobs were specifically assigned by God, constituted “doing the work of the tabernacle” (v. 8), and are recorded in the Bible for posterity. What an encouraging thought! Today, what many of us do at work, at home, or in church may seem insignificant to a world that values titles and salaries. But God sees it differently. If we work and serve for His sake—seeking excellence and for His honor, even in the smallest task—then our work is important because we’re serving our great God.
Nov
25
2023
As a member of the leadership team for a local ministry, part of my job was to invite others to join us as group discussion leaders. My invitations described the time commitment required and outlined the ways leaders would need to engage with their small group participants, both in meetings and during regular phone calls. I was often reluctant to impose on other people, being aware of the sacrifice they’d be making to become a leader. And yet sometimes their reply would completely overwhelm me: “I’d be honored.” Instead of citing legitimate reasons to decline, they described their gratitude to God for all He’d done in their lives as their reason for being eager to give back. When the time came to give resources toward building a temple for the Lord, David had a similar response: “Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” (1 Chronicles 29:14) David’s generosity was driven by gratitude for God’s involvement in his life and that of the people of Israel. His response speaks of his humility and his acknowledgment of God’s goodness toward “foreigners and strangers” (v. 15). Our giving to God’s work—whether in time, talent, or treasure—reflects our gratitude to the One who gave to us to begin with. All that we have comes from His hand (v. 14); in response we can give gratefully to Him.
Nov
24
2023
During my morning walk, the sun hit the waters of Lake Michigan at a perfect angle to produce a stunning view. I asked my friend to stop and wait for me as I positioned my camera to take a pic. Because of the position of the sun, I couldn’t see the image on my phone’s screen before I snapped the shot. But having done this before, I sensed it would be a great picture. I told me friend, “We can’t see it now, but pictures like this always come out good.” Walking by faith through this life is often like taking that picture. You can’t always see the details on the screen, but that doesn’t mean the stunning picture isn’t there. You don’t always see God working, but you can trust that He’s there. As the writer of Hebrews penned, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see” (11:1). By faith we place our confidence and assurance in God—especially when we can’t see or understand what He’s doing. With faith, not seeing doesn’t prevent us from “taking the shot.” It just might make us pray more and seek God’s direction. We can also rely on knowing what has happened in the past as others have walked by faith (vv. 4–12) as well as through our own stories. What God has done before, He can do again.
Nov
23
2023
Many consider Ferrante and Teicher to be the greatest piano duet team of all time. Their collaborative presentations were so precise that their style was described as four hands but only one mind. Hearing their music, one can begin to grasp the amount of effort required to perfect their craft. But there’s more. They loved what they did. In fact, even after they had retired in 1989, Ferrante and Teicher would occasionally show up at a local piano store just to play an impromptu concert. They simply loved making music. David also loved making music—but he teamed up with God to give his song a higher purpose. His psalms affirm his struggle-filled life and his desire to live in deep dependence upon his God. Yet, in the midst of his personal failures and imperfections, his praise expressed a kind of spiritual “perfect pitch,” acknowledging the greatness and goodness of God even in the darkest of times. The heart behind David’s praise is simply stated in Psalm 18:1, which reads, “I love you, Lord, my strength.” David continued, “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise” (v. 3) and noted that he could turn to Him “in my distress” (v. 6). Regardless of our situation, may we likewise lift our hearts to praise and worship our God. He is worthy of all praise!
Nov
22
2023
In 2016, Wanda Dench sent a text inviting her grandson to Thanksgiving dinner, not knowing he’d recently changed his phone number. The text instead went to a stranger, Jamal. Jamal didn’t have plans, and so, after clarifying who he was, asked if he could still come to dinner. Wanda said, “Of course you can.” Jamal joined the family dinner in what has become a yearly tradition. A mistaken invitation became an annual blessing. Wanda’s kindness in inviting a stranger to dinner reminds me of Jesus’ encouragement in Luke’s gospel. During a dinner party at a “prominent” Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1), Jesus noticed who was invited and how the guests jostled for the best seats (v. 7). Jesus told his host that inviting people based on what they could do for him in return (v. 12) meant the blessing would be limited. Instead, Jesus told the host that extending hospitality to people without the resources to repay him would bring even greater blessing (v. 14). For Wanda, inviting Jamal to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner resulted in the unexpected blessing of a lasting friendship that was a great encouragement to her after her husband’s death. When we reach out to others, not because of what we might receive, but because of God’s love flowing through us, we receive far greater blessing and encouragement.
Nov
21
2023
The first thing I noticed about the city was its gambling outlets. Next, its cannabis shops, “adult” stores, and giant billboards for opportunistic lawyers making money out of others’ mishaps. While I had visited many shady cities before, this one seemed to reach a new low. My mood brightened, however, when I spoke to a taxi driver the next morning. “I ask God every day to send me the people He wants me to help,” he said. “Gambling addicts, prostitutes, people from broken homes tell me their problems in tears. I stop the car, I listen, I pray for them. This is my ministry.” After describing Jesus’ descent into our fallen world (Philippians 2:5–8), the apostle Paul gives believers in Jesus a calling. As we pursue God’s will (v. 13) and hold to the “word of life”—the gospel (v. 16)—we’ll be “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” who “shine . . . like stars in the sky” (v. 15). Like that taxi driver, we’re to bring Jesus’ light into the darkness. A Christian has only to live faithfully in order to change the world, historian Christopher Dawson said, because in that very act of living “there is contained all the mystery of divine life.” Let’s ask God’s Spirit to empower us to live faithfully as Christ’s people, shining His light in the world’s darkest places.
Nov
20
2023
As a boy, Ming found his father harsh and distant. Even when Ming was ill and had to see the pediatrician, his father grumbled that it was troublesome. Once, he overheard a quarrel and learned his father had wanted him aborted. The feeling of being an unwanted child followed him into his adult years. When Ming became a believer in Jesus, he found it difficult to relate to God as Father, even though he knew Him as Lord of his life. If, like Ming, we haven’t felt loved by our earthly fathers, we may face similar doubts in our relationship with God. We may wonder, Am I a burden to Him? Does He care about me? But while our earthly fathers may have been silent and distant, God our heavenly Father comes close and says, “I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). In Isaiah 43, God speaks as our Creator and as a Father. If you wonder whether He wants you to live under His care as part of His family, hear what He said to His people: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth” (v. 6). If you wonder what you’re worth to Him, hear His affirmation, “You are precious and honored in my sight” (v. 4). God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to pay the penalty of sin so that we who believe in Him can be with Him forever (John 3:16). Because of what He says and what He’s done for us, we can have full confidence that He wants us and loves us.
Nov
19
2023
On every school day for three years, Colleen has been dressing up in a different costume or mask to greet her children as they exit the school bus each afternoon. It brightens the day of everyone on the bus—including the bus driver: “[She] bring[s] so much joy to the kids on my bus, it’s amazing. I love that.” Colleen’s children agree. It all started when Colleen began fostering children. Knowing how difficult it was to be separated from parents and to attend a new school, she began greeting the kids in a costume. After three days of doing so, the kids didn’t want her to stop. So Colleen continued. It was an investment of time and money at thrift shops, but, as reporter Meredith TerHaar describes, it brought a “priceless result: happiness.” One little verse amid a book of wise and witty advice, largely by King Solomon to his son, sums up the results of this mom’s antics: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). By bringing cheer to all her kids (biological, adopted, and foster), she hoped to prevent crushed spirits. The source of true and lasting joy is God through the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21; Galatians 5:22). The Spirit enables us to shine God’s light as we strive to bring joy to others, a joy that offers hope and strength to face trials.
Nov
18
2023
Grainger McKoy is an artist who studies and sculpts birds, capturing their grace, vulnerability, and power. One of the pieces is titled Recovery. It shows the single right wing of a pintail duck, stretched high in a vertical position. Below, a plaque describes the bird’s recovery stroke as “the moment of the bird’s greatest weakness in flight, yet also the moment when it gathers strength for the journey ahead.” Grainger includes this verse: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth. Enduring a season when he was overwhelmed with personal struggle, Paul begged God to remove what he described as a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). His affliction might have been a physical ailment or spiritual opposition. Like Jesus in the Garden the night before His crucifixion (Luke 22:39–44), Paul repeatedly asked God to remove his suffering. The Holy Spirit responded by assuring Paul that He would provide the strength needed. Paul learned, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Oh, the thorns we experience in this life! Like a bird gathering its strength for the journey ahead, we can gather up God’s strength for what we are facing. In His strength, we find our own.
Nov
17
2023
He did many things well, but there was a problem. Everyone saw it. But because he was so effective in accomplishing most of his role, his anger issue wasn’t adequately addressed. He was never truly confronted. Sadly, this resulted in many people being hurt over the years. And, in the end, it led to the premature close of a career that could have been something so much more for this brother in Christ. If only I’d chosen to confront him in love long ago. In Genesis 4, God provides the perfect picture of what it means to confront someone’s sin in love. Cain was infuriated. A farmer, he’d presented “some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord” (v. 3). But God made it clear that what he brought Him wasn’t acceptable. Cain’s offering was rejected, and he was “very angry, and his face was downcast” (v. 5). So, God confronted him and said, “Why are you angry?” (v. 6). He then told Cain to turn from his sin and pursue what was good and right. Sadly, Cain ignored God’s words and committed a horrific act (v. 8). While we can’t force others to turn from sinful behaviors, we can compassionately confront them. We can “speak the truth in love” so that we both become “more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 nlt). And, as God gives us ears to listen, we can also receive hard words of truth from others.
Nov
16
2023
“Christianity is not for me. It’s boring. One of my values I hold on to is adventure. That’s life to me,” a young woman told me. It saddened me that she hadn’t yet learned the incredible joy and excitement that comes with following Jesus—an adventure like no other. I excitedly shared with her about Jesus and how real life is found in Him. Mere words are inadequate to describe the adventure of knowing and walking with Jesus, God’s Son. But the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1 gives us a small but powerful glimpse of life with Him. God gives us spiritual blessings directly from heaven (v. 3), holiness and blamelessness in God’s eyes (v. 4), and adoption as His own into the King’s royal family (v. 5). He blesses us with the lavish gift of His forgiveness and grace (vv. 7–8), understanding of the mystery of His will (v. 9), and a new purpose of living “for the praise of His glory” (v. 12). The Holy Spirit comes to live in us to empower and lead us (v. 13), and He guarantees eternity in God’s presence forever (v. 14). When Jesus Christ enters our life, we discover that getting to know Him more and following Him closely is the greatest of adventures. Seek Him now and every day for real life.
Nov
15
2023
Testimony time was the segment in our church service when people shared how God had been at work in their lives. Auntie—or Sister Langford as she was known by others in our church family—was known for packing lots of praise into her testimonies. On the occasions when she shared her personal conversion story, one could expect her to take up a good bit of the service. Her heart gushed with praise to God who had graciously changed her life! Similarly, the testimony of the writer of Psalm 66 is packed with praise as he testifies about what God had done for His people. “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!” (v. 5). His deeds included miraculous rescue (v. 6), preservation (v. 9), and testing and discipline that resulted in His people being brought to a better place (vv. 10–12). While there are God-experiences that we have in common with other believers in Jesus, there are also things unique to our individual journeys. Have there been times in your life when God has particularly made Himself known to you? Those are worth sharing with others who need to hear how He's worked in your life. “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me” (v. 16).
Nov
14
2023
One weekend in March, I led a retreat on the theme of Mary and Martha, the sisters in Bethany whom Jesus loved. We were in a remote spot along the English coastline. When we were snowed in unexpectedly, many of the participants remarked how the extra day together meant they could practice sitting at Jesus’s feet as Mary did. They wanted to pursue the “one thing . . . needed” (Luke 10:42 NKJV) that Jesus lovingly told Martha she should embrace, which was choosing to draw close and learn from Him. When Jesus visited the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Martha wouldn’t have known He was coming in advance, so I can understand how she could have been upset with Mary for not helping with the preparations to feed Jesus and His friends. But she lost sight of what really mattered—receiving from Jesus as she learned from Him. Jesus wasn’t scolding her for wanting to serve Him but rather reminding her that she was missing the most important thing. When interruptions make us irritable or we feel overwhelmed about the many things we want to accomplish, we can stop and remind ourselves about what really matters in life. As we slow ourselves down, picturing ourselves sitting at the feet of Jesus, we can ask Him to fill us with His love and life. We can revel in being His beloved disciple.
Nov
13
2023
I never saw the ice. But I felt it. The back end of the pickup I was driving—my grandfather’s—fishtailed. One swerve, two, three—and I was airborne, flying off a fifteen-foot embankment. I remember thinking, This would be awesome if I wasn’t going to die. A moment later, the truck crunched into the steep slope and rolled to the bottom. I crawled out of the crushed cab, unscathed. The truck was utterly totaled that December morning in 1992. God had spared me. But what about my grandfather? What would he say? In fact, he never said a single word about the truck. Not one. There was no scolding, no repayment plan, nothing. Just forgiveness. And a grandfather’s smile that I was okay. My grandfather’s grace reminds me of God’s grace in Jeremiah 31. There, despite their tremendous failings, God promises a restored relationship with His people, saying, “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will remember their sins no more” (v. 34). I’m sure my grandfather never forgot that I’d wrecked his truck. But he acted just like God does here, not remembering it, not shaming me, not making me work to repay the debt I rightfully owed. Just as God says He’ll do, my grandfather chose to remember it no more, as if the destructive thing I’d done had never happened.
Nov
12
2023
The recently widowed woman was growing concerned. To collect some vital funds from an insurance policy, she needed key information about the accident that had taken her husband’s life. She had talked to a police officer who said he’d help her, but then she lost his business card. So she prayed, pleading with God for help. A short time later, she was at her church when she walked by a window and saw a card—the policeman’s card—on a windowsill. She had no idea how it got there, but she knew why. She took prayer seriously. And why not? Scripture says that God is listening for our requests. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,” Peter wrote, “and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). The Bible gives us examples of how God responded to prayer. One is Hezekiah, the king of Judah, who became ill. He’d even received word from Isaiah, a prophet, saying he was going to die. The king knew what to do: he “prayed to the Lord” (2 Kings 20:2). Immediately, God told Isaiah to give the king this message from Him: “I have heard your prayer” (v. 5). Hezekiah was granted fifteen more years of life. God doesn’t always answer prayers with things like a card on a windowsill, but He assures us that when difficult situations arise, we don’t face them alone. God sees us, and He’s with us—attentive to our prayers.
Nov
11
2023
Dizziness struck me in the stairwell of the office building. Overwhelmed, I gripped the banister because the stairs seemed to spin. As my heart pounded and my legs buckled, I clung onto the banister, thankful for its strength. Medical tests showed I had anemia. Although its cause wasn’t serious and my condition was resolved, I’ll never forget how weak I felt that day. That’s why I admire the woman who touched Jesus. She not only moved through the crowd in her weakened state, but she also showed faith in venturing out to approach Him. She had good reason to be afraid: Jewish law defined her as unclean and by exposing others to her uncleanness, she could be punished (Leviticus 15:25−27). But the thought, If I only touch His cloak kept her going. The Greek word that is translated as “touch” in Matthew 9:21 is not mere touching but has the stronger meaning of “to hold onto” or “to attach oneself.” The woman tightly held onto Jesus. She believed He could heal her. Jesus saw, in the midst of a crowd, the desperate faith of one woman. When we too venture out in faith and cling to Christ in our need, He welcomes us and comes to our aid. We can tell Him our story without fear of rejection or punishment. Jesus tells us today, “Cling to me.”
Nov
10
2023
Too late, Tom felt the chilling “click” beneath his combat boots. Instinctively he bounded away in an adrenaline-fueled leap. The deadly device hidden underground didn’t detonate. Later, the explosive ordnance disposal team unearthed eighty pounds of high explosives from the spot. Tom wore those boots until they fell apart. “My lucky boots,” he calls them. Tom may have clung to those boots simply to commemorate his close call. But people are often tempted to consider objects “lucky” or to even give them the more spiritual label “blessed.” Danger arrives when we credit an object—even a symbol—as a source of God’s blessing. The Israelites learned this the hard way. The Philistine army had just routed them in battle. As Israel reviewed the debacle, someone thought of taking the “ark of the LORD’s covenant” into a rematch (1 Samuel 4:3). That seemed like a good idea (vv. 6–9). After all, the ark of the covenant was a holy object. But the Israelites had the wrong perspective. By itself, the ark couldn’t bring them anything. Putting their faith in an object instead of in the presence of the one true God, the Israelites suffered an even worse defeat, and the enemy captured the ark (v. 10). Mementos that remind us to pray or to thank God for His goodness are fine. But they’re never the source of blessing. That is God—and God alone.
Nov
9
2023
For years, John had been somewhat of an irritant at church. He was bad-tempered, demanding, and often rude. He complained constantly about not being “served” well, and about volunteers and staff not doing their job. He was, honestly, hard to love. So when I heard that he’d been diagnosed with cancer, I found it difficult to pray for him. Memories of his harsh words and unpleasant character filled my mind. But remembering Jesus’ call to love, I was drawn to say a simple prayer for John each day. A few days later, I found myself beginning to think a bit less often about his unlikeable qualities. He must be really hurting, I thought. Perhaps he’s feeling really lost now. Prayer, I realize, opens ourselves, our feelings, and our relationships with others to God, allowing Him to enter and bring His perspective into it all. The act of submitting our will and feelings to Him in prayer allows the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, slowly but surely. No wonder Jesus’ call to love our enemies is bound up tightly with a call to prayer: “Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). I have to admit, I still struggle to think well of John. But with the Spirit’s help, I’m learning to see him through God’s eyes and heart—as a person to be forgiven and loved.  
Nov
8
2023
In the midst of some military camps across Europe during World War II, an unusual type of supply was air-dropped for homesick soldiers—upright pianos. These instruments were specially manufactured to contain only ten percent of the normal amount of metal, and they received special water-resistant glue and anti-insect treatments. The pianos were rugged and simple, without frills, but provided hours of spirit-lifting entertainment for soldiers who gathered around to sing familiar songs of home. Singing—especially songs of praise—is one way that believers in Jesus can find peace in the battle too. King Jehoshaphat found this to be true when he faced vast invading armies (2 Chronicles 20). Terrified, the king called all the people together for prayer and fasting (vv. 3–4). In response, God told him to lead out soldiers to meet the enemy, promising that they would “not have to fight this battle” (v. 17). Jehoshaphat believed God and acted in faith. He appointed singers to go ahead of the soldiers and sing praise to God for the victory they believed they would see (v. 21). And as their music began, He miraculously defeated their enemies and saved His people (v. 22). Victory doesn’t always come when and how we want it to. But we can always proclaim Jesus’ ultimate victory over sin and death that has already been won for us. We can choose to rest in a spirit of worship even in the middle of a war zone.
Nov
7
2023
When I was a boy living on a ranch in Tennessee, I spent glorious afternoons roaming with my best friend. We’d hike into the woods, ride ponies, visit the rodeo arena, and venture into the barn to watch the cowboys work the horses. But whenever I heard my dad’s whistle—that clear sound slicing through the wind and all the other clatter—I’d immediately drop whatever I was doing and head home. The signal was unmistakable, and I knew I was being called by my father. Decades later, I’d still recognize that whistle. Jesus told His disciples that He was the shepherd, and His followers were the sheep. “The sheep listen to [the shepherd’s] voice,” He said. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). In a time when numerous leaders and teachers sought to confuse Christ’s disciples by asserting their authority, He declared that His loving voice could still be heard clearly, more distinct than all the others. “His sheep follow [the shepherd], because they know his voice” (v. 4). May we be careful as we listen for Jesus’ voice and avoid foolishly dismissing it, for the fundamental truth remains: The Shepherd speaks clearly, and His sheep hear His voice. Perhaps through a verse of Scripture, the words of a believing friend, or the nudge of the Spirit—Jesus speaks, and we do hear.
Nov
6
2023
“The baby birds will fly tomorrow!” My wife, Cari, was elated about the progress a family of wrens was making in a hanging basket on our front porch. She’d watched them daily, taking pictures as the mother brought food to the nest. Cari got up early the next morning to look in on them. She moved some of the greenery aside covering the nest but instead of seeing baby birds, the narrow eyes of a serpent met hers. The snake had scaled a vertical wall, slithered into the nest, and devoured them all. Cari was heartbroken and angry. I was out of town, so she called a friend to remove the snake. But the damage was done. Scripture tells of another serpent who left destruction in his path. The serpent in the garden of Eden deceived Eve about the tree God had warned her against eating from: “You will not certainly die,” he lied, “for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4–5). Sin and death entered the world as a result of Eve and Adam’s disobedience to God, and the deception wrought by “that ancient serpent, who is the devil” continues (Revelation 20:2). But Jesus came “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8), and through Him we’re restored to relationship with God. One day, He’ll make “everything new” (Revelation 21:5).
Nov
5
2023
At age twelve, Ibrahim arrived in Italy from West Africa, not knowing a word of Italian, struggling with a stutter, and forced to face anti-immigrant putdowns. None of that stopped the hard-working young man who, in his twenties, opened a pizza shop in Trento, Italy. His little business won over doubters to be listed as one of the top fifty pizzerias in the world. His hope was then to help feed hungry children on Italian streets. So he launched a “pizza charity” by expanding a Neapolitan tradition—where customers buy an extra coffee (caffè sospeso) for those in need—to pizza (pizza sospesa). He also urges immigrant children to look past prejudice and not give up.Such persistence recalls Paul’s lessons to the Galatians on continually doing good to all. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Paul continued, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (v. 10). Ibrahim, an immigrant who faced prejudice and language barriers, created an opportunity to do good. Food became “a bridge” leading to tolerance and understanding. Inspired by such persistence, we too can look for opportunities to do good. God, then, gets the glory as He works through our steady trying.
Nov
4
2023
When Sherman Smith recruited Deland McCullough to play American football for Miami University, he loved Deland and became the father Deland never had. Deland had great admiration for Sherman and aimed to become the man he was. Decades later, when Deland tracked down his birth mom, she shocked him with the news, “Your father’s name is Sherman Smith.” Yes, that Sherman Smith. Coach Smith was stunned to learn he had a son, and Deland was stunned that his father figure was literally his father! The next time they met, Sherman hugged Deland and said, “My son.” Deland had never heard that from a father. He knew Sherman “was saying it from a place of ‘I’m proud. This is my son,’ ” and he was overwhelmed. We too should be overwhelmed by the perfect love of our heavenly Father. John writes, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” We are as dumbfounded as Deland, who didn’t dare think someone like Sherman could be his dad. Is it really true? John insists, Yes, “And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). If you believe in Jesus, His Father is also your Dad. You may feel orphaned, alone in the world. But the truth is you have a Father—the only perfect One—and He’s proud to call you His child.
Nov
3
2023
A compassionate volunteer was called a “guardian angel” for his heroic efforts. Jake Manna was installing solar panels at a job site when he joined an urgent search to find a missing five-year-old girl. While neighbors searched their garages and yards, Manna took a path that led him into a nearby wooded area where he spotted the girl waist-deep in a marsh. He waded into the sticky mud to pull her out of her predicament and return her, damp but unharmed, to her grateful mother. Like that little girl, David also experienced deliverance. The singer “waited patiently” for God to respond to his heartfelt cries for mercy (Psalm 40:1). And He did. God leaned in, paid close attention to his cry for help, and responded by rescuing him from the “mud and mire” of his circumstances (v. 2)—providing sure footing for David’s life. The past rescues from the muddy marsh of life reinforced his desire to sing songs of praise, to make God his trust in future circumstances, and to share his story with others (vv. 3–4). When we find ourselves in life challenges such as financial difficulties, marital turmoil, and feelings of inadequacy, let’s cry out to God and patiently wait for Him to respond (v. 1). He’s there, ready to help us in our time of need and give us a firm place to stand.
Nov
2
2023
After I had a conflict with my mother, she finally agreed to meet with me more than an hour away from my home. But upon arriving, I discovered she had left before I got there. In my anger, I wrote her a note. But I revised it after I felt God nudging me to respond in love. After my mother read my revised message, she called me. “You’ve changed,” she said. God used my note to lead my mom to ask about Jesus and, eventually, receive Him as her personal Savior. In Matthew 5, Jesus affirms that His disciples are the light of the world (v. 14). He said, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (v. 16). As soon as we receive Christ as our Savior, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit. He transforms us so we can be radiant testimonies of God’s truth and love wherever we go. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be joyful lights of hope and peace who look more and more like Jesus every day. Every good thing we do then becomes an act of grateful worship, which looks attractive to others and can be perceived as vibrant faith. Surrendered to the Holy Spirit, we can give honor to the Father by reflecting the Light of the Son—Jesus.
Nov
1
2023
I recently visited Athens, Greece. Walking round its Ancient Agora—the marketplace where philosophers taught and Athenians worshiped—I found altars to Apollo and Zeus, all in the shadow of the Acropolis, where a statue of the goddess Athena once stood. We may not bow to Apollo or Zeus today, but society is no less religious. “Everybody worships,” novelist David Foster Wallace said, adding this warning: “If you worship money and things . . . then you will never have enough. . . . Worship your body and beauty. . . and you will always feel ugly. . . . Worship your intellect . . . [and] you will end up feeling stupid.” Our secular age has its own gods and they’re not benign. “People of Athens!” Paul said while visiting the Agora, “I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). The apostle then described the one true God as the Creator of all (vv. 24–26) who wants to be known (v. 27) and who has revealed Himself through the resurrection of Jesus (v. 31). Unlike Apollo and Zeus, this God isn’t made by human hands. Unlike money, looks, or intelligence, worshiping Him won’t ruin us. Our “god” is whatever we rely on to give us purpose and security. Thankfully, when every earthly god fails us, the one true God is ready to be found (v. 27).
Oct
31
2023
Ronit came from a religious but non-Christian family. Their discussions about spiritual matters were dry and academic. “I kept praying all the prayers,” she said, “but I wasn’t hearing [from God].” She began to study the Bible. Slowly, steadily, she inched toward faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Ronit describes the defining moment: “I heard a clear voice in my heart saying, ‘You’ve heard enough. You’ve seen enough. It’s time to just believe.’ ” But Ronit faced a problem: her father. “My dad was like Mount Vesuvius erupted,” she recalls. When Jesus walked this earth, crowds followed Him (Luke 14:25). We don’t’ know exactly what they were looking for, but He was looking for disciples. And that comes with a cost. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple,” He said (v. 26). He told a story about building a tower. “Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost?” He asked (v. 28). Jesus’ point wasn’t that we’re to literally hate family; rather, it’s that we must choose Him over everything else. He said, “You who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (v. 33). Ronit loves her family deeply, yet she concluded, “Whatever the cost, I figured it’s worth it.” What might you need to give up to follow Jesus as He guides You?
Oct
30
2023
There are several Canada goose families with baby geese at the pond near our apartment complex. The little goslings are so fluffy and cute, it’s hard not to watch them when I go for a walk or run around the pond. But I’ve learned to avoid eye contact and give the geese a wide berth—otherwise, I risk a protective goose parent suspecting a threat and hissing and chasing me! The image of a bird protecting her young is one that Scripture uses to describe God’s tender, protective love for His children (Psalm 91:4). In Psalm 61, David seems to be struggling to experience God’s care in this way once more. He’d experienced God as his “refuge, a strong tower” (v. 3), but now he called desperately “from the ends of the earth,” pleading, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (v. 2). He longed to once more “take refuge in the shelter of [God’s] wings” (v. 4). And in bringing his pain and longing for healing to God, David took comfort in knowing that He had heard him (v. 5). Because of God’s faithfulness, he knew he would “ever sing in praise of [His] name” (v. 8). Like the psalmist, when we feel distant from God’s love, we can run back to His arms to be assured that even in our pain, He’s with us, protecting and caring for us as fiercely as a mother bird guards her young.
Oct
29
2023
Was the driver late with your food? You can use your phone to give him a one-star rating. Did the shopkeeper treat you curtly? You can write her a critical review. While smartphones enable us to shop, keep up with friends, and more, they have also given us the power to publicly rate each other. And this can be a problem. Rating each other this way is problematic because judgments can be made without context. The driver gets rated poorly for a late delivery due to circumstances out of his control. The shopkeeper gets a negative review when she’d been up all night with a sick child. How can we avoid  rating others unfairly like this? By imitating God’s character. In Exodus 34:5–7, God describes Himself as “compassionate and gracious”—meaning He wouldn’t judge our failures without context; “slow to anger”—meaning He wouldn’t post a negative review after one bad experience; “abounding in love”—meaning His correctives are for our good, not to get revenge; and “forgiving [of] sin”—meaning our lives don’t have to be defined by our one-star days. Since God’s character is to be the basis of ours (Ephesians 5:1), we can avoid the harshness smartphones enable by using ours as He would. In the online age, we can all rate others harshly. May the Holy Spirit empower us to bring a little compassion today.
Oct
28
2023
When my cat Mickey had an eye infection, I put eye drops in his eyes daily. As soon as I placed him on the bathroom counter, he’d sit, look at me with frightened eyes, and brace himself for the spurt of liquid. “Good boy,” I’d murmur. Even though he didn’t understand what I was doing, he never jumped off, hissed, or scratched me. Instead, he would press himself closer against me—the person putting him through the ordeal. He knew he could trust me. When David wrote Psalm 9, he had probably already experienced much of God’s love and faithfulness. He’d turned to Him for protection from his enemies, and God had acted on his behalf (vv. 3−6). During David’s times of need, God hadn’t failed him. As a result, David came to know what God was like—He was powerful and righteous, loving and faithful. And so, David trusted Him. He knew God was trustworthy. I’ve cared for Mickey through several illnesses since the night I found him as a tiny, starving kitten on the street. He knows he can trust me—even when I do things to him that he doesn’t understand. In a similar way, remembering God’s faithfulness to us and His character helps us trust Him when we can’t understand what He’s doing. May we continue to trust God through the difficult times in life.
Oct
27
2023
Have you ever looked through low-priced items at a yard sale and dreamed that you might find something of incredible value? It happened in Connecticut when a floral Chinese antique bowl purchased for just $35 at a yard sale was sold at a 2021 auction for more than $700,000. The piece turned out to be a rare, historically significant artifact from the fifteenth century. It’s a stunning reminder that what some people consider of little worth can actually have great value. Writing to believers scattered throughout the known world, Peter explained that their faith in Jesus was belief in the One who’d been rejected by the wider culture. Despised by most of the religious Jewish leaders and crucified by the Roman government, Jesus was deemed worthless by many because He did not fulfill their expectations and desires. But though others had dismissed Jesus’ worth, He was “chosen by God and precious to Him” (1 Peter 2:4). His value for us is infinitely more precious than silver or gold (1:18–19). And we have the assurance that whoever chooses to trust Jesus will never be ashamed of their choice (2:4). When others reject Jesus as worthless, let’s take another look. God’s Spirit can help us see the priceless gift of Jesus, who offers to all people the invaluable invitation to become part of the family of God (2:10).
Oct
26
2023
In the hit musical Hamilton, England’s King George III is humorously portrayed as a cartoonish, deranged villain. However, a new biography on King George said he was not the tyrant described in Hamilton or America’s Declaration of Independence. If George had been the brutal despot that Americans said he was, he would have stopped their drive for independence with extreme, scorched-earth measures. But he was restrained by his “civilized, good-natured” temperament. Who knows if King George died with regret? Would his reign have been more successful if he’d been harsher with his subjects? Not necessarily. In the Bible we read of King Jehoram, who solidified his throne by putting “all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel” (2 Chronicles 21:4). Jehoram “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 6). His ruthless reign alienated his people, who neither wept for his gruesome death nor made a “funeral fire in his honor” (v. 19). Historians may debate whether George was too soft; Jehoram was surely too harsh. A better way is that of King Jesus, who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus’ expectations are firm (He demands truth), yet He embraces those who fail (He extends grace). Jesus calls us who believe in Him to follow His lead. Then, through the leading of His Holy Spirit, He empowers us to do so.
Oct
25
2023
In the aftermath of the Marshall Fire, the most destructive fire in Colorado history, one ministry offered to help families search through the ashes for valuable items. Family members mentioned precious objects they hoped were still preserved. Very little was. One man spoke tenderly of his wedding ring. He’d placed it on his dresser in the upstairs bedroom. The house now gone, its contents had charred or melted into a single layer of debris at the basement level. Searchers looked for the ring in that same corner where the bedroom had been—without success. The prophet Isaiah wrote mournfully of the impending destruction of Jerusalem, which would be leveled. Likewise, there are times we feel the life we’ve built has been reduced to ashes. We feel we have nothing left, emotionally and spiritually. But Isaiah offers hope: “He [God] has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted . . . to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1–2). God converts our tragedy into glory: “[He will] bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (v. 3). He promises to “rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” (v. 4). At that Marshall Fire site, one woman searched the ashes on the opposite side. There, still in its case, she unearthed the husband’s wedding ring. Coincidence? Think again. In your despair, God reaches into your ashes and pulls out the one truly precious thing. You.
Oct
24
2023
The protocols at the restaurant in my childhood neighborhood were consistent with social and racial dynamics in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The kitchen helpers—Mary, the cook; and dishwashers like me—were Black; however, the in-restaurant patrons were White. Black customers could order food, but they had to pick it up at the back door. Such policies reinforced the unequal treatment of Blacks in that era. Though we’ve come a long way since then, we still have room for growth in how we relate to each other as people made in the image of God. Passages of Scripture like Romans 10:8–13 help us to see that all are welcome in the family of God; there’s no back door. All enter the same way—through belief in Jesus’ death for cleansing and forgiveness. The Bible word for this transformative experience is saved (vv. 9, 13). Your social situation or racial status or that of others doesn’t factor into the equation. “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (vv. 11–12). Do you believe in your heart the Bible’s message about Jesus? Welcome to the family!
Oct
23
2023
I don’t remember a time when my mom Dorothy was in good health. For many years as a brittle diabetic, her blood sugar was wildly erratic. Complications developed and her damaged kidneys necessitated permanent dialysis. Neuropathy and broken bones resulted in the use of a wheelchair. Her eyesight began to regress toward blindness. But as her body failed her, Mom’s prayer life grew more vigorous. She spent hours praying for others to know and experience the love of God. Precious words of Scripture grew sweeter to her. Before her eyesight faded, she wrote a letter to her sister Marjorie including words from 2 Corinthians 4: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, . . . inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (v. 16). The apostle Paul knew how easy it is to “lose heart.” In 2 Corinthians 11, he describes his life—one of danger, pain, and deprivation (vv. 23–29). Yet he viewed those “troubles” as “temporary.” And he encouraged us to think not only about what we see but also about what we can’t see—that which is eternal (4:17–18) Despite what’s happening to us, our loving Father is continuing our inner renewal every day. His presence with us is sure. Through the gift of prayer, He’s only a breath away. And His promises to strengthen us and give us hope and joy remain true.
Oct
22
2023
God doesn’t help those who help themselves; He helps those who trust in and rely on Him. Jonathan Roumie—the actor who plays Jesus in the successful TV series The Chosen, which is based on the four Gospels—realized this in May of 2018. Roumie had been living in Los Angeles for eight years, was nearly broke, had enough food just for the day, and had no work in sight. Not knowing how he would make it, the actor poured out his heart and surrendered his career to God. “I literally [prayed] the words, ‘I surrender. I surrender.’ ” Later that day, he found four checks in the mail and three months later, he was cast for the role of Jesus in The Chosen. Roumie found that God will help those who trust in Him. Rather than being envious of and fretting over of those “who are evil” (Psalm 37:1–2), the psalmist invites us to surrender everything to God. When we center our lives on Him, “trust in [Him] and do good,” “take delight in [Him],” and surrender to Him all our desires, problems, anxieties, and the daily events of our lives, God will direct our lives and give us peace. As believers in Jesus, it’s vital for us to let Him determine what our lives should be. Let’s surrender and trust God. As we do, He will take action and do what’s necessary and best.
Oct
21
2023
In 1892, a resident with cholera accidentally transmitted the disease via the Elbe River to Hamburg, Germany’s entire water supply. Within weeks, ten thousand citizens died. Eight years earlier, German microbiologist Robert Koch had made a discovery: cholera was waterborne. Koch’s revelation prodded officials in large European cities to invest in filtration systems to protect their water. Hamburg authorities, however, had done nothing. Citing costs and alleging dubious science, they’d ignored clear warnings while their city careened toward catastrophe. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about those of us who see trouble yet refuse to act. “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precaution” (27:12 NLT). When God helps us see danger ahead, it’s common sense to take action to address the danger. We wisely change course (v. 11). Or we ready ourselves with appropriate precautions that He provides. But we do something. To do nothing is sheer lunacy. We can all fail to miss the warning signs, however, and careen toward disaster. “The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (v. 12 nlt). In Scripture and in the life of Jesus, God shows us the path to follow and warns us of trouble we’ll surely face. If we’re foolish, we’ll barrel ahead, headlong into danger. Instead, as He leads us by His grace, may we heed His wisdom and change course. Winn Collier
Oct
20
2023
“Go to the light!” That’s what my husband advised as we struggled to find our way out of a big city hospital on a recent Sunday afternoon. We’d visited a friend, and when we exited an elevator, we couldn’t find anyone during weekend hours to point us to the front doors—and the brilliant Colorado sunlight. Roaming around half-lit hallways, we finally encountered a man who saw our confusion. “These hallways all look the same,” he said. “But the exit’s this way.” With his directions, we found the exit doors—leading, indeed, to the bright sunlight. Jesus invited confused, lost unbelievers to follow Him out of their spiritual darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In His light, we can see stumbling blocks, sin, and blind spots, allowing Him to remove such darkness from our lives as He shines His light into our hearts and on our path. Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness, Jesus’ light brings us God’s presence, protection, and guidance. As John explained, Jesus is “the true light” (John 1:9) and “the darkness has not overcome it” (v. 5). Instead of wandering through life, we can seek Him for direction as He lights the way.
Oct
19
2023
My dad loved being outdoors in God’s creation camping, fishing, and rock-hunting. He also enjoyed working in his yard and garden. But it took lots of work! He spent hours pruning, hoeing, planting seeds or flowers, pulling weeds, mowing the lawn, and watering the yard and garden. The results were worth it—a landscaped lawn, tasty tomatoes, and beautiful peace roses. Every year he pruned the roses close to the ground, and every year they grew back—filling the senses with their fragrance and beauty. In Genesis we read of the garden of Eden where Adam and Eve lived, thrived, and walked with God. There, God “made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). I imagine that perfect garden also included beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers—perhaps even roses minus the thorns! After Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, they were expelled from the garden and needed to plant and care for their own gardens, which meant breaking up hard ground, battling with thorns, and other challenges (3:16–19, 23–24). Yet God continued to provide for them (v. 21). And He didn’t leave humanity without the beauty of creation to draw us to Him (Romans 1:20). The flowers in the garden remind us of God’s continued love and promise of a renewed creation—symbols of hope and comfort!
Oct
18
2023
The morning commenced like a track meet. I practically jumped out of bed, launching into the teeth of the day’s deadlines. Get the kids to school. Check. Get to work. Check. I blasted full throttle into writing my “To Do” list, in which personal and professional tasks tumbled together in an avalanche-like litany: “ . . . 13. Edit article. 14. Clean office. 15. Strategic team planning. 16. Write tech blog. 17. Clean basement. 18. Pray.” By the time I got to number eighteen, I’d remembered that I needed God’s help. But I’d gotten that far before it even occurred to me that I was going at it alone, trying to manufacture my own momentum. Jesus knew. He knew our days would crash one into another, a sea of ceaseless urgency. So He instructs, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). It’s natural to hear Jesus’ words as a command. And they are. But there’s more here—an invitation. In Matthew 6, Jesus invites us to exchange the world’s frantic anxiety (vv. 25–32) for a life of trust, day by day. God, by His grace, helps us all of our days—even when we get to number eighteen on our list before we remember to see life from His perspective. How can we turn to God first each day? On stressful days, what helps you trust Jesus with things demanding your immediate attention?
Oct
17
2023
Ever heard of The Sewing Hall of Fame? Established in 2001, it recognizes people that have made “a lasting impact on the home sewing industry with unique and innovative contributions through sewing education and product development.” It includes individuals like Martha Pullen, inducted into the hall in 2005, who is described as “a Proverbs 31 woman who . . . never failed to publicly acknowledge the source of her strength, inspiration, and blessings.” The Sewing Hall of Fame is a twenty-first-century invention, but had it been around during the first century in Israel, a woman named Tabitha might have been a lock for induction. Tabitha was a believer in Jesus and a seamstress who spent time sewing for poor widows in her community (Acts 9:36, 39). After she became ill and died, disciples sent for Peter to see if God would work a miracle through him. When he arrived, weeping widows showed him robes and other clothing that Tabitha had made for them (v. 39). These clothes were evidence of her “always doing good” in her city. She used her skills to help “the poor” and others (v. 36). By God’s power, Tabitha was restored to life. God calls and equips us to use our skills to meet needs that are present in our community and world. Let’s release our skills into the service of Jesus and see how He will use our acts of love to stitch hearts and lives together (Ephesians 4:16).
Oct
16
2023
I held up a picture of people sleeping under pieces of cardboard in a dim alley. “What do they need?” I asked my sixth grade Sunday school class. “Food,” someone said. “Money,” said another. “A safe place,” a boy said thoughtfully. Then one girl spoke up: “Hope.” “Hope is expecting good things to happen,” she explained. I found it interesting that she talked about “expecting” good things when, due to challenges, it can be easy not to expect good things in life. The Bible nevertheless speaks of hope in a way that agrees with my student. If “faith is confidence in what we hope for” (Hebrews 11:1), we who have faith in Jesus can expect good things to happen. What is this ultimate good that believers in Christ can hope for with confidence?—“the promise of entering his rest” (4:1).For believers, God’s rest includes His peace, confidence of salvation, reliance on His strength and assurance of a future heavenly home. The guarantee of God and the salvation Jesus offers is why hope can be our anchor, holding us fast in times of need (6:18–20). The world needs hope, indeed: God’s true and certain assurance that throughout good and bad times, He will have the final say and won’t fail us. When we trust in Him, we know that He will make all things right for us in His time.
Oct
15
2023
Kizombo sat watching the campfire, pondering the great questions of his life. What have I accomplished? he thought. Too quickly the answer came back: not much, really. He was back in the land of his birth, serving at the school his father had started deep in the rainforest. He was also trying to write his father’s powerful story of surviving two civil wars. Who am I to try to do all this? Kizombo’s misgivings sound like those of Moses. God had just given Moses a mission: “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses replied, “Who am I?” (v. 11). After some weak excuses from Moses, God asked him, “What is that in your hand?” It was a staff (4:2). At God’s direction, Moses threw it on the ground. The staff turned into a snake. Against his instincts, Moses picked it up. Again, it became a staff (v. 4). In God’s power, Moses could face Pharaoh. He literally had one of the “gods” of Egypt—a snake—in his hand. Egypt’s gods were no threat to the one true God. Kizombo thought of Moses, and he sensed God’s answer: You have Me and My Word. He thought too of friends who encouraged him to write his father’s story so others would learn of God’s power in his life. He wasn’t alone.   On our own, our best efforts are inadequate. But we serve the God who says, “I will be with you” (3:12).
Oct
14
2023
The pastor squinted over his sermon, holding the pages close to his face in order to make the words out. He was extremely near-sighted, and read each carefully chosen phrase with an unimposing monotone voice. But God’s Spirit moved through Jonathan Edwards’s preaching to fan the revival fires of the First Great Awakening and bring thousands to faith in Christ. God often uses unexpected things to accomplish His perfect purposes. Writing about God’s plan to draw wayward humanity near through Jesus’ loving death for us on a cross, Paul concludes, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). The world expected divine wisdom to look like our own and to come with irresistible force. Instead, Jesus came humbly and gently to save us from our sins and so became for us “wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The eternal and all-wise God became a human baby who would grow to adulthood and suffer and die and be raised to life in order to lovingly show us the way home to Him. He loves to use humble means and people to accomplish great things we could never achieve in our own strength. If we are willing, He may even use us.
Oct
13
2023
I was elated to find the “perfect” gift for my mother-in-law’s birthday: the bracelet even contained her birthstone! Finding that perfect gift for someone is always an utter delight. But what if the gift the individual needs is beyond our power to give. Many of us wish we could give someone peace of mind, rest, or even patience. If only those could be purchased and wrapped with a bow! These types of gifts are impossible for one person to give to another. Yet Jesus—God in human flesh—does give those who believe in Him one such “impossible” gift: the gift of peace. Before ascending to heaven and leaving the disciples, Jesus comforted them with the promise of the Holy Spirit who would “remind [them] of everything [He had] said to them” (John 14:26). He offered them peace—His peace—as an enduring, unfailing gift for when their hearts were troubled or when they were experiencing fear. He, Himself, is our peace with God, with others, and within. We may not have the ability to give our loved ones the extra measure of patience or improved health they desire. Nor is it within our power to give them the peace we all desperately need to bear up under the struggles of life. But we can be led by the Spirit to speak to them about Jesus, the giver and embodiment of true and lasting peace.
Oct
12
2023
Opening the blinds one winter morning, I faced a shocking sight. A wall of fog. “Freezing fog,” the weather forecaster called it. Rare for our location, this fog came with an even bigger surprise: a later forecast for blue skies and sunshine—“in one hour.” “Impossible,” I told my husband. “We can barely see one foot ahead.” But sure enough, in less than an hour, the fog had faded, the sky yielding to a sunny, clear blue. Standing at a window, I pondered my level of trust when I can only see fog in life. I asked my husband, “Do I only trust God for what I can already see?” When King Uzziah died and some corrupt rulers came to power in Judah, Isaiah asked a similar question. Who can we trust? God responded by giving Isaiah a vision so remarkable that it convinced the prophet that He can be trusted in the present for better days ahead. As Isaiah praised, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). The prophet added, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (v. 4). When our minds are fixed on God, we can trust Him even during foggy and confusing times. We might not see it clearly now, but if we trust God, we can be assured His sparkling help is on the way.
Oct
11
2023
In the powerful article “Does My Son Know You?” sportswriter Jonathan Tjarks wrote of his battle with terminal cancer and his desire for others to care well for his wife and young son. The thirty-four-year-old wrote the piece just six months prior to his death. Tjarks, a believer in Jesus whose father had died when he was a young adult, shared Scriptures that speak of care for widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22; Isaiah 1:17; James 1:27). And in words directed to his friends, he wrote, “When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? . . . Does my son know you?” King David wondered if there was “anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom [he could] show kindness for [his dear friend] Jonathan’s sake” (2 Samuel 9:1). A son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, who was “lame in both feet” (v. 3) due to an accident (see 4:4), was brought to the king. David said to him, “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (9:7). David showed loving care for Mephibosheth, and it’s likely that in time he truly got to know him (see 19:24–30). Jesus has called us to love others just as He loves us (John 13:34). As He works in and though us, let’s truly get to know and love them well.
Oct
10
2023
In 2001, a premature baby named Christopher Duffley surprised doctors by surviving. At five months old, he entered the foster care system until his aunt’s family adopted him. A teacher realized four-year-old Christopher, though blind and diagnosed with autism, had perfect pitch. Six years later at church, Christopher stood onstage and sang, “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” The video reached millions online. In 2020, Christopher shared his goals of serving as a disability advocate. He continues to prove that possibilities are limitless with the eyes of his heart open to God’s plan. The apostle Paul commended the church in Ephesus for their bold faith (1:15–16). He asked God to give them “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” so they would “know him better” (v. 17). He prayed that their eyes would be “enlightened,” or opened, so they would understand the hope and inheritance God promised His people (v. 18). As we ask God to reveal Himself to us, we can know Him more and can declare His name, power, and authority with confidence (vv. 19–23). With faith in Jesus and love for all God’s people, we can live in ways that prove His limitless possibilities while asking Him to keep opening the eyes of our hearts.
Oct
9
2023
“Most people carry scars that others can’t see or understand.” Those deeply honest words came from Major League Baseball player Andrelton Simmons, who opted out of the end of the 2020 regular season due to mental health struggles. Reflecting on his decision, Simmons felt he needed to share his story to encourage others facing similar challenges and to remind others to show compassion. Invisible scars are those deep hurts and wounds that can’t be seen but still cause very real pain and suffering. In Psalm 6, David wrote of his own deep struggle—penning painfully raw and honest words. He was “in agony” (v. 2) and “deep anguish” (v. 3). He was “worn out” from groaning, and his bed was drenched with tears (v. 6). While David doesn’t share the cause of his suffering, many of us can relate to his pain. We can also be encouraged by the way David responded to his pain. In the midst of his overwhelming suffering, David cried out to God. Honestly pouring out his heart, David prayed for healing (v. 2), rescue (v. 4), and mercy (v. 9). Even with the question “How long?” (v. 3) lingering over his situation, David remained confident that God “heard [his] cry for mercy” (v. 9) and would act in His time (v. 10). Because of who our God is, there is always hope.
Oct
8
2023
Have you heard of #slowfashion? The hashtag captures a movement focused on resisting “fast fashion”—an industry dominated by cheaply made and quickly disposed of clothes. In fast fashion, clothes are out of style nearly as quickly as they’re in the stores—with some brands disposing of large quantities of their products every year. The slow fashion movement encourages people to slow down and take a different approach. Instead of being driven by the need to always have the latest look, slow fashion encourages us to select fewer well-made and ethically sourced items that will last.   As I reflected on #slowfashion’s invitation, I found myself wondering about other ways I fall into a “fast fashion” way of thinking—always looking for fulfillment in the latest trend. In Colossians 3, however, Paul says finding true transformation in Jesus isn’t a quick fix or a fad. It’s a lifetime of quiet, gradual transformation in Christ.   Instead of needing to clothe ourselves with the world’s latest status symbols, we can exchange our striving for the Spirit’s clothing of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v.12). We can learn patience with each other on the slow journey of Christ transforming our hearts—a journey that leads to lasting peace (v. 15).
Oct
7
2023
In his monumental book The Great Influenza, John M. Barry recounts the story of the 1918 flu epidemic. Barry reveals how health officials, rather than being caught off guard, anticipated a massive outbreak. They feared that World War I, with hundreds of thousands of troops crammed into trenches and moving across borders, would unleash new viruses. But this knowledge was useless to stop the devastation. Powerful leaders, beating the drums of war, rushed toward violence. And epidemiologists estimate that 50 million people died in the epidemic, adding to the roughly 20 million killed in the war’s carnage. We’ve proven over and again that our human knowledge will never be enough to rescue us from evil (Proverbs 4:14–16). Though we’ve amassed immense knowledge and present remarkable insights, we still can’t stop the pain we inflict on one another. We can’t halt “the way of the wicked,” this foolish, repetitive path that leads to “deep darkness.” Despite our best knowledge, we really have no idea “what makes [us] stumble” (v. 19). That’s why we must “get wisdom, get understanding” (v. 5). Wisdom teaches us what to do with knowledge. And true wisdom, this wisdom we desperately require, comes from God. Our knowledge always falls short, but His wisdom provides what we need.
Oct
6
2023
A few weeks after the death of a dear friend, I spoke with her mom. I was hesitant to ask how she was doing because I thought it was an inappropriate question; she was grieving. But I pushed aside my reluctance and simply asked how she was holding up. Her reply: “Listen, I choose joy.” Her words ministered to me that day as I struggled to push beyond some unpleasant circumstances in my own life. And her words also reminded me of Moses’ edict to the Israelites at the end of Deuteronomy. Just before Moses’ death and the Israelites’ entrance into the promised land, God wanted them to know that they had a choice. Moses said, “I have set before you life and death. . . . Now choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). They could follow God’s laws and live well, or they could turn away from Him and live with the consequences of “death and destruction” (v. 15). We must choose how to live too. We can choose joy by believing and trusting in God’s promises for our lives. Or we can choose to focus on the negative and difficult parts of our journeys, allowing them to rob us of joy. It will take practice and relying on the Holy Spirit for help, but we can choose joy too—knowing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Oct
5
2023
Eric heard about Jesus’ love for him while in his early twenties. He started attending church where he met someone who helped him grow to know Jesus better. It wasn’t long before Eric’s mentor assigned him to teach a small group of boys at church. Through the years, God drew Eric’s heart to help at-risk youth in his city, to visit the elderly, and to show hospitality to his neighbors—all for God’s honor. Now in his late fifties, Eric explains how grateful he is that he was taught early to serve: “My heart overflows to share the hope I’ve found in Jesus. What could be better than to serve Him?” Timothy was a child when his mother and grandmother influenced him in his faith (2 Timothy 1:5). And he was likely a young adult when he met the apostle Paul, who saw potential in Timothy’s service for God and invited him on a ministry journey (Acts 16:3). Paul became his mentor in ministry and life. He encouraged him to study, to be courageous as he faced false teaching, and to use his talents in service to God (1 Timothy 4:6–16). Why did Paul want Timothy to be faithful in serving God? He wrote, “Because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people” (v. 10). Jesus is our hope and the Savior of the world. What could be better than to serve Him?
Oct
4
2023
During the coronavirus pandemic, many suffered the loss of loved ones. On November 27, 2020, our family joined their ranks when Bee Crowder, my ninety-five-year-old mom, died—though not from COVID-19. Like so many other families, we weren’t able to gather to grieve Mom, honor her life, or encourage one another. Instead, we used other means to celebrate her loving influence—and we found great comfort from her insistence that, if God called her home, she was ready and even eager to go. That confident hope, evidenced in so much of Mom’s living, was also how she faced death. Facing possible death, Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. . . . I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21, 23–24). Even with his legitimate desire to stay and help others, Paul was drawn to his heavenly home with Christ. Such confidence changes how we view the moment when we step from this life to the next. And our hope can give great comfort to others in their own season of loss. Although we grieve the loss of those we love, believers in Jesus don’t grieve like those “who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). True hope is the possession of those who know Him.
Oct
3
2023
It was a natural step for Brett to attend a Christian college and study the Bible. After all, he’d been around people who knew Jesus his whole life—at home, at school, at church. He was even gearing his college studies toward a career in “Christian work.” But at age twenty-one, as he sat with the small congregation in an old country church and listened to a pastor preach from 1 John, he made a startling discovery. He realized that he was depending on knowledge and the trappings of religion and that he had never truly received salvation in Jesus. He felt that Christ was tugging at his heart that day with a sobering message: “You don’t know me!” The apostle John’s message is clear: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). We can “overcome the world,” as John puts it (v. 4) only by belief in Jesus. Not knowledge about Him, but deep, sincere faith—demonstrated by our belief in what He did for us on the cross. That day, Brett placed his faith in Christ alone. Today, Brett’s deep passion for Jesus and His salvation are no secret. It comes through loud and clear every time he steps behind the pulpit and preaches as a pastor—my pastor. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:11–12). For all who have found life in Jesus, what a comforting reminder this is!
Oct
2
2023
The optometrist helped three-year-old Andreas adjust his first pair of glasses. “Look in the mirror,” she said. Andreas glanced at his reflection, then turned to his father with a joyful and loving smile. Andreas’ father gently wiped the tears that slipped down his son’s cheeks. “What’s wrong?” Andreas wrapped his arms around his father’s neck. “I can see you.” He pulled back, tilted his head, and gazed into his father’s eyes. “I can see you!” As we prayerfully study the Bible, the Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see Jesus, the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). However, even with our vision cleared by the Holy Spirit as we grow in knowledge through Scripture, we can still only see a glimpse of God’s infinite immensity on this side of eternity. When our time on earth is done or when Jesus fulfills His promise to return—we’ll see Him clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We won’t need special glasses in that joy-filled moment when we see Jesus face-to-face and know Him as He knows each of us, the beloved members of the body of Christ—the church. The Holy Spirit will infuse us with the faith, hope, and love we need to stand firm, until we gaze at our loving and living Savior and say, “I can see You, Jesus. I can see You!”
Oct
1
2023
Writing in The Atlantic, author Arthur C. Brooks tells of his visit to the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, which contains one of the largest collections of Chinese art in the world. The museum guide asked, “What do you think of when I ask you to imagine a work of art yet to be started?” Brooks said, “An empty canvas, I guess.” The guide replied, “There’s another way to view it: The art already exists, and the job of artists is simply to reveal it.” In Ephesians 2:10, the word “handiwork,” sometimes translated as “workmanship” or “masterpiece” is from the Greek word poiēma, from which we derive our word “poetry.” God has created us as works of art, living poems. However, our art has become obscured: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (v. 1). To paraphrase the words of the museum guide, “The art [of us] is already there, and it’s the job of the Divine Artist to reveal it.” Indeed God is restoring us, His masterpieces: “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive” (vv. 4-5). As we go through challenges and difficulties, we might take comfort in knowing that the Divine Artist is at work: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Know that God is working in you to reveal His masterpiece.
Sep
30
2023
An international research team has created a flapping-wing drone that mimics the movements of a particular bird—the swift. Swifts can fly up to 90 miles per hour and are able to hover, plunge, turn quickly, and stop suddenly. The ornithopter drone, however, is still inferior to the bird. One researcher said birds “have multiple sets of muscles which enable them to fly incredibly fast, fold their wings, twist, open feather slots and save energy.” He admitted that his team’s efforts were still only able to replicate about “10 percent of biological flight.” God has given the creatures in our world all kinds of amazing abilities. Observing them and reflecting on their know-how can be a source of wisdom for us. The ants teach us about gathering resources, rock badgers show us the value of dependable shelter, and locusts teach us there’s strength in numbers (Proverbs 30:25–27). The Bible tells us that “[God] founded the world by his wisdom” (Jeremiah 10:12), and at the end of each step in the creation process, He confirmed that what He had done was “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 25, 31). The same God who created birds to “fly above the earth across the vault of the sky” (v. 20), has given us the ability to combine His wisdom with our own reasoning. Today, consider how you might learn from His elegant designs in the natural world.
Sep
29
2023
Hollywood gives us larger than life spies who are dashing drivers of flashy Aston-Martins and other luxury sports cars. But Jonna Mendez, a former CIA chief, paints an opposite picture of the real thing. An agent must be “the little gray man,” she says, someone nondescript, not flashy. “You want them to be forgettable.” The best agents are those least likely to appear like agents. When two of Israel’s spies slipped into Jericho, it was Rahab who hid them from the king’s soldiers (Joshua 2:4). She was seemingly the least likely person for God to employ as an espionage agent, for she had three strikes against her: she was a Canaanite, a woman, and a prostitute. Yet Rahab had started to believe in the God of the Israelites: “Your God is God in heaven” (v. 11). She hid God’s spies under flax on the roof, assisting in their daring escape. God rewarded her faith: “Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family” (6:25). Sometimes we might feel we are the least likely to be used by God. Perhaps we have physical limitations, don’t feel “flashy” enough to lead, or have a tarnished past. But history is filled with “nondescript” believers redeemed by God, people like Rahab who were given a special mission for His kingdom. Be assured: He has divine purposes for even the least likely of us.
Sep
28
2023
On our last day in Wisconsin, my friend brought her four-year-old daughter Kinslee to say goodbye. “I don’t want you to move,” said Kinslee. I hugged her and gave her a canvas, hand-painted fan from my collection. “When you miss me, use this fan and remember that I love you.” Kinslee asked if she could have a different fan—a paper one from my bag. “That one’s broken,” I said. “I want you to have my best fan.” I didn’t regret giving Kinslee my favorite fan. Seeing her happy made me happier. Later, Kinslee told her mother she was sad because I kept the broken fan. They sent me a brand-new, fancy purple fan. After giving generously to me, Kinslee felt happy again. So did I.  In a world that promotes self-gratification and self-preservation, we can be tempted to hoard instead of living with giving hearts. However, the Bible says that a person who “gives freely” “gains even more” (Proverbs 11:24). Our culture defines prosperity as having more and more and more, but the Bible says that “a generous person will prosper” and “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (v. 25). God’s unlimited and unconditional love and generosity continually recharge us. We can each have a giver’s heart and create unending giving cycles because we know God—the Giver of all good things—never gets tired of providing abundantly.
Sep
27
2023
I was so excited to plant our backyard fruit and veggie garden. Then I started to notice small holes in the dirt. Before it had time to ripen, our first fruit mysteriously disappeared. One day I was dismayed to find our largest strawberry plant had been completely uprooted by a nesting rabbit and scorched to a crisp by the sun. I wished I’d paid closer attention to the warning signs! The beautiful love poem in Song of Songs records a conversation between a young man and woman. While calling to his darling, the man sternly warned against animals who would tear apart the lovers’ garden, a metaphor for their relationship. “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards,” he said (Song of Songs 2:15). Perhaps he saw hints of “foxes” that could ruin their romance, like jealousy, anger, deceit, or apathy. Because he delighted in the beauty of his bride (v. 14), he wouldn’t tolerate the presence of anything unwholesome. She was as precious as “a lily among thorns” to him (v. 2). He was willing to put in the work to guard their relationship. Some of God’s most precious gifts to us are family and friends, although those relationships aren’t always easy to maintain. With patience, care, and protection from “the little foxes,” we trust that God will grow beautiful fruit.
Sep
26
2023
Natalia went to a different nation with the promise of receiving an education. But soon the father in her new home began physically and sexually abusing her. He forced her to care for his home and children without pay. He refused to let her go outside or use the phone. She had become his slave.  Hagar was Abram and Sarai’s Egyptian slave. Neither one used her name. They called her “my slave” or “your slave” (Genesis 16:2, 5–6). They merely wanted to use her so they could have an heir. How different is God! The angel of the Lord makes His first appearance in Scripture when He speaks to a pregnant Hagar in the desert. The angel is either God’s messenger or God Himself. Hagar believes He is God, for she says, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (v. 13). If the angel is God, He could possibly be the Son—the One who reveals God to us—making an early, preincarnate appearance. He says her name, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (v. 8).  God saw Natalia and brought caring people into her life who rescued her. She’s now studying to become a nurse. God saw Hagar and called her by name. And God sees you. You may be overlooked or worse, abused. Jesus calls you by name. Run to Him.
Sep
25
2023
When a baby cries, it’s a signal that she’s tired and hungry, right? Well, according to doctors at Brown University, subtle differences in a newborn’s cries can also provide important clues for other problems. Doctors have devised a computer program that measures cry factors like pitch, volume, and how clear the cry sound is to determine if something’s wrong with the baby’s central nervous system. Isaiah prophesied that God would hear the distinct cries of His people, determine their hearts’ condition, and respond with grace. Judah, rather than consulting God, had ignored His prophet and sought help in an alliance with Egypt (30:1–7). God told them that if they chose to continue in their rebellion, He would bring about their defeat and humiliation. However, He also longed “to be gracious to [them]; . . . to show [them] compassion” (v. 18). Rescue would come, but only through their cries of repentance and faith. If God’s people did cry out to Him, He would forgive their sins and renew their spiritual strength and vitality (vv. 8–26).   The same holds true for believers in Jesus today. When our distinct cries of repentance and trust reach the ears of our heavenly Father, He hears them, forgives us, and renews our joy and hope in Him.
Sep
24
2023
When I was a boy, the schoolyard was where bullies threw their weight around and kids like me received that bullying with minimal protest. As we cowered in fear before our tormenters, there was something even worse: their taunts of “Are you scared? You’re afraid of me, aren’t you? There’s no one here to protect you.” In fact, most of those times I really was frightened—and with good cause. Having been punched in the past, I knew I didn’t want to experience that again. So, what could I do and who could I trust when I was stricken with fear? When you’re eight years old and being bullied by a kid who is older, bigger, and stronger, the fear is legitimate.  When David faced attack, he responded with confidence rather than fear—because he knew he didn’t face those threats alone. He wrote, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). As a boy, I’m not sure I would have been able to understand David’s level of confidence. As an adult, however, I’ve learned from years of walking with Christ that He’s greater than any fear-inducing threat. The threats we face in life are real. Yet we need not fear. The Creator of the universe is with us, and He’s more than enough.
Sep
23
2023
Building benches isn’t James Warren’s job. He started building them, however, when he noticed a woman in Denver sitting in the dirt while waiting for a bus. That’s “undignified,” Warren worried. So, the twenty-eight-year-old workforce consultant found some scrap wood, built a bench, and placed it at the bus stop. It quickly got used. Realizing many of the nine thousand bus stops in his city lacked seating, he made another bench, then several more, inscribing “Be Kind” on each one. His goal? “To make people’s lives just a little bit better, in any way I can,” Warren said. Compassion is another way of describing such action. As practiced by Jesus, compassion is a feeling so strong that it leads us to take action to meet another’s need. When crowds of desperate people pursued Jesus, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). He turned that compassion into action by healing their sick (Matthew 14:14). We, too, should “clothe [ourselves] with compassion,” Paul urged (Colossians 3:12). The benefits? As Warren says, “It fills me up. It’s air in my tires.” All around us are needs, and God will bring them to our attention. Those needs can motivate us to put our compassion into action, and those actions will encourage others as we show them the love of Christ.
Sep
22
2023
Dale Earnhardt Jr. describes the awful moment he understood his father was gone. Motor racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. had just been killed in a horrific crash at the end of the Daytona 500—a race in which Dale Jr. had also participated. “There’s this noise coming outta me that I can’t re-create,” said the younger Earnhardt. “[It’s] this bellow of shock and sorrow—and fear.” And then the lonely truth: “I’m gonna have to do this by myself.” “Having Dad was like having a cheat sheet,” Earnhardt Jr. explained. “Having Dad was like knowing all the answers.” Jesus’ disciples had learned to look to Him for all the answers. Now, on the eve of His crucifixion, He assured them He wouldn’t leave them alone. “I will ask the Father,” Jesus said, “and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). Jesus extended that comfort to all who would believe in Him. “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching,” He said. “My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (v. 23). Those who choose to follow Christ have within them the Spirit who teaches them “all things” and reminds them of everything Jesus taught (v. 26). We don’t have all the answers, but we have the Spirit of the One who does.
Sep
21
2023
In his wonderful book Art + Faith: A Theology of Making, renowned artist Makoto Fujimura describes the ancient Japanese art form of Kintsugi. In it, the artist takes broken pottery (originally tea ware) and pieces the shards back together with lacquer, threading gold into the cracks. “Kintsugi,” Fujimura explains, “does not just ‘fix’ or repair a broken vessel; rather, the technique makes the broken pottery even more beautiful than the original.” Kintsugi, first implemented centuries ago when a warlord’s favorite cup was destroyed and then beautifully restored, became art that’s highly prized and desired. Isaiah describes God artfully enacting this kind of restoration with the world. Though we’re broken by our rebellion and shattered by our selfishness, God promises to “create new heavens and a new earth” (65:17). He plans not merely to repair the old world but to make it entirely new, to take our ruin and fashion a world shimmering with fresh beauty. This new creation will be so stunning that “past troubles will be forgotten” and “former things will not be remembered” (vv .16–17). With this new creation, God will not scramble to cover our mistakes but rather will unleash His creative energy—energy where ugly things become beautiful and dead things breathe anew. As we survey our shattered lives, there’s no need for despair. God is working His beautiful restoration.
Sep
20
2023
When a single mother had to find work to take care of her family in the 1950s, she took on typing jobs. The only issue was that she wasn’t a very good typist and kept making mistakes. She looked for ways to cover up her errors and eventually created what’s known as Liquid Paper, a white correction fluid used to cover-up typing errors. Once it dries, you can type over the cover-up as if there were no errors. Jesus offers us an infinitely more powerful and important way to deal with our sin—no cover-up but complete forgiveness. A good example of this shows up in the beginning of John 8 in the story of a woman who was caught in adultery (vv. 3–4). The teachers of the law wanted Jesus to do something about the woman and her sins. The law said she should be stoned, but Christ didn’t bother to entertain what the law did or didn’t say. He simply offered a reminder that all have sinned (see Romans 3:23) and told anyone who hadn’t sinned to “throw a stone at” the woman (John 8:7). Not one rock was tossed. Jesus offered this woman a fresh start. He said he didn’t condemn her and instructed that she “leave [her] life of sin” (v. 11). Christ gave her the solution to forgive her sin and “type” a new way of living over her past. That same offer is available to us by His grace.
Sep
19
2023
In 2021, an engineer with the ambition to shoot an arrow farther than anyone in history took aim at the record of 2,028 feet. While lying on his back on a salt flat, he drew back the bowstring of his personally designed foot bow and prepared to launch the projectile to what he hoped would be a new record distance of more than a mile (5,280 feet). Taking a deep breath, he let the arrow fly. It didn’t travel a mile. In fact, it traveled less than a foot—launching into his foot and causing considerable damage. Ouch!   Sometimes we can figuratively shoot ourselves in the foot with misguided ambition. James and John knew what it meant to ambitiously seek something good, but for the wrong reasons. They asked Jesus to let “one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Jesus had told the disciples they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelves tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28), so it’s easy to see why they made this request. The problem? They were selfishly seeking their own lofty position and power in Christ’s glory. Jesus told them that their ambition was misplaced (Mark 10:38) and that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 43). As we aim to do good and great things for Christ, may we seek His wisdom and direction—humbly serving others as He did so well (v. 45).
Sep
18
2023
Growing up, Sean knew little about what it meant to have a family. His mother had died and his father was hardly home. He often felt lonely and abandoned. A couple who lived nearby, however, reached out to him. They took him into their home and got their children to be “big brother” and “big sister” to him, which gave him assurance that he was loved. They also took him to church, where Sean, now a confident young man, is a youth leader today. Although this couple played such a key role in turning a young life around, what they did for Sean isn’t widely known to most people in their church family. But God knows, and I believe their faithfulness will be rewarded someday, as will those listed in the Bible’s “Hall of Faith.” Hebrews 11 starts with the big names of Scripture, but it goes on to speak of countless others we may never know, yet who “were all commended for their faith” (v. 39). And “the world,” adds the writer, “was not worthy of them” (v. 38). Even when our deeds of kindness go unnoticed by others, God sees and knows. What we do might seem like a small thing—a kind deed or an encouraging word—but God can use it to bring glory to His name, in His time and in His way. He knows, even if others don’t.
Sep
17
2023
The Red Dress project was conceived by British artist Kirstie Macleod and has become an exhibit in museums and galleries around the world. For thirteen years, eighty-four pieces of burgundy silk traveled across the globe to be embroidered upon by more than three hundred women (and a handful of men). The pieces were then constructed into a gown, telling the stories of each contributing artist—many of whom are marginalized and impoverished. Like the Red Dress, the garments worn by Aaron and his descendants were made by many “skilled workers” (Exodus 28:3). God’s instructions for the priestly attire included details that told the collective story of Israel, including engraving the names of the tribes on onyx stones that would sit on the priests’ shoulders “as a memorial before the Lord” (v. 12). The tunics, embroidered sashes, and caps gave the priests “dignity and honor” as they served God and led the people in worship (v. 40). As New Covenant believers in Jesus, we—together—are a priesthood of believers, serving God and leading one another in worship (1 Peter 2:4–5, 9); Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 4:14). Though we don’t wear any particular clothing to identify ourselves as priests, with His help, we “clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
Sep
16
2023
Ann was meeting with her oral surgeon for a preliminary exam—a physician she’d known for many years. He asked her, “Do you have any questions?” She said, “Yes. Did you go to church last Sunday?” Her question wasn’t intended to be judgmental, but simply to initiate a conversation about faith. The surgeon had a less-than-positive church experience growing up, and he hadn’t gone back. Because of Ann’s question and their conversation, he reconsidered the role of Jesus and church in his life. When Ann later gave him a Bible with his name imprinted on it, he received it with tears. Sometimes we fear confrontation or don’t want to seem too aggressive in sharing our faith. But there can be a winsome way to witness about Jesus—ask questions. For a man who was God and knew everything, Jesus sure asked a lot of questions. While we don’t know His purposes in asking, it’s clear His questions were inviting, prompting others to respond. His first response to Andrew was, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). He asked blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41). He asked the paralyzed man by the Bethesda pool, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). Transformation happened for each of these individuals after Jesus’ initial question. Is there someone you want to approach about matters of faith? (Luke 18:42). Ask God to give you the right questions to ask.
Sep
15
2023
In 2014, biologists captured a pair of orange pygmy seahorses in the Philippines. They took the marine creatures, along with a section of the orange coral sea fan they called home, to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Scientists wanted to know if the pygmy seahorses were born to match the color of their parents or their environment. When the pygmy seahorses gave birth to dull brown babies, scientists placed a purple coral sea fan into the tank. The babies, whose parents were orange, changed their color to match the purple sea fan. Due to their fragility by nature, their survival depends on their God-given ability to blend into their environment. Blending in is a useful defense mechanism in nature. However, God invites all people to receive salvation and stand out in the world by how we live. The apostle Paul urges believers in Jesus to honor God in every aspect of our lives, to worship Him by offering our bodies as “living sacrifices” (v. 1). Due to our fragility as human beings affected by sin, our spiritual health as believers depends on the Holy Spirit “renewing” our minds and empowering us to avoid conforming to “the pattern of this world” that rejects God and glorifies sin (v. 2). Blending into this world means living in opposition to God’s Word. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can look and love just like Jesus!
Sep
14
2023
Before baseball’s 1906 World Series, sportswriter Hugh Fullerton made an astute prediction. He said the Chicago Cubs, who were expected to win, would lose the first and third games and win the second. Oh, and it would rain on the fourth. He was right on each point. Then, in 1919, his analytical skills told him certain players were losing World Series games intentionally. Fullerton suspected they’d been bribed by gamblers. Popular opinion ridiculed him. Again, he was right. Fullerton was no prophet—just a wise man who studied the evidence. Jeremiah was a real prophet whose prophecies always came true. Wearing an ox yoke, Jeremiah told Judah to surrender to the Babylonians and live (Jeremiah 27:2, 12). The false prophet Hananiah contradicted him and broke the yoke (28:2–4, 10). Jeremiah told him, “Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you,” and added, “This very year you are going to die” (vv. 15–16). Two months later, Hananiah was dead (v. 17). The New Testament tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets . . . , but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and through the Scriptures and guidance of the Holy Spirit, God’s truth still instructs us today.
Sep
13
2023
The owner of the bookstore where Keith worked had been away on vacation for only two days, but Keith, his assistant, was already panicking. Operations were smooth, but Keith was anxious that he wouldn’t do a good job overseeing the store. Frenetically, he micromanaged all he could. “Stop it,” his boss finally told him over a video call. “All you have to do is follow the instructions I email you daily. Don’t worry, Keith. The burden isn’t on you; it’s on me.” In a time of conflict with other nations, Israel received a similar word from God: “Be still” (Psalm 46:10). “Stop striving,” He said in essence, “just follow what I say. I will fight for you.” Israel was not being told to be passive or complacent, but to be actively still—to obey God faithfully while yielding control of the situation and leaving the results of their efforts to Him. We’re called to do the same. And we can do it because the God we trust is sovereign over the world. If “he lifts his voice” and “the earth melts”, and if He can “make wars cease to the ends of the earth” (vv. 6,9), then surely, we can trust in the security of His refuge and strength (v. 1). The burden of control over our life isn’t on us—it’s on God.
Sep
12
2023
As thousands of Ukrainian women and children arrived at Berlin’s railway station fleeing war, they were met with a surprise—German families holding handmade signs offering refuge in their homes. “Can host two people!” one sign read. “Big room [available],” read another. Asked why she offered such hospitality to strangers, one woman said her mother had needed refuge while fleeing the Nazis, and she wanted to help others in such need. In Deuteronomy, God calls the Israelites to care for those far from their homelands. Why? Because He’s the defender of the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner (10:18), and because the Israelites knew what such vulnerability felt like: “for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (v. 19). Empathy was to motivate their care. But there’s a flip side to this too. When the widow at Zarephath welcomed the foreigner Elijah into her home, she was the one blessed (1 Kings 17:9–24), just as Abraham was blessed by his three foreign visitors (Genesis 18:1–15). God often uses hospitality to bless the host, not just the guest. Welcoming strangers into your home is hard, but those German families may be the real beneficiaries. As we too respond to the vulnerable with God’s empathy, we may be surprised at the gifts He gives us through them.
Sep
11
2023
After I’d gotten settled into the chamber, my body floating comfortably above the water, the room went dark and the gentle music that had been playing in the background went silent. I’d read that isolation tanks were therapeutic, offering relief for stress and anxiety. But this was like nothing I’d ever encountered. It felt like the chaos of the world had stopped, and I could clearly hear my innermost thoughts. I left the experience balanced and rejuvenated, reminded that there is power in stillness. We can rest most comfortably in the stillness of the presence of God, who renews our strength and grants us the wisdom we need to tackle the challenges we face each day. When we’re still, silencing the noise and removing distractions in our lives, God strengthens us so we can hear His gentle voice more clearly (Psalms 37:7). While sensory deprivation chambers are certainly one form of stillness, God offers us a simpler way to spend uninterrupted time with Him. He says, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father” (Matthew 6:6). God will guide our steps and allow His righteousness to shine brightly through us when we seek the answers to life’s challenges in the stillness of His magnificent presence (Psalm 37:5–6).
Sep
10
2023
Just before Easter 2018, a terrorist entered a supermarket in Trèbes, France, killing two people and taking a third woman hostage. When efforts to free the woman failed, policeman Arnaud Beltrame made the terrorist an offer: release the woman and take him instead. Arnaud’s offer was shocking because it went against the popular wisdom of our day. You can always tell a culture’s “wisdom” by the sayings it celebrates, like the celebrity quotes that get posted on social media. “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams,” one popular quote reads. “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line,” says another. “Do what you have to do, for you,” states a third. Had Arnaud followed such advice, he’d have put himself first and run. The apostle James says there are two kinds of wisdom in the world: one “earthly,” another “heavenly.” The first is marked by selfish ambition and disorder (James 3:14–16); the second, by humility, submission, and peacemaking (vv. 13, 17–18). Earthly wisdom puts self first. Heavenly wisdom favors others, leading to a life of humble deeds (v. 13). The terrorist accepted Arnaud’s offer. The hostage was released, Arnaud was shot, and that Easter the world witnessed an innocent man dying for someone else. Heavenly wisdom leads to humble deeds because it places God above self (Proverbs 9:10). Which wisdom are you following today?
Sep
9
2023
Each summer when I was a child, I would travel two hundred miles to enjoy a week with my grandparents. I wasn’t aware until later how much wisdom I soaked up from those two people I loved. Their life experiences and walk with God had given them perspectives that my young mind couldn’t yet imagine. Conversations with them about the faithfulness of God assured me that God is trustworthy and fulfills every promise He makes. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a teenager when an angel visited her. The incredible news brought by Gabriel must have been overwhelming, yet she willingly accepted the task with grace (Luke 1:38). But perhaps her visit with her elderly relative Elizabeth—who was also in the midst of a miraculous pregnancy (some scholars believe she may have been sixty years old)—brought her comfort as Elizabeth enthusiastically confirmed Gabriel’s words that she was the mother of the promised Messiah (vv. 39–45). As we grow and mature in Christ, as my grandparents did, we learn that He keeps his promises. He kept His promise of a child for Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah (vv. 57–58). And that son, John the Baptist, became the harbinger of a promise made hundreds of years before—one that would change the course of humanity’s future. The promised Messiah—the Savior of the world—was coming! (Matthew 1:21–23).
Sep
8
2023
The air smelled of leather and oats as we stood in the barn where my friend Michelle was teaching my daughter to ride a horse. Michelle’s white pony opened its mouth as she demonstrated how to place the metal bit behind its teeth. As she pulled the bridle over its ears, Michelle explained that the bit was important because it allowed the rider to slow the horse and steer it to the left or right. A horse’s bit, like the human tongue, is small but important. Both have great influence over something big and powerful—for the bit, it’s the horse. For the tongue, it’s our words (James 3:3, 5). Our words can run in different directions. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings” (v. 9). Unfortunately, the Bible warns that it’s very hard to control our speech because words spring from our hearts (Luke 6:45). Thankfully, God’s Spirit, Who indwells every believer, constantly helps us grow in patience, goodness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). As we cooperate with the Spirit, our hearts change and so do our words. Profanity turns to praise. Lying gives way to the power of truth. Criticism transforms into encouragement. Taming the tongue isn’t just about training ourselves to say the right things at the right time. It’s about accepting the Holy Spirit’s guidance, as a horse responds to a bit, so that our words generate the kindness and encouragement our world needs.
Sep
7
2023
The convention center darkened, and thousands of us university students bowed our heads as the speaker led us in a prayer of commitment. As he welcomed those to stand who felt called to serve in overseas missions, I could feel my friend Lynette leave her seat and knew she was promising to live and serve in the Philippines. Yet I felt no urge to stand. Seeing the needs in the United States, I wanted to share God’s love in my native land. But a decade later I would make my home in Britain, seeking to serve God among the people He gave me as my neighbors. My ideas about how I would live my life changed when I realized that God invited me on an adventure different from what I had anticipated. Jesus often surprised those He met, including the fishermen He called to follow Him. When Christ gave them a new mission to fish for people, Peter and Andrew left their nets “at once” and followed Him (Matthew 4:20), and James and John “immediately” left their boat (v. 22). They set off on this new adventure with Jesus, trusting Him yet not knowing where they were going. God, of course, calls many people to serve Him right where they are! Whether staying or going, we can all look to Him expectantly to surprise us with wonderful experiences and opportunities to live for Him in ways we might never have dreamed possible.
Sep
6
2023
Months after suffering a miscarriage, Valerie decided to have a garage sale. Gerald, a neighbor craftsman a few miles away, eagerly bought the baby crib she was selling. While there, his wife talked with Valerie and learned about her loss. After hearing of her situation on the way home, Gerald decided to use the crib to craft a keepsake for Valerie. A week later he tearfully presented her with a beautiful bench. “There’s good people out there, and here’s proof,” Valerie said. Like Valerie, Ruth and Naomi suffered great loss. Naomi’s husband and two sons had died. And now she and her bereft daughter-in-law Ruth had no heirs and no one to provide for them (Ruth 1:1–5). That’s where Boaz stepped in. When Ruth went to a field to pick up leftover grain, Boaz—the owner—asked about her. When he learned who she was, he was kind to her (2:5–9). Amazed, Ruth asked, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes?” (v. 10). He replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband” (v. 11). Boaz later married Ruth and provided for Naomi (chap. 4). Through their marriage, a forefather of David—and of Jesus—was born. As God used Gerald and Boaz to help transform another’s grief, He can work through us to show kindness and empathy to others in pain.
Sep
5
2023
In a poem that begins, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” Emily Dickinson playfully challenges all the effort people tend to put into being “somebody,” advocating instead for the joyful freedom of blissful anonymity. For “How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – / To tell one’s name – the livelong June / To an admiring Bog!” Finding freedom in letting go of the need to be “somebody” in some ways echoes the testimony of the apostle Paul. Before he met Christ, Paul had a long list of seemingly impressive religious credentials and achievements, apparent “reasons to put confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:4). But encountering Jesus changed everything. When Paul saw how hollow his religious fervor and achievements were in light of Christ’s sacrificial love, he confessed, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. . . I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (vv. 8–9). His only remaining ambition was “to know Christ . . . the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). It’s dreary, indeed, to attempt on our own to become “somebody.” But as Paul discovered, to know Jesus, to lose ourselves in His self-giving love and life, is to find ourselves again (v. 9), finally free and whole.
Sep
4
2023
“This morning I thought I was worth a great deal of money, now I don’t know that I have a dollar.” Former US president Ulysses S. Grant said those words the day he was swindled out of his life’s savings by a business partner. Months later Grant was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Concerned about providing for his family, he accepted an offer from author Mark Twain to publish his memoirs, which he completed a week before he died. The Bible tells us of another person who faced grave hardships. Jacob believed his son Joseph had been “torn to pieces” by a “ferocious animal” (Genesis 37:33). Then his son Simeon was held captive in a foreign country, and Jacob feared his son Benjamin would be taken from him as well. Overcome, he cried out, “Everything is against me!” (42:36). But it wasn’t. Little did Jacob know that his son Joseph was very much alive, and that God was at work “behind the scenes” to restore his family. Their story illustrates how God can be trusted even when we can’t see His hand in our circumstances. Grant’s memoirs proved to be a great success and his family was well cared for. Though he didn’t live to see it, his believing wife did. Our vision is limited, but God’s isn’t. And with Jesus as our hope, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). May we place our trust in Him today.
Sep
3
2023
Fast-food restaurant worker Kevin Ford hadn’t missed a shift in twenty-seven years. After a video surfaced showing his humble gratitude for a modest gift he received to commemorate his decades of service, thousands of people rallied together to show kindness to him. “It’s like a dream, a dream come true, that nobody can even think of this,” he said when a fundraising effort brought in $250,000 in just over a week. Jehoiachin, the exiled king of Judah, was also the recipient of extreme kindness. He’d been incarcerated for thirty-seven years before the benevolence of the Babylonian king resulted in his release. “[The king] freed him from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon” (Jeremiah 52:31–32). Jehoiachin was given a new position, new clothes, and a new residence. His new life was fully funded by the king. This story pictures what happens spiritually when, out of no contributions from themselves or others, believers in Jesus’ death and resurrection are rescued from their estrangement from God. They’re brought from darkness and death into light and life; they’re brought into the family of God because of the extreme kindness of God.
Sep
2
2023
As the mask mandate requirements during the pandemic loosened, I struggled to remember to keep a mask handy for where they were still required—like my daughter’s school. One day when I needed a mask, I found just one in my car: the one I avoided wearing because it had “BLESSED” written across the front. I prefer to wear masks without messages, and I believe that the word on the mask I found is overused. But I had no choice, so I reluctantly put the mask on. And when I nearly showed my annoyance with a new receptionist at the school, I caught myself partly because of the word on my mask. I didn’t want to look like a hypocrite, walking around with “BLESSED” scrawled across my mouth while showing impatience to a person trying to figure out a complicated system. Though the letters on my mask reminded me of my witness for Christ, the words of Scripture in my heart should be a true reminder to be patient with others. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You are a letter from Christ, . . . written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3). The Holy Spirit who “gives life” (v. 6), can help us live out “love, joy, peace” and, yes, “patience” (Galatians 5:22). We are truly blessed by His presence within us!
Sep
1
2023
On a visit to Ireland, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of decorative shamrocks. The little green, three-leafed plant could be found in every store on seemingly everything—clothing, hats, jewelry, and more! More than just a prolific plant across Ireland, the shamrock was embraced for generations as a simple way to explain the Trinity, the historic Christian belief that God is One essence who eternally exists in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. While all human explanations of the Trinity are inadequate, the shamrock is a helpful symbol because it is one plant made of the same substance with three distinct leaves. The word “Trinity” isn’t found in Scripture, but it summarizes the theological truth we see explicit in passages where all three persons of the Trinity are present at the same time. When Jesus, God the Son, is baptized, God the Spirit is seen coming down from heaven “like a dove,” and God the Father’s voice is heard saying, “You are my Son” (Mark 1:11). The Irish used the shamrock because they wanted to help people know God. As we more fully understand the beauty of the Trinity, it helps us know God and deepens our ability to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Aug
31
2023
Life magazine’s July 12, 1968 cover displayed a horrifying photograph of starving children from Biafra (in Nigeria during a civil war). A young boy, distressed, took a copy of the magazine to a pastor and asked, “Does God know about this?” The pastor replied: “I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.” The boy walked out, declaring he was uninterested in such a God. These questions disturb not only children but all of us. Alongside an affirmation of God’s mysterious knowledge, I wish that boy had heard about the epic story God is continuing to write, even in places like the former nation of Biafra. Jesus unfolded this story for His followers, those who assumed He would shield them from hardship. Instead, Christ told them that they’d surely face difficulties. “In this world you will have trouble,” He said. What Jesus did offer, however, was His promise that these evils weren’t the end. In fact, He’d already “overcome the world” (John 16:33). And in God’s final chapter, every injustice will be undone, every suffering healed. Genesis to Revelation recounts the story of God destroying every unthinkable evil, making every wrong right. The story presents the loving One whose interest in us is unquestioned. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace” (v. 33). May we rest in His peace and presence today. 
Aug
30
2023
Perhaps I shouldn’t have agreed to join Brian on a run. I was in a foreign country, and I had no idea where or how far we would go or what the terrain would be like. Plus, he was a fast runner. Would I twist an ankle trying to keep up with him? What could I do but trust Brian because he knew the way. As we started, I got even more worried. The trail was rough, winding through a thick forest on uneven ground. Thankfully, Brian kept turning around to check on me and warn me of rough patches ahead. Perhaps this was how some of the people in Bible times felt while entering unfamiliar territory—Abraham in Canaan, the Israelites in the wilderness, and Jesus’ disciples on their mission to share the good news. They had no clue what the journey would be like, except that it would surely be tough. But they had Someone leading them who knew the way ahead. They had to trust that God would give them strength to cope and that He would take care of them. They could follow Him, because He knew exactly what lay ahead. This assurance comforted David when he was on the run. Despite great uncertainty, he said to God: “when my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way” (Psalm 142:3). There will be times in life when we fear what lies ahead. But we know this: our God, who walks with us, knows the way.
Aug
29
2023
In Beep Baseball, the players who are blind listen for a beeping ball or buzzing base to know what to do and where to go. The blindfolded batter (to account for various degrees of blindness) and sighted pitcher are on the same team. When a batter swings the bat and hits the beeping ball, he or she runs toward the buzzing base. The batter is out if a fielder “smothers” the ball before the batter makes it to the base; otherwise, the batter scores a run. One player remarked that the best part is that he feels “great freedom in running” because he knows there’s a clear path and direction. The book of Isaiah tells us that God, “the Upright One, [makes] the way of the righteous smooth” (26:7). When this was written, the path for the Israelites looked anything but smooth; they were experiencing divine judgment for their disobedience. Isaiah exhorted them to walk in faith and obedience—the often difficult but smooth path. Being concerned for God’s “name and renown” (v. 8) was to be their hearts’ focus. As believers in Jesus, we come to know more about God and build our trust in His faithful character as we follow His ways in obedience. Our path in life may not always look or feel smooth, but we can be assured as we trust in Him that God is alongside us and making a way. We too can feel freedom as we run in obedience on God’s best path for us.
Aug
28
2023
I sat in the stillness of a workday’s end, my laptop in front of me. I should’ve been exhilarated about the work I’d finished that day, but I wasn’t. I was tired. My shoulders ached with the load of anxiety over a problem at work, and my mind was spent from thinking about a troubled relationship. I wanted to escape from it all—my thoughts wandered to watching TV that night. But I closed my eyes. “Lord,” I whispered. I was too tired to say more. All my weariness went into that one word. And somehow, I immediately knew that was where it should go. “Come to me,” Jesus tells us who are weary and burdened, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Not the rest from a good night’s sleep. Not the break from reality that television offers. Not even the relief when a problem has been solved. Although these may be good sources of rest, the respite they offer is short-lived and dependent on our circumstances. In contrast, the rest Jesus gives is lasting and guaranteed by His unchanging character. He’s always good. He gives us true rest for our souls even in the midst of trouble, because we know that everything is in His control. We can trust and submit to Him, endure and even thrive in difficult situations because of the strength and restoration only He can give.   “Come to me,” Jesus tells you. “Come to me.” 
Aug
27
2023
The timing couldn’t have been worse. After making a small fortune engineering bridges, monuments, and large buildings, Cesar had aspirations of starting a new endeavor. So he sold his first business and banked the money, planning to reinvest it soon. During that brief window, his government seized all assets held in private bank accounts. In an instant, Cesar’s lifesavings evaporated. Choosing not to view the injustice as a cause to complain, Cesar asked God to show him the way forward. And then—he simply started over. In one awful moment, Job lost far more than merely his possessions. He lost most of his servants and all his children (Job 1:13–22). Then he lost his health (2:7–8). Job’s response remains a timeless example for us. He prayed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21). The chapter concludes, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (v. 22). Like Job, Cesar chose to trust God. In just a few years he had built a new business more successful than the first. His story resembles the conclusion of Job’s (see Job 42). But even if Cesar had never recovered economically, he knew his real treasure wasn’t on this earth anyway (Matthew 6:19–20). He would still be trusting God.
Aug
26
2023
After raising money all year for a “trip of a lifetime,” seniors from an Oklahoma high school arrived at the airport to learn that many of them had purchased tickets from a bogus company posing as an airline. “It’s heartbreaking,” one school administrator said. Yet, even though they had to change their plans, the students decided to “make the most of it.” They enjoyed two days at nearby attractions, which donated the tickets. Dealing with failed or changed plans can be disappointing or even heartbreaking. Especially when we’ve invested time, money, or emotion into the planning. King David “had it in [his] heart to build” a temple for God (1 Chronicles 28:2), but God told him: “You are not to build a house for my Name . . . . Solomon your son is the one who will build my house” (vv. 3, 6). David didn’t despair. He praised God for choosing him to be king over Israel, and he gave the plans for the temple to Solomon to complete (vv. 11–13). As he did, he encouraged him: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work . . . for the Lord God . . . is with you” (v. 20). When our plans fall through, no matter the reason, we can bring our disappointment to God who “cares for [us]” (1 Peter 5:7). He will help us handle our disappointment with grace.
Aug
25
2023
At the pastor’s invitation at the end of the church service, Latriece made her way to the front. When she was invited to greet the congregation, no one was prepared for the weighty and wonderful words she spoke. She had relocated from Kentucky where in December 2021 devastating tornadoes had taken the lives of seven of her family members. “I can still smile because God’s with me,” she said. Though bruised by trial, her testimony was a powerful encouragement for those facing challenges of their own. David’s words in Psalm 22 (which point to the sufferings of Jesus) are those of a battered man who felt forsaken by God (v. 1), despised and mocked by others (vv. 6–8), and surrounded by predators (vv. 12–13). He felt weak and drained (vv. 14–18)—but he wasn’t hopeless. “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me” (v. 19). Your present challenge—though likely not of the same variety as David’s or Latriece’s—is just as real. And the words of verse 24 are just as meaningful: “He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; . . . but has listened to his cry for help.” And when we experience God’s help, let’s declare His goodness so others can hear of it (v. 22).
Aug
24
2023
It had been a few years since my long-time friend and I had seen one another. During that time, he’d received a cancer diagnosis and started treatments. An unexpected trip to his state afforded me the chance to see him again. I walked into the restaurant, and tears filled both of our eyes. It’d been too long since we’d been in the same room, and now death crouched in the corner reminding us of the brevity of life. The tears in our eyes sprang from a long friendship filled with adventures and antics and laughter and loss—and love. So much love that it spilled out from the corners of our eyes at the sight of one another.    Jesus wept too. John’s gospel records that moment, after the Jews said, “Come and see, Lord” (John 11:34) and Jesus stood before the tomb of His good friend Lazarus. Then we read those two words that reveal to us the depths to which Christ shares our humanity: “Jesus wept” (v. 35). Was there much going on in that moment, things that John did and didn’t record? Yes. Yet I also believe the reaction of the Jews to Jesus is telling: “See how he loved him!” (v. 36). That line is more than sufficient grounds for us to stop and worship the Friend who knows our every weakness. Jesus was flesh and blood and tears. Jesus is the Savior who loves and understands.
Aug
23
2023
No one ever died saying, ‘I’m so glad for the self-centered, self-serving, and self-protective life I lived,’ ” author Parker Palmer said in a commencement address, urging graduates to “offer [themselves] to the world . . . with openhearted generosity.” But, Parker continued, living this way would also meaning learning “how little you know and how easy it is to fail.” Offering themselves in service to the world would require cultivating a “beginner’s mind” to “walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and failing, again and again—then getting up to learn again and again.” It’s only when our lives are built on a foundation of grace that we can find the courage to choose such a life of fearless “openhearted generosity.” As Paul explained to his protégé Timothy, we can confidently “fan into flame” (v. 6) and live out of God’s gifting when we remember that it’s God’s grace that saves and calls us to a life of purpose (v. 9). It’s His power that gives us the courage to resist the temptation to live timidly in exchange for the Spirit’s “power, love, and self-discipline” (v. 7).  And it’s His grace that picks us up when we fall, so that we can continue a life-long journey of grounding our lives in His love (vv. 13–14).
Aug
22
2023
In his poem “The Witnesses,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) described a sunken slave ship. As he wrote of “skeletons in chains,” Longfellow mourned slavery’s countless nameless victims. The concluding stanza reads, “These are the woes of Slaves,/ They glare from the abyss;/ They cry from unknown graves,/ We are the Witnesses!” But who do these witnesses speak to? Isn’t such silent testimony futile? There is a Witness who sees it all. When Cain murdered Abel, he pretended nothing had happened. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he said dismissively to God. But God said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:10–11). Cain’s name lives on as a warning. “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother,” John the disciple cautioned (1 John 3:12). Abel’s name lives on too, but in a dramatically different way. “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did,” said the writer of Hebrews. “By faith Abel still speaks” (11:4). Abel still speaks! So do the bones of those long-forgotten slaves. We do well to remember all such victims, and to oppose oppression wherever we see it. God sees it all. His justice will triumph.
Aug
21
2023
“Is church over?” asked a young mother arriving at our church with two children in tow just as the Sunday service was ending. But a greeter told her that a church nearby offered two Sunday services and the second would start soon. Would she like a ride there? The young mother said yes and seemed grateful to travel the few blocks to the other church. Reflecting later, the greeter came to this conclusion: “Is church over? Never. God’s church goes on forever.” The church isn’t a fragile “building.” It’s the faithful family of God who are “members of his household,” wrote Paul, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22). Jesus Himself established His church for eternity. He declared that despite challenges or troubles facing His church, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 kjv). Through this empowering lens, we can see our local churches—all of us—as a part of God’s eternal and universal church, being built “in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Ephesians 3:21).
Aug
20
2023
Your bees are swarming!” My wife stuck her head inside the door and gave me news no beekeeper wants to hear. I ran outside to see thousands of bees flying up from the hive to the top of a tall pine, never to return. I was a little behind in reading the clues that the hive was about to swarm; more than a week of storms had hampered my inspections. The morning the storms ended, the bees left. The colony was new and healthy, and the bees were actually dividing the colony to start a new one. “Don’t be hard on yourself,” an experienced beekeeper told me cheerfully after seeing my disappointment. “This can happen to anyone!” Encouragement is a winsome gift. When David was disheartened because Saul was pursuing him to take his life, Saul’s son Jonathan encouraged David. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (1 Samuel 23:17). Those are surprisingly selfless words from someone next in line to the throne. It’s likely Jonathan recognized that God was with David, so he spoke out of a humble heart of faith. All around us are people who need encouragement. God will help us help them as we humble ourselves before Him and ask Him to love them through us.
Aug
19
2023
In his book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson writes, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. . . . Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back?” Swenson says we need some quiet, fertile “land” in life where we can rest in God and meet with Him. Does that resonate? Seeking open spaces is something Moses lived out well. Leading a nation of “stubborn and rebellious” people (Exodus 33:5 nlt), he often withdrew to find rest and guidance in God’s presence. And in his “tent of meeting” (v. 7), “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (v. 11). Jesus also “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Both He and Moses realized the importance of spending time alone with the Father.   We too need to build margin into our lives, some wide and open spaces spent in rest and in God’s presence. Spending time with Him will help us make better decisions—creating healthier margins and boundaries in our life so we have the bandwidth available to love Him and others well. Let’s seek God in open spaces today.
Aug
18
2023
In 2013, about 600 on-site spectators watched aerialist Nik Wallenda walk on a tightrope across a 1500-foot-wide gorge near the Grand Canyon. Wallenda stepped onto the 2-inch-thick steel cable and thanked Jesus for the view as his head camera pointed toward the valley below. He prayed and praised Jesus as he walked across the gorge as calmly as if he was strolling on a sidewalk. When the wind became treacherous, he stopped and crouched. He rose and regained his balance, thanking God for “calming that cable.” With every step on that tightrope, he displayed his dependence on the power of Christ to everyone listening then and now as the video is watched across the world. When the winds of a storm caused waves to overtake the disciples on the sea of Galilee, fear seeped through their pleas for help (Mark 4:35–38). After Jesus stilled the squall, they knew He controlled the winds and everything else (vv. 39–41). Slowly they learned to grow in their trust of Him. Their personal experiences could help others recognize the Lord’s intimate availability and extraordinary might. As we experience life’s storms or walk on the tightropes of trust stretched over the deep valleys of affliction, we can demonstrate confident faith in the power of Christ. God will use our faith-walk to inspire others to hope in Him.
Aug
17
2023
Attending a large event might change you in a surprising way. After interacting with more than 1,200 people at multi-day gatherings in the UK and US, researcher Daniel Yudkin and his colleagues learned that large festivals can impact our moral compass and even affect our willingness to share resources with others. Their research found that sixty-three percent of attendees had a “transformative” experience at the festival that also left them feeling more connected to humanity and more generous toward friends, family, and even complete strangers. When we gather with others to worship God, however, we can experience more than merely the social “transformation” of a secular festival; we commune with God Himself. God’s people undoubtedly experienced that  connection to Him when they gathered in Jerusalem in ancient times for their sacred festivals throughout the year. They traveled—without modern conveniences—to be present at the temple three times a year for “the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles” (Deuteronomy 16:16). These gatherings were times of solemn remembrance, worship, and “rejoic[ing] before the Lord” with family, servants, foreigners, and others (v. 11). Let’s gather with others for worship to help one another to continue to enjoy Him and trust in His faithfulness.
Aug
16
2023
Competition in the internet age has become fierce. Increasingly, companies are developing creative ways to attract customers. Take Subaru, for instance. Subaru owners are famously loyal, so the company has invited “Subbie superfans” to become “brand ambassadors” of the vehicles. The company’s website says, “Subaru Ambassadors are an exclusive group of energetic individuals who volunteer their passion and enthusiasm to spread the word about Subaru and help shape the future of the brand.” The company wants Subaru ownership to become a part of people’s very identity—something they’re so passionate about that they can’t help but share. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul describes a different “ambassador” program, one of inviting others to follow Jesus. “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (v. 11). Paul then adds, “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (vv. 19–20). Many products promise to meet deep needs, to give us a sense of happiness, wholeness and purpose. But only one message—the message of reconciliation entrusted to us as believers in Jesus—is truly good news. And we have the privilege of delivering that message to a desperate world.
Aug
15
2023
In 1917, a young seamstress was thrilled to get admitted to one of New York City’s most renowned fashion design schools. But when Ann Cone (later Ann Lowe) arrived from Florida to register for classes, the school director told her she wasn’t welcome. “To be blunt, Mrs. Cone, we didn’t know that you were a Negro,” he said. Refusing to leave, she whispered a prayer: Please let me stay here. Please let me stay here. Seeing her persistence, the director let Ann stay, but segregated her from the whites-only classroom whose back door would be open “for you to hear.” Undeniably talented, Ann still graduated six months early and later attracted high-society clients including former first lady of the US Jacqueline Kennedy, whose world-famous wedding gown she designed. She made the gown twice, seeking God’s help after a pipe burst above her sewing studio, ruining the first dress. Persistence like that is powerful, especially in prayer. In Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow, a widow pleads repeatedly for justice from a corrupt judge. At first, he refused her but “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see she gets justice” (Luke 18:5). With far more love and generosity, “will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” He will, said Jesus (v. 7). As He inspires us, let’s seek to persistently pray and never give up. In His time and perfect way, God will answer.
Aug
14
2023
Bridger Walker was only six when a menacing dog lunged at his younger sister. Instinctively, Bridger jumped in front of her, shielding her from the dog’s ferocious attack. After receiving emergency care and ninety stitches to his face, Bridger explained his actions. “If someone had to die, I thought it should be me.” Thankfully, plastic surgeons have helped Bridger’s face heal. But his brotherly love, evidenced in recent pictures where he’s seen hugging his sister, remains strong as ever. Ideal family members watch over us and care for us. True brothers step in when we’re in trouble and come alongside us when we’re afraid or alone. In reality, even our best brothers are imperfect; some even wound us. We have one brother, however, who’s always on our side, however: Jesus. Hebrews tells us that Christ, as an act of humble love, joined the human family, sharing our “flesh and blood” and becoming like us, “fully human in every way” (2:14, 17). As a result, Jesus is our truest brother, and He delights in calling us His “brothers and sisters” (v. 11). We refer to Jesus as our Savior, Friend, and King—and each of these are true. However, Jesus is also our brother who has experienced every human fear and temptation, every despair or sadness. Our brother stands alongside us—always.
Aug
13
2023
When you listen to their stories, it becomes clear that perhaps the most difficult part of being a prisoner is isolation and loneliness. In fact, research reveals that in the state of Florida, regardless of the length of their incarceration, most prisoners receive only two visits from friends or loved ones during their time behind bars. Loneliness is a constant reality. It’s a pain I imagine Joseph felt as he sat in prison, unjustly accused of a crime. There had been a glimmer of hope. God helped Joseph correctly interpret a dream from a fellow inmate who happened to be a trusted servant of Pharaoh. Joseph told the man he would be restored to his position and asked the man to mention him to Pharaoh so Joseph could gain his freedom (Genesis 40:14). But the man “did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (v. 23). For two more years, Joseph waited. In those years of waiting, without any sign that his circumstances would change, Joseph was never completely alone because God’s Spirit was with him (39:23). Eventually, the servant of Pharaoh remembered his promise and Joseph was released after correctly interpreting another dream (41:9—14). Regardless of circumstances that make us feel we’ve been forgotten, and the feelings of loneliness that creep in, we can cling to God’s reassuring promise to His children: “I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15).
Aug
12
2023
When Mary Slessor sailed to the African nation of Calabar (now Nigeria) in the late 1800s, she was enthusiastic to continue the missionary work of the late David Livingstone. Her first assignment, teaching school while living among fellow missionaries, left her burdened for a different way to serve. So she did something rare in that region—she moved in with the people she was serving. Mary learned their language, lived their way, and ate their food. She even took in dozens of children who’d been abandoned. For nearly forty years she brought hope and the gospel to those who needed both. The apostle Paul knew the importance of truly meeting the needs of those around us. He mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:5 that there are “different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” And “we have different gifts” (Romans 12:6). So he served people in their area of need. For instance, “to the weak [he] became weak” (1 Corinthians 9:22). One church I’m aware of recently announced the launch of an “all abilities” ministry approach complete with a barrier-free facility—making worship available for people with disabilities. This is the Paul-like kind of thinking that wins hearts and allows the gospel to flourish in a community. As we live out our faith before those around us, may God lead us to fresh and different ways to introduce them to Jesus.
Aug
11
2023
  When Xavier was an elementary student, I drove him to and from school. One day, things didn’t go according to plan. I was late to pick him up. I parked the car, praying frantically as I ran toward his classroom. I found him hugging his backpack as he sat on a bench next to a teacher. “I’m so sorry, Mijo. Are you okay?” He sighed. “I’m fine, but I’m mad at you for being late.” How could I blame him? I was mad at me too. I loved my son, but I knew there would be many times when I’d disappoint him. I also knew he might feel disappointed with God one day. So I worked hard to teach him that God never has and never will break a promise. Psalm 33 encourages us to celebrate God’s faithfulness with joyful praises (vv. 1–3) because “the word of the lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does” (vv. 4–5). Using the world God created as tangible proof of His power and dependability (vv. 5–7), the psalmist calls on the “people of the world” to worship God (vv. 8–9). When plans fail or people let us down, we can be tempted to be disappointed in God. However, we can rely on God’s trustworthiness because His plans “stand firm forever” (vv. 10–11). We can praise God, even when things go wrong because our loving Creator sustains everything and everyone. God is forever faithful.
Aug
10
2023
Robert Todd Lincoln lived under the extensive shadow of his father, beloved American president Abraham Lincoln. Long after his father’s death, Robert’s identity was engulfed by his father’s overwhelming presence. Lincoln’s close friend, Nicholas Murray Butler, wrote that Robert often said, “No one wanted me for secretary of war, they wanted Abraham Lincoln’s son. No one wanted me for minister to England, they wanted Abraham Lincoln’s son. No one wanted me for president of the Pullman Company, they wanted Abraham Lincoln’s son.” Such frustration isn’t limited to the children of the famous. We all are familiar with the feeling of not being valued for who we are. Yet nowhere is the depth of our value more evident than in the way God loves us. The apostle Paul recognized us for who we were in our sins, and for who we become in Christ. He wrote, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). God loves us because of who we are—even at our worst! Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). God’s values us so much that He allowed His Son to go to the cross on our behalf. Who are we? We are God’s beloved children. Who could ask for more?
Aug
9
2023
After an unsuccessful surgery, Joan’s doctor said she’d need to undergo another operation in five weeks. As time passed, anxiety built. Joan and her husband were senior citizens, and their family lived far away. They’d need to drive to an unfamiliar city and navigate a complex hospital system, and they’d be working with a new specialist. Although these circumstances seemed overwhelming, God took care of them. During the trip, their car’s navigation system broke down, but they arrived on time because they had a paper map. God supplied wisdom. At the hospital, a Christian pastor prayed with them and offered to help later that day. God provided support. After the operation, Joan received good news of a successful surgery. While we won’t always experience healing or rescue, God is faithful and always close to vulnerable people—whether young, old, or otherwise disadvantaged. Centuries ago, when captivity in Babylonian had weakened the Israelites, Isaiah reminded them that God had upheld them from birth and would continue to care for them. Through the prophet, God said, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you” (Isaiah 46:4).God will not abandon us when we need Him the most. He can supply our needs and remind us He’s with us at every point in our lives. He’s the God of all our days.
Aug
8
2023
One day, a sixth-grade student noticed a classmate cutting his arm with a small razor. Trying to do the right thing, she took it from him and threw it away. Surprisingly, instead of being commended for her act, she received a ten-day school suspension. Why? She briefly had the razor in her possession—something not allowed at school. Asked if she would do it again, she replied: “Even if I got in trouble, . . . I would do it again.” Just as this girl’s act of trying to do good got her into trouble at her school (her suspension was later reversed), Jesus’ act of kingdom intervention got Him into good trouble with religious leaders. The Pharisees interpreted Jesus’ healing a man with a deformed hand as a violation of their rules. Christ told them if God’s people were allowed to care for animals in dire situations on the Sabbath, “how much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” (Matthew 12:12). Because He’s Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus could regulate what is and isn’t permitted on it (vv. 6–8). Knowing that it would offend the religious leaders, He restored the man’s hand to wholeness anyway (vv. 13–14).     Sometimes believers in Christ can get into “good trouble”—doing what’s honors Him but what might not make certain people happy—as they help others in need. When we do, as God guides us, we imitate Jesus and reveal that people are more important than rules and rituals.
Aug
7
2023
Business analyst Francis Evans once studied 125 insurance salesmen to find out what made them successful. Surprisingly, competence wasn’t the key factor. Instead, Evens found customers were more likely to buy from salesmen with the same politics, education, and even height as them. Academics call this homophily: the tendency to prefer people like us. Homophily is at work in other areas of life, too, with us tending to marry and befriend people similar to us. While natural, homophily can be destructive when left unchecked. When we only prefer “our kind” of people, society can fracture along racial, political, and economic lines. In the first century, Jews stuck with Jews, Greeks with Greeks, and rich and poor never mingled. And yet, in Romans 16:1–16, Paul could describe the church in Rome as including Priscilla and Aquila (Jewish), Epenetus (Greek), Phoebe (a “benefactor of many,” so probably wealthy), and Philologus (a name common for slaves). What had brought such different people together? Jesus—in whom there’s “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28). It’s natural to want to live, work, and go to church with people like us. Jesus pushes us beyond that. In a world fracturing along various lines, He’s making us a people who are different together—united in Him as one family.
Aug
6
2023
You wouldn’t think anyone would be excited about going to a place called Dismals Canyon to watch gnats. Yet this forest in northwestern Alabama attracts a number of tourists each year, many in May and June when the gnat larvae hatch and become glowworms. At night, these glowworms cast a brilliant blue luminescence, and thousands of them together create a breathtaking light. In a way, the apostle Paul writes about believers in Christ as glowworms. He explains that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). But sometimes we wonder how “this little light of mine” can make a difference. Paul suggests it isn’t just a solo act. He calls us “children of light” (v. 8) and explains that we “share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12). Being light in the world is a collective effort, the work of the body of Christ, the work of the church. Paul reinforces this with the picture of us “glowworms” worshiping together, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:19). When we get discouraged, thinking our life testimony is just one little dot in a midnight culture of pitch black, we might take assurance from the Bible. We’re not alone. Together, as God guides us, we make a difference and glow a brilliant light. It seems that a whole congregation of glowworms might attract a whole lot of interest.  
Aug
5
2023
“You are like Moses, leading us out from slavery!” Jamila exclaimed. As a bonded brick-kiln worker in Pakistan, she and her family (and her parents before her) suffered because of the exorbitant amount they owed the kiln owner. Barely able to survive, they used much of their earnings just to pay off the interest. But when they received a gift from a nonprofit agency that released them from their debt, they felt tremendous relief. In thanking the agency’s representative for their freedom, Jamila, a Christian, pointed to the example of God’s release of Moses and the Israelites from slavery. The Israelites had been oppressed by the Egyptians for hundreds of years, laboring under harsh conditions. They cried out to God, asking for help (Exodus 2:23). But their workload increased, for the new pharaoh ordered them not only to make bricks but also to gather the straw for these bricks (Exodus 5:6–8). When the Israelites again cried out against the oppression, God again promised to be their God (6:7). No longer would they be slaves, for He would redeem them with “an outstretched arm” (v. 6). Under God’s direction, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt (see Exodus 14). Today God still delivers us, for through the outstretched arms of His Son Jesus on the cross, we are set free from a far greater enslavement to the sin that once controlled us. We’re no longer slaves, but free!
Aug
4
2023
In 2009, a research team at Stanford University studied more than two hundred students in an experiment that included switching between tasks and memory exercises. Surprisingly, the study found that students who viewed themselves as good multitaskers because they were in the habit of doing several things at a time, did worse than those who preferred to perform one task at a time. Multitasking made it more difficult to focus their thoughts and filter irrelevant information. Maintaining focus when our minds are distracted can be a challenge. When Jesus visited Mary and Martha’s home, Martha was busy working and “distracted by all the preparations” (Luke 10:40). Her sister Mary chose to sit and listen to Jesus teach, gaining wisdom and peace that would never be taken away from her (vv. 39–42). When Martha asked Jesus to encourage Mary to help her, He responded, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one” (vv. 41–42). God desires our attention. But, like Martha, we’re often distracted by tasks and problems. We neglect God’s presence even though He alone can provide the wisdom and hope we need. When we make spending time with Him through prayer and meditating on Scripture a priority, He’ll give us the guidance and strength we need to address the challenges we face.
Aug
3
2023
Phil and Sandy, moved by stories of refugee children, opened their hearts and home to two of them. After they picked them up at the airport, they nervously drove home in silence. Were they ready for this? They didn’t share the same culture, language, or religion, but they’d become people of refuge for these precious children. Boaz was moved by the story of Ruth. He’d heard how she left her people to support Naomi, and when Ruth came to glean in his field, Boaz prayed this blessing over her, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12). Ruth reminded Boaz of his blessing when she interrupted his sleep one night. Awakened by movement at his feet, Boaz asked, “Who are you?” Ruth replied, “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family” (3:9, emphasis added). The Hebrew word for “corner of garment” and “wings” is the same. Boaz gave Ruth refuge by marrying her, and their great-grandson David echoed their story in his praise to the Lord. “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” he wrote. “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7).
Aug
2
2023
“Hey, Poh Fang!” A church friend texted. “For this month’s care group meeting, let’s get everyone to do what James 5:16 says. Let’s create a safe environment of trust and confidentiality, so we can share an area of struggle in our life and pray for each other.” For a moment, I wasn’t sure how to reply. While our small-group members have known each other for years, we’d never really openly shared all our hurts and struggles with one another. Afterall, it’s scary to be vulnerable. But the truth is, we’re all sinners and we all struggle. We all need Jesus. Authentic conversations about God's amazing grace and our dependency on Christ have a way of encouraging us to keep trusting in Him. With Jesus, we can stop pretending to have trouble free lives. So I replied, “Yes! Let’s do that!” Initially, it was awkward. But as one person opened up and shared, another soon followed. Though a few kept silent, there was understanding. No one was pressured. We ended the time by doing what the second part of James 5:16 says, “Pray for each other.” That day I experienced the beauty of fellowship with believers in Jesus. Because of our common faith in Christ, we can be vulnerable with each other and depend on Him and others to help us in our weaknesses and struggles.
Aug
1
2023
Perhaps the most heartwarming tradition in college football happens at the University of Iowa. The Stead Family Children’s Hospital sits next to Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, and the hospital’s top floor has floor-to-ceiling windows offering a great view of the field. On game days, sick children and their families fill the floor to watch the action below, and at the end of the first quarter, coaches, athletes and thousands of fans turn to the hospital and wave. For those few moments, the children’s eyes light up. It’s powerful to see the athletes, with a packed stadium and thousands more watching on TV, pause and show they care. The Scriptures instruct those who have power (and all of us have some kind of power) to care for those who are weak, watch over those who are struggling, and tend to those whose bodies are broken. Too often, though, we ignore those in need of attention (Ezekiel 34:6). The prophet Ezekiel rebuked Israel’s leaders for their selfishness, for disregarding those who most needed help. “Woe to you,” Ezekiel said. “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured” (vv. 2, 4). How often do our personal priorities, leadership philosophies, or economic policies demonstrate little regard for those in distress? God shows us a different way, where those with power watch out for those who are weak (vv. 11–12).
Jul
31
2023
As our adopted granny lay in her hospital bed after suffering several strokes, her doctors were unsure of the amount of brain damage she had endured. They needed to wait until she was a bit better to test her brain function. She spoke very few words and even fewer were understandable. But when the 86-year-old woman who had babysat my daughter for twelve years saw me, she opened her parched mouth and asked: “How is Kayla?” The first words she spoke to me were about my child whom she had loved so freely and fully. Jesus loved children too and put them in the forefront even though His disciples disapproved. Some parents would seek out Christ and present their children to Him. He chose to bless the children as He “[placed] his hands on them” (Luke 18:15). But not everyone was happy that He was blessing little ones. The disciples scolded the parents and asked them to quit bothering Jesus. But He intervened and said, “Let the little children come to me” (v. 16). He called them an example of how we should receive God’s kingdom—with simple dependence, trust, and sincerity. Young children rarely have a hidden agenda. What you see is what you get. As our heavenly Father helps us regain childlike trust, may our faith and dependence on Him be as open as a child’s.
Jul
30
2023
Years ago, a train carrying 218 people derailed in northwestern Spain, killing 79 people, and hospitalizing 66 more. The driver couldn’t explain the accident, but the video footage could and did. The train was going far too fast before it hit a deadly curve. The limit of allowable speed limit had been created to protect everyone on board the train. Despite being a thirty-year veteran of Spain’s national rail company, however, the driver had for whatever reason ignored the speed boundary and many people lost their lives. In Deuteronomy 5, Moses reviewed God’s original covenant boundaries for His people. Moses encouraged a new generation to regard God’s instruction as their own covenant with Him (v. 3), and then he restated the Ten Commandments (vv. 7–21). By repeating the commandments and drawing lessons from the previous generation’s disobedience, Moses invited the Israelites to be reverent, humble, and mindful of God’s faithfulness. God had made a way for His people so they wouldn’t wreck their lives or the lives of others. If they ignored His wisdom, they would do so at their own peril. Today, as God leads us, let’s make all of Scripture our delight, counselor, and the guardrail for our lives. And as the Spirit guides us, we can keep on track within His wise protection and devote our lives wholeheartedly to Him.
Jul
29
2023
A friend of mine works on a hospital ship called Africa Mercy, which takes free healthcare to developing countries. The staff daily serve hundreds of patients whose ailments would otherwise go untreated. TV crews who periodically board the ship, point their cameras on its amazing medical staff, who fix cleft palates and reset club feet. […]
Jul
28
2023
Green Bank, West Virginia, is a tiny community in the rugged US Appalachian Mountains of the USA. The town resembles dozens of other small towns in the area—with one major exception. None of the 142 residents have access to the internet. This total disconnect isn’t a technology boycott or a desire to get back to a simpler lifestyle. The absence of Wi-Fi access or cellular phone towers is because of the Green Bank Observatory, whose telescope is constantly trained on the sky. To prevent interference with the leading-edge technology of the observatory, local officials do not allow citizens to use high-tech communication devices. As a result, Green Bank is one of the most technologically quiet places in North America. Sometimes quiet is the best environment for moving forward—especially in our relationship with God. Jesus Himself modeled this by retreating to quiet, secluded places to talk with His Father. In Luke 5:16 we read, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Perhaps the key word there is often. This was Christ’s regular practice, and it sets the perfect example for us. If the Creator of the universe was this aware of His dependence upon His Father, how much more do we need Him! Retreating to a quiet place to be refreshed in God’s presence equips us to go forward in His renewing strength. Where can you find such a place today?
Jul
27
2023
When Tun’s country suffered a coup, the military began terrorizing believers in Jesus and killing their farm animals. Having lost their livelihood, Tun’s family scattered to various countries. For nine years, Tun existed in a refugee camp far from his family. He knew God was with him, but during the separation, two family members died. Tun grew despondent. Long ago, another people group faced brutal oppression. So God appointed Moses to lead those people—the Israelites—out of Egypt. Moses reluctantly agreed. But when he approached Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler only intensified the oppression (Exodus 5:6–9). “I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go,” he said (v. 2). The people complained to Moses (vv. 20–21), who complained to God (vv. 22–23). In the end, God freed the Israelites in spectacular fashion. The people got the freedom they wanted—but in God’s way and timing. He plays a long game, teaching us about His character and preparing us for something greater. Tun made good use of his years in a refugee camp, earning a master’s degree from a New Delhi seminary. Now he’s a pastor to his own people—refugees like him who have found a new home. The journey hasn’t been easy. “My story as a refugee forms the crucible for leading as a servant,” he says. In his testimony, Tun cites Moses’ song in Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my defense.” And today, He’s ours as well.
Jul
26
2023
While we decorated for a special event at church, the woman in charge griped about my inexperience. After she walked away, another woman approached me. “Don’t worry about her. She’s what we call an E.G.R.—Extra Grace Required.” I laughed. Soon I started using that label every time I had a conflict with someone. Years later, I sat in that same church sanctuary listening to that E.G.R.’s obituary. The pastor shared how she had served God behind the scenes and given generously to others. I asked God to forgive me for judging and gossiping about her and anyone else I’d labeled as an E.G.R. in the past. After all, I needed extra grace as much as any other believer in Jesus. In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul states that all believers were “by nature deserving of wrath” (v. 3). But God gave us the gift of salvation, a gift which we did nothing to deserve, a gift we’d never be able to earn “so that no one can boast” (v. 9). No one. As we submit to God moment by moment during this lifelong journey, the Holy Spirit will work to change our character so we can reflect the character of Christ. Every believer requires extra grace. But we can be grateful that God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Jul
25
2023
In June 1965, six Tongan teenagers sailed from their island home in search of adventure. But when a storm broke their mast and rudder the first night, they drifted for days without food or water before reaching the uninhabited island of ‘Ata. It would be fifteen months before they were found. The boys worked together on ‘Ata to survive, setting up a small food garden, hollowing out tree trunks to store rainwater, even building a makeshift gym. When one boy broke his leg from a cliff fall, the others set it using sticks and leaves. Arguments were managed with mandatory reconciliation, and each day began and ended with singing and prayer. When the boys emerged from their ordeal healthy, their families were amazed—their funerals had already been held. Being a believer in Jesus in the first century could be an isolating experience. Persecuted for your faith and often stranded from family, one could feel adrift. The apostle Peter’s encouragement to such castaways was to stay disciplined and prayerful (1 Peter 4:7), to look after each other (v. 8), to manage arguments (v. 9), and use whatever abilities one has to get the work done (vv. 10–11). In time, God would bring them through their ordeal strong and steadfast (5:10). In times of trial, “castaway faith” is needed. Those Tongan teens showed us the way. We pray and work in solidarity, and God brings us through.
Jul
24
2023
“I measure every Grief I meet,” the nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “With narrow, probing, eyes – / I wonder if It weighs like Mine – / Or has an Easier size.” The poem is a moving reflection on how people carry the unique ways they’ve been wounded throughout their lives. Dickinson concludes, almost hesitantly, with her only solace: the “piercing Comfort” of seeing at Calvary her own wounds reflected in the Savior’s: “Still fascinated to presume / That Some – are like my own –.” The book of Revelation describes Jesus, our Savior, as a “Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (5:6; see v. 12), His wounds still visible. Wounds earned through taking upon Himself the sin and despair of His people (1 Peter 2:24–25), so that they might have new life and hope. And Revelation describes a future day when the Savior will “wipe every tear” from each of His children’s eyes (21:4). Jesus won’t minimize their pain, but truly see and care for each person’s unique grief—while inviting them into the new, healing realities of life in His kingdom, where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (v. 4). Where healing water will flow “without cost from the spring of the water of life” (v. 6; see 22:2). Because our Savior has carried our every grief, we can find rest and healing in His kingdom.
Jul
23
2023
Louise was a lively, playful girl who brought smiles to all she met. At the age of five, she tragically succumbed to a rare disease. Her sudden passing was a shock to her parents, Day Day and Peter, and to all of us who worked with them. We grieved along with them. Yet, Day Day and Peter have found the strength to keep going. When I asked Day Day how they were coping, she said they drew strength from focusing on where Louise was—in Jesus’ loving arms. “We rejoice for our daughter whose time is up to go into eternal life,” she said. “By God’s grace and strength, we can navigate through the grief and continue to do what He has entrusted us to do.” Day Day’s comfort is found in her confidence in the heart of God who revealed Himself in Jesus. Biblical hope is much more than mere optimism; it is an absolute certainty based on God’s promise, which He will never break. In our sadness, we can cling to this powerful truth, as Paul encouraged those grieving over departed friends: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). May this certain hope give us strength and comfort today—even in our grief.
Jul
22
2023
Malcolm Cloutt was named a 2021 Maundy Money honoree by Queen Elizabeth II, an annual service award given to British men and women. Cloutt, who was one hundred years old at the time of the recognition, was honored for having given out one thousand Bibles during his lifetime. Cloutt has kept a record of everyone who’s received a Bible and prays for them regularly. Cloutt’s faithfulness in prayer is a powerful example of the kind of love we find throughout Paul’s writings in the New Testament. Paul often assured the recipients of his letters that he was regularly praying for them. To his friend Philemon he wrote, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 1:4). In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3). To the church in Rome, Paul emphasized that he remembered them in prayer “constantly” and “at all times” (Romans 1:9–10). While we might not have a thousand people to pray for like Malcolm, intentional prayer for those we know is powerful because God responds to our prayers. When prompted and empowered by His Spirit to pray for a specific individual, I’ve found a simple prayer calendar can be a useful tool. Dividing names into a daily or weekly calendar helps me be faithful to pray. What a beautiful demonstration of love when we remember others in prayer.
Jul
21
2023
Author Scot McKnight shares how when he was in high school, he had what he calls a “Spirit-drenched experience.” While at a camp, the speaker challenged him to enthrone Christ in his life by surrendering to the Spirit. Later, he sat under a tree and prayed, “Father, forgive me of my sins. And Holy Spirit, come inside and fill me.” Something mighty happened, he said. “From that moment my life has been completely different. Not perfect, but different.” He suddenly had the desire to read the Bible, pray, meet with other believers in Jesus, and serve God. Before the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, He told His friends: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4). They would “receive power” to become His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). God gives the Holy Spirit to indwell everyone who believes in Jesus. This first happened at Pentecost (see Acts 2); today it occurs whenever someone trusts in Christ. God’s Spirit also continues to fill those who believe in Jesus throughout our lives. We too, with the help of the Spirit, bear the fruit of changed character and desires (Galatians 5:22–23). Let’s praise and thank God for comforting us, convicting us, partnering with us, and loving us.
Jul
20
2023
If you like peace and quiet, there’s a room in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that you’ll love. It absorbs 99.99 percent of all sound! The world-famous anechoic (echo-free) chamber of the Orfield Laboratories has been called the “quietest place on earth.” People who want to experience this soundless space are required to sit down to avoid getting disoriented by the lack of noise, and no one has ever been able to spend more than forty-five minutes in the room. Few of us need that much silence. Yet we do sometimes long for a little quiet in a loud and busy world. Even the news we watch and the social media we ingest bring a kind of clamorous “noise” that competes for our attention. So much of it is infused with words and images that stir up negative emotions. Immersing ourselves in it can easily drown out the voice of God. When the prophet Elijah went to meet God on the mountain of Horeb, he didn’t find Him in the loud, destructive wind or in the earthquake or in the fire (1 Kings 19:11–12). It wasn’t until Elijah heard a “gentle whisper” that he covered his face and ventured out of the cave to meet with “the Lord God Almighty” (vv. 12–14). Your spirit may well be craving quiet but—even more so—it may be yearning to hear the voice of God. Find room for silence in your life so you’ll never miss God’s “gentle whisper” (v. 12).  
Jul
19
2023
The CEO of a frozen treats franchise went undercover on the television series Undercover Boss, donning a cashier’s uniform. Working at one of the franchise’s stores, her wig and makeup disguised her identity as she became the “new” employee. Her goal was to see how things were really working from the inside and on the ground. Based on her observations, she was able to solve some of the issues the store was facing. Jesus took on a “humble position” to solve our issues. He became human—walking the earth, teaching us about God, and ultimately dying “on a cross” for our sins (Philippians 2:8). This sacrifice exposed Christ’s humility as He obediently gave His life as our sin offering. He walked the earth as a man and experienced what we experience—from ground level. As believers in Jesus, we’re called to have the “same attitude” as our Savior especially in our relationships with other believers (v. 5). God helps us to clothe ourselves in humility and adopt the mindset of Christ (v. 3). He prompts us to live as servants ready to meet others’ needs and willing to lend a helping hand. As God leads us to humbly love others, we’re in a better position to serve them and to compassionately seek solutions to the issues they face.
Jul
18
2023
Winston knows he’s not supposed to chew them. So he’s adopted a sly strategy. We call it slow-walking. If Winston spies a discarded, unguarded shoe, he’ll casually meander in that direction, grab it, and just keep walking. Slowly. Nothing to see here. Right out the door if no one notices. “Uh, Mom, Winston just slow-walked your shoe out the door.” It’s apparent that sometimes we think we can “slow-walk” our sin past God. We’re tempted to think that He won’t notice. It’s no big deal, we rationalize—whatever “it” is. But like Winston, we know better. We know those choices don’t please God. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we may try to hide due to the shame of our sin (Genesis 3:10) or pretend like it didn’t happen. But Scripture invites us to do something very different: to run to God’s mercy and forgiveness. Proverbs 28:13 tells us, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” We don’t have to try to slow-walk our sin and hope no one notices. When we tell the truth about our choices—to ourselves, to God, to a trusted friend—we can find freedom from the guilt and shame of carrying secret sin (1 John 1:9).
Jul
17
2023
The letter from “Jason,” an inmate, surprised my wife and me. We “foster” puppies to become service dogs assisting people with disabilities. One such puppy had graduated to the next training phase, which was run by prisoners who have been taught how to train the dogs. Jason’s letter to us said, “Snickers is the seventeenth dog I’ve trained, and she is the best one. When I see her looking up at me, I feel like I’m finally doing something right.” Jason isn’t the only one with regrets. We all have them. Manasseh, king of Judah, had plenty. Second Chronicles 33 outlines some of his atrocities: building sexually explicit altars to pagan gods (v. 3), practicing witchcraft, and sacrificing his own children (v. 6). He led the entire nation down this sordid path (v. 9). “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention,” reads the account (v. 10). Eventually, God got his attention. The Babylonians invaded, “put a hook in his nose, . . . and took him to Babylon” (v. 11). Next, Manasseh finally did something right. “He sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly” (v. 12). God heard him and restored him as king. Manasseh replaced the pagan practices with worship of the one true God (vv. 15–16). Do your regrets threaten to consume you? It’s not too late. God hears our humble prayer of repentance.
Jul
16
2023
“I felt so useless,” Harold said. “Widowed and retired, kids busy with their own families, spending quiet afternoons watching shadows on the wall.” He’d often tell his daughter, “I’m old and have lived a full life. I have no purpose anymore. God can take me any time.” One afternoon, however, a conversation changed Harold’s mind. “My neighbor had some problems with his kids, so I prayed for him,” Harold said. “Later, I shared the gospel with him. That’s how I realized I still have a purpose! As long as there are people who haven’t heard of Jesus, I must tell them about the Savior.” When Harold responded to an everyday, ordinary encounter by sharing his faith, his neighbor’s life was changed. In 2 Timothy 1, the apostle Paul mentions two women who’d likewise been used by God to change another person’s life: the life of Paul’s young coworker, Timothy. Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, and Eunice, his mother, had a “sincere faith” which they’d passed on to him (v. 5). Through everyday events in an ordinary household, young Timothy learned a genuine faith that was to shape his growth into a faithful disciple of Jesus and, eventually, his ministry as leader of the church at Ephesus. No matter what our age, background, or circumstances, we have a purpose—to tell others about Jesus.
Jul
15
2023
In 1982, pastor Christian Führer began Monday prayer meetings at Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church. For years, a handful gathered to ask God for peace amid global violence and the oppressive East German regime. Though communist authorities watched churches closely, they were unconcerned until attendance swelled and spilled over to mass meetings outside the church gates. On October 9, 1989, seventy thousand demonstrators met and peacefully protested. Six thousand East German police stood ready to respond to any provocation. The crowd remained peaceful, however, and historians consider this day a watershed moment. A month later, the Berlin Wall fell. The massive transformation all started with a prayer meeting. L we turn to God and begin relying on His wisdom and strength, things often begin to shift and reshape. Like Israel, when we cry “out to the Lord in [our] trouble,” we discover the God who alone is capable of profoundly transforming even our most dire predicaments and answering our most vexing questions (Psalm 107:28). God stills “the storm to a whisper” and turns “the desert into pools of water” (vv. 29, 35). The One to whom we pray brings hope out of despair and beauty out of ruin. But it’s God who (in His time—not ours) enacts transformation. Prayer is how we participate in the transforming work He’s doing.
Jul
14
2023
Every Moment Holy is a beautiful book of prayers for a variety of activities, including ordinary ones like preparing a meal or doing the laundry. Necessary tasks that can feel repetitive or mundane. The book reminded me of the words of author G. K. Chesterton, who wrote, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Such encouragement reorients my perspective on the activities of my day. Sometimes I’m inclined to divide my activities into ones that appear to have spiritual value, like reading devotions before a meal, and other activities I think have little spiritual value, such as doing the dishes after the meal. Paul erased that divide in a letter to the people of Colosse who had chosen to live for Jesus. He encouraged them with these words: “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17). Doing things in Jesus’ name means both honoring Jesus as we do them and having the assurance that His Spirit helps strengthen us to accomplish them. “Whatever you do.” All the ordinary activities of our lives, every moment, can be empowered by God’s Spirit and done in a way that honors Jesus.
Jul
13
2023
When Bill Pinkney sailed solo around the world in 1992—taking the hard route around the perilous Great Southern Capes—he did it for a higher purpose. His voyage was to inspire and educate children. That included students at his former inner-city Chicago elementary school. His goal? To show how far they could go by studying hard and making a commitment—the word he chose in naming his boat. When Bill takes schoolkids on the water in Commitment, he says, “They’ve got that tiller in their hand and they learn about control, self-control, they learn about teamwork . . . all the basics that one needs in life to be successful.” Pinkney’s words paint a portrait of Solomon’s wisdom. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). He invited others to examine their life goals. Otherwise, “it is a trap,” said Solomon, “to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows” (v. 25). In contrast, William Pinkney had a clear purpose that eventually inspired 30,000 students across the U.S. to learn from his journey. He became the first African American inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame. “Kids were watching,” he said. With similar purpose, let’s set our course by the deep counsel of God’s instructions to us.
Jul
12
2023
My friend’s eyes revealed what I was feeling—fear! We two teens had behaved poorly and were now cowering before the camp director. The man, who knew our dads well, shared lovingly but pointedly that our fathers would be greatly disappointed. We wanted to crawl under the table—feeling the weight of personal responsibility for our offense. God gave Zephaniah a message for the people of Judah that contained potent words about personal responsibility for sin (Zephaniah 1:1, 6–7). After describing the judgments He would bring against Judah’s foes (ch. 2), He turned His eyes on His guilty, squirming people (ch. 3). “What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem” God proclaimed (3:1 nlt). “They [are] still eager to act corruptly” (v. 7). He’d seen the cold hearts of His people—their spiritual apathy, social injustice, and ugly greed—and He was bringing loving discipline. And it didn’t matter if the individuals were “leaders,” “judges,” “prophets”—everyone was guilty before Him (vv. 3–4). The apostle Paul wrote the following to believers in Jesus who persisted in sin, “You are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. . . . [God] will judge everyone according to what they have done” (Romans 2:5–6 NLT). So, in Jesus’ power, let’s live in a way that honors our holy, loving Father and leads to no remorse.  
Jul
11
2023
“Wash me!” Though those words weren’t written on my vehicle, they could have been. So, off to the car wash I went, and so did other drivers who wanted relief from the grimy leftovers from salted roads following a recent snowfall. The lines were long, and the service was slow. But it was worth the wait. I left with a clean vehicle and, for compensation for service delay, the car wash was free of charge! Getting cleaned at someone else’s expense—that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has provided forgiveness for our sins. Who among us hasn’t felt the need “to bathe” when the “dirt and grime” of life have clung to us? When we’re stained by selfish thoughts or actions that harm ourselves or others and rob us of peace with God? Psalm 51 is the cry of David when temptation had triumphed in his life. When confronted by a spiritual mentor about his sin (see 2 Samuel 12), he prayed a “Wash me!” prayer: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (v. 7). Feeling dirty and guilty? Make your way to Jesus and remember these words: ”If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Jul
10
2023
From the spiral staircase to the expansive bedroom, from the hardwood floors to the plush carpeting, from the huge laundry room to the well-organized office, the realtor showed a potential home to the young couple. At every corner they turned, they raved about its beauty: “You’ve picked the best place for us. This house is amazing!” Then the realtor responded with something they thought a bit unusual yet true: “I’ll pass along your compliment to the builder. The one who built the house deserves the praise; not the house itself or the one who shows it off.” The realtor’s words echo the writer of Hebrews: “The builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself” (3:3). The writer was comparing the faithfulness of Jesus, the Son of God, with the prophet Moses (vv. 1–6). Though Moses was privileged to speak to God face to face and to see His form (Numbers 12:8), he was still only “a servant” in the house of God (Hebrews 3:5). Christ, as Creator (1:2, 10), deserves honor as divine “builder of everything” and as Son “over God’s house” (3:4, 6). God’s house is His people. When we serve God faithfully, it’s Jesus the divine builder who deserves the honor. Any praise we, God’s house, receive ultimately belongs to Him.
Jul
9
2023
Nothing could pull Aakash out of his dark depression. Severely injured in a truck accident, he was taken to a missionary hospital in Southwest Asia. Eight operations repaired his broken bones, but he couldn’t eat. Depression set in. His family depended on him to provide, which he couldn’t do, so his world grew darker. One day a visitor read to Aakash from the gospel of John in his language and prayed for him. Touched by the hope of God’s free gift of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus, he placed his faith in Him. His depression soon left. When he returned home, he was afraid at first to mention his newfound faith. Finally, though, he told his family about Jesus—and six of them trusted Him as well! John’s gospel is a beacon of light in a world of darkness. In it we read that “whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). We discover that “whoever hears [Jesus’] word and believes [God] has eternal life” (5:24). And we hear Jesus say, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry” (6:35). Indeed, “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light” (3:21) The troubles we face may be great, but Jesus is greater. He came to give us “life . . . to the full” (10:10). Like Aakash, may you place your faith in Jesus—the hope of the world and the light for all humanity.
Jul
8
2023
David Willis had been upstairs in Waterstones Bookshop when he came downstairs and found the lights were turned off and the doors locked. He was trapped inside the store! Not knowing what else to do, he turned to Twitter and tweeted: “Hi @Waterstones. I’ve been locked inside of your Trafalgar Square bookstore for 2 hours now. Please let me out.” Not too long after his tweet, he was rescued. It’s good to have a way to get help when we’re in trouble. Isaiah said there’s Someone who will answer our cries when we’re trapped in a problem of our own making. The prophet wrote that God had charged his people with practicing their religious devotion irresponsibly. They were going through the motions of religion but masking their oppression of the poor with empty and self-serving rituals (Isaiah 58:1–7). This didn’t win divine favor. God hid His eyes from them and didn’t answer their prayers (1:15). He told them to repent and display outward acts of caring for others (58:6–7). If they did that, He told them, “you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I ‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression with the pointing finger and malicious talk’ ” (v. 9).   Let’s get close to the poor, saying to them: “I am here.” For God hears our cries for help and says to us, “I am here.”
Jul
7
2023
Neither Orville nor Wilbur Wright had a pilot’s license. Neither had gone to college. They were bicycle mechanics with a dream and the courage to try. On December 17, 1903, they took turns piloting their Wright Flyer on four separate flights. The longest lasted only a minute, but it changed our world forever. Neither Peter nor John had a preaching license. Neither had gone to seminary. They were fishermen who, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, courageously proclaimed the good news. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The Wright brothers’ neighbors didn’t immediately appreciate their accomplishment. Their hometown newspaper didn’t believe their story, and said that even if true, the flights were too brief to be significant. It took several more years of flying and refining their planes before the public recognized what they had truly done. The religious leaders didn’t like Peter and John, and they ordered them to stop telling others about Jesus. Peter said, No way. “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (v. 20). You may not be on the approved list. Perhaps you’re scorned by those who are. No matter. If you have the Spirit of Jesus, you’re free to live boldly for Him!
Jul
6
2023
Residents of Olten, Switzerland, were surprised by a shower of chocolate shavings covering the entire town. The ventilation system at a nearby chocolate factory had malfunctioned, sending cocoa into the air and dusting the area with confectionary goodness. The chocolate coating, harmless to both people and environment, sounds like a dream come true for chocoholics! While chocolate (sadly) doesn’t adequately provide for one’s nutritional needs, God supplied the Israelites with heavenly showers that did. As they traveled through the desert, they began to grumble about the variety of food they’d left behind in Egypt. In response, God said He would “rain down bread from heaven” to sustain them (Exodus 16:4). When the morning dew dried up each day, a thin flake of food remained. The Israelites—approximately two million of them!—were instructed to gather as much as they needed that day. For the years of their desert wanderings, they were nourished by God’s supernatural provision in manna. We know little about manna except that it was “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (v. 31). Though manna may not sound as appealing as a steady diet of chocolate, the sweetness of God’s provision for His people is clear. Manna points us to Jesus who described Himself as the “bread of life” that sustains us daily and assures us of life eternal (John 6:48, 51).
Jul
5
2023
Have you ever done something in anger you later regretted? When my son was wrestling with drug addiction, I said some harsh things in reaction to his choices. My anger only discouraged him more. But eventually he encountered believers who spoke life and hope to him, and in time he was set free. Even someone as exemplary in faith as Moses did something he later regretted. When the people of Israel were in the desert and water was scarce, they complained bitterly. So God gave Moses and Aaron specific instructions: “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (Numbers 20:8). But Moses reacted in anger, giving himself and Aaron credit for the miracle instead of God: “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then he disobeyed God directly, “raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff” (vv. 10–11). Even though water flowed, there were tragic consequences. Neither Moses nor Aaron was allowed to enter the land God promised His people. But He was still merciful, allowing Moses to see it from afar (27:12). As with Moses, God still mercifully meets us in the desert of our disobedience to God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He kindly offers us forgiveness and hope. No matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, if we turn to Him, He’ll lead us into life.
Jul
4
2023
A “master of disguise” lives in the waters of Indonesia and in the Great Barrier Reef. The mimic octopus, like other octopuses, can change its skin pigment to blend in with its surroundings. This intelligent creature also changes its shape and “the way it moves and behaves” when threatened. In fact, the mimic octopus can impersonate fifteen other kinds of sea creatures, including the venomous lionfish and flatfish, and even deadly sea snakes. Though imperfect, these disguises provide time to escape other predators and may have kept the mimic octopus from being discovered until 1998. Unlike the mimic octopus, believers in Jesus are meant to stand out in the world that surrounds us. We may feel threatened by those who disagree with us and become tempted to blend in so we won’t be recognized as believers in Jesus. The apostle Paul, however, urges us to offer our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1), representing Jesus in every aspect of our lives. Friends or family members may try to pressure us to conform to the “patterns of this world” (v. 2). But we can show who we serve by aligning our lives with what we say we believe as God’s children. When we obey the Scriptures and reflect His loving character, our lives can demonstrate that the rewards of obedience are always greater than any loss. How will you mimic Jesus today?
Jul
3
2023
An iconic photo shows the tread of a boot against a gray background. It’s astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s footprint, which he left on the moon in 1969. Scientists say that footprint is likely still there, unchanged after all these years. In fact, it may be there as long as the moon itself lasts. On the moon there is no wind or water to change the landscape. Nothing gets eroded. What happens on the lunar landscape stays on the lunar landscape. It’s even more awesome to reflect on the constant presence of God Himself. James writes, “[God] does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). The apostle puts this in the context of our own struggles: “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (v. 2 nlt). Why? Because we’re loved by a great and unchanging God: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (v. 17). In times of trouble, we need to remember God’s constant provision. Perhaps we might recall the words of the great hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”: “There is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.” Yes, our God has left his permanent footprint on our world. He will always be there for us. Great is His faithfulness.
Jul
2
2023
It was just a fun game at youth group, but it held a lesson for us: rather than switching neighbors, learn to love the ones you have. Everyone is seated in a large circle, except for one person who stands in the middle of the circle. The standing person asks someone sitting down, “Do you love your neighbor?” The seated person can answer the question in two ways: yes or no. He gets to decide if he would like to swap his neighbor with someone else.  Don’t we wish we could choose our “neighbors” in real life too? Especially when we have a colleague whom we can’t get along with or a next-door neighbor who loves to mow the lawn at odd hours. More often than not, however, we have to learn to live with our difficult neighbors. When the Israelites moved into the promised land, God gave them important instructions on how to live as people who belonged to Him. They are told to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), which includes not spreading gossip or rumors, not taking advantage of our neighbors, and confronting people directly if we have something against them (vv. 9–18). While it’s difficult to love everyone, it’s possible to treat our others in loving ways as Jesus works in and through us. God will supply the wisdom and ability to do so as we seek to live out our identity as His people.
Jul
1
2023
A place where the buffalo roamed in the US. That’s truly what it was in the beginning. The Plains Indians followed bison there until settlers moved in with herds and crops. The land was later used as a chemical manufacturing site after Pearl Harbor, then even later for Cold War weapon demilitarization. But then one day a roost of bald eagles was discovered there, and soon the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge was born—a 15,000-acre expanse of prairie, wetland, and woodland habitat on the edges of the metropolis of Denver, Colorado. It is now one of the largest urban refuges, or sanctuaries, in the country—a safe, protected home for more than 300 species of animals, from black-footed ferrets to burrowing owls to bald eagles, and you guessed it: roaming buffalo. The psalmist tells us that “God is our refuge” (62:8). Far greater than any earthly place of refuge, God is our true sanctuary, a safe, protected presence in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God is our refuge in whom we can place our trust regardless of the literal or figurative weather—“at all times” (Psalm 62:8). And He is our sanctuary where we can boldly bring all our prayers and petitions, pouring out our hearts. God is our refuge. That’s who He was in the beginning, who He is now, and who He always will be.       
Jun
30
2023
Despite knowing that the electricity wasn’t working in our house after a strong storm, an inconveniently common occurrence in our neighborhood, I instinctively flipped on the light switch when I entered the room. Of course, nothing happened. I was still enveloped in darkness. That experience—expecting light even when I knew the connection to the power source was broken—vividly reminded me of a spiritual truth. Too often we expect power, even as we fail to rely on the Spirit. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote of the way God caused the gospel message to come “not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (1:5). And when we accept God’s forgiveness, believers too have immediate access to the power of His Spirit in our lives. That power cultivates in us characteristics such as love, joy, peace, and patience (Galatians 5:22–23) and it empowers us with gifts to serve the church, including service, teaching, and mercy (1 Corinthians 12:28). Paul warned his readers that it’s possible to “quench the spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). We might restrict the power of the Spirit by ignoring God’s presence or rejecting His conviction (John 16:8). But we don’t have to live disconnected. God’s power is always available to His children.
Jun
29
2023
As he neared the end of his life, John Perkins had a message for the people he would leave behind. Perkins, known for advocating racial reconciliation, said, “Repentance is the only way back to God. Unless you repent, you will all perish.” These words mirror the language of Jesus and many Bible characters. Christ said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3). The apostle Peter said, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). Much earlier in Scripture, we read the words of another person who desired that his people would turn to God. Samuel, in his farewell address “to all Israel” (1 Samuel 12:1) said, “Do not be afraid; . . . you have done . . . evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart” (v. 20). This was his message of repentance—to turn from evil and follow God wholeheartedly.  We all sin and miss the mark of His standard. So we need to repent, which means to turn away from sin and turn to Jesus who forgives us and empowers us to follow Him. Let’s heed the words of two men, John Perkins and Samuel, who recognized how God can use the power of repentance to change us into people He can use for His honor.
Jun
28
2023
Recently, I found myself someplace I’d seen in movies and on TV more times that I could count: Hollywood, California. There, in the foothills of Los Angeles, those enormous white letters marched proudly across that famous hillside as I viewed them from my hotel window. Then I noticed something else: down to the left was a prominent cross. I’d never seen that in a movie. And the moment I left my hotel room, some students from a local church began to share Jesus with me. We might sometimes think of Hollywood as only the epicenter of worldliness, in utter contrast with God’s kingdom. Yet clearly Christ was at work there, catching me by surprise by His presence. The Pharisees were consistently surprised by where Jesus turned up. He didn’t hang out with the people they expected. Instead, Mark 2:13–17 tells us He spent time with “tax collectors and sinners” (v. 15), people whose lives practically screamed “Unclean!” Yet there Jesus was, among those who needed Him most (v. 17). More than 2,000 years later, Jesus continues to plant His message of hope and salvation in unexpected places, among the most unexpected of people. And He’s called and equipped us to be a part of that mission.   
Jun
27
2023
At 7 p.m., Hui-Liang was in his kitchen, eating rice and leftover fish balls. The Chua family in the apartment next door was having dinner too, and their laughter and conversation cut through the silence of Hui-Liang’s unit, where he’d lived alone since his wife died. He’d learned to live with loneliness; over the years, its stabbing pain had become a dull ache. But tonight, the sight of the one bowl and pair of chopsticks on his table pierced him deeply. Before he went to bed that night, Hui-Liang read Psalm 23, his favorite psalm. The words that mattered to him were only four syllables: “You are with me” (v. 4). More than the shepherd’s practical acts of care toward the sheep, it was his steadfast presence and loving gaze over every detail of the life of the sheep (vv. 2−5) that gave Hui-Liang peace. Just knowing that someone is there, that someone is with us, brings great comfort in those lonely moments. God promises His children that His love will always be with us (Psalm 103:17), and that He’ll never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). When we feel alone and unseen—whether in a quiet kitchen, on the bus going home from work, or even in a crowded supermarket—we can know that the Shepherd’s gaze is always on us. We can say, “You are with me.”
Jun
26
2023
Dan endured daily beatings from the same prison guard. He felt compelled by Jesus to love this man, so one morning, before the beating was about to begin, Dan said, “Sir, if I’m going to see you every day for the rest of my life, let’s become friends.” The guard said, “No sir. We can never be friends.” Dan insisted and reached out his hand. The guard froze. He began to shake, then grabbed Dan’s hand and wouldn’t let go. Tears streamed down his face. He said, “Dan. My name is Rosoc. I would love to be your friend.” The guard didn’t beat Dan that day, or ever again.  Scripture tells us, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21–22). This doesn’t mean we’re to kill our enemies with kindness. The “coals” imagery may reflect an Egyptian ritual in which a guilty person showed his repentance by carrying a bowl of hot coals on his head. Similarly, our kindness may cause our enemies to become red in the face from embarrassment, which may lead them to repentance. Who is your enemy? Who do you dislike? Dan discovered the kindness of Christ was strong enough to change any heart—his enemy’s and his own. We can too.
Jun
25
2023
In the late 1700s, a young man discovered a mysterious depression on Nova Scotia’s Oak Island. Guessing that pirates—perhaps even Captain Kidd himself—had buried treasure there, he and a couple of companions started digging. They never found any treasure, but the rumor took on a life of its own. Over the centuries, others continued digging at the site—expending a great amount of time and expense. The hole is now more than 100 feet (30 meters) deep. Such obsessions betray the emptiness in the human heart. A story in the Bible shows how one man’s behavior revealed just such a void in his heart. Gehazi had long been a reliable servant of the great prophet Elisha. But when Elisha declined the lavish gifts of a military commander whom God had healed of leprosy, Gehazi concocted a story to get some of the loot (2 Kings 5:22). When Gehazi returned home, he lied to the prophet (v. 25). But Elisha knew. He asked him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you?” (v. 26). In the end, Gehazi got what he wanted, but lost what was important (v. 27). Jesus taught us not to pursue this world’s treasures and to instead “store up . . . treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). Beware of any shortcuts to your heart’s desires. Following Jesus is the way to fill the emptiness with something real.
Jun
24
2023
Following the Sunday morning worship service, my Moscow host took me to lunch at a restaurant outside the Kremlin. Upon arrival, we noticed a line of newlywed couples in wedding garb approaching the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin wall. The happiness of their wedding day intentionally included remembering the sacrifices others had made to help make such a day possible. It was a sobering sight as the couples took pictures by the memorial before laying wedding flowers at its base.   All of us have cause to be thankful for others who, in one way or another, made sacrifices to bring a measure of fullness to our lives. None of those sacrifices are unimportant, but neither are those sacrifices the most important. It’s only at the foot of the cross where we see the sacrifice Jesus made for us and begin to understand how thoroughly our lives are indebted to the Savior. To that end, coming to the Lord’s Table to take communion reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice—pictured in the bread and cup. Paul wrote, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). May our times at His table remind us to live every day in remembrance and gratitude of all that Jesus’ sacrifice has done in us and for us.
Jun
23
2023
As a traveling executive, Shawn Seipler wrestled with an odd question. What happens to leftover soap in hotel rooms? Thrown out as trash for landfills, millions of soap bars could instead find new life, Seipler believed. So he launched Clean the World, a recycling venture that has helped more than eight thousand hotels, cruise lines, and resorts turn millions of pounds of discarded soap into sterilized, newly molded soap bars. Sent to people in need in more than one hundred countries, the recycled soap helps prevent countless hygiene-related illnesses and deaths. As Seipler said, “I know it sounds funny, but that little bar of soap on the counter in your hotel room can literally save a life.” The gathering up of something used or dirty to give it new life is also one of the most loving traits of our Savior, Jesus. In that manner, after He fed a crowd of five thousand with five small barley loaves and two small fish, He still said to His disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted” (John 6:12). In our lives, when we feel “washed up,” God sees us not as wasted lives but as His miracles. Never throwaways in His sight, we have divine potential for new kingdom work. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). What makes us new? Christ within us.
Jun
22
2023
The seemingly impossible happened when hurricane-force winds changed the flow of the mighty Mississippi River. In August 2021, Hurricane Ida came ashore on the coast of Louisiana, and the astonishing result was a “negative flow,” meaning water actually flowed upriver for several hours. Experts estimate that over its life cycle a hurricane can expend energy equivalent to 10,000 nuclear bombs! Such incredible power to change the course of flowing water helps me understand the Israelites’ response to a far more significant “negative flow” recorded in Exodus. While fleeing the Egyptians who’d enslaved them for centuries, the Israelites came to the edge of the Red Sea. In front of them was a wide body of water and behind them was the heavily armored Egyptian army. In that seemingly impossible situation, “the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land . . . and the Israelites went through the sea” (Exodus 14:21–22). Rescued in that incredible display of power, “the people feared the Lord” (v. 31). Responding with awe is natural after experiencing the immensity of God’s power. But it didn’t end there; the Israelites also “put their trust” in God (v. 31). As we experience God’s power in creation, we too can stand in awe of His might and place our trust in Him.
Jun
21
2023
When Pastor Bob suffered an injury that affected his voice, he entered fifteen years of crisis and depression. What, he wondered, does a pastor do who can’t talk? He struggled with this question, pouring out his grief and confusion to God. He reflected, “I only knew one thing to do—to go after the Word of God.” As he spent time reading the Bible, his love for God grew: “I’ve devoted my life to absorbing and immersing myself in the Scripture because faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God.” We find his  phrase “faith comes from hearing” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul longed for all of his fellow Jewish people to believe in Christ and be saved (Romans 10:9). How would they believe? Through the faith that “comes from hearing the message . . . through the word about Christ” (v. 17). Pastor Bob seeks to receive and believe in Christ’s message, especially as he reads the Bible. He can only speak for an hour a day and has constant pain when he does so, but he continues to find peace and contentment from God through his immersion in Scripture. So too we can trust that Jesus will reveal Himself to us in our struggles. He will increase our faith as we hear His message, whatever challenges we face.
Jun
20
2023
A dozen teams, each including three people standing shoulder to shoulder, prepared for the four-legged race. Bound to the person in the middle by colorful rags at their ankles and knees, each trio locked their eyes on the finish line. When the whistle blew, the teams lunged forward. Most of them fell and struggled to regain their footing. A few groups chose to hop instead of walk. Some gave up. But one team delayed their start, confirmed their plan, and communicated as they moved forward. They stumbled along the way but pressed on and soon passed all the teams. Their willingness to cooperate, step-by-step, enabled them to cross the finish line together. Living for God within the community of believers in Jesus often feels as frustrating as trying to move forward during a four-legged race. We often stumble when interacting with people who hold different opinions from us. Frequently, we push forward when others aren’t with us on the same page. Peter speaks of prayer, hospitality, and using our gifts to align ourselves in unity for life ahead. He urges believers in Jesus to “love each other deeply” (1 Peter 4:8) to be hospitable without complaining, and to “serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (v. 10). When we ask God to help us communicate and cooperate, we can lead the race in showing the world how to celebrate differences and live together in unity.
Jun
19
2023
The summer after my sophomore year of college, a classmate died unexpectedly. I’d seen him just a few days prior and he looked fine. We and our classmates were young and in what we thought was the prime of our lives, having just become sisters and brothers after pledging our respective sorority and fraternity. But what I remember most about my classmate’s death was witnessing my fraternity friends live out what James calls true religion. The men in his fraternity became like brothers of the sister of the deceased. They attended her wedding and traveled to her baby shower years after her brother’s death. One even gifted her a cell phone to contact him whenever she needed to call. The “brothers” remind of what James calls “genuine religion” (James 1:27 nlt): “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (v. 27).  While my friend’s sister wasn’t an orphan in the literal sense, she no longer had her brother. Her new “brothers” filled in the gap. And that’s what all of us who want to practice true and pure life in Jesus can do—“do what [Scripture] says” (v. 22), including caring for those in need (2:14–17). Our faith in Him prompts us to look after the vulnerable as we keep ourselves from the negative influences of the world as He helps us. After all, it’s the only true religion God accepts.
Jun
18
2023
In Texas, where I grew up, there were festive parades and picnics in Black communities every June 19. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I learned the heartbreaking significance of Juneteenth (a word combining “June” and “nineteenth”) celebrations. Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation giving them their freedom—two-and-a-half years earlier. Enslaved people in Texas kept living in slavery because they didn’t know they had been freed. It's possible to be free and yet live as slaves. In Galatians, Paul wrote about another kind of slavery: living life under the crushing demands of religious rules. In this pivotal verse, Paul encouraged his readers that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves by burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Believers in Jesus had been set free from external regulations including what to eat and who to befriend. Many, however, still lived as if they were enslaved.   Unfortunately, we can do the same thing today. But the reality is that Jesus set us free from living in fear of man-made religious standards the moment we trusted in Him. Freedom has been proclaimed. Let’s live it out in His power.
Jun
17
2023
The garage of my childhood home holds many memories. On Saturday mornings, my dad would roll our car down the driveway so we had room to work—with my favorite project being a broken go-kart we’d found. On that garage floor, we gave it new wheels, attached a sporty, plastic windshield, and—with Dad on the street looking out for traffic—I would race down the driveway with such excitement! Looking back, I see more was going on in that garage than simply fixing go-karts. Instead, a young boy was being shaped by his dad—and getting a glimpse of God in the process. Human beings have been patterned on God’s own nature (Genesis 1:27–28). Human parenting has its origin in God too, for He is “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14–15). Just as parents imitate God’s life-giving abilities by bringing children into the world, when they nurture and protect their kids, they express qualities not sourced in themselves but in Father God. He is the model all parenting is based on. My father wasn’t perfect. Like every father and mother, his parenting sometimes failed to imitate heaven’s. But when it so often did imitate God, it gave me a glimpse of God’s own nurture and protection—right there, as we fixed go-karts on the garage floor.
Jun
16
2023
The most powerful orators in history are often those leaders who have used their voices to bring about positive change. Consider Frederick Douglass, whose speeches on abolition and liberty spurred a movement that helped lead to the end of slavery in the United States. What if he’d chosen to be silent? We all possess the capacity to use our voice to inspire and help others, but the fear of speaking out can be paralyzing. In the moments when we feel overwhelmed by this fear, we can look to God, our source of divine wisdom and encouragement. When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations, he immediately began to doubt his own abilities. He cried out, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young” (Jeremiah 1:6). But God wouldn’t allow Jeremiah’s fear to get in the way of his divine calling to inspire a generation through his voice. Instead, He instructed the prophet to simply trust God by saying and doing whatever He commanded (v. 7). In addition to affirming Jeremiah, He also equipped him. “I have put my words in your mouth” (v. 9), He assured him. When we ask God to show us how He wants to use us, He’ll equip us to carry out our purpose. With His help, we can boldly use our voice to make a positive impact on those around us.
Jun
15
2023
A man owned more than $400 million in bitcoin, but he couldn’t access a cent of it. He lost the password for the device storing his funds, and disaster loomed: after ten password attempts, the device would self-destruct. A fortune lost forever. For a decade, the man had agonized, desperately trying to recall the password to his life-altering investment. He tried eight passwords and failed eight times. In 2021, he lamented that he had just two more chances before it all went up in smoke. We’re a forgetful people. Sometimes we forget small things (where we placed our keys), and sometimes we forget massive things (a password that unlocks millions). Thankfully, God isn’t like us. He never forgets the things or people that are dear to Him. In times of distress, Israel feared that God had forgotten them. “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14). Isaiah assured them, however, that their God always remembers. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast?” the prophet asks. Of course, a mother will not forget her suckling child. Still, even if a mother were to commit such an absurdity, we know God will never forget us (v. 15). “See,” God says, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (v. 16). God has etched our names into His own being. Let’s remember that He can’t forget us—the ones He loves.
Jun
14
2023
While our family quarantined due to the global pandemic, we took on an ambitious project—an 18,000-piece puzzle! Even though we worked on it almost daily, often we felt like we weren’t making much progress. Five months after we began, we finally celebrated adding the final piece to the nine feet long and six feet wide puzzle that covered our dining room floor. Sometimes my life feels a bit like a giant puzzle—many pieces in place, but a whole lot more still lying in a jumble on the floor. While I know that God is at work transforming me to be more and more like Jesus, sometimes it can be hard to see much progress. I take great comfort in Paul’s encouragement in his letter to the Philippians when he said he prayed for them with joy because of the good work they were doing (1:3–4). But his confidence came not in their abilities but in God, believing that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (v. 6). God has promised to finish His work in us. Like a puzzle, there may be sections that still need our attention, and there are times when we don’t seem to make much progress. But we can have confidence that our faithful God is still putting the pieces together.
Jun
13
2023
Jimmy hadn’t allowed the reality of social unrest, danger, and discomfort to keep him from traveling to one of the poorest countries in the world to encourage ministry couples. The steady stream of text messages to our team back home revealed the challenges he encountered. “Okay, boys, activate the prayer line. We’ve gone ten miles in the last two hours. . . . Car has overheated a dozen times.” Transportation setbacks meant that he arrived just before midnight to preach to those who’d waited for five hours. Later we received a text with a different tone. “Amazing, sweet time of fellowship. . . . About a dozen people came forward for prayer. It was a powerful night!” Faithfully serving God can be challenging. The exemplars of faith listed in Hebrews 11 would agree. Compelled by their faith in God, ordinary men and women faced uncomfortable and unfathomable circumstances. ”Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment” (v. 36). Their faith compelled them to take risks and rely on God for the outcome. The same is true for us. Living out our faith may not take us to risky places far away, but it may well take us across the street or across the campus or to an empty seat in a lunchroom or boardroom. Risky? Perhaps. But the rewards, now or later, will be well worth the risks as God helps us.
Jun
12
2023
My brothers and our families spent the day moving our parents’ belongings from our childhood home. Late in the afternoon we went back for one last pickup and, knowing this would be our final time in our family home, posed for a picture on the back porch. I was fighting tears when my mom turned to me and said, “It’s all empty now.” That pushed me over the edge. The house that holds fifty-four years of memories is empty now. I try not to think of it. The ache in my heart resonates with Jeremiah’s first words of Lamentations: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!” (1:1). An important difference is that Jerusalem was empty “because of her many sins” (v. 5). God exiled His people into Babylon because they rebelled against Him and refused to repent (v. 18). My parents weren’t moving because of sin, at least not directly. But ever since Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden, each person’s health has declined over their lifetime. As we age, it’s not unusual for us to downsize into homes that are easier to maintain.   I’m thankful for the memories that made our modest home special. Pain is the price of love. I know the next goodbye won’t be to my parents’ home but to my parents themselves. And I cry. I cry out to Jesus to come, put an end to goodbyes, and restore all things. My hope is in Him.
Jun
11
2023
The look on the young teen’s face reflected angst and shame. Heading into the 2022 Winter Olympics her success as a figure skater was unparalleled—a string of championships had made her a lock to win a gold medal. But then a test result revealed a banned substance in her system. With the immense weight of expectations and condemnation pressing down on her, she fell multiple times during her free-skate program and didn’t stand on the victors’ platform—no medal. She’d displayed artistic freedom and creativity on the ice prior to the scandal, but now an accusation of a broken rule bound her to crushed dreams. From the early days of humanity, God has revealed the importance of obedience as we exercise our free will. Disobedience led to devasting effects for Adam, Eve, and all of us as sin brought brokenness and death to our world (Genesis 3:6–19). It didn’t have to be that way. God had told the two, “You are free to eat from any tree” but one (2:16–17). Thinking their “eyes [would] be opened, and [they would] be like God,” they ate of the banned “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (3:5–7). Sin, shame, and death followed. God graciously provides freedom and so many good things for us to enjoy (John 10:10). In love, He also calls us to obey Him for our good. May He help us choose obedience and find life full of joy and free of shame.
Jun
10
2023
A reminder of the beauty and brevity of life grows outside my front door. Last spring my wife planted moonflower vines, so named because of their large and round white blooms that resemble a full moon. Each flower opens for one night and then withers in the bright sun the following morning, never to bloom again. But the plant is prolific, and every evening presents a fresh parade of flowers. We love watching it as we come and go each day, wondering what new beauty will greet us when we return. These fragile flowers call to mind a vital truth from Scripture. The apostle Peter, recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah, wrote, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall’” but God keeps His promises forever! (1 Peter 1:23–25). Like flowers in a garden, our lives on Earth are short when compared with eternity. But God has spoken beauty into our brevity. Through the good news of Jesus, we make a fresh beginning with God and trust His promise of unlimited life in His loving presence. When Earth’s sun and moon are but a memory, we will praise Him still.
Jun
9
2023
As I prepared to ride a zip-line from the highest point of a rainforest on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia, fear welled up inside me. Seconds before I jumped from the platform, thoughts of everything that could go wrong filled my mind. But with all the courage I could muster (and few options for turning back), I released. Dropping from the pinnacle of the forest, I whizzed through the lush green trees, wind flowing through my hair and my worries slowly fading. As I moved through the air allowing gravity to carry me, my view of the next platform became clearer and, with a gentle stop, I knew I’d arrived safely. My time on the zip line pictured for me the times God has us undertake new, challenging endeavors. Scripture teaches us to put our trust in God and “lean not on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). when we feel doubt and uncertainty. When our minds are filled with fear and doubt, our paths can be unclear and distorted. But once we’ve made the decision to step out in faith by submitting our way to God, “He will make [our] paths straight” (v. 6). We become more confident taking leaps of faith by learning who God is through spending time in prayer and the Scriptures. We can find freedom and tranquility even in life’s challenges as we hang on to God and allow Him to guide us through the changes in our lives.
Jun
8
2023
Retired teacher Debbie Stephens Browder is on a mission to convince as many people as possible to plant trees. The reason? Heat. Extreme heat in the United States is the number-one weather-related cause of death. In response, Stephens Browder says, “I’m starting with trees.” The canopy of heat protection that trees provide is one significant way to protect communities. Stephens Browder explains, “It’s life or death. It’s not just about beautifying the community. It’s about saving lives.” The fact that shade isn’t just refreshing but potentially life-saving would have been well known to the psalmist who wrote Psalm 121; in the Middle East, the risk of sunstroke is constant. This reality adds depth to the psalm’s vivid description of God as our surest place of safety, the One in whose care “the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” (v. 6). This verse can’t mean that believers in Jesus are somehow immune to pain or loss in this life (or that heat isn’t dangerous!). After all, Christ tells us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But this metaphor of God as our shade does vividly reassure us that, whatever comes our way, our lives are held in His watchful care (Psalm 121:7–8). There we can find rest through trusting Him, knowing that nothing can separate us from His love (John 10:28; Romans 8:39).
Jun
7
2023
The memories flooded back when I rustled through some envelopes and glimpsed a sticker that said, “I’ve had an eye test.” In my mind I saw my four-year-old son proudly wearing the sticker after enduring stinging eyedrops. Because of weak eye muscles, he had to wear a patch for hours each day over his strong eye—thereby forcing the weaker eye to develop. He also needed surgery. He met these challenges one by one, looking to us as his parents for comfort and depending on God with childlike faith. Through these challenges he developed resilience. People who endure trials and suffering are often changed by the experience. But the apostle Paul went further and said to “glory in our sufferings” because through them we develop perseverance. With perseverance comes character; and with character, hope (Romans 5:3–4). Paul certainly knew trials—not only shipwrecks but imprisonment for his faith. Yet he wrote to the believers in Rome that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (v. 5). He recognized that God’s Spirit keeps our hope in Jesus alive when we put our trust in Him. Whatever hardships you face, know that God will pour out His grace and mercy on you. He loves you.  
Jun
6
2023
In 2010, a tsunami struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, killing more than four hundred people. But the deaths could have been prevented or minimized had the tsunami warning system been working properly. The tsunami detection networks (buoys) had become detached and drifted away. Jesus said His disciples had a responsibility to warn fellow disciples to things that could harm them spiritually—including unrepentant sin. He outlined a process in which a believer who’s been sinned against by another can humbly, privately, and prayerfully “point out” the sin to the offending believer (Matthew 18:15). If the person repents, then the conflict can be resolved and relationship restored. If the believer refuses to repent, then “one or two others” can help resolve the conflict (v. 16). If the sinning person still doesn’t repent, then the issue is to be brought before “the church” (v. 17). If the offender still won’t repent, the individual is to be removed from assembly fellowship, but he or she can certainly still be prayed for and shown Christ’s love.  As believers in Jesus, let’s pray for the wisdom and courage we need to care for one another enough to lovingly warn others of the dangers of unrepentant sin and of the joys of restoration to our heavenly Father and other believers. Jesus will be “there . . . with [us]” as we do (v. 20).
Jun
5
2023
Here are some vacation tips: The next time you’re traveling through Middleton, Wisconsin, you might want to visit the National Mustard Museum. For those of us who feel that one mustard is plenty, this place amazes, featuring 6,090 different mustards from around the world. In Mclean, Texas, you might be surprised to run across the Barbed Wire Museum—or more surprised there is such a passion for, well . . . fencing. It’s telling what kinds of things we choose to make important. One writer says you could do worse than spend an afternoon at the Banana Museum (though we beg to differ). We laugh in fun, yet it’s sobering to admit we maintain our own museums—places of the heart where we celebrate certain idols of our own making. God instructs us, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) and “you shall not bow down to them or worship them” (v. 5). But we do anyway, creating our own graven gods, perhaps of wealth or lust or success—or of some other fill-in-the-blank “treasure” we worship in secret. It’s easy to read this passage and miss the point. Yes, God holds us accountable for the museums of sin we create. But he also speaks of “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him]” (v. 6). He knows how trivial our “museums” really are. He knows our true satisfaction lies only in our love for Him.
Jun
4
2023
I recently came across a helpful word: wintering. Just as winter is a time of slowing down in much of the natural world, author Katherine May uses this word to describe our need to rest and recuperate during life’s “cold” seasons. I found the analogy helpful after losing my father to cancer, which sapped me of energy for months. Resentful of this forced slowing down, I fought against my winter, praying summer’s life would return. But I had much to learn. Ecclesiastes famously says there’s “a season for every activity under the heavens”—a time to plant and to harvest, to weep and to laugh, to mourn and to dance (3:1–4). I had read these words for years but only started to understand them in my wintering season. For though we have little control over them, each season is finite and will pass when its work is done. And while we can’t always fathom what it is, God is doing something significant in us through them (v. 11). My time of mourning wasn’t over. When it was, dancing would return. Just as plants and animals don’t fight winter, I needed to rest and let it do its renewing work. “Lord,” a friend prayed, “would You do Your good work in Sheridan during this difficult season.” It was a better prayer than mine. For in God’s hands, seasons are purposeful things. Let’s submit to His renewing work in each one.
Jun
3
2023
In ad 155, the early church father Polycarp was threatened with death by fire for his faith in Christ. He replied, “For eighty and six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. And how can I now blaspheme my king who saved me?” Polycarp’s response can be an inspiration for us when we face extreme trial because of our faith in Jesus, our King. Just hours before Jesus’ death, Peter boldly pledged His allegiance to Christ: “I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37). Jesus, who knew Peter better than Peter knew himself, replied, “Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (v. 38). However, after Jesus’ resurrection, the same one who’d denied Him began to serve Him courageously and would eventually glorify Him through his own death (see 21:16–19). Are you a Polycarp or a Peter? Most of us, if we’re honest, are more of a Peter with a “courage outage”—a failure to speak or act honorably as a believer in Jesus. Such occasions—whether in a classroom, boardroom, or breakroom—needn’t indelibly define us. When those failures occur, we must prayerfully dust ourselves off and turn to Jesus, the One who died for us and lives for us. He’ll help us to be faithful to Him and courageously live for Him daily in difficult places.  
Jun
2
2023
After an officer searched me, I stepped into the county jail, signed the visitor’s log, and sat in the crowded lobby. I prayed silently, watching adults fidgeting and sighing while young children complained about the wait. Over an hour later, an armed guard called a list of names including mine. He led my group into a room and motioned us to our assigned chairs. When my stepson sat in the chair on the other side of the thick glass window and picked up the telephone receiver, the depth of my helplessness overwhelmed me. But as I wept, God assured me that my stepson was still within His reach. In Psalm 139, David said to the Lord, “You know me . . . you are familiar with all my ways” (vv. 1–3). His proclamation of an all-knowing God led to a celebration of His intimate care and protection (v. 5). Overwhelmed by the vastness of God’s knowledge and the depth of His personal touch, David asked two rhetorical questions: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7). When we or our loved ones are stuck in situations that leave us feeling hopeless and helpless, God’s hand remains strong and steady. Even when we believe we’ve strayed too far for God’s loving redemption, we’re always within His reach.
Jun
1
2023
The longest international border in the world is shared by the United States and Canada, covering an incredible 5,525 miles of land and water. Workers regularly cut down ten feet of trees on both sides of the boundary to make the border line unmistakable. This lengthy ribbon of cleared land, called “the Slash,” is dotted by more than eight thousand stone markers so visitors always know where the dividing line falls. The physical deforestation of “the Slash” represents a separation of government and cultures. As believers in Jesus, we look forward to a time when God will reverse that and unite all nations across the world under His rule. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a future where His temple will be firmly established and exalted (Isaiah 2:2). People from all nations will gather to learn God’s ways and “walk in His paths” (v. 3). No longer will we rely on human efforts that fail to maintain peace. As our true King, God will judge between nations and settle all disputes (v. 4). Can you imagine a world without division and conflict? That’s what God promises to bring! Regardless of the disunity around us, we can “walk in the light of the Lord” (v. 5) and choose to give Him our allegiance now. We know that God rules over all and He will someday unite His people under one banner.
May
31
2023
Turning eighteen ushered in a new era in my daughter’s life: legally an adult, she now has the right to vote in future elections and will soon embark on life after graduating from high school. This shift has instilled in me a sense of urgency—I have precious little time with her under my roof to impart to her the wisdom she needs to face the world on her own: how to manage finances, stay alert to world issues, and make sound decisions. My sense of duty to equip my daughter to handle her life is understandable. After all, I love her and desire for her to flourish. But I realized that while I have an important role, it’s not solely—or even primarily—my job. In Paul’s words to the Thessalonians—a group of people he considered his children in the faith because he’d taught them about Jesus—we see him urge them to help one another but ultimately he trusts their growth to God. He acknowledges that God will “sanctify [them] through and through” (1 Thessalonians 5:14–15, 23). Paul trusts God to do what he cannot: prepare them—“spirit, soul and body”—for the eventual return of Jesus (v. 23). Though his letters to the Thessalonians contained instructions, Paul’s trust in God for their well-being and preparedness teaches us that growth in the lives of those we care for is ultimately in God’s hands (1 Corinthians 3:6).
May
30
2023
Angela’s family reeled with sorrow as they experienced three bereavements in just four weeks. In one, after the sudden death of her nephew, Angela and her two sisters gathered around the kitchen table for three days, only leaving to buy an urn, get takeout, and attend the funeral. As they wept over the death of Mason, they also rejoiced over the ultrasound photos of the new life growing within their youngest sister. In time, Angela found comfort and hope from the Old Testament book of Ezra. It describes God’s people returning to Jerusalem after the Babylonians destroyed the temple and deported them from their beloved city (see Ezra 1). As Ezra watched the temple being rebuilt, he heard joyful praises to God (3:10–11). But he also listened to the weeping of those who remembered life before exile (v. 12). One verse especially consoled Angela: “No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise” (v. 13). She realized that even if she was drenched in deep sorrow, joy could still appear. We too might grieve the death of a loved one or mourn a different loss. If so, we can express our cries of pain along with our moments of rejoicing to God, knowing that He hears us and gathers us in His arms.
May
29
2023
On November 4, 1966, a disastrous flood swept through Florence, Italy, submerging Giorgio Vasari’s renowned work of art The Last Supper under a pool of mud, water, and heating oil for over twelve hours. With its paint softened and its wooden frame significantly damaged, many believed that the piece was beyond repair. However, after a tedious fifty-year conservation effort, experts and volunteers were able to overcome monumental obstacles and restore the valuable painting. When the Babylonians conquered Israel, the people felt hopeless—surrounded by death and destruction and in need of restoration (Lamentations 1). During this period of turmoil, God took the prophet Ezekiel to a valley and gave him a vision where he was surrounded by dry bones. “Can these bones live?” He asked. Ezekiel responded, “Lord, you alone know” (Ezekiel 37:3). God then told him to prophesy over the bones so they might live again. “As I was prophesying,” Ezekiel recounted, “there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together” (v. 7). Through this vision, God revealed to Ezekiel that Israel’s restoration could only come through Him. When we feel as if things in life have been broken and are beyond repair, God assures us He can rebuild our shattered pieces. He’ll give us new breath and new life.
May
28
2023
I know Daddy’s coming home because he sent me flowers.” Those were my seven-year-old sister’s words to our mother when Dad was missing in action during wartime. Before Dad left for his mission, he preordered flowers for my sister’s birthday, and they arrived while he was missing. But she was right: Dad did come home—after a harrowing combat situation. And decades later she still keeps the vase that held the flowers as a reminder to always hold on to hope. Sometimes holding on to hope isn’t easy in a broken, sinful world. Daddies don’t always come home, and children’s wishes sometimes go unfulfilled. But God gives hope in the most difficult circumstances. In another time of war, the prophet Habakkuk predicted the Babylonian invasion of Judah (Habakkuk 1:6; see 2 Kings 24) but still affirmed that God is always good (vv. 12–13). Remembering God’s kindness to His people in the past, Habakkuk proclaimed: “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, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17–18).   Some commentators believe Habakkuk’s name means “to cling.” We can cling to God as our ultimate hope and joy even in trials because He holds on to us and will never let go.
May
27
2023
During the discussion of a book on the Holy Spirit written by a 94-year-old German theologian named Jürgen Moltmann, an interviewer asked him: “How do you activate the Holy Spirit?” Moltmann, befuddled by the question, shifted, trying to understand it. With humor, the filmmaker tried again: “Can you take a pill? Do the pharmaceutical companies [deliver the Spirit]?” Moltmann’s bushy eyebrows shot up. Shaking his head, he grinned, answering in accented English. “What can I do? Don’t do anything. Wait on the Spirit, and the Spirit will come.” Moltmann highlighted our wrongheaded belief that our energy and expertise make things happen. Acts reveals that God makes things happen. The book recounts the start of the church—and there’s nothing here about human strategy or impressive leadership. Rather, the Spirit arrived “like the blowing of a violent wind” into a room of frightened, helpless, and bewildered disciples (2:2). Next, the Spirit shattered all ethnic superiorities by gathering people who were at odds into one new community. The disciples were as shocked as anyone to see what God was doing within them. They didn’t make anything happen; the “Sprit enabled them” (v. 4). The church—and our shared work in the world—isn’t defined by what we can do. We’re entirely dependent on what only the Spirit can do. This allows us to be both bold and restful. On this, the day we celebrate Pentecost, may we wait for the Spirit and respond.
May
26
2023
Will I make the Olympics? The college swimmer worried her speed was too slow. But when math professor Ken Ono studied her swim techniques, he saw how to improve her time by six full seconds—a substantial difference at that level of competition. Attaching sensors to the swimmer’s back, he didn’t identify major changes to improve her time. Instead, Ono identified tiny corrective actions that, if applied, could make the swimmer more efficient in the water, making the winning difference. Small corrective actions in spiritual matters can make a big difference for us too. The prophet Zechariah taught a similar principle to a remnant of discouraged Jews struggling, along with their builder Zerubbabel, to rebuild God’s Temple after their exile. But “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” the Lord Almighty told Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6). As Zechariah declared, “Who dares despise the day of small things?” (v. 10). The exiles had worried that the Temple wouldn’t match the one built during King Solomon’s reign. But just as Ono’s swimmer made the Olympics—winning a medal after surrendering to small corrections—Zerubbabel’s band of builders learned that even a small, right effort made with God’s help can bring victorious joy if our small acts glorify Him. In God, small becomes great.
May
25
2023
The tale is told that after yet another stop on Albert Einstein’s lecture tour, his chauffeur mentioned that he’d heard enough of the speech that he could give it. Einstein suggested they switch places at the next college, as no one there had seen his picture. The chauffer agreed and delivered a fine lecture. Then came the question-and-answer period. To one aggressive inquirer, he replied, “I can see you’re a brilliant professor, but I’m surprised you would ask a question so simple that even my chauffeur could answer it.” His “chauffeur” did—Albert Einstein himself. So ends the fun but fictional story. Daniel’s three friends were truly on the hot seat. King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a blazing furnace if they didn’t worship his idol. He asked, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (v. 15). The friends still refused to bow, so the king heated the furnace seven times hotter and had them tossed in. They didn’t go alone. An “angel” (v. 28), perhaps Jesus Himself, joined them in the fire, keeping them from harm and answering the king’s question (vv. 24–25). Nebuchadnezzar conceded that “no other god can save in this way,” and he praised the “God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (vv. 28–29). At times, we may be in over our heads and unable to solve this problem or answer that question. But Jesus stands with those who serve Him. He’ll carry us.
May
24
2023
When Jeff was fourteen, his mom took him to see a famous singer. Like many musicians of his era, B. J. Thomas had gotten caught up in a self-destructive lifestyle while on music tours. But that was before he and his wife were introduced to Jesus. Their lives were radically changed when they became believers in Christ. On the night of the concert, the singer began to entertain the enthusiastic crowd. But after performing a few of his well-known songs, one guy yelled out from the audience, “Hey, sing one for Jesus!” Without any hesitation, B. J. responded, “I just sang four songs for Jesus.” It’s been a few decades since then, but Jeff still remembers that moment when he realized that everything we do should be for Jesus—even things that some might consider to be “non-religious.” We’re sometimes tempted to divvy up the things we do in life. Read the Bible. Share our story of coming to faith. Sing a hymn. Sacred stuff. Mow the lawn. Go for a run. Sing a country song. Secular stuff. Colossians 3:16 reminds us that the message of Christ indwells us in activities like teaching, singing, and being thankful, but verse 17 goes even further. It emphasizes that as God’s children, “whatever [we] do, whether in word or deed, [we] do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” We do it all for Him.
May
23
2023
Watching the morning crowd pour onto the train, I felt the Monday blues kick in. From the sleepy, grumpy faces of those in the jam-packed cabin, I could tell no one looked forward to going to work. Frowns broke out as some jostled for space and more tried to squeeze in. Here we go again, another mundane day at the office. Then, it struck me that just a year before, the trains would have been empty because COVID-19 lockdowns had thrown our daily routines into disarray. We couldn’t even go out for a meal, and some actually missed going to the office. But now we were almost back to normal, and many were going back to work—as usual. “Routine,” I realized, was good news, and “boring” was a blessing! King Solomon came to a similar conclusion after reflecting on the seeming pointlessness of daily toil (Ecclesiastes 2:17–23). At times, it appeared endless, “meaningless,” and unrewarding (v. 21). But then he realized that simply being able to eat, drink, and work each day was a blessing from God (v. 24). When we’re deprived of routine, we can see that these simple actions are a luxury. Let’s thank God that we can eat and drink and find satisfaction in all our toil, for this is His gift (3:13).
May
22
2023
It’s like living in a dream you can’t wake up from. People who struggle with what’s sometimes called “derealization” or “depersonalization” often feel like nothing around them is quite real. While those who chronically have this feeling can be diagnosed with a disorder, it’s believed to be a common mental health struggle, especially during stressful times. But sometimes the feeling persists even when life is seemingly good. It’s as if our minds can’t trust that good things are really happening. Scripture describes a similar struggle of God’s people at times to experience His power and deliverance as something real, not just a dream. In Acts 12, when an angel delivers Peter from prison—and possible execution (vv. 2, 4)—the apostle is described as being in a daze, not sure it was really happening (vv. 9–10). When the angel left him outside the jail, Peter finally “came to his senses” and realized it had all been real (v. 11 nlt). In both bad times and good, it can be hard sometimes to fully believe or experience that God’s really at work in our lives. But we can trust that as we wait on Him, His resurrection power will one day become undeniably, wonderfully real. God’s light will rouse us from our sleep into the reality of life with Him (Ephesians 5:14).
May
21
2023
Robert Todd Lincoln, son of US president Abraham Lincoln, was present for three major events—the death of his own father as well as the assassinations of presidents James Garfield and William McKinley. But consider that the apostle John was present at four of history’s most crucial events: the last supper of Jesus, Christ’s agony in Gethsemane, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. John knew that bearing witness to these events was the ultimate why behind his presence in these moments. In John 21:24, he wrote, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them. We know that his testimony is true.” John reaffirmed this in his letter of 1 John. He wrote, “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—this we proclaim” (1:1). John felt a compelling duty to share his eyewitness account of Jesus. Why? “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,” he said, “so that you also may have fellowship with us” (v. 3). The events of our lives may be surprising or mundane, but in either case God is orchestrating them so we can bear witness to Him. As we rest in the grace and wisdom of Christ, may we speak for Him in even life’s surprising moments.
May
20
2023
A twenty-nine-year-old swimming instructor in New Jersey saw a car sinking into Newark Bay and heard the driver inside screaming “I can’t swim” as his SUV quickly sank into the murky waters. As a crowd watched from shore, Anthony ran to the rocks along the edge, removed his prosthetic leg, and jumped in to rescue the sixty-eight-year-old man and help him safely to shore. Our choices matter. Thanks to Anthony’s decisive action, another man was saved. Consider the patriarch Jacob, the father of many sons, who openly favored his seventeen-year-old son Joseph. He foolishly made Joseph “an ornate robe” (Genesis 37:3). The result? Joseph’s brothers hated him (v. 4); and when the opportunity arose, they sold him into slavery (v. 28). Yet because Joseph ended up in Egypt, God used him to preserve Jacob’s family and many others during a seven-year famine—despite Joseph’s brothers’ intention to harm him (see 50:20). The choice that set it all in motion was Joseph’s decision to be honorable and run from Potiphar’s wife (39:1–13). The result was prison and an eventual meeting with Pharaoh (ch. 41). Anthony may have had the advantage of training when he made his decision, but he still had a choice. When we love God and seek to serve Him, He helps us make life-affirming and God-honoring choices. If we haven’t already, we can begin by entrusting our lives to His care.
May
19
2023
Madeleine L’Engle made it a habit to call her mother once a week. As her mother moved into her later years, the beloved spiritual writer called more frequently, “just to keep in touch.” In the same way, Madeleine liked her children to call and maintain that connection. Sometimes it was a lengthy conversation filled with significant questions and answers. Other times a call simply making sure the number was still valid was sufficient. As she wrote in her book Walking on Water, “It is good for the children to keep in touch. It is good for all of us children to keep in touch with our Father.” Most of us are familiar with “the Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9–13). But the verses that precede it are just as important for they set the tone for what follows. Our prayers aren’t to be showy, “to be seen by others” (v. 5). And while there’s no limit on how long our prayers need to be, “many words” (v. 7) doesn’t automatically equate to quality prayer. The emphasis seems to be on maintaining regular contact with your Father who knows your need “before you ask him” (v. 8). Jesus stresses how good it is for us to keep in touch with our Father. Then instructs us: “This, then, is how you should pray” (v. 9). Prayer is a good, vital choice for it keeps us in touch with the God and Father of us all.
May
18
2023
In the book Physics, Charles Riborg Mann and George Ransom Twiss asked: “When a tree falls in a lonely forest, and no animal is nearby to hear it, does it make a sound?” Over the years, this question has prompted philosophical and scientific discussions about sound, perception, and existence. A definitive answer, however, has yet to emerge. One night, while feeling lonely and sad about a problem I hadn’t shared with anyone, I recalled this question. When no one hears my cry for help, I thought, does God hear? Facing the threat of death and overcome by distress, the writer of Psalm 116 may have felt abandoned. So he called out to God—knowing He was listening and would help him. “He heard my voice,” the psalmist wrote, “he heard my cry for mercy. . . . [He] turned his ear to me” (vv. 1–2). When no one knows our pain, God knows. When no one hears our cries, God hears. Knowing that God will show us His love and protection (vv. 5–6), we can be at rest in difficult times (v. 7). The Hebrew word translated “rest” (manoach) describes a place of quiet and safety. We can be at peace, strengthened by the assurance of God’s presence and help. The question posed by Mann and Twiss led to numerous answers. But to the question, Does God hear? the answer is simply yes.
May
17
2023
Researchers at Emory University used MRI scans to study the brains of grandmothers. They measured empathetic responses to images that included their own grandchild, their own adult child, and one anonymous child. The study showed that grandmothers have a higher empathy toward their own grandchild than even their adult child. This is attributed to what they call the “cute factor”—their own grandchild being more “adorable” than the adult. Before we say “Well, duh!” we might consider the words of James Rilling, who conducted the study: “If their grandchild is smiling, [the grandmother is] feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress.” One prophet paints an “MRI image” of God’s feelings as he looks upon his people: “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will . . . rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Some translate this to say, “You will make His heart full of joy, and He will sing loudly.” Like an empathetic grandmother, God feels our pain: “In all their distress he too was distressed” (Isaiah 63:9), and He feels our joy, “The Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:4). When we feel discouraged, it’s good to remember that God has real feelings for us. He’s not a cold, far away God, but One who loves and delights in us. It’s time to draw close to Him, feel His smile—and listen to His singing.
May
16
2023
Just one Sunday after I’d started working as a youth leader at a church and had met several of the young people, I spoke to a teen seated next to her mom. As I greeted the shy girl with a smile, I said her name and asked how she was doing. She lifted her head and her beautiful brown eyes widened. She too smiled and said in a small voice: “You remembered my name.” By simply calling that young girl by name—a girl who may have felt insignificant in a church filled with adults—I began a relationship of trust. She felt seen and valued. In Isaiah 43, God is using the prophet Isaiah to convey a similar message to the Israelites: They were seen and valued. Even through captivity and time in the wilderness, God saw them and knew them “by name” (Isaiah 43:1). They were not strangers; they belonged to Him. Even though they may have felt abandoned, they were “precious” and His “love” was with them (v. 4). And along with the reminder that God knew them by name, He shared all that He would do for them, especially during trying times. When they went through trials, He would be with them (v. 2). They didn’t need to be afraid or worried, because God remembered their names. God knows each of His children’s names—and that’s good news, especially as we pass through the deep, difficult waters in life.
May
15
2023
In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States. Norton had made—and lost—his fortune in San Francisco shipping, but he wanted a new identity: America’s first emperor. When the San Francisco Evening Bulletin printed “Emperor” Norton’s announcement, most readers laughed. Norton made pronouncements aimed at correcting society’s ills, printed his own currency, and even wrote letters to Queen Victoria asking her to marry him and unite their kingdoms. He wore royal military uniforms designed by local tailors. One observer said Norton looked “every inch a king.” But of course, he wasn’t an emperor. We don’t get to make up who we are.   Many of us spend years searching for who we are and wondering what value we possess. Where do I belong? We flail, trying to name or define ourselves, when only God can truly tell us the truth about who we are. And, thankfully, He calls us His sons and daughters when we receive salvation in His Son Jesus. “Yet to all who did receive him,” John writes, “he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). And this identity is purely a gift. We are His beloved “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision . . . but born of God” (v. 13). God gives us our name and our identity in Christ. We can stop striving and comparing ourselves to others, because He tells us who we are.
May
14
2023
In 2021, a multination effort led to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope—deployed nearly a million miles from Earth to better investigate the universe. This marvel will peer into deep space and examine the stars and other celestial wonders. This is indeed a fascinating astronomical piece of technology, and if everything works, it will provide us with amazing photos and information. But its mission isn’t new. In fact, the prophet Isaiah described searching the stars when he said, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one” (Isaiah 40:26). “Night after night” they speak of our Creator who hurled this imperceptibly immense universe into existence (Psalm 19:2)—and with it the countless luminous bodies that silently grace our night sky (v. 3). And it’s God Himself who decided how many of the shining objects there are: “He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147:4). When mankind sends complicated, fascinating probes to explore the universe, we can enjoy with spellbound wonder the discoveries they make, because each observation points back to the One who made the solar system and everything beyond it. Yes, the “heavens declare the glory of God” (19:1)—stars and all.
May
13
2023
A viral video of a mama bear trying to get her four energetic little cubs across a busy street brought a knowing smile to my face. It was delightfully relatable to watch her pick up her cubs one-by-one and carry them across the road—only to have the cubs wander back to the other side. After many seemingly frustrating attempts, the mama bear finally corralled all four of her cubs, and they made it safely across the road. The tireless work of parenting symbolized in the video matches imagery used by Paul to describe his care for the people in the church of Thessalonica. Instead of emphasizing his authority, the apostle compared his work among them to a mother and father caring for young children (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11). It was deep love for the Thessalonians (v. 8) that motivated Paul’s ongoing efforts to encourage, comfort, and urge them “to live lives worthy of God” (v. 12). This impassioned call to godly living was borne out of his loving desire to see them honor God in all areas of their lives. Paul’s example can serve as a guide for us in all our leadership opportunities—especially when the responsibilities make us weary. Empowered by God’s Spirit, we can gently and persistently love those under our care as we encourage and guide them toward Jesus.
May
12
2023
Running a marathon is about pushing yourself, physically and mentally. For one high school runner, however, competing in a cross-country race is all about pushing someone else. In every practice and meet, fourteen-year-old Susan Bergeman pushes older brother, Jeffrey, in his wheelchair. When Jeffrey was twenty-two months old, he went into cardiac arrest—leaving him with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy. Today, Susan sacrifices personal running goals so Jeffrey might compete with her. What love and sacrifice! The apostle Paul had love and sacrifice in mind when he encouraged his readers to be “devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10). He knew that the believers in Rome were struggling with jealousy, anger, and sharp disagreements (v. 18). So, he encouraged them to let divine love rule their hearts. This kind of love, rooted in Christ’s love, would fight for the highest possible good of others. It would be sincere, and it would lead to generous sharing (v. 13). Those who love this way are eager to consider others more worthy of honor than themselves (v. 16). As believers in Jesus, we’re running a race of love while helping others finish the race too. Though it can be difficult, it brings honor to Jesus. So, for love’s sake, let’s rely on Him to empower us to love and serve others.
May
11
2023
“ARRRGGGHHHH!” I yelled as the repair truck cut in front of me. That’s when I saw the message: “How’s My Driving?” And a phone number. I picked up my phone and dialed. A woman asked me why I was calling, and I vented my frustration. She took down the truck’s number. Then she said, wearily, “You know, you can always call to report someone who’s driving nicely.” Oh. Her tired words instantly punctured my smug self-righteousness. Embarrassment flooded me. In my zeal for “justice,” I hadn’t paused to consider how my rage-filled tone could affect this woman in her difficult job. The disconnect between my faith and my fruitfulness—in that moment—was devastating. The gap between our actions and our convictions is what the book of James focuses on. The author challenges us to consider the relationship between our faith and how we live. In James 1:19, we read, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Later, he adds, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (v. 22). None of us is perfect. Sometimes our “driving” in life needs help, the kind that starts with confession and asks for God’s help—trusting Him to keep filing the rough edges areas of our character.
May
10
2023
Sometimes, living with chronic pain and fatigue leads to being isolated at home and feeling alone. I’ve often felt unseen by God and others. During an early morning prayer-walk with my service dog, I struggled with these feelings. I noticed a hot air balloon in the distance. The people in its basket could enjoy a bird’s-eye view of our quiet neighborhood, but they couldn’t really see me. As I continued walking past my neighbors’ houses, I sighed. How many people behind those closed doors felt unseen and insignificant? As I finished my walk, I asked God to give me opportunities to let my neighbors know that I saw them and cared for them, and so did He.God determined the exact number of stars that He spoke into existence. He identified each star with a name, an intimate act that demonstrates His attention to the smallest details (Psalm 147:4). His strength—insight, discernment, and knowledge—have “no limit” in the past, present, or future (v. 5).God hears each desperate cry and sees each silent tear as clearly as He notices each sigh of contentment and belly laugh. He sees when we’re stumbling and when we’re standing in triumph. He understands our deepest fears, our innermost thoughts, and our wildest dreams. He knows where we’ve been and where we’re going. As God helps us see, hear, and love our neighbors, we can trust Him to see, understand, and care for us.
May
9
2023
A carved wooden figure—a household god—had been stolen from a woman named Ekuwa, so she reported it to the authorities. Believing they had found the idol, law enforcement officials invited her to identify it. “Is this your god?” they asked. She said sadly, “No, my god is much larger and more beautiful than that.” People have long tried to give shape to their concept of deity, hoping for a handmade god to protect them. Perhaps that’s why Jacob’s wife Rachel “stole her father’s household gods” as they fled from Laban (Genesis 31:19). But God had His hand on Jacob, despite the idols hidden in his camp (v. 34). Later on that same journey, Jacob wrestled all night with “a man” (32:24). He must have understood this opponent was no mere human, because at daybreak Jacob insisted, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (v. 26). The man renamed him Israel (“God fights”) and then blessed him (vv. 28–29). Jacob called the spot “Peniel” (face of God), “because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (v. 30). This God—the one true God—is infinitely larger and more beautiful than anything Ekuwa could have ever imagined. He can’t be carved, stolen, or hidden. Yet, as Jacob learned that night, we can approach Him! Jesus taught His disciples to call this God “our Father in heaven.”
May
8
2023
“Who is this stranger?” A college student in Georgia (USA) asked that question when a fellow student texted him saying a DNA test showed they could be brothers. Separated by adoption almost twenty years earlier, the young man texted a reply in which he asked what name the other student had been given at birth. He immediately answered, “Tyler.” Replied the other, “Yes!!! You are my brother!” Recognized by his name!Consider how a name plays a key role in the Easter story. As it unfolds, Mary Magdalene comes to Christ’s tomb, and she weeps when she finds His body missing. “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asks (John 20:15). She didn’t recognize Him, however, until He spoke her name, “Mary” (v. 16).Hearing Him say it, she “cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (Which means ‘Teacher’)” (v. 16). Her reaction expresses the joy believers in Jesus feel on Easter morning, recognizing that our risen Christ conquered death for all, knowing each of us as His children. As He told Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (v. 17). In Georgia, two reunited brothers bonded by name, vowing to take “this relationship to the next level.” On Easter, we praise Jesus for already taking the utmost step to rise in sacrificial love for those He knows as His own. For you and me, indeed, He’s alive!
May
7
2023
A woman once told me about a disagreement that was tearing her church apart. “What’s the disagreement about?” I asked. “Whether the earth is flat,” she said. A few months later, news broke of a Christian man who’d burst into a restaurant, armed, to rescue children supposedly being abused in its back room. There was no back room, and the man was arrested. In both cases, the people involved were acting on conspiracy theories they’d read on the internet. Followers of Jesus are called to be good citizens (Romans 13:1–7), and good citizens don’t spread misinformation. Luke the evangelist didn’t. In his day, numerous stories circulated about Jesus (Luke 1:1), some of them were inaccurate. Instead of passing on everything he heard, Luke became an investigative journalist, talking to eyewitnesses (v. 2), researching “everything from the beginning” (v. 3), and writing his findings into a gospel that contains names, quotes, and historical facts based on people with firsthand knowledge, not unverified claims. We can do the same. Since false information can split churches and put lives at risk, checking facts is an act of loving our neighbor (10:27). When a sensational story comes our way, we can verify its claims with qualified, accountable experts, being truth-seekers rather than error-spreaders. Such an act brings credibility to the gospel. After all, we worship the One who’s full of truth (John 1:14).
May
6
2023
Always a busy guy, Carson hunted, fished, rode dirt bikes, and skateboarded. He loved everything outdoors. But he was in a motorcycle accident and became paralyzed from the chest down. Soon depression sank in, and he didn’t see much of a future. Then one day some of his buddies got him to go hunting again. For a time he forgot about his injury as he enjoyed the beauty around him. This experience brought him inner healing and inspired a new purpose for his life—to provide the same experience for others like him through a nonprofit organization, Hunt 2 Heal. He says his accident was “a blessing in disguise. . . . Now I’m able to give back, which I’ve always wanted to do. I’m happy.” He’s excited about providing a place for those with severe mobility disabilities and their caregivers to find healing. The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of One who would bring healing for brokenness (Isaiah 61). He would “bind up the brokenhearted” and “comfort all who mourn” (vv. 1–2). After Jesus read this Scripture in His hometown synagogue, He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus came to save us and make us whole. Are you in need of inner healing? Turn to Jesus and He’ll give you “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (v. 3).
May
5
2023
Hansle Parchment was in a predicament. He caught the bus to the wrong place for his semifinal in the Tokyo Olympics and was left stranded with little hope of getting to the stadium on time. But thankfully he met Trijana Stojkovic, a volunteer helping out at the games. She gave him some money to take a taxi. Parchment made it to the semifinal on time and eventually clinched the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdle. Later, he went back to find Stojkovic and thanked her for her kindness. In Luke 17 we read of the Samaritan leper who came back to thank Jesus for healing him (vv. 15–16). Jesus had entered a village where He met ten lepers. All of them asked Jesus for healing, and all of them experienced His grace and power. Ten were happy that they’d been healed, but only one returned to express his gratitude. He “came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (vv. 15–16). Every day, we experience God’s blessings in multiple ways. It could be as dramatic as an answered prayer to an extended time of suffering or receiving timely help from a stranger. Sometimes, His blessings can come in ordinary ways too, such as good weather to accomplish an outdoor task. Like the Samaritan leper, let’s remember to thank God for His kindness toward us.
May
4
2023
The crime was shocking, and the man who committed it was sentenced to life in prison. In the years that followed, the man—in solitary confinement—began a process of mental and spiritual healing. It led to repentance and a restored relationship with Jesus. These days he’s been allowed limited interactions with other inmates. And, by God’s grace, through his witness some fellow-prisoners have received Christ as Savior—finding forgiveness in Him. Moses, though now recognized as a great man of faith, also committed a shocking crime. After he witnessed “an Egyptian beating a Hebrew,” he looked “this way and that” and “killed the Egyptian” (Exodus 2:11–12). Despite this sin, God in His grace wasn’t done with His imperfect servant. Later, He chose Moses to free His people from their oppression (3:10). In Romans 5:14, we read, “Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command.” But in the following verses Paul states that “God’s grace” makes it possible for us, regardless of our past sins, to be changed and made right with Him (vv. 15–16). We might think that what we’ve done disqualifies us from knowing God’s forgiveness and being used for His honor. But because of His grace, in Jesus we can be changed and set free to help others be changed for eternity.
May
3
2023
Theologian Kenneth Bailey shares how he taught the Bible to students who’d been educated in a system that denied God. When he asked one student how she became a believer in Jesus, she told about reciting the Lord’s Prayer when attending a funeral as a child. The words captured her imagination; she wondered what they meant, where they came from, and to whom they were offered. When she finally could explore this prayer, she searched until she found its meaning and its Author. In doing so, she placed her trust in Jesus and committed to serving Him. Jesus taught His friends how to pray through what’s become known as the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew’s gospel, it appears right in the center of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where He teaches the crowds how to live as His disciples. He says not to pray “like the hypocrites” who flaunt themselves on street corners (Matthew 6:5) but to approach His Father as their own (v. 6). Jesus welcomed them—and therefore us—to pray intimately to God. We can praise Him (vv. 9–10), ask for our daily needs (v. 11), and welcome His rule and reign in our lives (vv. 10–13).
May
2
2023
“The tent is tired!” Those were the words of my friend Paul, who pastors a church in Nairobi, Kenya. Since 2015, the congregation has worshiped in a tent-like structure. Now, Paul writes, “Our tent is worn out and it is leaking when it rains.”My friend’s words about their tent’s structural weaknesses remind us of the apostle Paul’s words regarding the frailty of our human existence. “Outwardly we are wasting away . . . . While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened” (2 Corinthians 4:16; 5:4). Though the awareness of our fragile human existence happens relatively early in life, we become more conscious of it as we age. Indeed, time picks our pockets. The vitality of youth surrenders reluctantly to the reality of aging (see Ecclesiastes 12:1–7). Our bodies—our tents—get tired.But tired tents need not equate to tired trust. Hope and heart needn’t fade as we age. “Therefore we do not lose heart,” the apostle says (2 Corinthians 4:16). The One who has made our bodies has made Himself at home there through His Spirit. And when this body can no longer serve us, we’ll have a dwelling not subject to breaks and aches—we’ll “have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven” (5:1).How does it make you feel that in the midst of declining health, Christ still resides in you by His Spirit (5:5)? When you find yourself “groaning,” how often do you turn to God in prayer?Father, thank You for Your continual presence. When I’m physically uncomfortable, help me to trust You even as I anticipate an eternal dwelling that will last forever.  
May
1
2023
“Don’t be afraid of death, Winnie,” said Angus Tuck, “be afraid of the unlived life.” That quote from the book-turned-film Tuck Everlasting is made more interesting by the fact that it comes from a character who can’t die. In the story, the Tuck family has become immortal. Young James Tuck, who falls in love with Winnie, begs her to seek immortality too so they can be together forever. But wise Angus understands that simply enduring forever doesn’t bring fulfillment. Our culture tells us that if we could be healthy, young, and energetic forever, we would be truly happy. But that’s not where our fulfillment is found. Before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed for His disciples and for future believers. He said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Our fulfillment in life comes from a relationship with God through faith in Jesus. He’s our hope for the future and joy for this present day. Jesus prayed that His disciples would take on the patterns of new life: that they would obey God (v. 6), believe that Jesus was sent by God the Father (v. 8), and be united as one (v. 11). As believers in Christ, we look forward to a future eternal life with Him. But during these days we live on earth, we can live the “rich and satisfying life” that He promised—right here, right now (10:10 NLT).
Apr
30
2023
Last spring, the night before our lawn was to be aerated a violent windstorm blew the seeds off our maple tree in one fell swoop. So when the aerating machine broke up the compacted soil by pulling small “cores” out of the ground, it planted hundreds of maple seeds in my yard. Just two short weeks later, I had the beginnings of a maple forest growing up through my lawn! As I (frustratedly) surveyed the misplaced foliage, I was struck by the prolific abundance of new life a single tree had spawned. Each of the miniature trees became a picture for me of the new life in Christ that I—as merely one person—can share with others. We each will have countless opportunities to “give the reason for the hope that [we] have” (1 Peter 3:15) in the course of our lives. When we bear up under the winds of adversity or suffering with the hope of Jesus (v. 14), it’s visible to those around us and might just become a point of curiosity to those who don’t know God personally. If we’re ready when they ask, then we may share the seed through which God brings forth new life. We don’t have to share it with everyone all at once—in some kind of spiritual windstorm. Rather, we gently and respectfully drop the seed of faith into a heart ready to receive it. Who shared the reason for their hope with you? Who in your life is asking about the reason for your hope? What will you share with them? Jesus, thank You for growing the seed of faith in my life. Help me to share the reason for my hope—You—with those who ask and may they grow in their love for You.
Apr
29
2023
The newspaper declared that Pep had taken the life of the cat of the governor’s wife—but he didn’t do it. The only thing he may have been guilty of was chewing the sofa at the governor’s mansion. Pep was a rambunctious young Labrador retriever owned by Pennsylvania’s governor Gifford Pinchot in the 1920s. The dog actually was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary, where his mug shot was taken with a prisoner identification number. When a newspaper reporter heard about it, he made up the cat story. Because his report appeared in the newspaper, many believed Pep really was a cat-killer. Israel’s King Solomon knew well the power of misinformation. He wrote, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8). Sometimes our fallen human nature causes us to want to believe things about others that aren’t true. Yet even when others believe untruths about us, God can still use us for good. In reality, the governor sent Pep to prison so he could be a friend to the inmates there—and that he served for many years as a pioneer therapy dog. God’s purposes for our lives still stand, regardless of what others say or think. We should certainly avoid the sin of gossip, yet when others sin by gossiping about us, remember that God’s opinion—and His love for us—is what matters most.
Apr
28
2023
I’m a worrier. Early mornings are the worst because I’m alone with my thoughts. So I taped this quote from Hudson Taylor on my bathroom mirror, where I can see it when I’m feeling vulnerable: “There is a living God. He has spoken in the Bible. He means what He says and will do all He has promised.” Taylor’s words came from years of walking with God and remind us of who He is and all He can do through our times of illness, poverty, loneliness, and grief. He didn’t merely know that God is trustworthy─he’d experienced His trustworthiness. And because he’d trusted God’s promises and obeyed Him, thousands of Chinese people gave their lives to Jesus. Experiencing God and His ways helped David know that He’s trustworthy. He wrote Psalm 145, a song of praise to the God he’d experienced to be good, compassionate, and faithful to all His promises. When we trust and follow God, we realize (or understand) that He is who He says He is and that He’s faithful to His word (v. 13). And, like David, we respond by praising Him and telling others about Him (vv. 10−12).     When we face worrisome times, God can help us not to falter in our walk with Him, for He is trustworthy (Hebrews 10:23).
Apr
27
2023
Comedian John Branyan said, “We didn’t think up laughter; that wasn’t our idea. That was given to us by [God who] knew we were going to need it to get through life. ’Cuz He knew we were going to have hardship, He knew were going to have struggles, He knew . . . stuff was going to happen. . . . Laughter is a gift.” A quick look at the creatures God made can bring laughter, whether because of their oddities (such as duck-billed platypuses) or antics (such as playful otters). God made mammals that live in the ocean and long-legged birds that can’t fly. God clearly has a sense of humor; and because we’re created in His image, we too have the joy of laughter. We first see the word laughter in the Bible in the story of Abraham and Sarah. God promised this elderly couple a child: “A son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir” (Genesis 15:4). And God had said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars . . . . So shall your offspring be” (v. 5). When Sarah finally gave birth at ninety, Abraham named their son Isaac, which means “laughter.” As Sarah exclaimed, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (21:6). It amazed her that she could nurse a child at her age! God transformed her skeptical laughter when she’d heard she’d give birth (18:12) into laughter of sheer joy. Thank God for the gift of laughter!
Apr
26
2023
This spring, weeds attacked our backyard like something out of Jurassic Park. One got so big that when I tried to pull it, I feared I might injure myself. Before I could find a machete or spade to whack it down, I noticed that my daughter was actually pouring water on it. “Why are you watering the weeds?!” I exclaimed. “I want to see how big it will get!” she replied with an impish grin. Weeds aren’t something we intentionally nourish—which my daughter knows. But as I thought about it, I realized that sometimes we do water the “weeds” in our spiritual lives, feeding desires that strangle our growth. Paul writes about this in Galatians 5:13–26, where he contrasts living by the flesh with living by the Spirit. He says trying to follow the rules alone won’t establish the kind of “weed-free” life we long for. Instead, to avoid watering the weeds, he instructs us to “walk by the Spirit.” He adds that being in regular step with God’s leading is what frees us from the impulse to “gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 16). It’s a lifelong process to understand fully what Paul is teaching here. But I love the simplicity of his guidance: instead of growing something unwanted by nourishing our own self-focused desires, when we’re cultivating our relationship with God, we grow fruit and reap the harvest of a godly life (vv. 22–25).
Apr
25
2023
The young campus minister was troubled. But he looked conflicted when I dared to ask if he prays . . . for God’s direction . . . for His help. To pray, as Paul urged, without ceasing. In reply, the young man confessed, “I’m not sure I believe anymore in prayer.” He frowned. “Or believe that God is listening. Just look at the world.” That young leader was “building” a ministry in his own strength and, sadly, he was failing. Why? He was rejecting God. Jesus, as the cornerstone of the church, has always been rejected—starting, in fact, with His own people (John 1:11). Many still reject Him today, struggling to build their lives, work, even churches on lesser foundations—their own schemes, dreams, and other unreliable ground. Yet, our good Savior alone is our strength and defense (Psalm 118:14). Indeed, “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22). Set at the vital corner of our lives, He provides the only right alignment for anything His believers seek to accomplish for Him. To Him, therefore, we pray, “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!” (v. 25). The result? “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 26). May we give thanks to Him because He’s strong and good.
Apr
24
2023
Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions describes his long and winding journey to Jesus. On one occasion he was riding to the palace to give a flattering speech for the emperor. He was fretting over his deceptive applause lines when he noticed a drunken beggar “joking and laughing.” He realized the drunk already had whatever fleeting happiness his shifty career might bring, and with much less effort. So Augustine stopped striving for worldly success. But he was still enslaved by lust. He knew he couldn’t turn to Jesus without turning from sin, and he still struggled with sexual immorality. So he prayed, “Grant me chastity . . . but not yet.” Augustine stumbled along, torn between salvation and sin, until finally he had enough. Inspired by others who had turned to Jesus, he opened a Bible to Romans 13:13–14. “Let us behave decently, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality . . . . Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” That did it. God’s Word broke the chains of lust and brought him “into the kingdom of the Son…in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14). Augustine became a bishop who remained tempted by fame and lust, but he now knew whom to see when he sinned. He turned to Jesus. Have you?
Apr
23
2023
Aunt Margaret’s frugality was legendary. After she passed away, her nieces began the nostalgically bittersweet task of sorting her belongings. In a drawer, neatly arrayed inside a small plastic bag, they discovered an assortment of small pieces of string. The label read: “String too short to use.”   What would motivate someone to keep and categorize something they knew to be of no use? Perhaps this person once knew extreme deprivation. When the Israelites fled slavery in Egypt, they left behind a life of hardship. But they soon forgot God’s miraculous hand in their exodus and started complaining about the lack of food. God wanted them to trust Him. He provided manna for their desert diet, telling Moses, “The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day” (Exodus 16:4). God also instructed them to gather twice as much on the sixth day, because on the Sabbath no manna would fall (v. 5). Some of the Israelites listened. Some didn’t, with predictable results (vv. 27–28). In times of plenty and times of desperation, it’s tempting to try to cling, to hoard, in a desperate attempt at control. There’s no need to take everything into our own frantic hands. No need to “save scraps of string”—or to hoard anything at all. Our faith is in God, who has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Apr
22
2023
While waiting for a train at a station in Atlanta, Georgia, a young man wearing slacks and a dress shirt sat on a bench. As he struggled with his tie, an older woman encouraged her husband to help. Another stranger took a photo of the trio when the elderly man hunched over and began teaching the young man how to knot the tie. When this photo went viral online, many viewers left comments about the power of random acts of kindness. For believers in Jesus, kindness to others reflects the self-sacrificing care that He showed for people like us. It’s an expression of God’s love and what He desired His disciples to live out: “We should love one another” (1 John 3:11, italics added). John equates hating a brother or sister to murder (v. 15). Then he turns to Christ as an example of love in action (v. 16). Selfless love doesn’t have to be an extravagant display of sacrifice. Selfless love simply requires us to acknowledge the value of all God’s image-bearers by placing their needs above our own . . . every day. Those seemingly ordinary moments when we care enough to notice the needs of others and do what we can to help are selfless, when we’re motivated by love. When we see beyond our personal space, step out of our comfort zones to serve others, and give when we don’t have to give, we’re loving like Jesus.
Apr
21
2023
A 2021 news reports told of seventeen missionaries that had been kidnapped by a gang. The gang threatened to kill the group (including children) if their ransom demands weren’t met. Incredibly, all the missionaries were either released or escaped to freedom. On reaching safety, they sent a message to their captors: “Jesus taught us by word and by His own example that the power of forgiving love is stronger than the hate of violent force. Therefore, we extend forgiveness to you.” Jesus made it clear that forgiveness is powerful. He said, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). Later, in answering Peter, Christ told how often we should forgive: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (18:22; see 21–35). And on the cross, He demonstrated godly forgiveness when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).   Forgiveness at its fullest can be realized when both parties move toward healing and reconciliation. And while it doesn’t remove the effects of harm done or the need to be discerning in how to address painful or unhealthy relationships, it can lead to restored ones—testifying to God’s love and power. Let’s look for ways to “extend forgiveness” for His honor.
Apr
20
2023
Kurbera-Voronja, in the Eurasian country of Georgia, is one of the deepest caves yet explored on planet Earth. A team of explorers have probed the dark and scary depths of its caverns to two kilometers—that’s 7,188 feet into the earth! Similar caves, around 400 of them, exist in other parts of the country and across the globe. More caverns are being discovered all the time and new depth records are being set. The mysteries of creation continue to unfold, changing and adding to our understanding of the universe we live in and causing us to wonder at the matchless creativity of God’s handiwork on earth that we’re called by God to care for and steward (Genesis 1:26–28). The psalmist invites us all to “sing for joy” and “shout aloud” to the Lord because of His greatness (v. 1). As we celebrate Earth Day tomorrow, let’s consider God’s incredible work of creation. All that it contains—whether we’ve yet discovered it or not—is cause for us to bow down in worship to Him (v. 6). He doesn’t just know the vast, physical places of His creation, but also the intimate depths of our hearts. And not unlike the caverns of Georgia, we will go through dark and perhaps scary seasons in life. Yet knowing that God holds even those times in His powerful yet tender care: In the words of the psalmist, we are His people, the “flock under His care” (v. 7).
Apr
19
2023
On a run in the forest, I tried to find a shortcut and went down an unfamiliar path. Wondering if I was lost, I asked a runner coming the other way if I was on the right track. “Yup,” he replied confidently. Seeing my doubtful look, he quickly added: “Don’t worry, I’ve tried all the wrong routes! But that’s okay, it’s all part of the run.” What an apt description of my spiritual journey! How many times have I strayed from God, given in to temptation, and been distracted by the things of life? Yet God has forgiven me each time and helped me to move on—knowing I will certainly stumble again. God knows our tendency to go down the wrong path. But He’s always ready to forgive, again and again, if we confess our sins and allow His Spirit to transform us.  Paul too knew this was all part of the faith journey. Fully aware of his sinful past and current weaknesses, he knew he had yet to obtain the Christlike perfection he desired (Philippians 3:12). “But one thing I do,” he added, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on.” (vv. 13–14). Stumbling is part of our walk with God: it is through our mistakes that He refines us. His grace enables us to press on, as forgiven children.
Apr
18
2023
For many around the world, life is getting lonelier. The number of Americans who have no friends has quadrupled since 1990. Certain European countries have up to 20 percent of their population feeling lonely, while in Japan, some elderly folks have resorted to crime so they can have the companionship of inmates in jail. Entrepreneurs have come up with a “solution” to this loneliness epidemic—rent-a-friend. Hired by the hour, these people will meet you in a café to talk or accompany you to a party. One such “friend” was asked who her clientele was. “Lonely, 30- to 40-year-old professionals,” she said, “who work long hours and don’t have time to make many friends.” Ecclesiastes 4 describes a person who is all alone, without “son nor brother.” There’s “no end” to this worker’s toil, yet his success isn’t fulfilling (v. 8). “For whom am I toiling . . . ?” he asks, waking up to his plight. Far better to invest in relationships, which will make his workload lighter and provide help in trouble (vv. 9–12). Because, ultimately, success without friendship is “meaningless” (v. 8). Ecclesiastes tells us that a cord of three strands isn’t quickly broken (v. 12). But neither is it quickly woven. Since true friends can’t be rented, let’s invest the time needed to form them, with God as our third strand, weaving us tightly together.
Apr
17
2023
Sara lost her mother when she was just fourteen years old. She and her siblings lost their house soon after and became homeless. Years later, Sara wanted to provide her future children with an inheritance that could be passed down from generation to generation. She worked extremely hard to purchase a house, giving her family the stable home she never had. Investing in a home for future generations is an act of faith—taking steps toward a future you don’t yet see. God told the prophet Jeremiah to purchase land just before the violent siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 32:6–12). To the prophet, God’s instructions didn’t make a lot of sense. Soon all their property and belongings would be confiscated. But God gave Jeremiah this promise: “As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them” (v. 42). Jeremiah’s investment in property was a physical sign of God’s faithfulness to someday restore the Israelites to their homeland. Even in the midst of a terrible attack, God promised His people that peace would come again—homes and property would be bought and sold again (vv. 43–44). Today we can put our trust in God’s faithfulness and choose to “invest” in faith. Although we may not see an earthly restoration of every situation, we have the assurance that He will someday make everything right.
Apr
16
2023
When our congregation built our first building, people wrote thankful reminders on the wall studs and concrete floors before the interior of the building was finished. Pull back the drywall from the studs and you’ll find them there. Verse after verse from Scripture, written beside prayers of praise like “You are so good!” We left them there as a witness to future generations that regardless of our challenges, God had been kind and taken care of us. We need to remember what God has done for us and tell others about it. Isaiah exemplified this when he wrote, “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us” (Isaiah 63:7). Later, the prophet also recounts God’s compassion for His people throughout history, even telling how “in all their distress he too was distressed” (v. 9). But if you keep reading the chapter, you’ll notice Israel is again in a time of trouble, and the prophet longs for God’s intervention. Remembering God’s past kindnesses helps when times are hard. Challenging seasons come and go, but His faithful character never changes. As we turn to Him with grateful hearts in remembrance of all He’s done, we discover afresh that He’s always worthy of our praise.
Apr
15
2023
Just days before Holy Week, when Christians around the world remember Jesus’s sacrifice and celebrate His resurrection, a terrorist stormed into a supermarket in southwest France opening fire and killing two. After negotiation, the terrorist released all but one hostage, whom he turned into a human shield. Knowing the danger, police officer Arnaud Beltrame did the unthinkable: He volunteered to take the woman’s place. The perpetrator released her, but in the ensuing scuffle Col. Beltrame was injured and later died. A minister who knew the policeman attributed his heroism to his Christian faith, pointing to Jesus’s words in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Those were the words Jesus spoke to His disciples after their last meal together. He told His friends to “Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12) and that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for another (v. 13). This is exactly what Jesus did the next day, when He went to the cross to save us from our sin—as only He could. We may never be called to follow the heroism of Col. Beltrame. But as we remain in God’s love, we can serve others sacrificially, laying down our own plans and desires as we seek to share the story of His great love.
Apr
14
2023
My sister and I clashed frequently when we were younger, but one time especially stands out in my memory. After a bout of yelling back and forth where we’d both said hurtful things, she said something that in the moment seemed unforgivable. Witnessing the animosity growing between us, my grandmother reminded us of our responsibility to love each other: “God gave you one sister in life. You’ve got to show each other a little grace,” she said. When we asked God to fill us with love and understanding, He helped us acknowledge how we’d hurt each other and to forgive one another. It can be so easy to hold on to bitterness and anger, but God desires for us to experience the peace that can only come when we ask Him to help us release feelings of resentment (Ephesians 4:31). Instead of harboring these feelings, we can look to Christ’s example of forgiveness that comes from a place of love and grace, striving to be “kind and compassionate” and to “[forgive] each other, just as in Christ God forgave [us]” (v. 32). When we find it challenging to forgive, may we consider the grace that He extends to us each day. No matter how many times we fall short, His compassion never fails (Lamentations 3:22). God can help us remove bitterness from our hearts, so we’re free to remain hopeful and receptive to His love.
Apr
13
2023
Rossetti, a poet and devotional writer, found that nothing came easily for her. She suffered from depression and various illnesses throughout her life and endured three broken engagements. Eventually she died of cancer. When David burst into Israel’s national consciousness, it was as a triumphant warrior. Yet throughout his life, David faced hardship. Late in his reign, his own son, along with his trusted advisor and much of the country, turned against him (2 Samuel 15:1–12). So David took the priests Abiathar and Zadok and the sacred ark of God with him and fled Jerusalem (vv. 13–14).   After Abiathar had offered sacrifices to God, David told the priests, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again” (v. 25). Despite the uncertainty, David said, “If [God] says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ . . . let him do to me whatever seems good to him” (v. 26). He knew he could trust God. Christina Rossetti trusted God too, and her poem ends in hope. The road may indeed wind uphill all the way, but it leads to our heavenly Father, who awaits us with open arms.
Apr
12
2023
Years ago, I cared for my mom as she was in hospice. I thanked God for the four months He allowed me to serve as her caregiver and asked Him to help me through the grieving process. I often struggled to praise God as I wrestled with my mixed emotions. But as my mom breathed her last breath and I wept uncontrollably, I whispered, “Hallelujah.” I felt guilty for praising God in that devastating moment until, years later, I took a closer look at Psalm 30. In David’s song “for the dedication of the temple,” he worshiped God for His faithfulness and mercy (vv. 1–3). He encouraged others to “praise his holy name” (v. 4). Then David explored how intimately God entwines hardship and hope (v. 5). He acknowledged times of grief and rejoicing, times of feeling secure and dismayed (v. 6). His cries for help remained laced with confidence in God (vv. 7–10). The echo of his praise wove through David’s moments of wailing and dancing, grief and joy (v. 11). As if acknowledging the mystery and complexity of enduring affliction and anticipating God’s faithfulness, David proclaimed his endless devotion to God (v. 12). Like David, we can sing, “Lord my God, I will praise you forever” (v. 12). Whether we’re happy or hurting, God can help us declare our trust in Him and lead us to worship Him with joyful shouts and tears of praise.
Apr
11
2023
I received a phone call from an unknown number. Often, I let those calls go to voicemail, but this time I picked up. The random caller asked politely if I had just a minute for him to share a short Bible passage. He quoted Revelation 21:3–5 about how God “will wipe every tear from their eyes.” He talked about Jesus, how he was our assurance and hope. I told him I already know Jesus as my personal Savior. But the caller wasn’t aiming to “witness” to me. Instead, he simply asked if he could pray with me. And he did, asking God to give me encouragement and strength. That call reverberated in my heart. I was reminded of another “call” in Scripture—God called out to the young boy Samuel in the middle of the night (1 Samuel 3:4–5). Three times Samuel heard the voice, thinking it was the elderly priest, Eli. The final time, following Eli’s instruction, Samuel realized that God was calling him: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (v. 10). Likewise, through our days and nights, God may be speaking to us. We need to “pick up,” which might mean spending more time in his presence and listening for his voice. I then thought of “the call” in another way. What if we sometimes are the caller, the messenger of God’s words to someone else? We might sometimes feel, because of our circumstances, we have no way of helping others. But as God guides us, how hard is it for us to phone a friend and ask, “Would it be okay if I just prayed with you today?”
Apr
10
2023
While waiting to enter the university, twenty-year-old Shin Yi decided to commit three months of her break to serving in a youth mission organization. It seemed like an odd time to do this, given the Covid-19 restrictions that prevented face-to-face meetings. But Shin Yi soon found a way. “We couldn’t meet up with students on the streets, in shopping malls, or fast-food centers like we usually did,” she shared. “But we continued to keep in touch with the Christian students via Zoom to pray for one another and with the non-believers via phone calls.” Shin Yi did what the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to do: “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Paul warned that people would find teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear and not what they needed to hear (vv. 3–4). Yet Timothy was called to take courage and “be prepared in season and out of season.” He was to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (v. 2). Though not all of us are called to be evangelists or preachers, each one of us can play a part in sharing our faith with those around us. Unbelievers are perishing without Christ. Believers need strengthening and encouragement. With God’s help, let’s proclaim His good news whenever and wherever we can.  
Apr
9
2023
When my son was nearly three, I needed an operation that would require a month or more of recovery. In the days leading up to the procedure, I imagined myself in bed while stacks of dirty dishes accumulated in the sink. I wasn’t sure how I’d take care of an active toddler and couldn’t picture myself standing in front of the stove to cook our meals. I dreaded the impact my weakness would have on the rhythm of our lives. God intentionally weakened Gideon’s forces before his troops confronted the Midianites. First, those who were afraid were allowed to leave—22,000 men went home (Judges 7:3). Then, of the 10,000 who remained, only those who scooped water into their hands to drink could stay. Just three hundred men were left, but this disadvantage prevented the Israelites from relying on themselves (vv. 5–6). They couldn’t say, “My own strength has saved me” (v. 2). Many of us experience times when we feel drained, powerless, or fragile. When this happened to me, I realized how much I needed God. He encouraged me inwardly through His Spirit, and outwardly through the helpfulness of friends and family. I had to let go of my independence for a while, but this taught me how to lean more fully on God. Because “[His] power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:9) we can have hope when we can’t meet our needs on our own.
Apr
8
2023
On Easter Sunday 2020, the famous Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was illuminated in a way that appeared to clothe Jesus in the attire of a physician. The poignant portrayal of Christ as a doctor was in tribute to the many front-line healthcare workers battling the coronavirus pandemic. The imagery brings to life the common description of Jesus as our Great Physician (Mark 2:17). Jesus did, in fact, heal many people of their physical afflictions during His earthly ministry: blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46–52), a leper (Luke 5:12–16), and a paralytic (Matthew 9:1–8), to name a few. His care for the health of those following Him was also demonstrated in providing for their hunger by multiplying a simple meal to feed the masses (John 6:1–13). Each of these miracles reveal both Jesus’ mighty power and His genuine love for people. He was also concerned with an even more devastating problem than any of the physical ailments He cured. His greatest act of healing came through His death and resurrection, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah. It is “by [Jesus’] wounds we are healed” of our worst affliction: our separation from God as a result of our sins (Isaiah 53:5). Though Jesus doesn’t heal us of all our health challenges, we can always trust the cure for our deepest need: the healing He brings to our relationship with God.
Apr
7
2023
On a trip to Paris, Ben and his friends found themselves at the one of the renowned museums in the city. Though Ben wasn’t a student of art, he was in awe as he looked upon the painting titled The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection. Without words, the looks on the faces of Peter and John and the position of their hands speak volumes, inviting onlookers to step into their shoes and share their adrenaline-charged emotions. Based on John 20:1–10, the painting portrays the two running in the direction of the empty tomb of Jesus (v. 4). The masterpiece captures the intensity of the two emotionally conflicted disciples. Though at that juncture theirs wasn’t a fully formed faith, they were running in the right direction, and eventually the resurrected Jesus revealed Himself to them (vv. 19–29). Their search was not unlike that of Jesus-seekers through the centuries. Although we may be removed from the experiences of an empty tomb or a brilliant piece of art, we can clearly see the good news. Scripture compels us to hope and seek and run in the direction of Jesus and His love—even with doubts, questions, and uncertainties. Tomorrow, as we celebrate Easter, may we remember Jesus’ words: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Apr
6
2023
Walking through the Scottish National Gallery, I was drawn to the strong brushwork and vibrant colors of the Olive Trees painting by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. Many historians believe the work was inspired by Jesus’ experience in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. What especially caught my eye were the small red splotches of paint among the ancient olive trees. Known as the Mount of Olives because of all the olive trees located on the mountainside, Jesus went there to pray on the night that He predicted His disciple Judas would betray Him. Jesus was overwhelmed with anguish knowing the betrayal would result in His crucifixion. As He prayed, “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus’ agony was evident in the garden as He prepared for the pain and humiliation of a public execution that would result in the physical shedding of His blood on that Good Friday long ago. The red paint on Van Gogh’s painting reminds us that Jesus had to “suffer many things and be rejected” (Mark 8:31). While suffering is part of His story, however, it no longer dominates the picture. Jesus’ victory over death transforms even our suffering, allowing it to become only a part of the beautiful landscape of our lives He’s creating.
Apr
5
2023
Although just thirteen years old, DeAvion took up a challenge to serve others. He and his mom had heard a story about a man who called on kids to mow fifty lawns for free during their summer break. Their focus was to assist veterans, single moms, people with disabilities—or anyone who just needed help. The founder (who had mowed fifty lawns in fifty states) created the challenge to teach the importance of work ethic and giving back to the community. Despite the heat and other activities a teenager could pursue in the summer, DeAvion chose to serve others and completed the challenge. The challenge to serve comes to believers in Jesus as well. The evening before He would die for all people, Jesus ate dinner with His friends (John 13:1–2). He was well aware of the suffering and death He would soon encounter, yet He got up from the meal, wrapped a towel around Himself, and began to wash His disciples’ feet (vv. 3–5). “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet,” He said (v. 14). Jesus, the humble Servant and our example, cared for people: He healed the blind and sick, taught the good news of His kingdom, and gave His life for His friends. Because Christ loves you, ask Him who He wants you to serve this week.
Apr
4
2023
We all leave a bit of ourselves behind when we move to a new place. But to become a long-term resident of Villas Las Estrellas, Antarctica, a cold and desolate place, leaving a piece of yourself behind is a literal thing. With the nearest hospital 625 miles away, a person will be in serious trouble if her appendix bursts. So every citizen must first undergo an appendectomy before moving there. Drastic, right? But it’s not as drastic as becoming a resident of the kingdom of God. Because people want to follow Jesus on their own terms and not His (Matthew 16:25–27), He redefines what it means to be a disciple. He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v. 24). This includes being prepared to let go of anything that competes with Him and His kingdom. And as we take up our cross, we declare a willingness to undergo social and political oppression and even death for the sake of devotion to Christ. Along with letting go and taking up, we’re also to take on a willingness to truly follow Him. This is a moment-by-moment posture of following His lead as He guides us into service and sacrifice. Following Jesus means so much more than leaving a little piece of our lives behind. As He helps us, it’s about submitting and surrendering our whole lives—including our bodies—to Him alone.
Apr
3
2023
Several years ago, we brought home an adult black cat named Juno from the local animal shelter—a feline familiar with living outdoors. Truthfully, I only wanted help thinning our mice population, but the rest of the family wanted a pet. The shelter gave us rigorous instructions for what to do the first week. They told us how to establish a feeding routine so Juno would learn our house was his home, the place he belonged and where he’d always have food and safety. This way, even if Juno might roam, he would always eventually come home.       If we don’t know our true home, we’re forever tempted to roam in vain search for goodness, love, and meaning. If we want to find our true life, however, Jesus said, “Abide in me” (John 15:4 NASB). Biblical scholar Frederick Dale Bruner highlights how abide (like a similar word: abode) evokes a sense of family and home. So Bruner translates Jesus’s words this way: “Stay at home in me.” To drive this idea home, Jesus used the illustration of branches attached to a vine. Branches, if they want to live, must always stay at home, tenaciously fixed (abiding) where they belong. There are many voices beckoning us with hollow promises to fix our problems or provide us some new “wisdom” or exhilarating future. But if we’re to truly live, we must remain in Jesus. We must stay at home.
Apr
2
2023
Soccer player Christian Pulisic faced several injuries that influenced the course of his career. After learning he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup of the Champions League semifinals game, he was disappointed, but he described how God had revealed Himself to him. “As always, I reach out to God, and He gives me strength,” he said. “I feel like I always have Someone who’s with me. I don’t know how I would do any of this without that feeling.” Pulisic ultimately made a momentous impact when he was substituted later in the game. He initiated a clever play that led to the game-winning shot and secured their spot in the championship. These experiences taught him a valuable lesson: we can always view our weaknesses as opportunities for God to reveal His immeasurable power. The world teaches us to rely on our own strength when encountering problems. However, biblical wisdom teaches us that God’s grace, power, and willingness to intervene on our behalf amid life’s challenges will give us strength in the most trying circumstances (2 Corinthians 12:9). With this knowledge, we can move in confidence, recognizing that we never face trials alone. Our “weaknesses” become opportunities for God to reveal His power, strengthening and supporting us (vv. 9–10). We can then use our struggles to offer praise to God, giving thanks for His goodness and sharing these encounters with others so that they can come to experience His love.
Apr
1
2023
Bluestone is a fascinating variety of rock. When struck, certain bluestones will ring with a musical tone. Maenclochog, a Welsh village whose name means “bell” or “ringing stones,” used bluestones as church bells until the eighteenth century. Interestingly, the ruins of Stonehenge, in England, are built of bluestone, causing some to wonder if that landmark’s original purpose was musical. Some researchers claim that the bluestone at Stonehenge was brought from near Maenclochog, nearly two hundred miles away, because of their unique acoustic properties. Musical ringing stones are yet another of the wonders of God’s great creation, and they remind us of something Jesus said during His Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. As the people praised Jesus, the religious leaders demanded Him to rebuke them. “‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” (Luke 19:40). If bluestone can make music, and if Jesus made mention of even the stones bearing witness to their Creator, how might we express our own praise to the one who made us, loves us, and rescued us? He is worthy of all worship. May the Holy Spirit stir us to give Him the honor He deserves. All of creation praises Him.
Mar
31
2023
José, a young believer in Jesus, was visiting his brother’s church. As he entered the sanctuary prior to the service, his brother’s face fell when he saw him. José’s tattoos, covering both arms, were visible since he was wearing a T-shirt. His brother told him to go home and put on a long-sleeved shirt, for many of José’s tattoos reflected the ways of his past. José suddenly felt dirty. But another man overheard the brothers’ interaction and brought José to the pastor, telling him what had happened. The pastor smiled and unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a large tattoo on his chest—something from his own past. He assured José that he didn’t need to cover his arms because God had made him pure from the inside out.  David experienced the joy of being made pure by God. After confessing his sin to Him, the king wrote, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!” (Psalm 32:1 nlt). He could now “shout for joy” with others “whose hearts [were] pure!” (v. 11 nlt). The apostle Paul later quoted Psalm 32:1–2 in Romans 4:7–8, a passage declaring that faith in Jesus leads to salvation and a pure standing before Him (see Romans 4:23–25).  Our purity in Jesus is much more than skin deep, for He knows and purifies our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 John 1:9). May we rejoice in His purifying work today.
Mar
30
2023
Researchers in Fujian, China, wanted to help intensive care unit (ICU) patients sleep more soundly. They measured the effects of sleep aids on test subjects in a simulated ICU environment, complete with bright, hospital-grade lighting and audio recordings of machines beeping and nurses talking. Their research showed that tools like sleep masks and ear plugs improved their subjects’ rest. But they acknowledged that for truly sick patients in a real ICU, peaceful sleep would still be hard to come by. When our world is troubled, how can we find rest? Scripture’s clear: there’s peace for those who trust in God, regardless of their circumstances. The prophet Isaiah wrote about a future time when the ancient Israelites would be restored after hardship. They would live securely in their city, because they knew that God made it safe (Isaiah 26:1). They would trust that He was actively working in the world around them to bring good—“humbling those who dwell on high,” raising up the oppressed, and bringing justice (vv. 5–6). They would know that “the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal,” and they could trust Him forever (v. 4). “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,” wrote Isaiah, “because they trust in you” (v. 3). God can provide peace and rest for us today as well. We can rest in the assurance of His love and power, no matter what’s going on around us.
Mar
29
2023
When I was a kid, a decommissioned World War II tank was put on display in a park near my home. Multiple signs warned of the danger of climbing on the vehicle, but a couple of my friends immediately scrambled up. Some of us were a bit reluctant, but eventually we did the same. One boy refused, pointing to the posted signs. Another jumped down quickly as an adult approached. The temptation to have fun outweighed our desire to follow rules. There’s a heart of childish rebellion lurking within all of us. We don’t like being told what to do or not to do. Yet we read in James that when we know what is right and don’t do it—it is sin (4:17). In Romans, the apostle Paul wrote: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it’s no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (7:19–20). As believers in Jesus, we may puzzle over our struggle with sin. But too often we depend solely on our own strength to do what is right. One day, when this life is over, we’ll be truly dead to sinful impulses. Until then, however, we can rely on the power of the One who’s death and resurrection won the victory over sin. What sins are the biggest struggle for you? How can you rely more on God’s power to overcome their stronghold?
Mar
28
2023
Their precise ages are unknown. One was found on the steps of a church; the other knew only that she’d been raised by nuns. Born in Poland during World War II, for nearly eighty years neither Halina nor Krystyna knew about each other. Then DNA test results revealed them to be sisters and led to a joyful reunion. It also revealed their Jewish heritage, explaining why they’d been abandoned. Evil people had marked the girls for death simply because of their identity. Imagining a frightened mother who leaves her threatened children where they might be rescued calls to mind the story of Moses. As a baby Hebrew boy, he was marked for genocide (see Exodus 1:22). His mother strategically placed him in the Nile (2:3), giving him a chance for survival. God had a plan she could not have dreamed of—to rescue His people through Moses. The story of Moses points us to the story of Jesus. As Pharaoh had sought the murder of Hebrew boys, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:13–16). Behind all such hatred—especially against children—is our enemy the devil. Such violence doesn’t take God by surprise. He had plans for Moses, and He has plans for you and me. And through His Son Jesus, He’s revealed His biggest plan—to rescue and restore those who once were His enemies.
Mar
27
2023
Moving from one home to another ranks as one of the biggest stressors in life. We moved to our current home after I’d lived in my previous one for nearly twenty years. I’d lived alone in that first home for eight years before I got married. Then my husband moved in, along with all his things. Later, we added a child, and that meant even more stuff. Our moving day to the new house wasn’t without incident. Five minutes before the movers arrived, I was still finishing up a book manuscript. And the new home had several sets of stairs, so it took double the time and twice as many movers as planned.     But for some reason I wasn’t feeling stressed out by the events of that day. Then it hit me: I’d spent many hours finishing writing a book—one chock-full with Scripture and biblical concepts. By God’s grace I‘d been poring over the Bible, praying, and writing to meet my deadline. So I believe the key was my immersion in Scripture and in prayer. Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” Philippians 4:6). When we pray—and “rejoice in” God (v. 4)—we refocus our mind from the problem to our Provider. We may be asking God to help us deal with a stressor, but we’re also connecting with Him, which can provide amazing peace—a peace “which transcends all understanding” (v. 7).
Mar
26
2023
Chuck, an actor and martial artist, honored his mother on her hundredth birthday by sharing how instrumental she’d been in his spiritual transformation. “Mom has been an example of perseverance and faith,” he wrote. She raised three boys on her own during the Great Depression; suffered the death of two spouses, a son, a stepson, and grandchildren; and endured many surgeries. “[She] has prayed for me all my life, through thick and thin.” He continued, “When nearly losing my soul to Hollywood, she was back home praying for my success and salvation.” He concluded, “I thank [my mom] for helping God to make me all I can and should be.” The prayers of Chuck’s mother helped him to find salvation—and a godly wife. She prayed fervently for her son, and God heard her prayers. We don’t always get our prayers answered the way we’d like, so we cannot use prayer as a magic wand. However, we are assured by James that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (5:16). Like this mom, we are to continue to pray for the sick and those in trouble (vv. 13–15). When, like her, we commune with God through prayer, we find encouragement and peace and the assurance that the Spirit is at work. Does someone in your life need salvation or healing or help? Lift your prayers to God in faith. He’s listening.
Mar
25
2023
Northern Spain produced a beautiful way of expressing communion and friendship. With the countryside full of handmade caves, after each harvest some farmers would sit in a room built above a cave and inventory their various foods. As time passed, the room became known as the “telling room”—a place of communion where friends and families would gather to share their stories, secrets, and dreams. If you needed the intimate company of safe friends, you would head for the telling room. Had they lived in northern Spain, the deep friendship shared by Jonathan and David might have led them to create a telling room. When King Saul became so jealous that he wanted to kill David, Jonathan, Saul’s oldest son, protected and befriended him. The two became “one in spirit” (1 Samuel 18:1–3). And Jonathan “loved [his friend] as himself” and—though he was heir apparent to the throne—recognized David’s divine selection to be king. He gave David his robe, sword, bow, and his belt (v. 4). Later, David declared that Jonathan’s love for him as a friend “was wonderful” (2 Samuel 1:26). As believers in Jesus, may He help us build our own relational “telling rooms”—friendships that reflect Christlike love and care. Let’s take the time to linger with friends, open our hearts, and live in true communion with one another in Him.
Mar
24
2023
Over the last several decades, a new word has entered our movie vocabulary: the reboot. In cinematic parlance, a reboot takes an old story and jumpstarts it. Some reboots retell a familiar tale, like a superhero story or a fairytale. Other reboots take a lesser-known story and retell it in a new way. But in each case, a reboot is a bit like a do-over. It’s a fresh start, a chance to breathe new life into the old.   There’s another story that involves reboots—the gospel story. In it, Jesus invites us to His offer of forgiveness, as well as abundant and eternal life (John 10:10). And in the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah reminds us that God’s love for us makes every day a “reboot” of sorts: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22–23). God’s grace invites us to embrace each day as a fresh opportunity to experience His faithfulness. Whether we’re struggling with the effects of our own mistakes or going through other hardships, God’s Spirit can breathe forgiveness, new life, and hope into each new day. Every day is a reboot of sorts, an opportunity to follow the lead of the great Director, who is weaving our story into His bigger one.
Mar
23
2023
After years of research and analysis, scientists have learned that wolves have distinct voices that help them establish hierarchy and communicate with each other. Using a specific sound analysis code, one scientist realized the use of various volumes and pitches in a wolf’s howl enabled her to identify specific wolves with one-hundred percent accuracy. The Bible provides many examples of God recognizing the distinct voices of His beloved creations. He called Moses by name and spoke to him directly (Exodus 3:4–6). The psalmist David proclaimed, “I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain” (Psalm 3:4). However, the apostle Paul also emphasizes the value of God’s people recognizing God’s voice. When bidding farewell to the Ephesian elders, Paul said the Spirit had “compelled” him to head to Jerusalem. He confirmed his commitment to follow God’s voice, though he didn’t know what to expect upon his arrival (Acts 20:22). The apostle warned that “savage wolves” would “arise and distort the truth,” even from within the church (vv. 29–30). Then, he encouraged the elders to remain diligent in discerning God’s truth (v. 31). All believers in Jesus have the privilege of knowing God hears and answers us. We also have the power of the Holy Spirit who helps us recognize God’s voice, which is always in alignment with the words He’s preserved in the Bible.
Mar
22
2023
As I was helping my sixth-grade grandson Logan with some tough algebra-type homework, he told me of his dream of becoming an engineer. After we returned to figuring out what to do with the x’s and y’s in his assignment, he said, “When am I ever going to use this stuff?” I couldn’t help but smile, saying, “Well, Logan, this is exactly the stuff you’ll use if you become an engineer!” He hadn’t realized the connection between algebra and his hoped-for future. Sometimes we view Scripture that way. When we listen to sermons and read certain parts of the Bible, we may think, “When am I ever going to use this?” The psalmist David had some answers. He said God’s truths found in Scripture do these things: “[refresh] the soul,” “[make] wise the simple,” and “[give] joy to the heart” (Psalm 19:7–8). The wisdom of Scripture, found in the first five books of the Bible as referred to in Psalm 19 (as well as all of Scripture), helps us as we daily rely on the Spirit’s leading (Proverbs 2:6). And without the Scriptures we’d lack the vital way God has provided for us to experience Him and better know His love and ways. Why study the Bible? Because “the commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).
Mar
21
2023
We sat atop some beach boulders, my friend Soozi and I, watching the foam send up sea spray in arched curls. Looking at the incoming waves crashing one after another against the rocks, Soozi announced, “I love the ocean. It keeps moving so I don’t have to!” Isn’t it interesting how some of us feel we need “permission” to pause from our work to rest? Well, that’s just what our good God offers us! For six days, God spun the earth into existence, creating light, land, vegetation, animals, and humans. Then on the seventh day, God rested (Genesis 1:31–2:2). In the Ten Commandments, God listed His rules for healthy living to honor Him, including the command to remember the Sabbath as a day of rest (Exodus 20:8–11). In the New Testament we see Jesus healing all the sick of the town (Mark 1:29–34) and then early the next morning retreating to a solitary place to pray (v. 35). Purposefully, our God both worked and rested. The rhythm of God’s provision in work and His invitation to rest reverberates around us. Spring’s planting yields growth in summer, harvest in autumn, and rest in winter. Morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night. God orders our lives for both work and rest, offering us permission to do both.
Mar
20
2023
Chinese medicine has practiced pearl powder exfoliation for thousands of years, using ground pearls to scrub away dead cells resting at the top of the skin. In Romania, rejuvenating therapeutic mud has become a widely sought-after exfoliant that’s purported to make skin youthful and glowing. All over the world, people use body care practices they believe will renew even the dullest of skin. The tools we’ve developed to maintain our physical bodies, however, can only bring us temporary satisfaction. What matters more is that we remain spiritually healthy and strong. As believers in Jesus, we’re given the gift of spiritual renewal through Him. The apostle Paul wrote, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The challenges we face daily can weigh us down when we hold on to things like fear, hurt, and anxiety. Spiritual renewal comes when we “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (v. 18). We do this by turning our daily worries over to God and praying for the fruit of the Holy Spirit—including love, joy, and peace—to emerge anew in our lives (Galatians 5:22). When we release our troubles to God and allow His Spirit to radiate through us each day, He restores our souls.
Mar
19
2023
In a psychiatrist’s advice column, he responded to a reader named Brenda, who lamented that her ambitious pursuits had left her discontent. His words were blunt. Humans aren’t designed to be happy, he said, “only to survive and reproduce.” We’re cursed to chase the “teasing and elusive butterfly” of contentment, he added, “not always to capture it.” I wonder how Brenda felt reading the psychiatrist’s nihilistic words and how different she may have felt reading Psalm 131 instead. In its words, David gives us a guided reflection on how to find contentment. He begins in a posture of humility, putting his kingly ambitions aside, and while wrestling life’s big questions is important, he puts those aside in this moment too (v. 1). Then he quiets his heart before God (v. 2), entrusting the future into His hands (v. 3). The result is beautiful: “like a weaned child with its mother,” he says, “I am content” (v. 2). In a broken world like ours, contentment will at times feel elusive. The apostle Paul said contentment is something to be learned—Philippians 4:11–13. But if we believe we’re only designed to “survive and reproduce,” contentment will surely be an uncatchable butterfly. David shows us another way: catching contentment through quietly resting in God’s presence.
Mar
18
2023
“Lord, please send me anywhere but there.” That was my prayer as a teenager before embarking on a year as a foreign exchange student. I didn’t know where I would be going, but I knew where I didn’t want to go. I didn’t speak that country’s language, and my mind was filled with prejudices against its customs and people. So I asked God to send me elsewhere.   But God in His infinite wisdom sent me precisely where I asked not to go. I’m so glad He did! Forty years later, I still have dear friends in that land. When I got married, my best man Stefan came from there. When he got married, I flew there to return the favor. And we’re planning another visit soon. Beautiful things happen when God causes a change of heart! Such a transformation is illustrated by just two words in Acts 9:17: “Brother Saul.” Those words were from Ananias, a believer God called to heal Saul’s sight immediately after his conversion (v. 10). Ananias resisted at first because of Saul’s violent past, praying: “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people” (v. 13). But Ananias was obedient and went. And because he had a change of heart, Ananias gained a new brother in faith, Saul became known as Paul, and the good news of Jesus spread with power. True change is always possible through Him!
Mar
17
2023
When I noticed a sprig budding next to the garden hose by our porch, I ignored the seemingly harmless eyesore. How could a little weed possibly hurt our lawn? But as the weeks passed, that nuisance grew to be the size of a small bush and began taking over our yard. Its stray stalks arched over a portion of our walkway and sprouted up in other areas. Admitting its destructive existence, I asked my husband to help me dig out the wild bushweed by the roots then protect our yard with weed killer. When we ignore or deny its presence, sin can invade our lives like unwanted overgrowth and darken our personal space. Our sinless God has no darkness in Him . . . at all. As His children, we’re equipped and charged to face sins head-on so we can “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (vv. 5–7). Through confession and repentance, we experience forgiveness and freedom from sin (vv. 8–10) because we have a great Intercessor—Jesus (1 John 2:1). He willingly paid the ultimate price for our sins‒His lifeblood‒ and “not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (v. 2). When our sin is brought to our attention by God, we can choose denial, avoidance, or deflection of responsibility. But when we confess and repent, He weeds out sins that harm our relationships with Him and others.
Mar
16
2023
In Fredric Brown's short thriller “Knock”, he wrote, “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.” Yikes! Who could that be, and what do they want? What mysterious being has come for him? The man is not alone. Neither are we. The church in Laodicea heard a knock on their door (v. 20). What Supernatural Being had come for them? His name was Jesus, “the First and the Last . . . the Living One.” His eyes blazed like fire, and His face “like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” When His best friend John caught a glimpse of His glory, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (1:14–18). Faith in Christ begins with the fear of God. We’re not alone, and this is also comforting. Jesus “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Yet Christ uses His strength not to slay us but to love us. Hear His invitation, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). Our faith begins with fear—who is at the door?—and it ends in a welcome and strong embrace. Jesus promises to always stay with us, even if we’re the last person on earth. Thank God, we’re not alone.
Mar
15
2023
In the late 1800s, people in different places developed the same vision at the same time. The first was in Montreal, Canada, in 1877. In 1898, a similar concept was launched in New York City. By 1922 some 5,000 of these programs were active in North America each summer. This is the early history of Vacation Bible School, which still continues today. The passion that fueled those Christian VBS pioneers was a desire for young people to know the Bible. Paul had a similar passion for his young protégé, Timothy, writing that “Scripture is God-breathed” and equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). But this wasn’t just the benign suggestion that “it’s good to read your Bible.” Paul’s admonition follows the dire warning that “there will be terrible times in the last days” (v. 1), with false teachers “never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 7). It’s essential we protect ourselves with Scripture, for it immerses us in the ways and knowledge of our Savior, making us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 15). Studying the Bible isn’t just for kids; it’s for adults too. And it isn’t just for summer; it’s for every day. Paul wrote to Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures (v.15), but it’s never too late to begin. Whatever stage of life we’re in, the wisdom of the Bible connects us to Jesus. This is God’s VBS lesson to us all.
Mar
14
2023
The first photograph of a living person was taken by Louis Daguerre in 1838. The photo depicts a figure on an otherwise empty avenue in Paris in the middle of an afternoon. But there’s an apparent mystery about it; the street and sidewalks should have been bustling with the traffic of carriages and pedestrians at that time of day, yet none can be seen. The man wasn’t alone. People and horses were there on the busy Boulevard du Temple, the popular area where the photo was taken. They just didn’t show up in the picture. The exposure time to process the photograph (known as a Daguerreotype) took seven minutes to capture an image, which had to be motionless during that time. It appears that the man on the sidewalk was the sole person photographed because he was the only one standing still—he was having his boots shined. Sometimes stillness accomplishes what motion and effort can’t. God tells His people in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Even when nations are “in uproar” (v. 6) and “the earth” shakes (v. 2), those who quietly trust in God will discover in Him “an ever-present help in trouble” (v. 1). The Hebrew words “be still” can also be translated “cease striving.” When we rest in God instead of relying solely on our limited efforts, we discover Him to be our lasting, unassailable “refuge and strength” (v. 1).
Mar
13
2023
The handshake spoke volumes. On a March night in 1963, two college basketball players—one Black, one White—defied the hate of segregationists and shook hands, marking the first time in Mississippi State’s history that its all-White men’s team played against an integrated team. To compete in the “Game of Change” against Loyola University Chicago in a national tournament, the Mississippi State squad avoided an injunction to stop them by using decoy players to leave their state. Loyola’s Black players, meantime, had endured racial slurs all season, getting pelted with popcorn and ice, and faced closed doors while traveling. Yet the young men played. The Loyola Ramblers beat the Mississippi State Bulldogs 61–51, and Loyola eventually went on to win the NCAA national championship. But what really won that night? A move from hate toward love. As Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). God’s instruction was a life-changing concept. To love our enemies as Christ taught, we must obey His revolutionary mandate to change. As Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But how does His new way in us defeat the old? With love. Then, in each other, we can finally see Him.
Mar
12
2023
It was impossible not to tear up at my friend Ira’s status update. Posted in 2022 only days after she’d left her home in the besieged capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, she shared a past image of herself lifting her country’s flag after completing a running event. She wrote, “We are all running to the best of our abilities a marathon called life. Let’s run it these days even better than that. With something that never dies in our hearts.” In the following days, I saw the many ways my friend continued to run that race, as she kept us updated on how to pray for and support those suffering in her country. Ira’s words brought new depth to the call in Hebrews 12 for believers to “run with perseverance” (v. 1). That call follows chapter 11’s moving account of the heroes of faith, the “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1) who’d lived with courageous, persistent faith—even at risk to their lives (11:34). Even though they “only saw . . . and welcomed [God’s promises] from a distance” (v. 13), they were living for something eternal, for something that never dies. All believers in Jesus are called to live that same way. Because the shalom—the flourishing and peace—of God’s kingdom is worth giving our all for. And because it’s Christ’s example and power that sustains us (12:2–3).
Mar
11
2023
Scholar Kenneth E. Bailey told of the leader of an African nation who had learned to maintain an unusual posture in the international community. He’d established a good relationship with both Israel and the nations surrounding it. When someone asked him how his nation maintained this fragile balance, he responded, “We choose our friends. We do not encourage our friends to choose our enemies [for us].”    That is wise—and genuinely practical. What that African country modeled on an international level is what Paul encouraged his readers to do on a personal level. In the midst of a lengthy description of the characteristics of a life changed by Christ, he wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). He goes on to reinforce the importance of our dealings with others by reminding us that even the way we treat our enemies (vv. 20–21) reflects our trust in and dependence upon our Lord and His ultimate care.   To live in peace with everyone may not always be possible (after all, Paul does say “if”). But our responsibility as followers of Christ is to allow His wisdom to guide our living (James 3:17–18) so that we engage those around us as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). What better way could there be to honor the Prince of Peace?
Mar
10
2023
When five-year-old Bella was hospitalized for cancer in North Dakota, she received music therapy as part of her treatment. Many people have experienced the powerful effect of music on mood without understanding exactly why, but researchers have recently documented a clinical benefit. Music is now being prescribed for cancer patients like Bella, and those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and trauma to reduce anxiety, muscle tension, and sleep problems, or to release sadness. King Saul reached for a musical prescription when he was feeling tormented. His attendants saw his lack of peace and suggested they find someone to play the lyre for him in hopes it would make him “feel better” (1 Samuel 16:16). They sent for Jesse’s son David, and Saul was pleased with him and asked that he “remain in [his] service” (v. 22). David played for Saul in his moments of unrest, bringing him relief from his anguish. We may only just be discovering scientifically what God has known all along about how music can affect us. As the author and creator of both our bodies and music itself, He provided a prescription for our health that’s readily accessible to all, regardless of the era in which we live or how easy it is to visit a doctor. Even when there’s no way to listen, we can sing to God in the midst of our joys and struggles, making music of our own (Acts 16:25; Psalm 59:16).
Mar
9
2023
I call it the “lean to green” miracle. It’s happened every spring for more than fifteen years—and I’m still amazed when it does. Coming out of the winter months, the grass in our yard is dusty and brown, so much so a casual passerby might believe it’s dead. Colorado has snow in the mountains, but the climate on the plains—“the Front Range”—is dry, with most warmer months full of drought warnings. But every year, around the end of May, I turn on the sprinklers—not huge amounts of water but simply small, consistent waterings. And in about two weeks, what was dry and brown builds up into something lush and green. That green grass reminds me how vital encouragement is. Without it, our lives and our faith can resemble something almost lifeless. But it’s amazing what consistent encouragement can do to our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians emphasizes this truth. The people were struggling with anxiety and fear. Paul saw he needed to bolster their faith. He urged them to keep up the good work of encouraging one another and building each other up (5:11). He knew that without such refreshment, their faith could wither. Paul experienced this firsthand, for those very same Thessalonian believers had been an encouragement to him, building him up. You and I have the same opportunity to encourage—to help one another bloom and grow.
Mar
8
2023
As I scanned my social media feed in the aftermath of the 2016 flood in southern Louisiana, I came across a friend’s post. After realizing her home would have to be gutted and rebuilt, my friend’s mom encouraged her to look for God even in the heart-wrenching work of cleaning up. My friend later posted pictures of Bible verses she uncovered on the exposed door frames of the home, apparently written at the time the home had been built. Reading the Scriptures on the wooden planks gave her comfort. The tradition of writing Bible verses on doorframes may stem from God’s command to Israel. God instructed the Israelites to post His commands on doorframes as a way of remembering who God is. By writing the commandments on their hearts (Deuteronomy 6:6), teaching them to their children (v. 7), using symbols and other means to recall what God commands (v. 8) and placing the words on doorframes and entry ways (v. 9), the Israelites had constant reminders of God’s words. They were encouraged to never forget what He had said or their covenant with Him. Displaying God’s words in our homes as well as planting their meaning in our hearts can help us to build a foundation that relies on His faithfulness as revealed in Scripture. And He can use those words to bring us comfort even in the midst of tragedy or heart-wrenching loss.
Mar
7
2023
In 2020, celebrations will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. Looking through pictures of marches supporting the amendment, I was struck by photographs of women carrying banners emblazoned with the words of Psalm 68:11, “The Lord giveth the Word. The women that publish the tidings are a mighty host” (ASV). In Psalm 68, David describes God as the One who leads the oppressed from their captivity (v. 6), refreshing and renewing His weary people from His bountiful riches (vv. 9,10). In this psalm’s thirty-five verses, David references God forty-two times, never allowing the reader to forget the One who has constantly been with them, at work to rescue them from injustice and suffering. And a mighty throng of women proclaim this truth (v. 11). Whether the women who marched for voting rights fully understood all that Psalm 68 was declaring, their banners proclaimed a timeless truth. God, the “father to the fatherless” and “a defender of widows” (v. 5), goes out before His people leading them to places of blessing, refreshment, and joy. Be encouraged today, remembering that God's presence has always been with His people, and in a special way with the vulnerable and suffering. As in the past, through Christ's Spirit God is still powerfully present with us today.
Mar
6
2023
Raj had trusted Jesus as Savior in his youth, but soon afterward, he drifted from the faith and led a life apart from God. Then one day, he made the decision to renew his faith in Jesus and go back to church—only to be scolded by a woman who berated him for being absent for all these years. The scolding added to Raj’s sense of shame and guilt for his years of drifting. Am I beyond hope? he wondered. Then he recalled how Jesus had restored Simon Peter even though he had denied Him (Luke 22:34, 60–61). Whatever scolding Peter might have expected, all he received was forgiveness and restoration. Jesus didn’t even mention Peter’s denial but instead gave him a chance to reaffirm his love and take care of His followers (John 21:15–17). Jesus’ words before Peter disowned Him were being fulfilled: “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Raj asked God for that same forgiveness and restoration, and today he is not only walking closely with Jesus but serving in a church and supporting other believers as well. No matter how far we’ve strayed from God, He’s always ready not only to forgive us and welcome us back but also to restore us so we can love, serve, and glorify Him. We’re never too far from God: His loving arms are wide open.
Mar
5
2023
Sue’s family was falling apart before her eyes. Her husband had suddenly left the home, and she and her children were confused and angry. She asked him to go for marriage counseling with her, but he wouldn’t because he claimed the problems were hers. Panic and hopelessness set in when she realized he might never come back. Would she be able to care for herself and her children alone? Hagar, a servant of Abraham and Sarah, faced those thoughts as well. Impatient for God to give them a son as promised (Genesis 12, 15), Sarah gave Hagar to her husband to have a child by her. “So Hagar gave birth to . . . Ishmael” (Genesis 16:1–4, 15). However, when God fulfilled His promise and Sarah gave birth to Isaac, family tensions erupted such that Abraham sent Hagar away with their son Ishmael with just some water and food (Genesis 21:8–21). Can you imagine her desperation? Soon they ran out of provisions in the desert. Not knowing what to do and not wanting to see her son die, Hagar put Ishmael under a bush and walked a distance away. They both began to sob. But “God heard the boy crying” (v. 17). He heard their cries, provided for their needs, and was with them. Times of desperation when we feel all alone cause us to cry out to God. What a comfort to know that during those moments and throughout our lives, God hears us, provides for us, and stays near to us.
Mar
4
2023
I recently saw a photograph of Michelangelo’s sculpture Moses, in which a closeup view showed a small bulging muscle on Moses’ right arm. This muscle is the extensor digiti minimi, and the contraction only appears when someone lifts their pinky. Michelangelo, known as a master of intricate details, paid close attention to the human bodies he sculpted, adding intimate features most everyone else would miss. Michelangelo knew the human body in ways few other sculptors have, but the details he carved into granite were his attempts to reveal something deeper—the soul, the interior life of human beings. And of course, there, Michelangelo always fell short. Only God knows the deepest realities of the human heart. Whatever we see of one another, no matter how attentive or insightful it might be, is only a shadow of the truth. But God sees deeper than the shadows. “You know me, Lord,” the prophet Jeremiah says, “you see me” (12:3). God’s knowledge of us isn’t theoretical or cerebral. He doesn’t observe us from a distance. Rather, He peers into the hidden realities of who we are. God knows the depths of our interior lives, even those things we struggle to understand ourselves.   No matter our struggles or what’s going on in our hearts, God sees us and truly knows us.
Mar
3
2023
Back when I was driving to college and back home again, the road to our house in the desert seemed painfully dull. Because it was long and straight, I found myself driving faster than I should have more than once. First I was given a warning from the highway patrol. Then I received a ticket. Then I was cited a second time in the very same place. Refusing to listen can have unfortunate consequences. One tragic example of this is from the life of Josiah, a good and faithful king. When Necho, the king of Egypt, marched through Judah’s territory to help Assyria in battle against Babylon, Josiah went out to counter him. Necho sent messengers telling Josiah, “God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me” (2 Chronicles 35:21). God really did send Necho, but Josiah “would not listen to what Necho had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo” (v. 22). Josiah was fatally injured in the battle, “and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him” (v. 24). Josiah, who loved God, discovered that insisting on his own way without taking the time to listen to God or His wisdom through others never ends well. May God give us the humility we need to always check ourselves and take His wisdom to heart.
Mar
2
2023
The year was 1917. At only twenty-three years of age, Nelson had just graduated from medical school in his native Virginia. And yet here he was in China as the new superintendent of the Love and Mercy Hospital, the only hospital in an area of at least two million Chinese residents. Nelson, together with his family, lived in the area for twenty-four more years, running the hospital, performing surgeries, and sharing the gospel with thousands of people. From once being called “foreign devil” by those who distrusted foreigners, Nelson Bell later became known as “the Bell who is Lover of the Chinese People.” His daughter Ruth was to later marry the evangelist Billy Graham. Although Nelson was a brilliant surgeon and Bible teacher, it wasn’t his skills that drew many to Jesus, it was his character and the way he lived out the gospel. In Paul’s letter to Titus, the young gentile leader who was taking care of the church in Crete, the apostle said that living like Christ is crucial because it can make the gospel “attractive” (Titus 2:10). Yet we don’t do this on our own strength. God’s grace helps us live “self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (v. 12), reflecting the truths of our faith (v. 1). Many people around us still don’t know the good news of Christ, but they know us. May He help us reflect and reveal His message in attractive ways.
Mar
1
2023
When Andrew and his family went on safari in Kenya, they had the pleasure of watching a variety of animals frequenting a small lake that appeared in the scrabbly landscape. Giraffes, wildebeests, hippopotamuses, and waterfowl all traveled to this life-giving source of water. As Andrew observed their comings and goings, he thought how the “Bible is like a divine watering hole”—not only is it a source of guidance and wisdom but it’s a refreshing oasis where people from all walks of life can quench their thirst. In his observation, Andrew echoed the psalmist who called people blessed when they delight in and meditate on God’s law, a term used in the Old Testament to describe His instruction and commandments. Those who turn over the Scriptures in their minds and hearts are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season” (Psalm 1:3). Just as a tree’s roots reach down into the soil to find the source of refreshing, people who truly believe in and love God will root themselves deeply in Scripture and find the strength they need. Submitting ourselves to God’s wisdom will keep our foundations embedded in Him; we won’t be “like chaff that the wind blows away” (v. 4). When we ponder what God has given to us in the Bible, we gain nourishment that can lead to our bearing fruit that lasts.
Feb
28
2023
The restless soul is never satisfied with wealth and success. A deceased country music icon could testify to this truth. He had nearly forty of his albums appear on Billboard's country-music top ten charts and just as many number one singles. But he also had multiple marriages and spent time in prison. Even with all his achievements, he once lamented: "There’s a restlessness in my soul that I've never conquered, not with motion, marriages or meaning. . . . It's still there to a degree. And it will be till the day I die." Sadly, he could have found rest in his soul before his life ended. Jesus invites all those, like this musician, who have become weary from toiling in sin and its consequences to come to him personally: “Come to me,” He says (Matthew 11:28). When we receive salvation in Jesus, He will take the burdens from us and “give [us] rest.” The only requirements are to believe in Him and then to learn from Him how to live the abundant life He provides (John 10:10). Taking on the yoke of Jesus’ discipleship results in our finding “rest for [our] souls” (Matthew 11:29). When we come to Jesus, He doesn’t abbreviate our accountability to God. He gives peace to our restless souls by providing us a new and less burdensome way to live in Him. He gives us true rest.
Feb
27
2023
Jack knew how to put trains on the right track. In nine years of work he never missed a track switch as locomotives drew near the Uitenhage, South Africa, station, indicating by their whistles the direction they were to go. Jack was also a chacma baboon. He was cared for by railway signalman James Wide, and Jack in turn took care of James. Wide had lost both his legs in a fall between moving rail cars. He trained Jack to help him with tasks around the house and soon Jack assisted him at work also, learning how to respond to the incoming trains’ signals by pulling corresponding levers for their tracks. The Bible tells of another animal that helped someone in a surprising way—Balaam’s donkey. Balaam was a pagan prophet serving a king who intended to harm Israel. As Balaam was riding his donkey en route to assist the king, “the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth” and it spoke to Balaam (Numbers 22:28). The donkey’s speech was part of the way God opened “Balaam’s eyes” (v. 31), warned him of imminent danger, and kept him from harming His people. A railway baboon? A talking donkey? Why not? If God can use these amazing animals for good purposes, it’s not at all far-fetched to believe He can use you and me as well. Looking to Him and seeking His strength, we can accomplish more than we ever thought possible.
Feb
26
2023
In the last few days of my dad’s life, one of the nurses dropped by his room and asked me if she could give him a shave. As Rachel gently pulled the razor across his face, she explained, “Older men of his generation like to have a neat shave every day.” Rachel had seen a need and acted on her instinct to show kindness, dignity, and respect to someone. The tender care she provided reminded me of my friend Julie who still paints her elderly mother’s nails because it’s important to her mom that she “look pretty.” Acts 9 tells us about a disciple named Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) who showed kindness by providing handmade clothing for the poor (v. 39). When she died, her room was filled with friends who tearfully mourned this kind woman who loved helping others. But Dorcas’ story didn’t end there. When Peter was brought to where her body lay, he knelt and prayed. In God’s power, he called her by name, saying, “Tabitha, get up” (v. 40). Amazingly, Dorcas opened her eyes and rose to her feet. When her friends realized she was alive, word spread quickly through the town and “many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). And how did Dorcas spend the next day of her life? Probably exactly as she had before—seeing the needs of people and filling them.
Feb
25
2023
The offer looked good, and was exactly what Peter needed. After being laid off, this sole breadwinner of a young family had prayed desperately for a job. “Surely this is God’s answer to your prayers,” his friends suggested. Reading about the prospective employer, however, Peter felt uneasy. The company invested in suspicious businesses and had been flagged for corruption. In the end, Peter rejected the offer, though it was painful to do so. “I believe God wants me to do the right thing,” he shared with me. “I just have to trust He will provide for me.” Peter was reminded of the account of David meeting Saul in a cave. It seemed like he was being given the perfect opportunity to kill the man hunting him down, but David resisted. “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing . . . for he is the anointed of the Lord,” he reasoned (1 Samuel 24:6). David was careful to distinguish between his own interpretation of events and God’s command to obey His instruction and do the right thing. Instead of always trying to look for “signs” in certain situations, let’s look to God and His truth for wisdom and guidance to discern what lies before us. He will help us do what is right in His eyes.
Feb
24
2023
In an interview, a musician who’s a believer in Christ recalls a time he was urged to “stop talking about Jesus” so much. Why? It was suggested that his band could be more famous and raise more money to feed the poor if he stopped saying his work was all about Jesus. After thinking it through, he decided, “The entire point of my music is to share my faith in Christ. . . . No way [am I] going to be silent.” He said his “burning calling [is] to share the message of Jesus.” Under much more threatening circumstances, the apostles received a similar message. They’d been jailed and miraculously delivered by an angel, who told them to continue telling others about their new life in Christ (Acts 5:19–20). When the religious leaders learned of the apostles’ escape and that they were still proclaiming the gospel, they reprimanded them: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in [Jesus’] name” (v. 28). Their reply: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (v. 29). As a result, the leaders flogged the apostles and “ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus” (v. 40). The apostles rejoiced that they were worthy of suffering for Jesus’ name, and “day after day . . . never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news” (v. 42). May God help us to keep following their example!
Feb
23
2023
Author and theologian Russell Moore described noticing the eerie silence in the Russian orphanage where he adopted his boys. Someone later explained that the babies had stopped crying because they learned that no one would respond to their cries. When we face difficult times, we too can feel that no one hears. And worst of all, we can feel that God Himself doesn’t listen to our cries or see our tears. But he does! And that’s why we need the language of petition and protest found in the psalms. The psalmists petition for God’s help and also protest their situation to Him. In Psalm 61, David brings his petitions and protests before his Creator, stating, “I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (v. 2).  David cries out to God because he knows that only He is his “refuge” and “strong tower” (v. 3). Praying the petitions and protests of the psalms is a way of affirming God’s sovereignty and appealing to His goodness and faithfulness. They’re proof of the intimate relationship we can experience with God. In difficult moments, we can all be tempted to believe the lie that He doesn’t care. But He does. He hears us and is with us.
Feb
22
2023
Andrea’s home life was unstable, and she left at fourteen, finding a job and living with friends. Yearning for love and affirmation, she later moved in with a man who introduced her to drugs, which she added to the alcohol she already drank regularly. But the relationship and the substances didn’t satisfy her longings. She kept searching; and after several years she met some believers in Jesus who reached out to her, offering to pray with her. A few months later, she finally found the One who would quench her thirst for love—Jesus. The Samaritan woman at the well whom Jesus approached for water found her thirst satisfied too. She was there in the heat of the day (John 4:5–7), probably to avoid the stares and gossip of other women, who would have known her history of multiple husbands and current adulterous relationship (vv. 17–18). When Jesus approached her and asked her for a drink, he bucked the social conventions of the day, for He, as a Jewish teacher, would not normally have associated with a Samaritan woman. But He wanted to give her the gift of living water that would lead her to eternal life (v. 10). He wanted to satisfy her thirst. When we receive Jesus as our Savior, we too drink of this living water. We can then share a cup with others as we invite them to follow Him.
Feb
21
2023
I’m often amused by the unofficial holidays people come up with. February alone has a Sticky Bun Day, a Sword Swallowers Day, even a Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day! Today has been labeled Be Humble Day. Universally recognized as a virtue, humility is certainly worth celebrating. But interestingly, this hasn’t always been the case. Humility was considered a weakness, not a virtue, in the ancient world, which prized honor instead. Boasting about one’s achievements was expected, and you sought to raise your status, never lower it. Humility meant inferiority, like a servant to a master. But all this changed, historians say, at Jesus’ crucifixion. There, the one who was “in very nature God” gave up His divine status to become “a servant” and “humbled himself” to die for others (Philippians 2:6–8). Such a praiseworthy act forced humility to be redefined. By the end of the first century, even secular writers were calling humility a virtue because of what Christ had done. Every time someone is praised for being “humble” today, the gospel is being subtly preached. For without Jesus, humility wouldn’t be “good,” or a Be Humble Day even thinkable. Christ relinquished His status for us, revealing through all history the humble nature of God.
Feb
20
2023
Hungarian-born mathematician Abraham Wald lent his skills to the World War II efforts after coming to the United States in 1938. The military was looking for ways to protect its aircraft from enemy fire, so Wald and his colleagues at the Statistical Research Group were asked to figure out how to better protect military aircraft to defend against enemy fire. They began by examining returning aircraft to see where they were most damaged. But Wald is credited with the keen insight that damage on returning aircraft represented only where a plane could be hit and still survive. He realized that areas most in need of additional armor would be found on planes that had crashed. Planes hit in the most vulnerable part—the engine—had gone down and therefore couldn’t be examined. Solomon teaches us about protecting our most vulnerable part—our heart. He instructs his son to “guard [his] heart” because from it everything else flows. (Proverbs 4:23) God’s instructions guide us through life, steering us away from poor decisions and teaching us where to focus our attention. If we armor our heart by heeding His instructions, we’ll better “keep [our feet] from evil” and remain steadfast in our journey with God (v. 27). We venture into enemy territory every day, but with God’s wisdom guarding our hearts we can stay focused on our mission to live well for God’s glory.
Feb
19
2023
While preparing a meal, a young mother cut a pot roast in half before she put it in a large pot. Her husband asked her why she cut the meat in half. She replied, “Because that’s the way my mother does it.” Her husband’s question, however, piqued the woman’s curiosity. So she asked her mother about the tradition. She was shocked to learn that her mother cut the meat so it would fit in the one small pot she used. And because her daughter had many large pots, the act of cutting the meat was unnecessary. Many traditions begin out of a necessity but are carried on without question—becoming “the way we do it.” It’s natural to want to hold on to human traditions—something the Pharisees were doing in Mark 7 (vv. 1–2). They were distracted by what seemed like the breaking of one of their religious rules. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (v. 8). He revealed that traditions should never replace the wisdom of Scripture. A genuine desire to follow God (vv. 6-7) will focus on the attitude of our heart rather than outward actions. It’s a good idea to consistently evaluate traditions—anything we hold close to our heart and follow religiously. The things that God has revealed to be truly needed should always supersede traditions.
Feb
18
2023
Arukun is a small town in Western Australia—its Aboriginal population drawn from seven clans. While the gospel came to Arukun a century ago, eye-for-eye retribution sometimes remained. In 2015, clan tensions grew, and when a murder happened, payback required someone from the offender’s family to die in return. But something remarkable happened in early 2016. The people of Arukun started seeking God in prayer. Repentance followed, then mass baptisms, as revival began sweeping the town. People were so joyful they danced in the streets, and instead of enacting payback, the family of the murdered man forgave the offending clan. Soon 1,000 people were in church each Sunday—in a town of just 1,300! We see revivals like this in Scripture, as in Hezekiah’s day when crowds joyfully returned to God (2 Chronicles 30), and on the day of Pentecost when thousands repented (Acts 2:38–47). While revival is God’s work, done in His time, history shows prayer precedes it. “If my people . . . will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,” God told Solomon, “I will forgive their sin and will heal their land As the people of Arukun found, revival brings joy and reconciliation to a town. How our own cities need such transformation! Father, bring revival to us too.
Feb
17
2023
During a writing conference where I served as a faculty member, Tamy handed me a postcard with a handwritten prayer on the back. She explained that she read the faculty biographies, wrote specific prayers on each card, and prayed as she delivered them to us. In awe over the details in her personal message to me, I thanked God for encouraging me through Tamy’s gesture. Then I prayed for her in return. When I struggled with pain and fatigue during the conference, I pulled out the postcard. The Lord refreshed my spirit as I reread Tamy’s note. The apostle Paul recognized the life-affirming impact of prayer for others. He urged believers to prepare for battle “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). He encouraged ongoing and specific prayers, while emphasizing the need to intervene for one another in what we call intercessory prayer. Paul also requested bold prayers on his behalf. “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly made known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains” (vv. 19–20). As we pray for one another, the Holy Spirit comforts us and strengthens our resolve. He affirms that we need Him and one another, assuring us that He hears every prayer—silent, spoken, or scribbled on a prayer card—and He answers according to His perfect will.
Feb
16
2023
Recently, my wife and I were cleaning our house before having guests over. I noticed some dark stains on our white kitchen tile floor—the kind that required getting on my knees to scrub. But I soon had a sinking realization: the more I scrubbed, the more I noticed other stains. Each stain I eliminated only made the others that much more obvious. Our kitchen floor suddenly seemed impossibly dirty. And with each moment, I realized, “No matter how hard I work, I can never get this floor completely clean.” Scripture says something similar about self-cleansing—our best efforts at dealing with sin on our own always fall short. Seeming to despair of God’s people Israel ever experiencing God’s salvation (Isaiah 64:5), the prophet Isaiah wrote, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (v. 6). But Isaiah knew there is always hope through God’s goodness. So he prayed, “You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter” (v. 8). He knew that God alone can cleanse what we cannot, until the deepest stains are “white as snow” (1:18). We can’t scrub away the smudges and smears of sin on our souls. Thankfully, we can receive salvation in the One whose sacrifice allows us to be cleansed completely (1 John 1:7).  
Feb
15
2023
To capture the beauty of reflective light in his landscape oil paintings, artist Armand Cabrera works with a key artistic principle: “Reflected light is never as strong as its source light.” He observes that novice painters tend to exaggerate reflected light. He says, “Reflected light belongs to the shadow and as such it must support, not compete with the lighted areas” of a painting. We hear similar insight in the Bible concerning Jesus as “the light of all mankind” (John 1:4). John the Baptist who “came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe” (v. 7). The gospel writer tells us, “He himself [John] was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (v. 8). As with John, we’re chosen by God to reflect Christ’s light to those living in the shadows of an unbelieving world. This is our role, as one source says, “perhaps because unbelievers are not able to bear the full blazing glory of His light firsthand.” Cabrera teaches his art students that “anything that has direct light falling on it . . . becomes a source of light itself.” Similarly, with Jesus as “the true light that gives light to everyone” (v. 9), we can shine as witnesses. As we reflect Him, may the world be amazed to see His glory shine through us.
Feb
14
2023
“One man is dead. Another man’s life is at stake,” says the judge somberly in the classic 1957 film 12 Angry Men. The evidence against the young suspect appears overwhelming. But during deliberations, it’s the brokenness of the jury that becomes exposed. One of the twelve—juror number 8—votes “not guilty.” A heated debate ensues, in which the lone juror is mocked as he points out discrepancies in the testimony. Emotions escalate, and the jury members’ own murderous and prejudicial tendencies come to light. One by one, the jurors switch their votes to not guilty. When God gave His instructions to the new nation of Israel, He insisted on honest courage. “When you give testimony in a lawsuit,” God said, “do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd” (Exodus 23:2). Interestingly, the court was neither to “show favoritism to a poor person” (v. 3) nor to “deny justice to your poor people” (v. 6). God, the righteous judge, desires our integrity in all our proceedings.   In 12 Angry Men, the second juror to vote not guilty said of the first, “It’s not easy to stand alone against the ridicule of others.” Yet that’s what God requires. Juror number 8 saw the real evidence, as well as the humanity of the individual on trial. With the gentle guidance of His Holy Spirit, we too can stand for God’s truth and speak for the powerless.
Feb
13
2023
Brendan and Katie beamed at each other. Looking at  the pure joy on their faces, you would have never guessed the difficult ways so many of their wedding plans had been dramatically altered due to Covid 19 restrictions. Even with only twenty-five family members present, joy and peace radiated from the two as they said their vows because of their love for each other, and expressed their gratefulness for God’s love sustaining them. The image of a bride and groom delighting over each other is the picture the prophet Isaiah painted to describe the type of delight and love God has for His people. In a beautifully poetic description of God’s promised deliverance, Isaiah reminded his readers that the salvation God offered them reflected the reality of living in a broken world—comfort for the brokenhearted, joy for those who mourned, and provision for the needs of His people (Isaiah 61:1–3). God offered help to His people because, just like a bride and groom celebrate their love for each other, “so will your God rejoice over you” (62:5). It's a remarkable truth that God delights in us and wants a relationship with us. Even when we struggle because of the effects of living in a broken world, we have a God who loves us, not begrudgingly, but with a rejoicing, lasting love that “endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).
Feb
12
2023
Many years ago, a friend told me how intimidated she was while trying to cross a street where several roads intersected. “I’d never seen anything like this; the rules I’d been taught for crossing the street seemed ineffective. I was so frightened that I’d stand on the corner, wait for the bus, and ask the bus driver if he’d please allow me to ride to the other side of the street. It would take a long time before I successfully learned to navigate this intersection both as a pedestrian and later as a driver.” As complicated as a dangerous traffic intersection can be, navigating life’s complexities can be even more menacing. Although the psalmist’s specific situation in Psalm 118 is uncertain, we know it was difficult and just right for prayer: “When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord” (v. 5), the psalmist exclaimed. And his confidence in God was unmistakable: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. . . . The Lord is with me; he is my helper” (vv. 6–7). It’s not unusual to be fearful when we need to change jobs or schools or housing. Anxieties arise when health declines, relationships change, or dollars disappear. But these challenges needn’t be interpreted as abandonment by God. When hard pressed, may we find ourselves prayerfully pressing into His presence.
Feb
11
2023
When Doris Kearns Goodwin decided to write a book about Abraham Lincoln, the fact that some 14,000 books had already been written about America’s sixteenth president intimidated her. What could be left to say about this beloved leader? Still, Goodwin pressed on, her work resulting in A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Her fresh insights on Lincoln’s leadership style became a top-rated and top-reviewed book, in spite of the mass of volumes already available on him. The apostle John faced a different challenge as he wrote his account of the ministry and passion of Jesus. The final verse of John’s gospel says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). John had more material than he could possibly use! So John’s strategy was to focus on only a few selected miracles (signs) that supported Jesus’ “I Am” claims throughout John’s record. Yet behind this strategy was this eternal purpose: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Out of the mountains of evidence, John provided plenty of reasons to believe in Jesus. Who can you tell about Him today?
Feb
10
2023
When my friend gave me a gift recently, I was surprised. I didn’t think I deserved such a nice present form her. She’d sent it after hearing about some work stress I was experiencing. Yet she was going through just as much stress, if not more, than I was, with an aging parent, challenging children, upheaval at work, and strain on her marriage. I couldn’t believe she had thought of me before herself, and her simple gift brought me to tears. In truth, we’re all recipients of a gift which we could never deserve. Paul put it this way: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). The apostle had experienced a miraculous conversion from persecutor of Christians to a faithful believer in Jesus. Although he “was once a blasphemer and persecutor and a violent man, . . . the grace of our Lord was poured out on [him] abundantly” (vv. 13–14). He had a deep understanding of the free gift of grace and what it meant to be an undeserving recipient of that gift. As a result, Paul became a powerful instrument of God’s love and told many people about what God had done for him. It’s only through God’s grace that we receive love instead of condemnation and mercy instead of judgment. Today, let’s celebrate the undeserved grace that God has given and be on the lookout for ways to demonstrate that grace to others.
Feb
9
2023
One early evening while I was jogging near a construction site in our neighborhood, a skinny, dirty kitten meowed at me plaintively and followed me home. Today, Mickey is a healthy, handsome adult cat, enjoying a comfortable life in our household and deeply loved by my family. Whenever I jog on the road where I found him, I often think, “Thank You, God. Mickey was spared from living on the streets. He has a home now.” Psalm 91 speaks of “[dwelling] in the shelter of the Most High” (v. 1), making our home with God. The Hebrew word for “dwell” here means “to remain,” to stay permanently. As we remain in Him, He helps us live according to His wisdom and to love Him above all (Psalm 91:14; John 15:10). God promises us the comfort of being with Him for eternity, as well as the security of His being with us through earthly hardship. Although trouble may come, we can rest in His sovereignty, wisdom, and love, and in His promises to protect and deliver us. When we make God our refuge, we live “in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). No trouble can touch us except that which His infinite wisdom and love allow. This is the safety of God as our home.
Feb
8
2023
At four months old, Leo had never seen his parents. He’d been born with a rare condition that left his vision blurred. For him, it was like living in dense fog. But then eye doctors fit him with a special set of glasses. Leo’s father posted the video of Mom placing the new glasses over his eyes for the first time. We watch as Leo’s eyes slowly focus. A smile spreads wide across his face as he truly sees his mom for the first time. Priceless. In that moment, little Leo could see again. John reports a conversation Jesus had with His disciples. Philip asked Him, “Show us the Father” (John 14:8). Even after all this time together, Jesus’ disciples couldn’t recognize who was right in front of them. He replied, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?” (v. 10). Earlier Jesus had said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (v. 6). This is the sixth of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements. He’s telling us to look through these “I am” lenses and see who He truly is—God Himself. We are a lot like the disciples. In difficult times we struggle and develop blurred vision. We fail to focus on what God has done and can do. When little Leo put on the special glasses, he could see his parents clearly. Perhaps we need to put on our God-glasses so we can clearly see who Jesus really is.
Feb
7
2023
I frowned at my cellphone and sighed. Worry wrinkled my brow. A friend and I had had a serious disagreement over an issue with our children, and I knew I needed to call her and apologize. I didn’t want to do it because our viewpoints were still in conflict, yet I knew I hadn’t been kind or humble the last time we discussed the matter. Anticipating the phone call, I wondered, What if she doesn’t forgive me? What if she doesn’t want to continue our friendship? Just then, lyrics to a song came to mind and took me back to the moment when I confessed my sin in the situation to God. I felt relief because I knew God had forgiven me and released me from guilt. We can’t control how people will respond to us when we try to work out relational problems. As long as we own up to our part, humbly ask for forgiveness, and make any changes needed, we can let God handle the healing. Even if we have to endure the pain of unresolved “people problems,” peace with God is always possible. His arms are open, and He is waiting to show us the grace and mercy we need. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Feb
6
2023
When Pastor Warren heard that a man in his church had deserted his wife and family, he asked God to help him meet the man as if by accident so they could chat. And He did! When Warren walked into a restaurant, he spotted the gentleman in a nearby booth. “Got some room for another hungry man?” he asked, and soon they were sharing deeply and praying together. As a pastor, Warren was acting as a shepherd for those in his church community, even as God through the prophet Ezekiel said He would tend His flock. God promised to look after His scattered sheep, rescuing them and gathering them together (Ezekiel 34:12–13). He would “tend them in a good pasture” and “search for the lost and bring back the strays” (vv. 14–16); He would “bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (v. 16). God’s love for His people reverberates through each of these images. Though Ezekiel’s words anticipate God’s future actions, they reflect the eternal heart of the God and Shepherd who would one day reveal Himself in Jesus. No matter our situation, God reaches out to each of us, seeking to rescue us and sheltering us in a rich pasture. He longs for us to follow the Good Shepherd, He who lays down His life for His sheep (see John 10:14–15).
Feb
5
2023
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of their lunar landing module and became the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon. But we don’t often think about the third person on their team, Michael Collins, who was flying the command module for Apollo 11. After his teammates clambered down the ladder to test the lunar surface, Collins waited alone on the far side of the moon. He was out of touch with Neil, Buzz, and everyone on earth. NASA’s mission control commented, “Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins.” There are times when we feel completely alone. Imagine, for instance, how Joseph, Jacob’s son, felt when he was taken from Israel to Egypt after his brothers sold him (Genesis 37:23–28). Then he was thrust into further isolation by being thrown in prison on false charges (39:19–21). How did Joseph survive in prison in a foreign land with no family anywhere near? Listen to this: “While Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him” (v. 21). Four times we’re reminded of this comforting truth in Genesis 39.  Do you feel alone or isolated from others? Hold on to the truth of God’s presence, promised by Jesus Himself: “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). With Jesus as your Savior, you’re never alone.
Feb
4
2023
I settled into the church pew behind a woman wearing a colorful scarf as the music team began playing “I Can Only Imagine.” Raising my hands, I praised God as the woman’s sweet soprano voice harmonized with mine. After service, we introduced ourselves. Louise told me about her health struggles, and we decided to read Scripture and pray together during her cancer treatment appointments. A few months later, Louise told me she feared dying. Leaning onto her hospital bed, I rested my head next to hers, whispered a prayer, and quietly sang our song. I can only imagine what it was like for Louise when she worshiped Jesus face to face just a few days later. The apostle Paul offered comforting assurance for his readers who were facing death (2 Corinthians 5:1). The suffering experienced on this side of eternity may cause groaning, but our hope remains anchored to our heavenly dwelling—our eternal existence with Jesus (vv. 2–4). Though God designed us to yearn for everlasting life with Him (vv. 5–6), His promises are meant to impact the way we live for Him now (vv. 7–10). As we live to please Jesus while waiting for Him to return or call us home, we can rejoice in the  peace of His constant presence. What will we experience that moment we leave our earthly bodies and join Jesus in eternity? We can only imagine!
Feb
3
2023
Jen remarried after her first husband died. The children of her new husband never accepted her, and now that he’s passed away too, they hate her for remaining in their childhood home. Her husband left a modest sum to provide for her; his kids say she’s stealing their inheritance. Jen is understandably discouraged, and she’s grown bitter. Naomi’s husband moved the family to Moab, where he and their two sons died. Years later Naomi returned to Bethlehem empty-handed, except for her daughter-in-law Ruth. The town was stirred and asked, “Can this be Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19). She said they shouldn’t use that name, which means “My pleasant one.” They should call her “Mara,” which means “bitter,” because “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty” (vv. 20–21).   Is there a chance your name is Bitter? You’ve been disappointed by friends, family, or declining health. You deserved better. You didn’t get it. Now you’re bitter. Naomi came back to Bethlehem bitter, but she came back. You can come home too. Come to Jesus, the descendant of Ruth, born in Bethlehem. Rest in His love. In time, God replaced Naomi’s bitterness with the joyful fulfillment of His perfect plan (4:13–22). He can replace your bitterness too. Come home to Him.
Feb
2
2023
Everything felt drastically different in their new country—new language, schools, customs, traffic, and weather. They wondered how they would ever adjust. People from a nearby church gathered around them to help them in their new life in a new land. Patti took the couple shopping at a local food market to show them what’s available and how to purchase items. As they wandered around the market, their eyes widened and they smiled broadly when they saw their favorite fruit from their homeland—pomegranates. They bought one for each of their children and even placed one in Patti’s hands in gratefulness. The small fruit and new friends brought big comfort in their strange, new land. God, through Moses, gave a list of laws for His people, which included a command to treat foreigners among them “as your native-born” (Leviticus 19:34). “Love them as yourself,” God further commanded. Jesus called this the second greatest commandment after loving God (Matthew 22:39). For even God “watches over the foreigner” (Psalm 146:9).  Besides obeying God as we help new friends adapt to life in our country, we may be reminded that we too in a real sense are “strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13). And we’ll grow in our anticipation of the new heavenly land to come.
Feb
1
2023
In a viral video, a three-year-old white belt karate student imitated her instructor. With passion and conviction the little girl said the creed with her leader. Then, with poise and attentiveness, the little ball of cuteness and energy imitated everything her teacher said and did—at least she did a pretty good job! Jesus once said, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40). He told His disciples that to imitate Him included being generous, loving, non-judgmental (vv. 37–38), and discerning about whom they followed: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (v. 39). His disciples needed to discern that this standard disqualified the Pharisees who were blind guides—leading people to disaster (Matthew 15:14). And they needed to grasp the importance of following their Teacher. Thus, the aim of Christ’s disciples was to become like Jesus Himself. So it was important for them to pay careful attention to Christ’s instruction about generosity and love and apply it. As believers striving to imitate Jesus today, let’s give our lives over to our Master Teacher so we can become like Him in knowledge, wisdom, and behavior. He alone can help us reflect His generous, loving ways.
Jan
31
2023
I received an email from a young man in England, a son who explained that his father (only sixty-three) was in the hospital in critical condition, hanging on to life. Though we’d never met, his dad’s work and mine shared many intersections. The son, trying to cheer his father, asked me to send a video message of encouragement and prayer. Deeply moved, I recorded a short message and a prayer for healing. I was told that his dad watched the video and gave a hearty thumbs-up. Sadly, a couple days later, I received another email telling me that he had died. He held his wife’s hand as he took his final breath. My heart broke. Such love, such devastation. The family lost a husband and father far too soon. Yet it’s surprising to hear Jesus insist that it’s precisely these grieving ones who are blessed: “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:4). Jesus isn’t saying suffering and sorrow are good, but rather that God’s mercy and kindness pour over those who need it most. Those overcome by grief due to death or even their own sinfulness are most in need of God’s attention and consolation—and Jesus promises us “they will be comforted” (v.4). God steps toward us, His loved children (v. 9). He blesses us in our tears.
Jan
30
2023
On January 15, 1919, a huge molasses tank burst in Boston. A fifteen-foot wave of millions of gallons of molasses careened through the street at over 30 mph, sweeping away railcars, buildings, people, and animals. Molasses might seem harmless enough, but that day it was deadly: twenty-one persons lost their lives and over 150 were injured. Sometimes even good things—like molasses—can overwhelm us unexpectedly. Before the Israelites entered the land God promised them, Moses warned the people to be careful not to give themselves credit for the good things they’d receive: “When you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God.” At such times, they weren’t to attribute this wealth to their own strength or capabilities. Instead, they were to “remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:12–14, 17–18).   All good things—including physical health and the skills needed to earn a living—are blessings from the hand of our generous, loving God. Even when we’ve worked hard, it’s He who sustains us every moment so we can work. Oh, to hold our blessings with open hands, that we may gratefully praise God for His merciful kindness to us!
Jan
29
2023
“I just don’t think I can do this anymore,” my friend said through her tears as she discussed the overwhelming sense of hopelessness she faced as a nurse in a global health crisis. “I know that God has called me to nursing, but I’m overwhelmed and emotionally drained,” she confessed. Seeing that a cloud of exhaustion had come over her, I responded, “I know you feel helpless right now, but ask God to give you the direction you’re seeking and the strength to persevere.” At that moment, she decided to intentionally seek God through prayer. Soon after, my friend was invigorated with a new sense of purpose. Not only was she emboldened to continue nursing, but God also gave her the strength to serve even more people by traveling to hospitals around the country.  As believers in Jesus, we can always look to God for help and encouragement when we feel overburdened because “He will not grow tired or weary” (Isaiah 40:28). The prophet Isaiah states that our Father in heaven “gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (v. 29). Though God’s strength is everlasting, He knows that we’ll inevitably have days when we’re physically and emotionally consumed (v. 30). But when we look to God for our strength instead of trying to sprint through life’s challenges alone, He’ll restore and renew us and give us the resolve to press on in faith.
Jan
28
2023
When the Mars rover Perseverance landed on that red planet on February 18, 2021, those monitoring its arrival endured “seven minutes of terror.” As the spacecraft ended its 292-million-mile journey, it went through a complex landing procedure it had to do on its own. Signals from Mars to Earth take several minutes, so NASA couldn’t hear from Perseverance during the landing. Not being in contact was frightening for the team who had put so much effort and resources into the mission. Sometimes we may experience our own times of fear when we feel we’re not hearing from God—we pray but we don’t get answers. In Scripture, we find people getting answers to prayer quickly (see Daniel 9:20–23) and those not getting answers for a long time (see Hannah’s story in 1 Samuel 1:10–20). Perhaps the most poignant example of a delayed answer—one that surely struck terror in the hearts of Mary and Martha—was when they asked Jesus to help their sick brother Lazarus (John 11:3). Jesus delayed, and their brother died (vv. 6–7, 14–15). Yet four days later, Christ answered by resurrecting Lazarus (vv. 43–44).   Waiting for answers to our prayers can be difficult. But God can comfort and help as we “approach [His] throne of grace with confidence, . . . [that] we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Jan
27
2023
Brenda was walking toward the mall exit when a flush of pink from a display window caught her eye. She turned and stood spellbound before a cotton-candy colored coat. Oh, how Holly would love it! Finances had been tight for her coworker friend who was a single mother, and while Brenda knew Holly needed a warm coat, she was also confident that her friend would never lay down cash on such a purchase for herself. After wavering ever so slightly, Brenda smiled, reached for her wallet, and arranged for the coat to be shipped to Holly’s home. She added an anonymous card, “You are so very loved.” Brenda practically danced to her car. Joy is a byproduct of God-nudged giving. As Paul instructed the Corinthians in the art of generosity, he said, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). He also noted, “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (v. 6). Sometimes we slip cash into the offering plate. At other times we donate online to a worthy ministry. And then there are moments when God leads us to respond to the need of a friend with a tangible expression of His love. We offer a bag of groceries, a tank of gas . . . or even the gift of a perfectly pink coat.
Jan
26
2023
One of consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic was the docking of cruise ships and the quarantining of passengers. The Wall Street Journal featured an article that included interviews of some of the tourists. Commenting about how being quarantined provided more opportunities for conversations, one passenger joked how his spouse—who possessed an excellent memory—was able to bring up every transgression he ever had and sensed she wasn’t done yet! Accounts like this make us smile, remind us of our humanness, and serve to caution us if we’re prone to hold too tightly to the things we should release. What helps us to be kindly disposed to those who hurt us? Glimpses of our great God, as He’s portrayed in passages like Psalm 103:8–12. The Message’s rendering of verses 8–10 is noteworthy: “God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.” Asking for God’s help as we prayerfully read Scripture can cause us to have second thoughts about ill-conceived payback or plans to punish. And it can prompt prayers for ourselves and for those we may be tempted to harm by withholding grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
Jan
25
2023
Eighty years of marriage! My husband’s great-uncle Pete and great-aunt Ruth celebrated this remarkable milestone on May 31, 2021. After a chance meeting in 1941 when Ruth was still in high school, the young couple were so eager to get married that they eloped the day after Ruth graduated. Pete and Ruth believe God brought them together and has guided them all these years. Reflecting on eight decades of marriage, Pete and Ruth both agree that one key to sustaining their relationship has been the decision to choose forgiveness. That’s a significant choice. Anyone in a healthy relationship understands that we all regularly need forgiveness for the ways we hurt each other, whether through an unkind word, a broken promise, or a forgotten task. In a section of Scripture written to help believers in Jesus live together in unity, Paul refers to the essential role forgiveness plays in daily relationships. After urging his readers to choose “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12) in their relationships, Paul adds the encouragement to “forgive one another if any of you has a grievance” (v. 13). Most importantly, all their interactions with each were to be guided by love (v. 14). Relationships that model the characteristics outlined by Paul are a blessing. Though few of us will mark eighty years of marriage, may God help all of us work to cultivate healthy relationships characterized by love and forgiveness.
Jan
24
2023
In the sixties-era program The Andy Griffith Show, a man tells Andy he should let his son Opie decide how he wants to live. Andy disagrees: “You can’t let a young’un decide for himself. He’ll grab at the first flashy thing with shiny ribbons on it. Then, when he finds out there’s a hook in it, it’s too late. Wrong ideas come packaged with so much glitter that it’s hard to convince them that other things might be better in the long run.” He concludes that it’s important for parents to model right behavior and help “keep temptation away.” Andy’s words are related to the wisdom found in Proverbs: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (22:6). These words aren’t a promise but a guide. All of us are called to make our own decision to follow Christ. But we can help lay a biblical foundation through our love for God and Scripture. And we can pray that as little ones under our care mature, they choose to receive Jesus as Savior and walk in His ways and not “in the paths of the wicked” (Proverbs 22:5).  Our own victory over “flashy things” through the Holy Spirit’s enabling is also powerful testimony.  Christ’s Spirit helps us to withstand temptation and molds our lives into examples worth imitating.
Jan
23
2023
My friend Ruel attended a high school reunion held in a former classmate’s home. The waterfront mansion near Manila Bay could accommodate 200 attendees, and it made Ruel feel small.  “I’ve had many happy years of pastoring remote rural churches,” Ruel told me, “and even though I know I shouldn’t, I couldn’t help but feel envious of my classmate’s material wealth. My thoughts strayed to how different life might be if I’d used my degree to become a businessman instead.” “But I later reminded myself there’s nothing to feel envious about,” Ruel continued with a smile. “I invested my life in serving God, and the results will last for eternity.” I’ll always remember the peaceful look on his face as he said those words. Ruel drew peace from Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13:44−46. He knew that God’s kingdom is the ultimate treasure. Seeking and living for His kingdom might take various forms. For some, it might mean full-time ministry, while for others, it may be living out the gospel in a secular workplace. Regardless of how God chooses to use us, we can continue to trust and obey His leading, knowing, like the men in Jesus’ parables, the value of the imperishable treasure we’ve been given. Everything in this world has infinitely less worth than all we gain by following God (1 Peter 1:4−5). Our life, when placed in His hands, can bear eternal fruit.
Jan
22
2023
“They call me ‘the ringmaster.’ So far this year I’ve found 167 lost rings.” During a walk on the beach with my wife, Cari, we struck up a conversation with an older man who was using a metal detector to scan an area just below the surf line. “Sometimes rings have names on them,” he explained, “and I love seeing their owners’ faces when I return them. I post online and check to see if anyone contacted lost and found. I’ve found rings missing for years.” When we mentioned that I enjoy metal detecting as well but didn’t do it frequently, his parting words were, “You never know unless you go!”            We find another kind of “search and rescue” in Luke 15. Jesus was criticized for caring about people who were far from God (vv. 1–2). In reply, He told three stories about things that were lost and then found—a sheep, a coin, and a son. The man who finds the lost sheep “joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me’ ” (Luke 15:5–6). All of the stories are ultimately about finding lost people for Christ, and the joy that comes as they’re found in Him. Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (19:10), and He calls us to follow Him in loving people back to God (see Matthew 28:19). The joy of seeing others turn to Him awaits. We’ll never know unless we go.
Jan
21
2023
In a recent post, blogger Bonnie Gray recounted the moment when overwhelming sadness began to creep into her heart. “Out of the blue,” she stated, “during the happiest chapter in my life, . . . I suddenly started experiencing panic attacks and depression.” Gray tried to find different ways to address her pain, but she soon realized that she wasn’t strong enough to handle it alone. “I hadn’t wanted anyone to question my faith, so I kept quiet and prayed that my depression would go away. But God wants to heal us, not shame us or make us hide from our pain.” Gray found healing in the solace of His presence; He was her anchor amid the waves that threatened to overwhelm her. When we’re in a low place and filled with despair, God is there and will sustain us too. In Psalm 18, David praised God for delivering him from the low place he was in after nearly being defeated by his enemies. He proclaimed, “[God] reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters” (v. 16). Even in moments when despair seems to consume us like crashing waves in an ocean, God loves us so much that He’ll reach out to us and help us, bringing us into a “spacious place” of peace and security (v. 19). Let’s look to Him as our refuge when we feel overwhelmed by the challenges of life. 
Jan
20
2023
I was sitting in my chair one morning years ago when my youngest came downstairs. She made a beeline for me, jumping up onto my lap. I gave her a fatherly squeeze and a gentle kiss on the head, and she squealed with delight. But then she furrowed her brow, crinkled her nose, and shot an accusatory glance at my coffee mug. “Daddy,” she announced solemnly. “I love you, and I like you, but I don’t like your smell.” My daughter couldn’t have known it, but she spoke with grace and truth: she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but she felt compelled to tell me something. And sometimes we need to do that in our relationships.   In Ephesians 4, Paul zeroes in on how we relate to each other—especially when telling difficult truths. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Humility, gentleness, and patience form our relational foundation. Cultivating those character qualities as God guide us will help us “[speak] the truth in love” (v. 15) and seek to communicate “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (v. 29). No one likes being confronted about our weaknesses and blind spots. But when something about us “smells,” God can use faithful friends to speak into our lives with grace, truth, humility, and gentleness.
Jan
19
2023
Poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake enjoyed a forty-five-year marriage with his wife Catherine. From their wedding day until his death in 1827, they worked side-by-side. Catherine added color to William’s sketches, and their devotion endured years of poverty and other challenges. Even in his final weeks as his health failed, Blake kept at his art, and his final sketch was his wife’s face. Four years later, Catherine died clutching one of her husband’s pencils in her hand. The Blakes’ vibrant love offers a reflection of the love discovered in the Song of Songs. And while the Song’s description of love certainly has implications for marriage, early believers in Jesus believed it also points to Jesus’ unquenchable love for all His followers. The Song describes a love “as strong as death,” which is a remarkable metaphor since death is as final and unescapable a reality as humans will ever know (8:6). This strong love “burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (v. 6) And unlike fires we’re familiar with, these flames can’t be doused, not even by a deluge. “Many waters cannot quench love,” the Song insists (v. 7). Who among us doesn’t desire true love. The Song reminds us that whenever we encounter genuine love, God is the ultimate source. And in Jesus, each of us can know a profound and undying love—one that burns like a blazing fire.
Jan
18
2023
“I know what they’re saying. But I’m telling you . . .” As a boy, I heard my mother give that speech a thousand times. The context was always peer pressure. She was trying to teach me not to follow the herd. I’m not a boy any longer, but herd mentality’s still alive and kicking. A current example is this phrase: “Only surround yourself with positive people.” Now while that phrase may be commonly heard, the question we must ask is: “Is that Christlike?”     “But I’m telling you . . .” Jesus uses that lead-in a number of times in Matthew 5. He knows full well what the world is constantly telling us. But His desire is that we live differently. In this case, He says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44). Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses that very word to describe guess who? That’s right: us— “while we were God’s enemies” (Romans 5:10). Far from some “do as I say, not as I do,” Jesus backed up His words with actions. He loved us, and gave His life for us. What if Christ had only made room in His life for “positive people”? Where would that leave us? Thanks be to God that His love is no respecter of persons. For God so loved the world, and in His strength we are called to do likewise. 
Jan
17
2023
“Do you see it, brother Tim?” My friend, a Ghanaian pastor, flashed his torchlight on a carved object leaning against a mud hut. Quietly he said, “That is the village idol.” Each Tuesday evening, Pastor Sam traveled into the bush to share the Bible in this remote village. In the book of Ezekiel, we see how idolatry plagued the people of Judah. When Jerusalem’s leaders came to see the prophet Ezekiel, God told him, “These men have set up idols in their hearts” (14:3). God wasn’t merely warning them against idols carved of wood and stone. He was showing them that idolatry is a problem of the heart. We all struggle with it. Bible teacher Alistair Begg describes an idol as “anything other than God that we regard as essential to our peace, our self-image, our contentment, or our acceptability.” Even things that have the appearance of being noble can become idols to us. When we seek comfort or self-worth from anything other than the living God, we commit idolatry. “Repent!” God said. “Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v. 6). Israel proved incapable of doing this. Thankfully, God had the solution. Looking forward to the coming of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, He promised, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (36:26). We can’t do this alone.
Jan
16
2023
As a visitor to a small West African town, my American pastor made sure to arrive on time for a 10 a.m. Sunday service. Inside the humble sanctuary, however, he found the room empty. So he waited. One hour. Two hours. Finally, about 12:30 p.m., when the local pastor arrived after his long walk there—followed by some choir members and a gathering of friendly town people—the service began “in the fullness of time,” as my pastor said. “The Spirit welcomed us, and God wasn’t late.” My pastor understood the culture was different here for its own good reasons. Time seems relative, but God’s perfect on-time nature is affirmed throughout the Scriptures. Thus, after Lazarus got sick and died, Jesus arrived four days later, with Lazarus’s sisters asking why. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). We may think the same, wondering why God doesn’t hurry to fix our problems. Better instead to wait by faith for His answers and power. As theologian Howard Thurman wrote, “We wait, our Father, until at last something of thy strength becomes our strength, something of thy heart becomes our heart, something of thy forgiveness becomes our forgiveness. We wait, O God, we wait.” Then, as with Lazarus, when the Lord responds, we’re miraculously blessed by what wasn’t, after all, a delay.
Jan
15
2023
The horrific assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr happened at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But just four days later, his widow Coretta Scott King courageously took her husband’s place in leading a peaceful protest march. Coretta had a deep passion for justice and was a fierce champion of many causes, eventually becoming an internationally recognized civil rights advocate. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). We know that someday God will come to deliver justice and right every wrong in our world, but until that time, we have the opportunity to participate in making God’s justice a reality on earth right now, just like Coretta did. Isaiah 58 paints a vivid picture of what God calls His people to do: “loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, clothe the naked, and do not turn away from those who need help” (vv. 6–7). Seeking justice for the oppressed and the marginalized is one way our lives point back to God. Isaiah writes that God’s people seeking justice is like the light of dawn and results in healing for them as well as for others (v. 8). Today, may God help us cultivate a hunger for God’s righteousness here on earth. As we seek justice God’s way and in His power, the Bible says, we’ll be satisfied.
Jan
14
2023
Monica prayed feverishly for her son to return to God. She wept over his wayward ways and even tracked him down in the various cities where he chose to live. The situation seemed hopeless. Then one day it happened: her son had a radical encounter with God. He became one of the greatest theologians of the church. We know him as Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. “How long, Lord?” (Habakkuk 1:2). The prophet Habakkuk lamented God’s inaction regarding the people in power who perverted justice (v. 4). Think of the times we’ve turned to God in desperation—expressing our laments due to injustice, a seemingly hopeless medical journey, ongoing financial struggles, or children who’ve walked away from God. Each time Habakkuk lamented, God heard his cries. As we wait in faith, we can learn from the prophet to turn our lament into praise, for he said, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:18). He didn’t understand God’s ways, but he trusted Him. Both lament and praise are acts of faith, expressions of trust. We lament as an appeal to God based on His character. And our praise of Him is based on who He is—our amazing, Almighty God. One day, by His grace, every lament will turn to praise.
Jan
13
2023
Christian consciousness begins in the painful realization that what we had assumed was the truth is in fact a lie,” Eugene Peterson wrote in his powerful reflections on Psalm 120. Psalm 120 is the first of the “psalms of ascent” (Psalms 120–134) sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. And as Peterson explored in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (InterVarsity Press, 2000)[1] , these psalms also offer us a picture of the spiritual journey toward God. That journey can only begin with profound awareness of our need for something different. As Peterson puts it, “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. . . [One] has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.” It’s easy to become discouraged by the brokenness and despair we see in the world around us—the pervasive ways our culture often shows callous disregard for the harm being done to others. Psalm 120 laments this honestly: “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (v. 7). But there’s healing and freedom in realizing that our pain can also awaken us to a new beginning through our only help (121:2)—the Savior who can guide us from destructive lies into paths of peace and wholeness. As we enter this new year, may we seek Him and His ways.
Jan
12
2023
“Men have been found to resist the most powerful monarchs and to refuse to bow down before them,” observed philosopher and author Hannah Arendt (1906–1975). She added, “[B]ut few indeed have been found to resist the crowd, to stand up alone before misguided masses, to face their implacable frenzy without weapons . . . .” As a Jew, Arendt witnessed this firsthand in her native Germany. There’s something terrifying about being rejected by the group. The apostle Paul experienced such rejection. Trained as a Pharisee and rabbi, his life was turned upside down when he encountered the resurrected Jesus. Paul had been traveling to Damascus to persecute those who believed in Christ (Acts 9). From that time forward, the apostle found himself rejected by his own people. In his letter we know as 2 Corinthians, Paul reviewed some of the troubles he faced at their hands, among them “beatings” and “imprisonments” (6:5).    Rather than responding to such rejection with anger or bitterness, Paul longed for them to come to know Jesus too. He wrote, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people” (Romans 9:2–3). As God has welcomed us into His family, may He also enable us to invite even our adversaries into relationship with God.
Jan
11
2023
For more than six decades, news journalist Paul Harvey was a familiar voice on American radio. Six days a week he would say with a colorful flair, “You know what the news is. In a minute you’re going to hear the rest of the story.” After a brief advertisement, he would tell a little-known story of a well-known person. But by withholding until the end either the person’s name or some other key element he delighted listeners with his dramatic pause and tagline: “And now you know . . . the rest of the story.” The apostle John’s vision of things past and future unfolds with a similar promise. However, his story begins on a sad note. He couldn’t stop crying when he saw that no created being in heaven or earth could explain where history is going (Revelation 4:1; 5:1–4). Then he heard a voice offering hope in the lion of the tribe of Judah. But when John looked, instead of seeing a conquering lion, he saw a lamb looking like it had been slaughtered (vv. 5–6). The unlikely sight erupted in waves of celebration around the throne of God. In three expanding choruses, twenty-four elders were joined by countless angels and then by all of heaven and earth (vv. 8–14). Who could have imagined that a crucified Savior would be the hope of all creation, the glory of our God, and the rest of our story.
Jan
10
2023
When Taher and his wife, Donya, became believers in Jesus, they knew they risked persecution in their home country. Indeed, one day Taher was blindfolded, handcuffed, imprisoned, and charged with apostasy. Before he appeared at trial, he and Donya agreed that they wouldn’t betray Jesus. What happened at the sentencing amazed him. The judge said, “I don’t know why, but I want to take you out of the whale’s and lion’s mouth.” With that, Taher “knew that God was acting”; he couldn’t otherwise explain the judge referencing two key passages in the Bible. Taher was released from prison and the family later found exile elsewhere. Taher’s surprising release echoes the story of Daniel surviving the lion’s den (Daniel 6). A skilled administrator, he was going to be promoted, which made his colleagues jealous (vv. 3–5). Plotting his downfall, they convinced King Darius to pass a law against praying to anyone other than the king—which Daniel ignored. King Darius had no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions (v. 16). But God “rescued Daniel” and saved him from death (v. 27), even as He saved Taher through the judge’s surprising release. Many believers today suffer for following Jesus, and sometimes they even are killed. Whether we face this kind of persecution or not, we can deepen our faith when we understand that God has ways and means we can’t even imagine. Know that He’s with you in whatever battles you face.
Jan
9
2023
As part of a sermon illustration, I walked toward the beautiful painting an artist had been creating on the platform and made a dark streak across the middle of it. The congregation gasped in horror. The artist simply stood by and watched as I defaced what she’d created. Then, selecting a new brush, she lovingly transformed the ruined painting into an exquisite work of art. Her restorative work reminds me of the work God can perform in our lives when we’ve made a mess of them. The prophet Isaiah rebuked the people of Israel for their spiritual blindness and deafness (Isaiah 42:18–19), but then he proclaimed the hope of God’s deliverance and redemption: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you” (43:1). He can do the same for us. Even after we’ve sinned, if we confess our sin and turn to God, He forgives and restores us (vv. 5–7; 1 John 1:9). We can’t bring beauty out of the mess, but Jesus can. The Good News of the gospel is that He has redeemed us by His blood. The book of Revelation assures us that in the end, Christ will dry our tears, redeem our past, and make all things new (Revelation 21:4–5). We have a limited vision of our story. But God who knows us “by name” (Isaiah 43:1) will make our lives more beautiful than we could ever imagine. If you’ve been redeemed by faith in Jesus Christ, your story, like the painting, has a glorious ending.
Jan
8
2023
The buzz in the room faded to a comfortable silence as the book club leader summarized the novel the group would discuss. My friend Joan listened closely but didn’t recognize the plot. Finally, she realized she had read a nonfiction book with a similar title to the work of fiction the others had read. Although she enjoyed reading the “wrong” book, she couldn’t join her friends as they discussed the “right” book. The apostle Paul did not want the Corinthian Christians to believe in a “wrong” Jesus. He pointed out that false teachers had infiltrated the church and presented a different “Jesus” to the congregation (2 Corinthians 11:3–4). He also noted that the people swallowed the lies without much resistance. Paul didn’t describe the heresy these phony teachers tried to pass off as truth. In his first letter to the church, however, he reviewed some facts about the Jesus of scripture. This Jesus was the Messiah who “died for our sins…was raised on the third day…[and then] appeared to the Twelve, and finally to Paul himself” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8). This Jesus had come to earth through a virgin named Mary and was named Immanuel (God with us) to affirm His divine nature (Matthew 1:20-23). Does this sound like the Jesus you know? Understanding and accepting the truth written in the Bible about Jesus is important. It assures us that we are on the spiritual path that leads to heaven.
Jan
7
2023
When my husband coached our son’s Little League baseball team, he rewarded the players with an end-of-year party and acknowledged their improvement over the season. One of our youngest players, Dustin, approached me during the event. “Didn’t we lose the game today?” “Yes,” I said. “But we’re proud of you for doing your best.” “I know,” he said. “But we lost. Right?” I nodded. “Then why do I feel like a winner?” Dustin asked. Smiling, I said, “Because you are a winner.” Dustin had thought that losing a game meant he was a failure even when he’d done his best. As believers in Jesus, our battle is not confined to a sports field. Still, it’s often tempting to view a tough season of life as a reflection of our worth. The apostle Paul affirms the connection between our present suffering and our future glory as God’s children. Having given Himself for us, Jesus continues to work on our behalf during our ongoing battle with sin and transforms us to His likeness (Romans 8:31–32). Though we’ll all experience hardship and persecution, the Lord’s unwavering love helps us persevere (vv. 33–34). As God’s children, we may be tempted to allow struggles to define our worth. However, our ultimate victory is guaranteed. We may stumble along the way, but we will always be more than conquerors in Christ (vv. 35–39).
Jan
6
2023
At age sixteen, Luis Rodriguez had already been in jail for selling crack. But now, arrested for attempted murder, he was in prison once again—looking at a life sentence. But God spoke into his guilty circumstances. Behind bars, young Luis remembered his early years when his mother had faithfully taken him to church. He now felt God tugging at his heart. Luis, moved by Him, repented of his sins and came to Jesus. In his early years, the apostle Paul’s “street name” was Saul. He was guilty of aggravated assault on believers in Jesus and had murder in his heart (Acts 9:1). There’s evidence he was a kind of gang leader, and part of the mob at the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58). But God spoke into Saul’s guilty circumstances—literally. On the street leading into Damascus, Saul was blinded by a light, and Jesus spoke to him, “Why do you persecute me?” (v. 9:4). Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” (v. 5), and that was the beginning of his new life. He came to Jesus. Luis Rodriguez served time but eventually was granted parole. Since then, he’s served God, devoting his life to prison ministry in the US and Central America. God specializes in redeeming the worst of us. He tugs at our hearts and speaks into our guilt-drenched lives. Maybe it’s time we repented of our sins. Maybe it’s time to come to Jesus.
Jan
5
2023
I recently made a wonderful discovery. Following a dirt path into a cluster of trees near my home, I found a hidden homemade playground. A ladder made of sticks led up to a lookout, swings made from old cable spools hung from branches, and there was even a suspension bridge slung between boughs. Someone had turned some old wood and rope into a creative adventure! Swiss physician Paul Tournier believed that we were made for adventure because we’re made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). Just as God ventured forth to invent a universe (vv. 1–25), just as He took the risk of creating humans who could choose good or evil (3:6), and just as He called us to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28), we too have a drive to invent, take risks, and create new things as we fruitfully rule the earth. Such adventures may be large or small, but they’re best when they benefit others. I bet the makers of that playground would get a kick out of people finding and enjoying it. Whether it’s inventing new music, exploring new forms of evangelism, or rekindling a marriage that’s grown distant, adventures of all kinds keep our heart beating. What new task or project is tugging at you right now? Perhaps God is leading you to a new adventure.
Jan
4
2023
Sand martins—small birds related to swallows—dig their nests into riverbanks. Land development in South East England reduced their habitat, and the birds had fewer and fewer places to nest when they returned from their winter migration each year. Local conservationists sprang into action and built an enormous artificial sandbank to house them. With the help of a sand-sculpting firm, they molded sand to create a space for the birds to take up residence for years to come. This gracious act of compassion vividly depicts the words Jesus used to console His disciples. After telling them He’d be leaving and that they wouldn’t be able to go with Him until later (John 13:36), He offered them the assurance that He’d “prepare a place for [them]” in heaven (14:2). Though they were rightly saddened that Jesus said He would leave them soon and that they could not follow Him, He encouraged them to look on this holy errand as part of His preparation to receive them—and us. Without Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, the “many rooms” of the Father’s house wouldn’t be able to receive us (v. 2). Having gone before us in preparation, Christ assures us He’ll return and take those who trust in His sacrifice to be with Him. There we’ll take up residence with Him in a joyous eternity.
Jan
3
2023
Wearing my new eyeglasses as I stepped into the sanctuary, I sat down and spotted a friend sitting directly across the aisle on the other side of the church. As I waved at her, she looked so near and clear. It felt like I could reach out and touch her even though she was several yards away. Later, as we talked following the service, I realized she was in the same seat she always sat in. I simply could see her better because of an upgraded prescription in my new spectacles. God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, knew that the Israelites stuck in Babylonian captivity would need a new prescription—a new view. He told them. “I am doing a new thing! . . . I am making a way in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:19). And His message of hope included the reminders that He had “created” them, “redeemed” them, and that He would be with them. “You are mine,” He encouraged (v. 1). In whatever you’re facing today, the Holy Spirit can provide better vision for you to put the old behind you and look for the new. By God’s love (v. 4), it’s popping up all around you. Can you see what He’s doing in the midst of your pain and bondage? Let’s put on our new spiritual glasses to see the new God is doing even in our wilderness moments. 
Jan
2
2023
Volunteers at a farm animal rescue organization in Australia found a wandering sheep weighed down by more than seventy-five pounds of filthy, matted wool. Rescuers suspected the sheep had been forgotten and lost in the bush for at least five years. Volunteers soothed him through the uncomfortable process of shearing away his heavy fleece. Once freed from his burden, Baarack ate. His legs grew stronger. He became more confident and content as he spent time with his rescuers and the other animals at the sanctuary. The psalmist David understood the pain of being weighed down with heavy burdens, feeling forgotten and lost, and desperate for a rescue mission. In Psalm 38, David cried out to God. He had experienced isolation, betrayal, and helplessness (vv. 11–14). Still, he prayed with confidence: “Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God” (v. 15). David didn’t deny his predicament or minimize his inner turmoil and physical ailments (vv. 16–20). Instead, he trusted that God would be near and answer him at the right time and in the right way (vv. 21–22). When we feel weighed down by physical, mental, or emotional burdens, God remains committed to the rescue mission He planned from the day He created us. We can count on His presence when we cry out to Him: “Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior” (v. 22).
Jan
1
2023
The Brooklyn Bridge was considered “the eighth wonder of the world” upon its completion in 1883. But a single, slender wire strung from one bridge tower to the other was essential for the structure to come to fruition. Additional wires were added to the first until a massive cable, along with three others, was woven together. When finished, each cable—composed of more than five thousand galvanized wires—helped support the longest suspension bridge in its day. What started as something small turned into a huge part of the Brooklyn Bridge. Jesus’ life began in a small way—a baby born in a feeding trough in a tiny town (Luke 2:7). The prophet Micah prophesied His humble birth, writing, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Micah 5:2; see also Matthew 2:6). A small start, but this Ruler and Shepherd would see His fame and mission “reach to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:4). Jesus was born in a small place in humility, and His life on earth ended as “he humbled himself” and died on “a criminal’s cross” (Philippians 2:8). But by His immense sacrifice He bridged the gap between us and God—providing salvation for all who believe. This season, may you receive God’s great gift in Jesus by faith. And if you do believe, may you humbly praise Him anew for all He’s done for you.
Dec
31
2022
Keith was feeling down as he trudged through the produce aisle. His hands trembled from the first signs of Parkinson’s disease. How long before his quality of life began to slide? What would this mean for his wife and children? Keith’s gloom was shattered by laughter. Over by the potatoes, a man pushed a giggling boy in a wheelchair. The man leaned over and whispered to his son, who couldn’t stop grinning. He was noticeably worse off than Keith, yet he and his dad were finding joy where they could. Writing from prison or under house arrest as he awaited the outcome of his trial, the apostle Paul seemingly had no right to be joyful (Philippians 1:12–13). The emperor was Nero, a wicked man who would soon paint Christians with tar and set them on fire, so Paul had reason to be concerned. He also knew there were preachers who were taking advantage of his absence to gain glory for themselves. They thought they could “stir up trouble” for the apostle while he was imprisoned (v. 17). Yet Paul chose to rejoice (vv. 18–21), and he told the Philippians to follow his example. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). Our situation might seem bleak, yet Jesus is with us now, and He’s guaranteed our glorious future. The Lord who walked out of His tomb will return to raise His followers to live with Him. As we begin this new year, may we rejoice!
Dec
30
2022
At the age of 103, a woman named Man Kaur competed as India’s oldest female athlete during the 2019 World Masters Athletic Championship in Poland. Remarkably, Kaur won gold in four events (javelin, shot put, 60-meter dash, and 200-meter run). But most astounding: she ran faster than she ran in the 2017 championship. A great-grandmother running into her second century, Kaur showed how to finish strong. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, a younger disciple, of how he’d entered his concluding years. “The time for my departure is near,” Paul wrote (2 Timothy 4:6). Reflecting on his life, he confidently believed he was finishing strong. “I have fought the good fight,” Paul said. “I have finished the race” (v. 7). He wasn’t confident because he’d calculated his impressive accomplishments or surveyed his vast impact (though they were immense). Rather, he knew he’d “kept the faith” (v.7). The apostle had remained loyal to Jesus. Through sorrows and joys, he’d followed the One who’d rescued him from ruin. And he knew that Jesus stood ready with a “crown of righteousness,” the joyful finale to his faithful life (v. 8). Paul insists that this crown isn’t for an elite few but for “all who have longed for [Christ’s] appearing” (v.8). As we head into a new year, let’s remember that Jesus stands eager to crown all who’ve loved Him and may we live to finish strong.
Dec
29
2022
I was drifting off into an impromptu nap when it hit me. From the basement, my son ripped a chord on his electric guitar. The walls reverberated. No peace. No quiet. No nap. Moments later, competing music greeted my ears: my daughter playing “Amazing Grace” on the piano. Normally, I love my son’s guitar playing. But in that moment, it jarred and unsettled me. Just as quickly, the familiar notes of John Newton’s hymn reminded me that grace thrives amid the chaos. No matter how loud, unwanted, or disorienting the storms of life might be, God’s note of grace rings clear and true, reminding us of His watchful care over us.   We see that reality in Scripture. In Psalm 107:23–32, sailors struggle mightily against a maelstrom that could easily devour them. “In their peril, their courage melted away” (v. 26). Still, they didn’t despair but: “cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress” (v. 28). Finally, we read: “They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” (v. 30). In chaotic moments, whether they’re life-threatening or merely sleep-threatening, the barrage of noise and fear can storm our souls. But as we trust God and pray to Him, we experience the grace of His presence and provision—the haven of His steadfast love.
Dec
28
2022
The young woman couldn’t sleep. A person with a lifelong physical disability, she’d be center stage at a church bazaar the next day to receive donations to pay for her higher education. But I’m not worthy, Charlotte Elliott worried. Tossing and turning, she doubted her credentials, questioning every aspect of her spiritual life. Still restless the next day, she finally moved to a desk to pick up pen and paper to write down the words of the now classic hymn, “Just As I Am.” “Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me, And that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come!” Her words, written in 1835, express how Jesus bid His disciples to come and serve Him. Not because they were ready. They weren’t. But because He authorized them—just as they were. A rag-tag group, his team of twelve included a tax collector, a zealot, two overly ambitious brothers (see Mark 10:35–37), and Judas Iscariot “who betrayed him” (Matthew 10:4). Still, He gave them authority to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (v. 8)—all without taking any money, luggage, extra shirt or sandals, or even a walking stick (vv. 9–10). “I am sending you,” He said (v. 16), and He was enough. For each of us who say yes to Him, He still is.
Dec
27
2022
In 1524, Martin Luther observed: "Among themselves the merchants have a common rule which is their chief maxim . . . I care nothing about my neighbor; so long as I have my profit and satisfy my greed.” More than two hundred years later, John Woolman, from Mount Holly, New Jersey, let his commitment to Jesus influence his tailor shop dealings. Out of support for the freeing of slaves, he refused to purchase any cotton or dye supplies from companies who used their forced labor. With a clear conscience, he loved his neighbor and lived according to integrity and sincerity in all his dealings.   The apostle Paul strived to live out “integrity and godly sincerity” (2 Corinthians 1:12). When some in Corinth tried to undermine his authority as an apostle for Jesus, he defended his conduct among them. He wrote that his words and actions could withstand the closest scrutiny (v. 13). He also showed that he was dependent on God’s power and grace for effectiveness, not his own (v. 12). In short, Paul’s faith in Christ permeated all his dealings. As we live as ambassadors for Jesus, may we be careful to let the good news ring out in all our dealings—family, business, and more. When by God’s power and grace we reveal His love to others, we honor Him and love our neighbors well.
Dec
26
2022
Stories have captivated humans since the dawn of creation—functioning as a way to pass down knowledge long before written language existed. We’ve all known the delight of hearing or reading a story and being immediately engaged by such opening lines as “once upon a time.” The power of a story appears to extend beyond merely enjoyment: when we listen to a story together, our heartbeats seem to synchronize! Though our individual heartbeats vary over the course of a day, and might only match another’s coincidentally, new research indicates our hearts may all fall into the same rhythm when we hear the same story at the same time. God begins telling us His story with the words, “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1). From the moment Adam and Eve first drew breath (v. 27), God has used that unfolding story to shape and influence not just our individual lives but also—and perhaps more importantly—our collective life as His children. Through the Bible—the most magnificent nonfiction story ever recorded—our hearts as believers in Jesus are joined together as people set apart for His purposes (1 Peter 2:9). In response to that story, may our hearts beat in shared rhythm, delighted by the Author’s creative works. And may we share His story with others, declaring “his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:3), inviting them to become part of it too.
Dec
25
2022
I had a medical check-up scheduled, and although I’d had no recent health concerns, I dreaded the visit. I was haunted by memories of an unexpected diagnosis long ago. While I knew God was with me and I should simply trust Him, I still felt afraid. I was disappointed in my lack of faith. If God was always with me, why was I feeling such anxiety? Then one morning I believe He led me to the story of Gideon. Called “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12), Gideon was fearful over his assignment to attack the Midianites. Although God had promised him His presence and victory, Gideon still sought multiple reassurances (vv. 16−23, 36−40). However, God didn’t condemn Gideon for his fear. He understood him. On the night of the attack, He assured Gideon again of victory, even giving him a way to assuage his fears (vv. 10−11). God understood my fear too. His reassurance gave me the courage to trust Him. I experienced His peace, knowing that He was with me regardless of the outcome. In the end, my check-up was uneventful. We have a God who understands our fears and who reassures us through the Scriptures and the Spirit (Psalm 23:4; John 14:16−17). May we worship Him in thankfulness, just as Gideon did (Judges 7:15).  
Dec
24
2022
The Barker family Christmas video was perfect. Three robe-clad shepherds (the family’s young sons) huddled around a fire in a grassy field. Suddenly an angel descended from the hilltop—their big sister, looking resplendent, except for the pink high-top sneakers. As the soundtrack swelled, the shepherds stared skyward in amazement. A trek across a field led them to a real baby—their infant brother in a modern barn. Big sister now played the role of Mary. Then came the “bonus features,” when their dad let us peek behind the scenes. Whiny kids complained, “I’m cold.” “I have to go to the bathroom right now!” “Can we go home?” “Guys, pay attention,” said their mom more than once. Reality was far from Christmas-card perfect. It’s easy to view the original Christmas story through the lens of a well-edited final cut. But from start to finish, Jesus’ life was anything but smooth. A jealous Herod tried to kill Him in infancy (Matthew 2:13). Mary and Joseph misunderstood Him (Luke 2:41–50). The world hated Him (John 7:7). For a time, even His brothers didn’t believe in Him (7:5). His mission led to a grisly death. He did it all to honor His Father and rescue us. The Barkers’ Christmas video ended with these words of Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That’s a reality we can live with—forever.
Dec
23
2022
On Christmas Eve 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts—Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders—became the first humans to enter lunar orbit. As they circled the moon ten times, they shared images of the moon and the earth. During a live broadcast, they took turns reading from Genesis 1. At the fortieth anniversary celebration, Borman said, “We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice. And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate.” The Bible verses spoken by the Apollo 8 astronauts still plant seeds of truth into the listening hearts of people who hear the historical recording. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord says, “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live” (Isaiah 55:3). Revealing His free offer of salvation, God invites us to turn from our sin and receive His mercy and forgiveness (vv. 6–7). He declares the divine authority of His thoughts and His actions, which are too vast for us to truly understand (vv. 8–9). Still, He gives us opportunity to share His life-transforming words of Scripture, which point to Jesus, and affirm that He is responsible for the spiritual growth of His people (vv. 10–13). The Holy Spirit helps us share the gospel as the Father fulfills all His promises according to His perfect plan and pace.
Dec
22
2022
An Orca whale, who researchers have named “Granny,” apparently knew the importance of her role in the life of her “grandbaby whale.” The young whale’s mother had recently died and the orphaned whale was not yet old enough to thrive without protection and support. Granny, though in her 80s (or older), came alongside to teach him what he needed to know to survive. Granny corralled some fish for the younger whale instead of consuming them herself, so he would not only have a meal but would also learn what to eat and where to find the salmon he’d need to live. We too have the distinct honor and joy of passing on what we know—we can share the wonderful works and character of God to those coming after us. The aging psalmist asks God to allow him to “declare [His] power to the next generation” (Psalm 71:18). He earnestly wishes to share with others what he knows of God—His “righteous deeds” and “saving acts”—that we need to flourish (v. 15). Even if we don’t have the gray hairs of old age (v. 18), declaring how we’ve experienced the love and faithfulness of God can benefit someone on their journey with Him. Our willingness to share that wisdom might just be what that person needs to live and thrive in Christ even in adversity (v. 20).
Dec
21
2022
A young mom followed behind her daughter, who pedaled her tiny bike as fast as her little legs could go. But picking up more speed than she wanted, the little girl suddenly rolled off the bike and cried that her ankle hurt. Her mom quietly got down on her knees, bent down low, and kissed it to “make the pain go away.” And it worked! The little girl jumped up, climbed back on her bike, and pedaled on. Don’t you wish all our pains could go away that easily! The apostle Paul experienced the comfort of God in his continual struggles yet kept going. He listed some of those trials in 2 Corinthians 11:23–29: floggings, beatings, stonings, sleep deprivation, hunger, care for all the churches. He learned intimately that God is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,” as he first declared in chapter one, verse three. Another version translates those verses this way: “He is the Father who gives tender love” (nirv). Much like a mom comforting her child, God bends down low to tenderly care for us in our pain. God’s loving ways of comforting us are many and varied. He may give us a Scripture verse that encourages us to continue on or a special note or phone call from a friend that touches our spirit. While the struggle may not go away, because God bends down low to help us, we can get up and pedal on.
Dec
20
2022
The Clark’s Nutcracker is an amazing bird. Every year it prepares for winter by hiding tiny caches of four or five whitebark pine seeds, as many as five hundred seeds per hour. Then, months later, it returns to uncover the seeds, even under heavy snow. A Clark’s Nutcracker may remember as many as 10,000 locations where it has hidden seeds—an astounding feat (especially when you consider the difficulty we humans can have remembering the location of our car keys or glasses). But even this incredible act of memory pales in comparison with God’s ability to remember our prayers. He’s able to keep track of every sincere prayer and remember and respond to them even years later. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John describes “four living creatures” and “twenty four elders” worshiping the Lord in heaven. Each one was “holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (5:8). Just as incense was precious in the ancient world, our prayers are so precious to God that He keeps them before Him continually, treasured in golden bowls! Our prayers matter to God because we matter to Him, and through His undeserved kindness to us in Jesus He offers us uninhibited access (Hebrews 4:14–16). So pray boldly! And know that not a word will be forgotten or misplaced because of the amazing love of God.
Dec
19
2022
William Shakespeare was a master of the insult, a “quality” that actor Barry Kraft adeptly leverages with his Shakespeare Insult Generator. The clever little book consists of obscure insults drawn from Shakespeare’s plays. For instance, you might disparage someone by saying, “Thou thrasonical, logger-headed rampallian”—which is so much more creative than saying, “You brag a lot and you’re not very smart, you scoundrel!” Kraft’s light-hearted book is in good fun. But an ancient king of Moab once tried to pay a mysterious prophet, not merely to insult the Israelites but to outright curse them. “Come and put a curse on these people,” King Balak told Balaam (Numbers 22:6). Instead, Balaam enraged the king by blessing the Hebrew people—multiple times (24:10). One of his blessings included this prophecy: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near” (24:17). Clearly the individual in view is not yet on the scene, but just who is Balaam talking about? The next line holds a clue. “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (v. 17). The “star” would one day lead wise men to the promised Child (Matthew 2:1–2). Think of it! An ancient Mesopotamian prophet who knew nothing of Messiah pointed the world to a future sign declaring His arrival. From an unlikely source came not cursing, but blessing. 
Dec
18
2022
Nokia became the world’s best-selling mobile phone company in 1998 and saw profits rise to nearly four billion dollars in 1999. But by 2011, sales were diminishing and soon the failing phone brand was acquired by Microsoft. One factor in Nokia’s mobile division failure was a fear-based work culture that led to disastrous decisions. Managers were afraid to tell the truth about the Nokia phone’s inferior operating system and other design problems for fear of being fired. King Ahaz of Judah and his people were fearful—“shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). They knew that the kings of Israel and Aram (Syria) had allied, and their combined armies were marching to Judah to take it over (vv. 5–6). Although God used Isaiah to encourage Ahaz by telling him his enemies’ hostile plans would “not happen” (v. 7), the foolish leader fearfully chose to ally with Assyria and submit to the superpower’s king (2 Kings 16:7–8). He didn’t trust in God, who declared, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9). The writer of Hebrews helps us consider what it looks like to stand firm in faith today: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (10:23). May we press on and not “shrink back” (v. 39) as the Holy Spirit empowers us to trust in Jesus.
Dec
17
2022
At a garage sale, I found a nativity set in a beat-up cardboard box. As I picked up the baby Jesus, I noticed the finely sculpted details of the infant’s body. This newborn wasn’t cocooned in a blanket with closed eyes—he was awake and partially unwrapped with outstretched arms, open hands, and fingers extended. “I’m here!” he seemed to say. The figurine illustrated the miracle of Christmas—that God sent his Son to earth in a human body. As Jesus’s infant body matured, His little hands played with toys, eventually held the Torah, and then fashioned furniture before his ministry began. His feet, once plump and perfect at birth, grew to carry him from place to place to teach and heal. At the end of His life, these human hands and feet would be pierced with nails to hold His body on the cross. “In that body, God ended sin’s control over us by giving us Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin,” Romans 8:3 (nlt) says. If we accept Jesus’s sacrifice as payment for all our wrongs and submit our lives to Him, we’ll find relief from sin’s bondage. Because the Son of God was born to us as a real, wiggling, kicking infant, there’s a way to have peace with God and the assurance of an eternity with Him.
Dec
16
2022
In the movie Fiddler on the Roof, the character Tevye talks honestly with God about His economics: “You made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor either! So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune! . . . Would it have spoiled some vast, eternal plan—if I were a wealthy man?” Many centuries before author Sholem Aleichem placed these honest words on Tevye’s tongue, Agur lifted an equally honest but somewhat different prayer to God in the book of Proverbs. Agur asked God to give him neither poverty nor wealth—just his “daily bread” (Proverbs 30:8). He knew that having “too much” could make him proud and transform him into a practical atheist—denying the character of God. In addition, he asked God to not let him “become poor” because it might cause him to dishonor His name by stealing from others (v. 9). Agur recognized God as his sole provider, and he asked Him for “just enough” to satisfy his daily needs. His prayer revealed a pursuit of God and the contentment that’s found in Him alone.   May we have Agur’s attitude, recognizing God as the provider of all we have. And as we pursue financial stewardship that honors His name, let’s live in contentment before Him—the One who not only provides “just enough,” but more than enough.
Dec
15
2022
In 2019, research exploring the spiritual heritage of Christians in the US revealed that mothers and grandmothers have a significant influence on spiritual development. Nearly two-thirds of people who claim a legacy of faith credited their mother and one-third acknowledged that a grandparent, usually a grandmother, also played a significant role.  The report’s editor remarked, “Over and over, this study speaks to the enduring impact of mothers in . . . spiritual development.” It’s an impact we also discover in Scripture.  In Paul’s letter to his protégé Timothy, he acknowledged that Timothy’s faith was modeled to him by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). It’s a delightful personal detail highlighting the impact of two women on one of the leaders of the early church. Their influence can also be seen in Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to “continue in what you have learned . . . and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (3:14–15).  A strong spiritual heritage is a precious gift. But even if our upbringing lacked the kind of positive influences that helped form Timothy’s faith, there are likely others in our life who have had a profound impact in helping to shape our spiritual development. Most important, we all have the opportunity to model sincere faith to those around us and leave a lasting legacy.
Dec
14
2022
William Cowper (1731–1800), the English poet, found a friend in his pastor, John Newton (1725–1807), the former slave trader. Cowper suffered from depression and anxiety, attempting to die by suicide more than once. When Newton visited him, they’d go on long walks together and talk about God. Thinking that Cowper would benefit from engaging creatively and having a reason to write his poetry, the minister had the idea to compile a hymnal. Cowper contributed many songs, including “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” When Newton moved to another church, he and Cowper remained strong friends and corresponded regularly for the rest of Cowper’s life. I see parallels between the strong friendship of Cowper and Newton with that of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. After David defeated Goliath, “Jonathan became one in spirit with David,” loving him as himself (1 Samuel 18:1). Although Jonathan was the son of King Saul, he defended David against the king’s jealousy and anger, asking his father why David should be put to death. In response, “Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him” (1 Samuel 20:33). Jonathan dodged the weapon and was grieved at this shameful treatment of his friend (v. 34). For both sets of friends, their bond was life-giving as they spurred on each other to serve and love God. How might you similarly encourage a friend today?
Dec
13
2022
William Shatner played Captain Kirk on the television series Star Trek, but he was unprepared for a real trip into space. He called his eleven-minute sub-orbital flight “the most profound experience I can imagine.” He stepped out of his rocket and marveled, “To see the blue color go right by you and now you're staring into blackness, that's the thing.” You “look down and there's the blue down there and the black up there.” He added, "The beauty of that color and it's so thin and you're through it in an instant." Our planet is a blue dot surrounded by utter darkness. It’s unsettling. Shatner said that flying from blue sky into blackness was like flying into death. “In an instant, you go, ‘Woah, that’s death!’ That’s what I saw. It was so moving to me. This experience, it’s something unbelievable.” Shatner’s shattering flight puts life in perspective. We’re small objects in the universe, yet we’re loved by the One who created light and separated it from the darkness (Genesis 1:3–4). Our Father knows where the darkness resides, and the path to its dwelling (Job 38:19–20). He “laid the earth’s foundation . . . . while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (38:4–7). Let’s trust our small lives to the God who holds the whole universe in His hands.
Dec
12
2022
A short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges tells of a Roman soldier, Marcus Rufus, who drinks from a “secret river that purifies men of death.” In time, though, Marcus realizes immortality wasn’t what it was cracked up to be: life without limits was life without significance. In fact, it’s death itself that gives meaning to life. Marcus finds an antidote—a spring of clear water. After drinking from it, he scratches his hand on a thorn, and a drop of blood forms, signifying his restored mortality. Like Marcus, we too sometimes despair over the decline of life and the prospect of death (Psalm 88:3). We agree that death gives significance to life. But this is where the stories diverge. Unlike Marcus, we know it’s in Christ’s death that we find the true meaning of our lives. With the shedding of His blood on the cross, Christ conquered death, swallowing it up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54). For us, the antidote is in the “living water of Jesus Christ (John 4:13). Because we drink that, all the rules of life, death, and life immortal have changed (1 Corinthians 15:52). It’s true, we won’t escape physical death, but that isn’t the point. Jesus upends all our despair about life and death (Hebrews 2:11–15). In Christ, we’re reassured with the hope of heaven—not just a future of endless existence but of meaningful joy in eternal life with Him.
Dec
11
2022
“I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” based on an 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is a truly unusual Christmas song. Instead of the expected Christmas joy and mirth, the lyric forms a lament, crying out, “And in despair I bowed my head / There is no peace on earth I said / For hate is strong and mocks the song / Of peace on earth, good will to men.” This lament, however, moves forward into hope, reassuring us that “God is not dead, nor does he sleep / The wrong shall fail, the right prevail / With peace on earth goodwill toward men.” The pattern of hope rising out of lament is also found in the lament psalms of the Bible. As such, Psalm 43 begins with the psalmist crying out about his enemies who attack him (v. 1) and his God who seems to have forgotten him (v. 2). But the singer doesn’t stay in lament—he looks up to the God he doesn’t fully understand but still trusts, singing, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5). Life is filled with reasons for lament, and we all experience them on a regular basis. But, if we allow that lament to point us to the God of hope, we can sing joyfully—even if we sing through our tears.
Dec
10
2022
When we park our car near an open field and walk across it to get to our house, we almost always get some sticky cockleburs on our clothes—especially in the fall. These tiny “hitchhikers” attach to clothing, shoes, or whatever is passing by and ride to their next destination. It’s nature’s way of spreading cocklebur seeds in my local field and around the world. As I try to carefully remove clinging cockleburs, I’ve often thought about the message that admonishes believers in Jesus to “cling to what is good” (Roman 12:9). When we’re trying to love others, it can be challenging. However, as the Holy Spirit helps us hold on to what’s good with all we have, we can repel evil and be “sincere” in our love as He guides us (v. 9). Cocklebur seeds don’t fall off with a mere brush of the hand, they hang on to you. And when we focus on what’s good, keeping our mind on God’s mercy, compassion, and commands, we too—in His strength—can hang on tightly to those we love. He helps us stay “devoted to one another in love,” remembering to place other’s needs before our own (v. 10). Yes, those cockleburs can be challenging, but they also remind me to cling to others in love and by God’s power to grip tightly “what is good” (v. 9; see also Philippians 4:8–9).
Dec
9
2022
The sixth-grade basketball game was well underway. Parents and grandparents were cheering on their players, while younger brothers and sisters of the boys on the teams entertained themselves out in the school hallway. Suddenly, sirens blared and lights flashed in the gym. A fire alarm had been tripped. Soon the siblings came streaming back into the gym in panic, looking for their parents. There was no fire; the alarm had accidentally been activated. But as I watched, I was struck by the way the children—sensing a crisis—unashamedly ran to embrace their parents. What a picture of confidence in those who could provide a sense of safety and reassurance in a time of fear! Scripture presents a time when David experienced great fear. Saul and numerous other enemies (2 Samuel 22:1) pursued him. After God delivered David to safety, the grateful man sang an eloquent song of praise about His help. He called God “my rock, my fortress and my deliverer” (v. 2). When the “cords of the grave” and “the snares of death” (v. 6) hounded him, David “called out” to God and his “cry came to [God’s] ears” (v. 7). In the end, David proclaimed He “rescued me” (v. 49). In times of fear and uncertainty, we can run to the “Rock” (v. 32). As we call on God’s name, He alone provides the refuge and shelter we need (vv. 2–3).
Dec
8
2022
When the women in our newly formed Bible study faced a series of tragedies, we suddenly found ourselves sharing deeply personal experiences. Facing the loss of a father, the pain of a wedding anniversary after divorce, the birth of a child who was completely deaf, the experience of racing to bring a child to the emergency room—it was too much for anyone to carry alone. Each person’s vulnerability led to more transparency. We cried and prayed together, and what started as a group of strangers became a group of close friends in a matter of weeks.  As part of the church body, believers in Jesus are able to come alongside people in their suffering in a deep and personal way. The relational ties that bind together brothers and sisters in Christ aren’t dependent on the length of time we’ve known each other or the things we have in common. Instead, we do what Paul calls “[carrying] each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Relying on God’s strength, we listen, we empathize, we help where we can, and we pray. We can look for ways to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (v. 10). Paul says that when we do so, we fulfill the law of Christ (v. 2): to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. The burdens of life can be heavy, but He’s given us our church family to lighten the load.
Dec
7
2022
Maria carried her fast-food lunch to an empty table. As she bit into her burger, her eyes locked on those of a young man seated several tables away. His clothes were soiled, his hair hung limply, and he clutched at an empty paper cup. Clearly, he was hungry. How could she help? A gift of cash seemed unwise. If she bought a meal and presented it to him, might he be embarrassed?  Just then Maria remembered the story of Ruth where Boaz, a wealthy landowner, invited the impoverished immigrant widow to glean from his fields. He gave orders to his men. “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her” (Ruth 2:15). In a culture where women were utterly dependent on their connection to men for survival, Boaz demonstrated God’s loving provision. Eventually, Boaz married Ruth, redeeming her from her serious need (4:9–10).  As Maria rose to leave, she placed her untouched packet of fries on a nearby table, meeting the man’s eyes as she did so. If he was hungry, he might glean from her “fast-food field.” God’s heart is revealed in the stories of Scripture as they illustrate creative solutions to encourage.
Dec
6
2022
Some years ago, a man walked about a block ahead of me. I could clearly see his arms were full of packages. All of a sudden, he tripped, dropping everything. A couple of people helped him to his feet, assisting him in collecting what he’d dropped. But they missed something—his wallet. I picked it up and took off in hot pursuit of the stranger, hoping to return that important item. I yelled “Sir, sir!” and finally got his attention. He turned just as I reached him. As I held out the wallet, I’ll never forget his look of surprised relief and immense gratitude.  What began as following along after that man turned into something quite different. Most English translations use the word follow in the final verse of the familiar Psalm 23—“Surely your goodness and love will follow me” (v. 6). And while “follow” fits, the actual Hebrew word used is more forceful, aggressive even. The word literally means “to pursue or chase,” much like a predator pursues his prey (think of a wolf pursuing sheep). God’s goodness and love don’t merely follow along after us at a casual pace, in no real hurry, like a pet might leisurely follow you home. No, “surely” we are being pursued—chased even—with intention. Much like pursuing a man to return his wallet, we’re pursued by the Good Shepherd who loves us with an everlasting love (v. 1). 
Dec
5
2022
On a busy day before Christmas, an aged woman approached the mail counter at my crowded neighborhood post office. Watching her slow pace, the patient postal clerk greeted her, “Well hello, young lady!” His words were friendly, but some might hear them saying that “younger” is better. In the Christmas season, however, the Bible inspires us to see that advanced age can motivate our hope. As the infant Jesus is brought to the temple by Joseph and Mary, to be consecrated, two elderly believers suddenly take center stage in the holy story (Luke 2:23; Exodus 13:2, 12). First, Simeon—who had been waiting for years to see the Messiah—“took [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations’” (Luke 2:28–30). Then Anna, a “very old” prophet (v. 36), came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph. A widow who had been married only seven years, she’d lived in the temple to age eighty-four. Never leaving, she “worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” When she saw Jesus, she began praising God, explaining about Jesus “to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (vv. 37–38). These two hopeful servants remind us to never stop waiting on God—no matter our age -- with great expectations. 
Dec
4
2022
One morning our younger kids decided to get up early and fix breakfast for themselves. Tired from a grueling week, my wife and I were trying to sleep until at least 7:00 a.m. on that Saturday morning. Suddenly, I heard a loud crash! I jumped out of bed and raced downstairs to find a shattered bowl, oatmeal all over the floor, and Jonas—our five-year-old—desperately trying to sweep (more like smear) the gooey mess off the floor. My children were hungry, but they chose not to ask for help. Instead of reaching out in dependence, they chose independence, and the result was definitely not a culinary delight. In human terms, children are meant to grow from dependence to independence. But in our relationship with God, maturity means moving from independence to dependence on Him. Prayer is where we practice such dependent ways. When Jesus taught His disciples—and all of us who have come to believe in Him—to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), He was teaching a prayer of dependence. Bread is a metaphor for sustenance, deliverance, and guidance (vv. 10, 13). We’re dependent on God for all of that and more. There are no self-made believers in Jesus, and we’ll never graduate from His grace. Throughout our lives, may we always begin our day by taking the posture of dependence as we pray to “our Father in heaven” (v. 9).
Dec
3
2022
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree. Yet during her lifetime, she recalls being “ignored, slighted and rendered insignificant.” Even amid adversity, however, she remained devoted to healing and fulfilling her purpose. Crumpler boldly affirmed that although some people might choose to judge her based on her race and gender, she’d always have a “renewed and courageous readiness to do when and wherever duty calls,” and that she did. Not only was she a servant in her field, but she also believed that treating women and children and providing medical attention for freed slaves was a way to serve God. Sadly, she didn’t receive formal recognition for her accomplishments until nearly a century later.  There are times in life when we’ll be overlooked, devalued, or unappreciated by those around us. Biblical wisdom reminds us, however, that when God has called us to a task, we shouldn’t focus on gaining worldly approval and recognition but should instead “work at it with all [our] heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). When we focus on serving God while carrying out our day-to-day activities, we’re able to accomplish even the most difficult tasks with fervor and gladness in His power and leading. We can then become less concerned with receiving earthly recognition and awards and become more eager to receive the reward only He can provide (v. 24).
Dec
2
2022
To my eyes, the Christmas tree looked to be ablaze in fire! Not because of artificial strings of lights but from real fire. Our family was invited to a friend’s “altdeutsche tradition”—the old German way—celebration, featuring delicious traditional desserts and a tree with real, lit candles. (For safety, the freshly cut tree was lit one night only.) As I watched the tree appear to burn, I thought of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush. While tending sheep in the wilderness, Moses was surprised by a flaming bush that was somehow not consumed by the flames. As Moses approached the bush to investigate, God called to him. The message from the burning bush was not one of judgment but of rescue for the people of Israel. God had seen the plight of His people who were enslaved in Egypt and had “come down to rescue them” (Exodus 3:8). While God rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians, all of humanity still needed rescue—not just from physical suffering, but also from the effects that evil and death brought into our world. Hundreds of years later, God responded by sending down Light, His son Jesus, (John 1:9-10), sent not “to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17).
Dec
1
2022
In 2011, after a decade of childlessness, my wife and I chose to start afresh in a new country. Exciting as the move was, it required my leaving a broadcast career, which I missed. Feeling lost, I asked my friend Liam for advice. “I don’t know what my calling is anymore,” I told Liam dejectedly. “You’re not broadcasting here?” he asked. I said I wasn’t. “And how is your marriage?” Surprised at his change of topic, I told Liam that Merryn and I were doing well. We’d faced heartbreak together but emerged closer through the ordeal. “Commitment is the core of the gospel,” he said, smiling. “Oh, how the world needs to see committed marriages like yours! You may not realize the impact you’re having already, beyond what you do, simply by being who you are.” When a difficult work situation left Timothy dejected, the apostle Paul didn’t give him career goals. Instead, he encouraged Timothy to live a godly life, setting an example through his speech, conduct, love, faith and purity (4:12–13, 15). He would best impact others by living faithfully. It’s easy to value our lives based on our career success when what matters most is our character. I had forgotten that. But a word of truth, a gracious act, even a committed marriage can bring great change—because through them something of God’s own goodness touches the world.
Nov
30
2022
After another week of being beaten down by more medical setbacks, I slumped onto the sofa. I didn’t want to think about anything. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I couldn’t even pray. Discouragement and doubt weighed me down as I turned on the television. I began watching a commercial showing a little girl talking to her younger brother. “You’re a champion,” she said. As she continued affirming him, his grin grew. So did mine. God’s people have always struggled with discouragement and doubt. Quoting Psalm 95, which affirms that God’s voice can be heard through the Holy Spirit, the writer of Hebrews warned believers in Jesus to avoid the mistakes made by the Israelites while wandering in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:7–11). “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” he wrote. “But encourage each other daily” (vv. 12–13). With our lifeline of hope secured in Christ, we can experience the power-packed fuel we need to persevere: mutual encouragement within the fellowship of believers (v. 13). When one believer doubts, other believers can offer affirmation and accountability. As God strengthens us, His people, we can offer the power of mutual encouragement to one another.
Nov
29
2022
Ever had a close encounter with a rattlesnake? If so, you might have noticed that the sound of the rattle seemed to get more intense as you moved nearer to the viper. Research reported in 2021 in Current Biology reveals that the venomous reptiles do increase their rattling rate when they think a threat is approaching. This “high-frequency mode” can cause us to think they’re closer than they are. As one researcher put it, “The misinterpretation of distance by the listener . . . creates a distance safety margin.” People can sometimes use increasing volume with harsh words that push others away during a conflict—exhibiting anger and resorting to shouting. The writer of Proverbs shares some wise advice for times like these: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). He goes on to say that “soothing” and “wise” words can be “a tree of life” and a source of “knowledge” (vv. 4, 7). Jesus provided the ultimate reasons for gently appealing to those with whom we enter into conflict: extending love that reveals us to be His children (Matthew 5:43–45) and seeking reconciliation—“[winning] them over” (18:15). Instead of raising our voice or using unkind words during conflicts, may we show civility, wisdom, and love to others as God guides us by His Spirit.
Nov
28
2022
Barbecue chicken, green beans, spaghetti, rolls. On a cool day in October, at least fifty-four homeless people received this hot meal from a woman celebrating fifty-four years of life. The woman and her friends decided to forgo her usual birthday dinner in a restaurant, choosing instead to cook and serve meals to people on the streets of Chicago. On social media, she encouraged others to also perform a random act of kindness as a birthday gift. This story reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). He said these words after declaring that His sheep will be invited into His eternal kingdom to receive their inheritance (v. 33). At that time, Jesus will acknowledge that they’re the people who fed and clothed Him because of their genuine faith in Him (unlike the proud religious people who did not believe in Him; see 26:3–5). Although the “righteous” will question when they fed and clothed Jesus (v. 37), He will assure them that what they did for others was also done for Him (v. 40). Feeding the hungry is just one way God helps us care for His people—showing our love for Him and relationship with Him. May He help us meet others’ needs today.
Nov
27
2022
A few years ago a popular song hit the charts, with a gospel choir singing the chorus, “Jesus walks with me.” Behind the lyrics lies a powerful story. The choir was started by jazz musician Curtis Lundy when he entered a treatment program for cocaine addiction. Drawing fellow addicts together and finding inspiration in an old hymnal, he wrote that chorus as a hymn of hope for those in rehab. “We were singing for our lives,” one choir member says of the song. “We were asking Jesus to save us, to help us get out of the drugs.” Another found that her chronic pain subsided when she sang the song. That choir wasn’t just singing words on a sheet, but offering desperate prayers for redemption. Today’s Scripture reading describes their experience well. In Christ, our God has appeared to offer salvation to all (Titus 2:11). While eternal life is part of this gift (v. 13), God is working on us now, empowering us to regain self-control, say no to worldly passions, and redeem us for life with Him (vv. 12, 14). As the choir members found, Jesus doesn’t just forgive our sins—He frees us from destructive lifestyles. Jesus walks with me. And you. And anyone who cries out to Him for help. He’s with us, offering hope for the future and salvation now.
Nov
26
2022
I was very young when I peered through a hospital nursery window and saw a newborn for the first time. In my ignorance, I was dismayed to see a tiny, wrinkly child with a hairless, cone-shaped head. The baby’s mother standing near us, however, couldn’t stop asking everyone, “Isn’t he gorgeous?” I was reminded of that moment when I saw a video of a young dad tenderly singing the song, “You Are So Beautiful” to his baby girl. To her enraptured daddy—the little girl was the most beautiful thing ever created. Is that how God looks at us? Ephesians 2:10 says that we’re His “handiwork”—His masterpiece. Aware of our own failings, it may be hard for us to accept how much He loves us or to believe that we could ever be of value to Him. But God doesn’t love us because we deserve love (vv. 3-4); He loves us because He is love (1 John 4:8). His love is one of grace and He showed the depth of it when, through Jesus’ sacrifice, He made us alive in Him when we were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:5, 8). God’s love isn’t fickle—it’s constant. He loves the imperfect, the broken, those who are weak and those who mess up. When we fall, He’s there to lift us up. We’re His treasure, and we’re so beautiful to Him.
Nov
25
2022
“BROKE” was the street name Grady answered to and those five letters were proudly emblazoned on his license plates. Though not intended in a spiritual sense, the moniker fit the middle-aged gambler, adulterer, and deceiver. He was broken, bankrupt, and far from God. However, all that changed one evening when he was convicted by God’s Spirit in a hotel room. He told his wife, “I think I’m getting saved!” That evening he confessed sins he thought he’d take with him to the grave and came to Jesus for forgiveness. For the next thirty years, the man who didn’t think he’d live to see forty lived and served God as a changed believer in Jesus. His license plates changed too—from “BROKE” to “REPENT.” Repent. That’s what Grady did and that’s what God called Israel to do in Hosea 14:1–2. “Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. . . . Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously.’ ” Big or small, few or many, our sins separate us from God. But the gap can be closed by turning from sin to God and receiving the forgiveness He’s graciously provided through the death of Jesus. Whether you’re a struggling believer in Christ or one whose life looks like Grady’s did, your forgiveness is only a prayer away.
Nov
24
2022
Doctors diagnosed four-year-old Solomon with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscle-degenerating disease that primarily affects boys. A year later, doctors discussed wheelchairs with the family. But Solomon protested that he didn’t want to have to use a wheelchair. Family and friends diligently prayed for him and raised funds for a professionally trained service dog to help keep him out of that wheelchair for as long as possible. Tails for Life, the organization that trained Callie as my service dog, is currently preparing Waffles to serve Solomon. Though Solomon accepts his treatment with resilience, often bursting out in song to praise God, some days are harder. On one of those difficult days, Solomon hugged his mom and said, “I’m happy there is no Duchenne’s in heaven.” The degenerating effects of sickness affect all people on this side of eternity. Like Solomon, however, we have an enduring hope that can strengthen our resolve on those inevitable tough days. God gives us the hope and promise of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). Our Creator and Sustainer will “dwell” among us by making His home with us (v. 3). He will “wipe every tear” from our eyes (v. 4). “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will pass] away” (v. 4). When the wait feels “too hard” or “too long,” we can experience peace because God’s promise will be fulfilled.
Nov
23
2022
When I moved to England, the American holiday of Thanksgiving became just another Thursday in November. Although I created a feast the weekend after, I longed to be with family and friends on the day. Yet I understood that my longings weren’t unique to me. We all yearn to be with people dear to us on special occasions and holidays. And even when we’re celebrating, we may miss someone who’s not with us or we may pray for our fractured family to be at peace. During these times, praying and pondering the wisdom of the Bible has helped me, including one of King Solomon’s proverbs: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). In this proverb, one of the pithy sayings through which Solomon shared his wisdom, he notes the effect that “hope deferred” can have: the delay of something much longed for can result in angst and pain. But when the desire is fulfilled, it’s like a tree of life—something that allows us to feel refreshed and renewed. Some of our hopes and desires might not be fulfilled right away, and some might only be met through God after we die. Whatever our longing, we can trust in Him, knowing He loves us unceasingly. And, one day, we’ll be reunited with loved ones as we feast with Him and give thanks to Him (see Revelation 19:6–9).
Nov
22
2022
In 2010, Laszlo Hanyecz made the first purchase with bitcoin (a digital currency), paying 10,000 bitcoins for two pizzas. In 2021, the value of those bitcoins would have been roughly $685 million. Back before the value skyrocketed, he kept paying for pizzas with coins, spending 100,000 bitcoins total. If he’d kept those bitcoins, their value would’ve made him a billionaire sixty-eight times over and placed him on the Forbes’ “richest people in the world” list. If only he’d known what was coming. Of course, Hanyecz couldn’t possibly have known. None of us could have. Despite our attempts to comprehend and control the future, Ecclesiastes rings true: “No one knows what is coming” (10:14). Some of us delude ourselves into thinking we know more than we do, or worse, that we possess some special insight about another person’s life or future. But as Ecclesiastes pointedly asks: “who can tell someone else what will happen after them?” (v. 14). No one. Scripture contrasts a wise and a foolish person, and one of the many distinctions between the two is humility about the future (Proverbs 27:1). A wise person recognizes that only God truly knows what’s over the horizon as they make decisions. But foolish people presume knowledge that isn’t theirs. May we have wisdom, trusting our future to the only One who actually knows it.
Nov
21
2022
A tornado blew through a community on a June evening in 2021, destroying a family’s barn. It was a sad loss because the barn had been on the family property since the late 1800s. As John and Barb drove by on their way to church the next morning, they saw the damage and wondered how they might help. So they stopped and learned that the family needed assistance with cleanup. Turning their car around quickly, they headed back home to change clothes and returned to stay for the day to clean up the mess the violent winds had created. They put their faith into action as they served the family. James said that “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). He gives the example of Abraham, who in obedience followed God when he didn’t know where he was going (v. 23, see Genesis 12:1–4; 15:6). James also mentions Rahab, who showed her belief in the God of Israel when she hid the spies who came to check out the city of Jericho (2:25; see Joshua 2; 6:17). “If someone claims to have faith but has no deeds,” it does them no good (James 2:26). “Faith is the root, good works are the fruits, and we must see to it that we have both” (Matthew Henry Commentary). God doesn’t need our good deeds, but our faith is proven by our actions.
Nov
20
2022
Reading the last chapter of a mystery novel first may sound like a bad idea to those who love the suspense of a good story. But some people enjoy reading a book more if they know how it ends. In Reading Backwards, author Richard Hays shows how important the practice is for our understanding of the Bible. By illustrating how the unfolding words and events of Scripture anticipate, echo, and throw light on one another, Professor Hays gives us reason to read our Bibles forward and backward. Hays reminds readers that it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that His disciples understood His claim to rebuild a destroyed temple in three days. The apostle John tells us, “The temple he had spoken of was his body” (2:21). Only then could they understand a meaning of their Passover celebration never before understood (see Matthew 26:17–29). Only in retrospect could they reflect on how Jesus gave fullness of meaning to an ancient king’s deep feelings for the house of God (Psalm 69:9; John 2:16–17). Only by rereading their Scriptures in light of the true temple of God (Jesus Himself) could the disciples grasp how the ritual of Israel’s religion and Messiah would throw light on one another. And now, only by reading these same Scriptures backward and forward, can we see in Jesus everything that any of us has ever needed or longed for. 
Nov
19
2022
In 1941, the Socratic Club was established at England’s Oxford University. The club was formed for the express purpose of encouraging debate between believers in Jesus and atheists or agnostics. Religious debate at a secular university isn’t that unusual, but what is surprising the man who chaired the Socratic Club for fifteen years—the great Christian scholar C. S. Lewis. Willing to have his thinking tested, Lewis believed that faith in Christ could stand up to whatever scrutiny it received. He knew there was credible, rational evidence for believing in Jesus. In a sense, Lewis was practicing Peter’s advice to believers scattered by persecution when he reminded them, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Notice the two key points Peter makes. We have good reasons for our hope in Christ. And we’re to present our reasoning with “gentleness and respect.” Trusting Christ isn’t religious escapism or wishful thinking. Our faith is grounded in the facts of history, including the resurrection of Jesus and the evidence of the creation bearing witness to its Creator. As we rest in God’s wisdom and the strength of the Spirit, may we be ready to share the reasons we have for knowing and trusting our great God.
Nov
18
2022
It seems my mother can sense trouble from a mile away. Once, after a rough day at school, I tried to mask my frustration hoping that no one would notice. “What’s the matter?” she asked. Then she added, “Before you tell me it’s nothing, remember I’m your mother. I gave birth to you, and I know you better than you know yourself.” My mom has consistently reminded me that her deep awareness of who I am helps her be there for me in the moments I need her most. As believers in Jesus, we’re cared for by a God who knows us intimately. The psalmist David praised Him for His attentiveness to the lives of His children saying, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:1–2). Because God knows who we are—our every thought, desire, and action—there’s nowhere we can go where we’re outside the bounds of His abundant love and care (vv. 7–12). As David wrote, “If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me” (vv. 9–10). We can find comfort knowing that no matter where we are in life, when we call out to God in prayer, He’ll offer us the love, wisdom, and guidance we need.
Nov
17
2022
“You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.” If you hear those words, you might wonder if the person really means it. But you never had to wonder when Edna Davis said them. Everyone in the small, one stoplight town knew of “Ms. Edna’s” yellow legal pad—page after page, lined with name after name. Early each morning the aging woman prayed out loud to God. Not everyone on her list received the answer to prayer they wanted, but several testified at her funeral that something God-sized had happened in their life, and they credited it to the earnest prayers of Ms. Edna. God demonstrated the power of prayer in Peter’s prison experience. After the apostle was seized by Herod’s men, thrown into prison, and then “guarded by four squads of four soldiers each” (Acts 12:4), his prospects looked bleak. But “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (v. 5). They had Peter in their thoughts and prayers. What God did is simply miraculous! An angel appeared to Peter in prison, released him from his chains, and led him to safety beyond the prison gates (vv. 7–10). It’s possible some may use “thoughts and prayers” without really meaning it. But our Father knows our thoughts, listens to our prayers, and acts on our behalf according to His perfect will. To be prayed for and to pray for others is no small thing when we serve the great and powerful God.
Nov
16
2022
In his poem “Rest,” nineteenth-century minister John Sullivan Dwight gently challenges our tendency to separate “leisure” time from “work,” asking, “Is not true leisure / One with true toil?” If you want to experience true leisure, instead of trying to avoid life’s duties, Dwight urges, “Still do thy best; Use it, not waste it,— / Else ‘tis not rest. / Wouldst behold beauty / Near thee? All round? / Only hath duty / Such a sight found.” Dwight concludes that true rest and joy are both found through love and service—something that brings to mind Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians. After describing his calling to encourage believers “to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12), the apostle gives more specifics. And the picture he paints of such a life is one of quiet integrity, love, and service. Paul prays that God would “make [their] love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (3:12). And he urges believers in Jesus to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life,” to “mind your own business and work with your hands” (4:11). It’s that kind of life, quietly loving and serving in whatever ways God has enabled us, that reveals to others the beauty of a life of faith (v. 12). Or, as Dwight puts it, true joy is “loving and serving / The highest and best; / ‘Tis onwards! Unswerving— / And that is true rest.”
Nov
15
2022
A man and several friends went through a ski resort gate posted with avalanche warning signs and started snowboarding. On the second trip down, someone shouted, “Avalanche!” But the man couldn’t escape and perished in the cascading snow. Some criticized him, calling him a novice. But he wasn’t; he was an “avalanche-certified backcountry guide.” One researcher said that skiers and snowboarders with the most avalanche training are more likely to give in to faulty reasoning. “[The snowboarder] died because he was lulled into letting his guard down.” As Israel prepared to go into the Promised Land, God wanted His people to keep their guard up—to be careful and alert. So He commanded them to obey all His “decrees and laws” (Deuteronomy 4:1–2) and remember His past judgment on those who disobeyed (vv. 3–4). They needed to “be careful” to examine themselves and keep watch over their inner lives (v. 9). This would help them keep their guard up against spiritual dangers from without and spiritual apathy from within. It's easy for us to let our guard down and fall into apathy and self-deception. But God can give us strength to avoid falling in life and forgiveness by His grace when we do. By following Him and resting in His wisdom and provision, we can keep our guard up and make good decisions!
Nov
11
2022
After three decades, Feng Lulu was reunited with her birth family. As a toddler, she was kidnapped while playing outside her house, but through the help of All-China Women’s Federation, she was finally located. Because she was so young when she was abducted, Feng Lulu doesn’t remember it. She grew up believing she’d been sold because her parents couldn’t afford to keep her, so learning the truth surfaced many questions and emotions. When Joseph was unexpectedly reunited with his brothers, it’s likely he experienced some complex emotions. He’d been sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt as a young man. Despite a series of painful twists and turns, God propelled Joseph to a position of authority. When his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during a famine, they—unwittingly—sought it from him. Joseph acknowledged to his brothers that God redeemed their wrongdoing, saying He used it to “save [their] lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7). Yet Joseph doesn’t mince words or redefine their hurtful actions toward him—he described them accurately as “selling [him]” (v. 5). We sometimes try to put an overly positive spin on difficult situations, focusing on the good God brings from them without acknowledging the emotional struggle. Let’s take care not to redefine a wrong as being good simply because God redeemed it: we can look for Him to bring good from it while still recognizing the hardship and pain wrongdoing causes. Both are true.
Nov
10
2022
It was 1854, and something was killing thousands of people in London. It must be the bad air, people thought. And indeed, as unseasonable heat baked the sewage-fouled River Thames, the smell grew so bad it became known as “The Great Stink.” But the worst problem wasn’t the air. Research by Dr. John Snow would show that contaminated water was the cause of the cholera epidemic. We humans have long been aware of another crisis—one that stinks to high heaven. We live in a broken world—and we’re prone to misidentify the source of this problem, treating symptoms instead. Wise social programs and policies do some good, but they’re powerless to stop the root cause of society’s ills—our sinful hearts! When Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them,” He wasn’t referring to physical diseases (Mark 7:15). Rather, He was diagnosing the spiritual condition of every one of us. “It is what comes out of a person that defiles them,” He said (v. 15), listing a litany of evils lurking inside us (vv. 21–22). “Surely I was sinful at birth,” David wrote (Psalm 51:5). His lament is one we can all voice. We’re broken from the beginning. That’s why David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (v. 10). Every day, we need that new heart, created by Jesus through His Spirit. Instead of treating the symptoms, we must let Jesus purify the source.
Nov
9
2022
I met him in the 1970s when I was a high school English teacher and basketball coach, and he was a tall, gangly freshman. Soon he was on my basketball team and in my classes—and a friendship was formed. This same friend, who had served with me as a fellow editor for many years, stood before me at my retirement party and shared about the legacy of our longstanding friendship. What is it about friends connected by the love of God that encourages us and brings us closer to Jesus? The writer of Proverbs understood that friendship has two encouraging components: First, true friends give valuable advice, even if it’s not easy to give or take (27:6): “Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” he explains. Second, a friend who is nearby and accessible is important in times of crisis (v. 10): “Better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” It’s not good for us to fly solo in life. As Solomon noted: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT). In life, we need to have friends and we need to be friends. May God help us “love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10 ESV) and “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2)—becoming the kind of friend that can encourage others and draw them closer to the love of Jesus.
Nov
8
2022
When I was ten, I brought home a tape from a friend at youth group that contained the music of a contemporary Christian band. My dad, who had been raised in a Hindu home but had received salvation in Jesus, didn’t approve. He only wanted worship music played in our home. I explained it was a Christian band, but that didn’t change his mind. After a while, he suggested that I listen to the songs for a week and then decide if they brought me closer to God or pushed me further away from Him. There was some helpful wisdom in that advice. There are things in life that are clearly right and wrong, but many times we wrestle with disputable matters (Romans 14:1–19). In deciding what to do, we can seek the wisdom found in Scripture. Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but wise” (Ephesians 5:15). Like a good parent, Paul knew that he couldn’t possibly be there or give instructions for every situation. If they were going to “[make] the most of every opportunity because the days are evil,” they were going to have to discern for themselves and “understand what the Lord’s will is” (vv. 16–17). A life of wisdom is an invitation to pursue discernment and good decisions as God guides us even when we wrestle with what might be disputable.
Nov
7
2022
In the days of self-isolation and lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, words by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail rang true. Speaking about injustice, he remarked how he couldn’t sit idly in one city and not be concerned about what happens in another. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” he said, “tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.”  Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted our connectedness as around the world cities and countries closed to stop the spread of the virus. What affected one city could soon affect another. Many centuries ago, God instructed His people how to show concern for others. Through Moses, He gave the Israelites the law as a way to guide them and help them live together. He told them to “not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life” (Leviticus 19:16); and to not seek revenge or bear a grudge against others, but to “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 18). God knew that communities would start to unravel if people didn’t look out for others, valuing their lives as much as they did their own. We too can embrace the wisdom of God’s instructions. As we go about our daily activities, we can remember how interconnected we are with others as we ask Him how to love and serve them well.
Nov
6
2022
I used to dread Mondays. Sometimes, when I got off the train to head to a previous job, I'd sit at the station for a while, trying to delay reaching the building, if only for a few minutes. My heart would beat fast as I worried over meeting the deadlines and managing the moods of a temperamental boss. For some of us, it can be especially difficult to start another dreary workweek. We may be feeling overwhelmed or underappreciated in our job. King Solomon described the toil of work when he wrote: “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain” (Ecclesiastes 2:22–23). While the wise king didn’t give us a panacea for making work less stressful or more rewarding, he did offer us a change in perspective. No matter how difficult our work is, he encourages us to “find satisfaction” in it with God’s help (v. 24). Perhaps it will come as the Holy Spirit enables us to display Christlike character. Or as we hear from someone who’s been blessed through our service. Or as we remember the wisdom God provided to deal with a difficult situation. Though our work may be difficult, our faithful God is there with us. His presence and power can light up even gloomy days. With His help, we can be thankful for Monday.
Nov
5
2022
In 1979, archaeologist Gabriel Barkay unearthed two small silver scrolls. It took years to delicately unroll the metal scrolls, and each was found to contain a Hebrew etching of the blessing from Numbers 6:24–26, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Scholars date the scrolls to the seventh century BC. They’re the oldest known bits of Scripture in the world. Equally interesting is where they were found. Barkay was digging in a cave in the Valley of Hinnom, where Jeremiah told Judah that God would slaughter them in this same valley for sacrificing their children (19:4–6). This valley was the site of such wickedness that Jesus used the word Gehenna” (a Greek transliteration of the “Valley of Hinnom”) as a picture of hell (Matthew 23:33). On this spot, about the time Jeremiah was announcing God’s judgment on his nation, someone was etching His future blessing onto silver scrolls. It wouldn’t happen in their lifetime, but one day—on the other side of the Babylonian invasion—God would turn His face toward His people and give them peace. The lesson for us is clear. Even if we deserve what we have coming, we can cling to God’s promise. His heart always yearns for His people.
Nov
4
2022
The careers of most National Football League players are remarkably brief: just 3.3 years on average, according to statista.com. Then there’s Tampa Bay Buccaneer and former New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady. In 2021, he began his twenty-second season at the age of forty-four. How? Perhaps his famously rigorous diet and exercise routine have enabled him to maintain his competitive edge. Brady’s seven Super Bowl rings have earned him the title of G.O.A.T.—greatest of all time in the NFL. But it’s a title he never could have achieved apart from letting his single-minded pursuit of football perfection shape everything in his life. The apostle Paul recognized athletes exhibiting similar discipline in his day (1 Corinthians 9:24). But he also saw that no matter how much they trained, ultimately their glory faded. In contrast, he said, we have an opportunity to live for Jesus in a way that affects eternity. If athletes striving for momentary glory can work so hard at it, Paul implies, how much more should those living for “a crown that will last forever” (v. 25). We don’t train to earn salvation. Rather, just the opposite: As we realize how truly wondrous our salvation is, it reshapes our priorities, our perspective and the very things we live for as each of us faithfully runs our own race of faith in God’s strength.
Nov
3
2022
Olive watched her friend loading her dental equipment into his car. A fellow dentist, he’d bought the brand-new supplies from her. Having her own practice had been Olive’s dream for years, but when her son Kyle was born with cerebral palsy, she realized she had to stop working to care for him. “If I had a million lifetimes, I’d make the same choice,” my friend told me. “But giving up dentistry was difficult. It was the death of a dream.” We often go through difficulties we can’t understand. For Olive, it was the heartache of her child’s unexpected medical condition and relinquishing her own ambitions. For Naomi, it was the heartache of losing her entire family. In Ruth 1:21 she laments, “The Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”   But there was more to Naomi’s story than what she could see. God didn’t abandon her; He brought restoration by providing her with a grandson, Obed (Ruth 4:14). Obed would not only carry on the name of Naomi’s husband and son, but through him, she would be a relative of an ancestor of Jesus Himself (Boaz) (Matthew 1:5, 16). God redeemed Naomi’s pain. He also redeemed Olive’s pain by helping her begin a ministry for children with neurological conditions. We may experience seasons of heartache, but we can trust that as we obey God’s leading, He can redeem our pain. In His love and wisdom, He can make good come out of it.  
Nov
2
2022
After watching cable news for hours each day, the elderly man grew agitated and anxious—worried the world was falling apart and taking him with it. “Please turn it off,” his grown daughter begged him. “Just stop listening.” But the man refused, eventually following conspiracy-mongers on social media to “teach” himself what’s “really” happening. What we listen to matters deeply. We see that in Jesus’ encounter with Pontius Pilate. Responding to criminal charges brought against Jesus by religious leaders, Pilate summoned Him and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews” (John 18:33). Jesus replied with a stunning question: “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” (v. 32). The same question tests us. In a world of panic, are we listening to chaos and conspiracy—or Christ? Indeed, “my sheep listen to my voice,” He said. “I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Jesus “used this figure of speech” (v. 6) to explain Himself to doubting religious leaders. As with a good shepherd, He said that “his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (John 10:4–5). As our Good Shepherd, Jesus bids us to hear Him above all. May we listen well and find His peace.
Nov
1
2022
A rugged, cast-iron ring stood strong against the harsh Minnesota winter as it hung on the doorframe of my great uncle’s old farmhouse. More than a hundred feet away was another ring, firmly fixed to the dairy barn. Years ago during a blizzard, my uncle would attach a line between both rings so he could find the path between the house and the barn. Keeping a firm grip on the line kept him from losing his way in the blinding snow. My uncle’s use of a safety line in a snowstorm reminds me of how David used lines of Hebrew poetry to trace how God’s wisdom guides us through life and guards us against sin and error: “The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:9–11). A firm grasp of the truths of Scripture informed by God’s Spirit working in our hearts keeps us from losing our way and helps us make decisions that honor God and others. The Bible warns us against wandering from God while showing us the way home. It tells us of the priceless love of our Savior and the blessings that await all who place their faith in Him. Scripture is a lifeline! May God help us cling to it always.
Oct
31
2022
Marie, a single working mom, rarely missed church or Bible study. Each week, she rode the bus to and from church with her five children and helped with set up and clean up. One Sunday, the pastor told Marie that some church members had donated gifts for the family. One couple provided the family a house with reduced rent. Another couple offered her a job with benefits at their coffee shop. A young man gave her an old car he’d rebuilt and promised to serve as her personal mechanic. Marie thanked God for the joy of living in a community devoted to serving God and each other. Though we may not all be able to give as generously as Marie’s church family, God’s people are designed to help each other. The apostle Luke described believers in Jesus as “devoted” to the “apostles’ teaching and to fellowship” (Acts 2:42). When we combine our resources, we can work together to help those in need (vv. 44–45). As we grow closer to God and each other, we can care for one another. Witnessing God’s love demonstrated through His people’s actions can lead others to a saving relationship with Jesus (vv. 46–47). We can serve others with a smile or a kind deed. We can offer a job connection, a financial gift, or a prayer. Whatever we do as God works in and through us, we’re simply better together.
Oct
30
2022
In March of 2020, while walking his dog in New York City’s Central Park, Whitney, a retired financial expert, saw trucks, stacks of tarps, and white tents, each bearing a cross and the name of a charity he’d never heard of before. When he discovered the group was building a field hospital for his fellow New Yorkers with COVID-19, he asked if he could help. For weeks, he and his family pitched in wherever they could, despite differing faiths and politics. Whitney stated, “Every single person I’ve met has been a genuinely nice person.” And he applauded the fact that no one was paying them to “help my city in our hour of deep, deep need.” In response to the tremendous needs resulting from the coronavirus pandemic,  unlikely partners in service were brought together, and believers in Jesus were given new opportunities to share Christ’s light with others. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His followers to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds” (Matthew 5:16). We shine Christ’s light by letting the Spirit guide us in loving, kind, and good words and actions (see Galatians 5:22–23). When we allow the light we’ve received from Jesus to shine clearly in our daily lives, we also “glorify our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This day and every day may we shine for Christ, as He helps us be His salt and light in a world that desperately needs Him.
Oct
29
2022
As the holiday season approached, package shipments were delayed due to an unprecedented influx of online orders. I can remember a time when my family preferred to simply go into the store and purchase items because we knew we had very little control over the speed of mail delivery. However, when my mother signed up for an account that includes expedited shipping, this expectation changed. Now with a two-day guaranteed delivery, we’re accustomed to receiving things quickly and we become frustrated by delays.   We live in a world accustomed to instant gratification and waiting can be difficult. But in the spiritual realm, patience is still rewarded. When the book of Lamentations was written, the Israelites were mourning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army, and they faced a series of challenges. However, in the midst of chaos, the writer boldly affirms that because he’s confident God will meet his needs, he’ll wait on Him (Lamentations 3:24). God knows we’re inclined to become anxious when answers to our prayers are delayed. Scripture encourages us by reminding us to wait on God. We don’t have to be consumed or worried because “his compassions never fail” (v. 22). Instead, with God’s help we can “be still . . . and wait patiently for him” (Psalms 37:7). May we wait on God, trusting in His love and faithfulness even as wrestle with longings and unanswered prayers.
Oct
28
2022
Drew had been imprisoned for two years because he served Jesus. He’d read stories of missionaries who felt constant joy throughout their incarceration, but he confessed “this was not my experience.” He told his wife that God had picked the wrong man to suffer for Him. She replied, “No. I think maybe He picked the right man. This was not an accident.”   Drew could likely relate to the prophet Jeremiah, who had faithfully served God by warning Judah that God would punish them for their sins. But God’s judgment hadn’t fallen yet, and Judah’s leaders beat Jeremiah and put him in stocks. Jeremiah blamed God: “You deceived me, Lord” (v. 7). The prophet believed God had failed to deliver. His word had only “brought me insult and reproach all day long” (v. 8). “Cursed be the day I was born!” Jeremiah said. “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (vv. 14, 18). Eventually Drew was released, but through his ordeal he began to understand that perhaps God chose him—much like He chose Jeremiah—because he was weak. If he and Jeremiah had been naturally strong, they might have received some of the praise for their success. But if they were naturally weak, all the glory for their perseverance would go to Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). His frailty made him the perfect person for Jesus to use.
Oct
27
2022
The year was 1917. At only twenty-three years of age, Nelson had just graduated from medical school in his native Virginia. And yet here he was in China as the new superintendent of the Love and Mercy Hospital, the only hospital in an area of at least two million Chinese residents. Nelson, together with his family, lived in the area for twenty-four more years, running the hospital, performing surgeries, and sharing the gospel with thousands of people. From once being called “foreign devil” by those who distrusted foreigners, Nelson Bell later became known as “the Bell who is Lover of the Chinese People.” His daughter Ruth was to later marry the evangelist Billy Graham. Although Nelson was a brilliant surgeon and Bible teacher, it wasn’t his skills that drew many to Jesus, it was his character and the way he lived out the gospel. In Paul’s letter to Titus, the young gentile leader who was taking care of the church in Crete, the apostle said that living like Christ is crucial because it can make the gospel “attractive” (Titus 2:10). Yet we don’t do this on our own strength. God’s grace helps us live “self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (v. 12), reflecting the truths of our faith (v. 1). Many people around us still don’t know the good news of Christ, but they know us. May He help us reflect and reveal His message in attractive ways.
Oct
26
2022
When a leader asked if I’d speak with her privately, I found Karen in the retreat center counseling room red-eyed and wet-cheeked. Forty-two years old, Karen longed to be married, and a man was currently showing her interest. The problem was this man was her boss—and he already had a wife. With a brother who cruelly teased her and a father devoid of affection, Karen discovered early that she was susceptible to men’s advances. A renewal of faith had given her new boundaries to live by, but her longing remained and this glimpse of a love she couldn’t have was a torment. After talking, Karen and I bowed our heads. And in a raw and powerful prayer, Karen confessed her temptation, declared her boss off limits, handed her longing to God, and left the room feeling lighter. That day I realized the brilliance of Paul’s advice to treat each other as brothers and sisters in the faith (1 Timothy 5:1–2). How we see people determines how we treat them, and in a world quick to objectify and sexualize, viewing the opposite sex as family helps us treat them with care and propriety. Healthy brothers and sisters don’t abuse or seduce each other. Having only known men who demeaned, used, or ignored her, Karen needed one she could talk with sister-to-brother. The beauty of the gospel is it provides just that—giving us new siblings to help face life’s problems.
Oct
25
2022
Walk On is the fascinating memoir of Ben Malcolmson, a student with virtually no football experience who became a “walk on”—a non-recruited player—for the 2007 University of Southern California Rose Bowl champion team. A college journalist, Malcolmson decided to write a first-person account of the grueling tryout process. To his disbelief, he won a coveted spot on the team. After joining the team, Malcolmson’s faith compelled him to find God’s purpose for him in this unexpected opportunity. But his teammates’ indifference to discussions of faith left him discouraged. As he prayed for direction, Malcolmson read the powerful reminder in Isaiah where God says: “My word . . . will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Inspired by Isaiah’s words, Malcolmson anonymously gave every player on the team a Bible. Again, he was met with rejection. But years later, Malcolmson learned one player had read the Bible he’d been given—and shortly before his tragic death had demonstrated a relationship with and hunger for God, who he discovered in the pages of that Bible. It’s likely that many of us have shared Jesus with a friend or family member, only to be met with indifference or outright rejection. But even when we don’t see results right away, God’s truth is powerful and will accomplish God’s purposes in His timing.
Oct
24
2022
While driving us to an unfamiliar location, my husband noticed that the GPS directions suddenly seemed wrong. After entering a reliable four-lane highway, we were advised to exit and travel along a one-lane “frontage” road running parallel to us. “I’ll just trust it,” Dan said, despite seeing no delays. After about ten miles, however, the traffic on the highway next to us slowed to a near standstill. The trouble? Major construction. And the frontage road? With little traffic, it provided a clear path to our destination. “I couldn’t see ahead,” Dan said, “but the GPS could.” Or, as we agreed, “just like God can.” Knowing what was ahead, God in a dream gave a similar change in directions to the wise men who’d come from the east to worship Jesus, “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). King Herod, disturbed by the news of a “rival” king, lied to the magi, sending them to Bethlehem, saying: “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him” (v. 8). Warned in a dream “not to go back to Herod,” however, “they returned to their country by another route” (v. 12). God will guide our steps too. As we travel life’s highways, we can trust that He sees ahead and remain confident that “he will make [our] paths straight” as we submit to His directions (Proverbs 3:6).
Oct
23
2022
Two wild turkeys stood in the country lane ahead. How close could I get? I wondered. I slowed my jog to a walk, then stopped. It worked. The turkeys walked toward me . . . and kept coming. In seconds their heads were bobbing at my waist, then behind me. How sharp were those beaks? I ran away. They waddled after me before giving up the chase.  How quickly the tables had turned! The hunted became the hunter when the turkeys seized the initiative. Foolishly I wondered if they were too dumb to be scared. I wasn’t about to be carelessly wounded by a bird, so I fled. From turkeys. David didn’t seem dangerous, so Goliath taunted him to come near. “‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’” (1 Samuel 17:44). David flipped the script when he seized the initiative. He ran toward Goliath, not because he was foolish but because he had confidence in God. He shouted, “This very day . . . the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (v. 46). Goliath was puzzled by this aggressive boy. What’s going on? Then it hit him. Right between the eyes. It’s natural for small animals to run from people and shepherds to avoid giants. It’s natural for us to hide from our problems. Why settle for natural? Is there a God in Israel? Then, in His power, run toward the fight.
Oct
22
2022
Raised in a turbulent home in south London, Claud started selling marijuana at fifteen and heroin when he was twenty-five. Needing a cover for his activities, he became a mentor to young people. Soon he became intrigued by his manager, a believer in Jesus, and wanted to know more. After attending a course exploring the Christian faith, he “dared” Christ to come into his life. “I felt such a welcoming presence,” he said.  “People saw a change in me instantly. I was the happiest drug dealer in the world!” Jesus didn’t stop there. When Claud weighed up a bag of cocaine the next day, he thought, This is madness. I’m poisoning people! He realized he must stop selling drugs and get a job. With the help of the Holy Spirit, he turned off his phones and never went back. This kind of change is what the apostle Paul referenced when he wrote to the church at Ephesus. Calling the people not to live separated from God, he urged them to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” and instead to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). The verb form Paul uses implies that we’re to put on the new self regularly. As with Claud, the Holy Spirit delights to help us to live out of our new selves and become more like Christ.
Oct
21
2022
Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s most important political painting, was a modernist portrayal of the 1937 destruction of a small Spanish town by that name. During the Spanish revolution and the ramp-up to World War II, Nazi Germany’s planes were permitted by Spain’s Nationalist forces to use the town for bombing practice. These controversial bombings took scores of lives, drawing the attention of a global community concerned over the immorality of bombing civilian targets. Picasso’s painting captured (and horrified) the imaginations of the watching world and became a catalyst for debate about humanity’s seemingly endless capacity to destroy one another. For those of us who feel confident that we would never intentionally shed blood, we should remember Jesus’ words, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21–22). The heart can be murderous without ever actually committing murder. The issues of the heart are always bubbling under the surface of our actions. When unchecked anger toward others threatens to consume us, we desperately need the Holy Spirit to fill and control our hearts so that our human tendencies can be replaced by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19–23). Then love, joy, and peace can mark our relationships.
Oct
20
2022
A five-minute montage of snow-related mishaps was the central piece to one episode of a TV show. Home videos of people skiing off rooftops, crashing into objects while tubing, and slipping on ice brought laughter and applause from the studio audience and people watching at home. The laughter seemed to be loudest when it appeared that the people who wiped out deserved it because of their own foolish behavior. Funny home videos aren’t a bad thing, but they can reveal something about ourselves: we can be prone to laugh or take advantage of the hardships of others. One such story is recorded in Obadiah about two rival nations, Israel and Edom. When God saw fit to punish Judah for their sin, Edom rejoiced. They took advantage of the Israelites, looted their cities, thwarted their escape, and supported their enemies (Obadiah 1:13–14). A word of warning came through the prophet Obadiah to Edom: “You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune,” for “the day of the Lord is near for all nations” (1:12, 15). When we see the challenges or suffering of others, even if it seems they’ve brought it upon themselves, we must choose compassion over pride. We’re not in a position to judge others. Only God can do that. The kingdom of this world belongs to Him (v. 21)—He alone holds the power of justice and mercy.
Oct
19
2022
It had been an awful week for Kevin and Kimberley. Kevin’s seizures had suddenly worsened and he’d been hospitalized. Amid the pandemic their four young children—siblings adopted from foster care—were taking cabin fever to a new extreme. On top of that, Kimberley couldn’t scrounge up a decent meal from the fridge. Oddly, at that moment, she craved carrots. An hour later there was a knock at the door. There stood their friends Amanda and Andy, with an entire meal she’d prepared for the family. Including carrots. They say the devil is in the details? No. An amazing story in the history of the Jewish people shows God in the details. Pharaoh had commanded, “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22). That genocidal development turned on a remarkable detail. Moses’ mother did indeed “throw” her baby into the Nile, albeit with a strategy. And from the Nile, Pharaoh’s own daughter would rescue the baby whom God used to rescue His people. She would even pay Moses’ mother to nurse him (2:9). One day from this fledgling Jewish nation would come a promised baby boy. His story would abound with amazing details and divine ironies. Most importantly, Jesus would provide an exodus out of our slavery to sin. Even—especially—in the dark times, God is in the details. As Kimberley will tell you, “God brought me carrots!”
Oct
18
2022
When Ms. Glenda walked into the church commons area, her infectious joy filled the room. She had just recovered from a difficult medical procedure. As she approached me for our usual after-church greeting, I thanked God for all the times over the years that she had wept with me, gently corrected me, and offered encouragement. She’d even asked for forgiveness when she thought she’d hurt my feelings. Whatever the situation, we always ended up praising the Lord.Mama Glenda, as she lets me call her, wrapped me in a gentle hug. “Hi, Baby,” she said. We enjoyed a short conversation and prayed together before she left—humming and singing as always, looking for someone else to bless. Mama Glenda always invites me to share my struggles honestly and reminds me that we have many reasons to praise God. In Psalm 64, David boldly approaches God with his complaints and concerns (v. 1). He voices his frustrations about the wickedness he sees around him (vv. 2–6). He doesn’t lose confidence in God’s power or the reliability of His promises (vv. 7–8). He knows that one day, “The righteous will rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him, all the upright in heart will glory in him!” (v. 10). As we wait for Jesus’ return, we’ll face tough times. But we’ll always have reasons to rejoice in every day God has made.
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